"Be good. But if you can’t be good…"


“…be careful!” [Traditional Mancunian maternal admonition to young people, heading out for a good time] In 1960, I was lucky enough to get in on the ground floor of one of the longest-running, universally beloved [the Queen watches] telly shows in the UK, Coronation Street [Corrie, to its fans]. Filmed in Manchester [yeah, yeah, our family has visited the set at Granada Studios], it has portrayed the “rich tapestry” of multi-generational community life in a working-class neighborhood, written and acted with such “kitchen-sink,” warts-and-all authenticity, that the characters become a part of one’s own extended family. All the humor is character-or-plot-driven; and, of course, there is no laugh track. Whether they were so regarded before 1960, all Northerners are now assumed to be witty and wise–the source of such useful aphorisms as, “When in doubt, say nowt [tr. ‘nothing’].”

Profundities come on little cat feet. [See opening Corrie shot.] A child from The Street was feeling poorly and the doctor came round to see what was wrong with her. [Until very recently, GPs made housecalls]. A local shopkeeper asks the Mum what the matter turned out to be, and she replies, “Oh, it were summat and nowt [tr.’something and nothing’].” Don’t you wish that diagnosis were in the ICD-9? It describes so many fleeting ailments, for which Big Pharma wants to sell you an expensive cure. Alas, Summat & Nowt is only available on the National Health, innit?

Consider the societal benefits, if every young person were admonished, “Be good. But if you can’t be good, be careful.” [Sanctimonious hypocrites may need to go lie down for a bit in a darkened room.] [Who am I kidding? They aren’t reading this blog.] [Incidentally, a bit of a lie-down is what GPs prescribe, for a bout of Summat & Nowt.] It acknowledges the wolf. It avoids might-as-well-be-hung-for-a-sheep-as-a-lamb reasoning. [That is, that once a person has strayed from the straight & narrow path of their code of conduct, they rationalize that the day–or their soul–is going to hell, anyway, so they might as well be really self-destructive.]

Although she hailed from Tennessee rather than Manchester, a college friend of mine had the perfect antidote for the sheep-for-a-lamb slippery slope: “Well, the day is long, and I can redeem it.”

In cognitive psychology, sheep-for-a-lamb reasoning is called black & white thinking. Either you adhere perfectly to the code of conduct you were raised with, or you deserve bad outcome. Not to put too fine a point on it, folks, this logic says, “Either you practice abstinence, or you deserve AIDS and/or an unplanned pregnancy.” [Even to carry condoms on your person amounts to premeditated shenanigans.] Well, here’s what I say. Tech-savvy youth of the world, turn this picture of Lili in her raincoat into a Public Service Ad poster, bearing the motto: “Be good. But if you can’t be good, be careful!” Post it wherever condoms are [or should be] available. Help acknowledge the wolf, and reduce the incidence of preventable, undeserved human misery in the world, eh?

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Filed under black and white thinking, understanding shenanigans

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