Leave a few dents in this pampered generation

6th July 2007 at 01:00
Stephen Petty is head of Humanities at Lord Williams's School in Oxfordshire

I was recently on a school coach that crashed into a railway bridge in Saint Omer, France. The driver had misjudged by a mere 30 centimetres the relative heights of the bridge and the bus. Needless to say, after part of the roof had been sliced off, everyone then focused exclusively on the driver's performance at this particular bridge, rather than on the 30 or so bridges beforehand that he had successfully taken us under since the departure from England earlier that day.

More fuss followed. Merely because the bridge had carved off the air conditioning unit and sent it spinning into the road, and because a shower of glass from one of the skylights had rained down on us all, it was immediately decided that we should abandon the coach and wait for another.

Yet no one had been hurt and the coach still worked perfectly. Yes, the remainder of the roof had a quirky longboat shape to it now, and a small number of children would have been under no roof at all, but it was a sunny day and once the glass had been swept away we could easily have carried on in the same vehicle for the remaining day and a half of our trip.

Instead, all the predictably dreary talk was of getting it towed away to a garage, finding a new bus, and of the thousands of pounds it was going to cost the coach company in repairs. There was surely no need for any of this. Why not simply leave the bus in its new, rougher condition OK, maybe fix some kind of cheap waterproof sheet over the hole and simply carry on?

I was reminded of the prevailing, needless doom-and-gloom negativity when returning home to reports that one or two bits of Buckingham Palace have been falling off. I see no monarchical masonry crisis here. Surely the best thing our famously stoical Queen should do in such circumstances is to carry on as normal. It's a big place. There's plenty of masonry left.

Discerning people such as the Queen and I question whether there is any real point to all the constant drive to repair superficial damage. Let us all be more tolerant of the occasional leak in a school roof, of peeling paint, of the odd hole in the classroom skirting. They only become intolerable if we pampered Westerners choose to define and present them as such.

I liken this to the ridiculous intolerance people show when they get a small dent in their car. Why all the unnecessary upset? If all buyers and sellers could agree that small dents don't matter, then they wouldn't matter. We could collectively save millions of pounds every year simply by not having them repaired. The more we parents and teachers continue to show children such superficiality, the more we will perpetuate such over-pampered shallowness.

We were on our way to Ypres when we met the bridge, to visit the genuine disaster that was the First World War. Perhaps more than ever today, we need to give a clearer message about what matters and what doesn't matter much.

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