In 2014, following the untimely deaths of Rik Mayall and Robin Williams, we were subjected to some very mixed (and some very unusual) reactions thanks to various social media platforms. One that kept coming around was this little gem:
"Illness is a great leveller, but mental illness is the greatest leveller of all."
This raises two very big questions. Firstly, if that is the case, why does mental illness still carry such a stigma, and is disregarded as not being a "real" illness by the majority of those without it? Secondly, why does it take illness to remind us that we're not invincible? The stigma and the treatment by others is being well addressed by a number of organisations, so I'll leave that to them. Which leaves me with the other question.
It is not only illness that levels us. It is seeing poverty; the physical evidence of hate crimes; war; a teenager committing suicide because of bullying. Any large scale conflict has people reeling at the number of civilians, especially children, involved. Why has that affected us more than the deaths of countless soldiers? Why should the glorious Rik's passing, eventually determined as a heart attack, touch our spirit more than the mention in the local paper of the man who had a heart attack while buying a pint of milk? Yes, Rik had become somewhat of a national treasure, but he was still someone's husband, father, son, best friend. So was the man in the corner shop.
The news is everywhere. It is on the TV, the radio, your laptop. Hell, it's in your newsfeed, on your timeline, and being retweeted by your friends. Maybe this is why — if every single death we saw mention of affected us, we would likely never leave the house. I doubt I'd even get out of bed. Have we become desensitised in order to protect ourselves? It does make sense, I guess.
After the death of a much loved or influential person in the public eye, the world becomes a different place for a short while. People talk about it, perform "random acts of kindness," live for the moment. We never know how long we've got, after all. But it fades, and we go back to our normal ways. No time to help the man locked out of his car or an old lady understand the new automated bus timetable. Back to concentrating on making our own lives better. Until the next celebrity passes.
Here's an idea. Why don't we all draw on the knowledge that tragedy happens, unseen, all around us? In the time it took you to read this, somebody found out they had cancer. Another had a policeman knock on the door an hour after their husband was due home. A couple sat and wept, holding the body of their stillborn child. Take that knowledge. Remember it, just briefly, every single morning. Then spend your time striving for your best. Not to be the best artist, scientist, author, or athlete. Strive to be the best human you can be. Take two minutes to hold the door for the woman struggling with her bags of shopping and a tired toddler. Give the snarly 15 year old the 20p he's short for his bus fare home at 10pm. Go with the cliche and help an old lady across the road. For when you look at it closely it isn't illness or tragedy that is the leveller. It is the constant reminder of the inconvenient truth that we're all only human.