Quote of the Week: 06 November

Presuming someone’s guilt can create a dangerous reaction …

BH Cover Gunpowder PlotThe Gunpowder Plot: The Narrative of Oswald Tesimond alias Greenway (ed. Francis Edwards), (The Folio Society:  London, 1973)

Given the date, and the current BBC production of ‘Gunpowder‘, currently horrifying the squeamish across the country, it seems apt to take a second quotation from this book – the first is here.

This book is a really interesting account of the events of 1605, albeit from a very sympathetic and Catholic perspective – not that it’s a bad thing to get as many different views on events as you can.  In reading the passage I’ve selected (which the author says is in no way intended to excuse the plot), I’m reminded of the opening soliloquy of Richard III:

[There was] ‘another great spur and sufficient motive to move those gentlemen to that unhappy plot.  They saw themselves already classed as traitors when they were in fact innocent.  Indeed, they were already being punished as such.  Hence they could not but be moved by so much injustice, as well as by the misery to which the malice and insatiable hatred of the enemies had reduced them. […] All the more, because they felt that they could do nothing to worsen the state in which they found themselves since they were already considered as traitors by the king and by those who held sway in the kingdom.’

This is dangerous stuff – it’s the stuff of 21st century travel bans, of police brutality against sections of society, of rampant inequality.  The longer you treat people as if they are guilty without actully looking at the evidence, the more likely you are to create a reaction.

In fact, it’s almost a self-fulfilling prophecy, and we see this in teaching.  You need to approach each student, each lesson, with a clean slate – if you’ve pronounced judgement on a child before they’ve entered the room, they may as well fulfil your predictions about them.  Of course that’s not to say that there shouldn’t be appropriate consequences for poor behaviour, but you can only punish someone once, on the day, or else it begins to smell like vendetta … we’re heading into that catastrophic ‘Rally of Revenge‘ …

Author: Boar's Head, Eastcheap

'Villainous abominable misleader of youth'; 'old white-bearded Satan'. Landlord at Shakespeare's notorious tavern; hyperactive English Teacher; Unashamed Socialist; Reader; Scrabble Ninja; friend of the Orangutan

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