Living on the fault line

"Slavery continues today and we are all complicit in it." These were the first words I heard spoken in 2007, on the January 1 edition of BBC Radio 4's Start the Week programme, to be precise.

I wasn't surprised. After all, why should the new year be any different from the old one?

You see, I have been coming to the conclusion for some time now that, basically, everything unpleasant that happens is my fault. Including paranoia, I hear you remark. But wait, just consider the evidence.

As a white, middle-aged, middle-class man living in a Western country ruled by an elected New Labour government, it seems that pretty much all society's ills - probably that should read all the world's ills - are down to me. I'm sure you can draw up the list of my crimes as easily as I can.

At the moment, the biggest of these must surely be my contribution to global warming.

Then there is all that forest in Brazil I am cutting down, not to mention the related extinction of species. I've never seen a single one of them, and now, thanks to my recklessness, I never will.

Most of the many conflicts around the world are also, in one way or another, my direct responsibility too. None more so than the one in Iraq.

No matter that I was not, and am not, in favour of it. My Prime Minister is and so is that man who lives in the White House. So it seems I've just got to accept the fact that my guilt is only to be expiated by myself, or some member of my family, being blown to pieces on our way to or from work.

So far as I can tell, the only bad thing I'm not personally responsible for is chilblains, and that's only because nobody gets them any more.

Could I perhaps escape from all this blame by throwing myself into my work? Come on now, I'm an FE lecturer, surely (to paraphrase Jonathan Swift) the most odious little creature that every walked on the face of the earth.

Consider the charge sheet. Low recruitment? You haven't done enough.

The students are unhappy with some aspect of college life? Guess who is responsible.

Retention rates slip. Not enough of the students pass. The inquest starts immediately, but we know at the outset what the verdict will be, don't we.

The solution? You must work harder.

Managers are fixated on a model that says that everything in college must get better every year, and particularly that more students must pass. And when you reach 100 per cent? Why then you strive for better passes.

So you set new targets, teach more classes, make more phone calls, send more e-mails, fill in more forms.

But be careful. Take the resultant stress home to your partner and you know what you'll get. You shouldn't put up with it. You should learn when to say no. It's your fault.

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