When the law fails – use ‘6 Stigmas’

Every so often you hear something in the news that gets to you emotionally.

In this case both my wife and I were blubbing – while I was driving down from Yorkshire to Barry Island. We were listening on the radio to the story of John Houston who lost his only child 12 year old Amy, to a hit-and-run driver.

The driver, it turns out, is failed asylum seeker, with a lengthy criminal record, including a host of driving bans.

I defy anyone not to be moved by John’s telling of his story.

John’s tragedy appeared to be compounded that he appeared to be let down by the system: the guilty man served a cursory time in prison and was still not deported after having no legal right to be in the UK.

John is evidently an honest, hard-working, upright citizen. Yet the system seemed to uphold the rights of the criminal over John.

Apparently, judges ruled that Mr. Mohammed Ibrahim’s human rights would be violated by not being allowed to have a family life with a relationship where he has two children in the years since the incident. The Human rights of John in being deprived of his family life were thought not to be as important.

Please. I am not a ‘Daily Mail’-reader-asylum-seeker-basher. On the contrary; I have strong liberal views driven by compassion for my fellow member of the human race tribe.

I want however, to make two points:

Firstly, I would query the judges’ assessment: no one is saying Mr. Ibrahim cannot see his children. Only, that if he wants a family life, and his children are important to him, he can enjoy this family life, but not in the UK. His right to family life can continue – only not in this country.

Sadly, John Houston cannot enjoy family life anywhere in this world.

The second, and perhaps more pertinent to my teachings on innovative and flexible thinking is that in a community we have formal power residing within the state, our laws and institutions, but we also have informal power; the power to uphold social codes through our behaviours and actions.

I am calling these the ‘6 Stigmas’. By using these 6 Stigmas we can exercise a power within us all that does not require a High Court judge to validate. We can use this power to help shape the world we want.

(In creating the label ‘6 Stigmas’ I do not want to appear flippant in a matter I am greatly emotionally connected with. Rather, by using this term it may extend the power and reach of my message by enhancing its ‘stickability’ to make it more word-of-mouth friendly, and hence engage more people.)

Now, I am a very stupid person. If I see something wrong I feel I should do something, no matter how small, to do something about it.

Where the law has failed John Houston we fellow citizens can bring stigma to bear.

Another story I noticed last week in the UK press demonstrated the power of stigma. This time involving footballer Paul Terry, brother to Chelsea and England international John Terry.

In this tragic episode Rushden and Diamond’s footballer Dale Roberts committed suicide, allegedly after a break-up with his fiancee who allegedly had an affair with Paul Terry. (Both siblings seem to have the ability to play professional football and also get close to team mates girlfriends or wives.)

Paul Terry now plays for Darlington FC. The reason: his Rushden and Diamonds team mates refused to play alongside him.

There was no legal action they could take. Instead, they exercised the power of stigma.

When hearing about John’s story I feel I don’t have the power to challenge the High Court judges. But I do have the power to exercise the 6 Stigmas which can be escalated depending on the strength of feeling about the situation:

  1. Let the other person know how you feel and that you do not condone their actions.
  2. Send to Coventry – exercise a personal social boycott by not speaking to the person
  3. Exercise a social boycott of the person. Exclude this person from any organization or group where possible.
  4. Exercise an economic boycott of this person – make it damned nigh impossible for this person to earn a living in our community.
  5. Tell others to engage as many people in the net of determined citizens committed to putting a right wrong in whatever way they can.
  6. Think of anyway possible, within the terms of the law, that you can make this person know they are not wanted in our community.

One of the reasons John Houston’s story connected with me was the feeling of being a fellow citizen where we ostensibly enjoy a system to protect and uphold our communal interests. 

It seem manifestly unfair, that John had been let down by the system. Rather like the Jimmy Stewart film of ‘Mr Smith Goes to Washington’, where the decent law-abiding has to stand up to the Establishment that is supposed to be there to look after him, this case is something that could happen to you or me.

In the words of Aneurin Bevan: “If you tolerate this then your children will be next.”

So please do something here: If you are in any position to exercise the 6 Stigmas against Mr. Mohammed Ibrahim then please – for all of us – and for the memory of Amy Houston do so.

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2 Responses to When the law fails – use ‘6 Stigmas’

  1. Carol Arthur says:

    Interesting blog, Andy, and I agree that John has been let down by the system. However, is there a danger that exercising the 6 stigmas could turn into a witchhunt? I’m thinking of the story about the poor doctor who was hounded because some ignorant people confused the words paediatrician and paedophile. I’m all for taking on the Establishment but would be wary of encouraging misguided and ill-informed lynchmobs taking the law into their own hands.

  2. andy says:

    Carol — that’s a good point – and I well remember that stupid episode (wish I had included that in my book ‘Overcoming Stupidity’!) Maybe where a mob goes on the rampage that can be called the ’7th Stiigma’ ! – and something not to be condoned.
    Any power if not exercised wisely can lead to inappropriate outcomes.
    However, as a society I believe we have outsourced too much to the state (and I’m not a rabiid Tory as you know.)
    For centuries society policed itself with a combinatiion of formal power – state/rule of law/army but also informal power – from passive 6 Stigmas to the 7th Stigma (indeed the threat of the Mob was a powerful political force restraining autocratic rule.)
    I just in 2010 feel we are in danger of not recognising the informal power we have to stand up and be counted and exercise some power – albeit social and possibly economic – to at least do something, avoid feeling impotent, and helpless.
    This informal power needs to be more recognised. Hence, on issues such as drugs policy we could pursue a policy of ‘decriminalise the act and stigmatize the habit’; the law can be relaxed but we thhen need to assert moore social power.
    hope I’m not Stigmatized for suggesting this!

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