Text of this morning's thought.
Yesterday we discovered that, contrary to earlier reports, there were no murders or underground punishment rooms at a Jersey children's home. It seems we were all too willing to believe the worst when these lurid tales first surfaced.
In the case of Baby P, however, the problem was that those responsible were all too unwilling to believe the worst. Despite clear evidence of terrible abuse, social services allowed themselves to swallow innocent explanations.
It would be rash to speculate as to what exactly went wrong in Jersey and Haringey, but both conform to a familiar pattern: thinking badly of people we have some distance from is easy, but facing up to the bad in front of our noses can be very difficult. It is as hard to believe that friends or relatives are guilty of crimes they have actually committed as it is easy to believe that people in different times and places routinely do barbarous things.
What then of our judgement when it is as close to home as it can get? How can we trust our moral vision when we look in the mirror? People can, of course, be very self-critical, to the point of self-loathing. But we rarely doubt the purity of our own motives. “No man is a villain to himself” as Michael Caine once put it.
There is no easy way to improve our ethical night vision. The best we can do, in Jersey, in Haringey, and in our own lives, is to try as best we can to see good and bad for what they really are, not what we want or expect them to be. And to remember: it's always hard to see in the dark.