I was walking through our local shopping centre on Thursday morning and I bumped into some friends. We were chatting away and then the whole place went quiet. For a second we were puzzled but then we remembered - it's 11 o'clock.
So quickly we shut up and started remembering. But for the next two minutes, the shopping centre was divided into two camps. On one side there were lots of people bustling along, chatting away, oblivious to the time and its significance. They were breaking the “silence” rule.
On the other side there were those who had remembered to remember. And you know how they spent the next two minutes? Glaring at passers-by, tapping their watches, pointing to their poppies and rolling their eyes to one another. If they weren’t so resolved to be silent I reckon the tutting would have been deafening.
And so I wonder... out of those two minutes, how much time was spent remembering the sacrifice of others and how much time was spent feeling superior?
Maybe I’m wrong, maybe it’s possible to simultaneously glare angrily at the rule-breakers and to remember our war-dead. But I’m guessing there wasn’t a lot of remembering done, even by the rule keepers. And actually their zeal for the rules worked against the spirit of remembrance.
But, time and again, that’s what rules do. They make you feel safe and they make you feel superior.
They make you feel safe because you’ve drawn a line and put yourself on the right side of it. You’ve done your bit, you’ve played your part, you’ve ticked your box, and now no-one can touch you. You're with the in-crowd. You're not babbling away in the shopping centre, you're with the moral majority. Rules are so often kept as a way of distancing yourself. When something is asked of you, or the world impinges on your personal sphere in some way, very often our reaction is, "No fair, I kept the rules!" We feel like if only we play by the book we ought to be free from the claims of others. Rules make us feel safe.
And rules make us feel superior. Because now we can look down our nose at those on the wrong side of the line. We can feel better than others. There was a lot of superiority going on in that shopping centre on Thursday. Lots of people kept the tradition of remembrance. Few people followed the spirit of actually remembering.