What’s even better than clapping for the NHS?

As I believe I mentioned before, I am over 70. I am not boasting: these things happen – usually far too quickly. I am therefore restricted in what I can do.

I am not sure this is fair. But as a colleague of mine once said: “Who wants to be fair?” If life were fair, I should probably not be 70 at all. I should be elsewhere. So that’s OK. I don’t want fairness: I want forgiveness.

This is not as obvious as it sounds, because in fact one of our prime driving forces is for justice. That’s what we look for in films and books. A fair outcome: people getting what they deserve. Isn’t it?

Maybe not. What we really want is for evil to be overcome, and for goodness to triumph. That’s not quite the same thing.

We see an ideal society as one where justice is administered fairly, under the rule of law. But there is a dark side to that, and it is one it is all too easy to slip into.

It’s called self-righteousness. And there it is in the current crisis, lurking among all the good-neighbourliness and the compliance with intense inconvenience for the sake of others; peeking out from behind the unselfishness and love.

I went out for an exercise walk yesterday, and saw a deer in a cemetery. On the way back I met my wife, with whom I live and who was walking to meet me. I had just passed two men, sitting at least two metres apart, and my immediate thought was that they would assume I was meeting someone in secret, getting too close to her and flouting the regulations. They might report me.

They didn’t (as far as I know). Most people wouldn’t. But there is a hard core of people who are on the lookout for other people doing “wrong”. This results in newspaper stories like the one about the scientist whose mistress paid him a visit, and the one about Scotland’s chief medical officer, who travelled to her second home when this was being actively discouraged.

Neither of these people was “flouting” the advice given. I’m willing to bet they gave it a lot of thought and decided it posed almost no risk to anyone. But they both had to resign (and deprive us of the excellent work they were doing) because the self-righteous public thought that if they themselves couldn’t do it, no-one else could – and so they had to go.

It is those final five words that are critical. People make misjudgements – sometimes they just seem to make misjudgements – and they find themselves jumped on from a great height. Wouldn’t it be more sensible to allow them to say: “OK. I see what you mean. That may not have been the wisest thing to do” – and be forgiven?

It might not be fair, but it would be the compassionate thing to do. We need compassion. We need forgiveness. It’s not as easy as clapping for the NHS, but it lasts longer and reaches deeper.