Mean People by Angela Caldin
A Mean Question
One of my little granddaughters asked me the other day, ‘Why are there mean people in the world?’ I found myself stumped as to how to answer this challenging question, going as it does to the core of the human condition. Flashbacks to lectures on nature and nurture when studying Shakespeare came into my mind but my recollection was hazy and I doubt whether it would help a five year old even if it was clearer. In the end I settled for saying that we are all a mixture of goodness and badness and all capable of being mean sometimes. Then I added that in some people goodness shines out and in others meanness can come to the fore. She pondered on this and then asked, ‘Do mean people live near us?’ I wondered whether to give a reassuring, but untrue, answer, opting instead for the truth: ‘There are mean people everywhere.’ She looked shocked and worried.
The Prevalence of the King-hit
I was reminded of this conversation when I learnt in the newspaper of a term new to me: king-hit. It seems that this is a term widely used in Australia for a very hard punch, usually delivered to the head, which is completely unexpected and very often results in knock outs or knock downs. It is a blindside punch, not seen coming and it further seems that sometimes people throw this punch, typically when they are drunk, on complete strangers just for the enjoyment of seeing them floored. The thought went through my head, ‘How mean can you get?’
Later that day, I read about the case of former New Zealand Warriors rugby league player Russell Packer who has been jailed for two years in Australia after pleading guilty to a sustained assault in central Sydney which left his 22 year old victim unconscious with a fractured eye socket. It appears that both offender and victim were under the influence of alcohol and had got into an argument. Packer’s lawyer told the court that his client is having counselling for anger management and alcohol issues, maintaining that while the assault was serious, it was not a king-hit. This, according to him, should go in his client’s favour, although the evidence showed that Packer had continued to attack his victim even when he was unconscious on the ground, punching him and stomping on his head. Such attacks, whether king-hits or otherwise, seem commonplace these days, often fuelled by alcohol (the devil’s brew) and with no thought for the impact on the victim.
The presiding magistrate said that the community and courts were sick of alcohol-related violence and sentenced Packer to the maximum available penalty of two years. This outcome came as a shock to Packer and his legal team, who first of all asked the court to re-open the sentence and then lodged an immediate appeal against it. Packer’s father has said that he considers the sentence unfair as it will damage his son’s rugby league career and is unfair on his partner and two children who have no means of support in Australia. He did not, apparently, take the opportunity to express any sympathy for his son’s victim who suffered severe injuries and might have been blinded or killed.
And that brings us to the victim himself. It appears that on a briefly opened social media account he welcomed the judgement and then made comments about what nasty things Packer can expect in prison, which if true, do him no credit at all. His anger is understandable in view of an attack that was so clearly out of proportion to the original disagreement, but his gloating over the sentence just seems, well…mean.
How can I explain the meanness of all the participants in this drama to my little granddaughter? Lack of control of the two men who drank to excess and the one whose rage got out of hand. Heartlessness of the lawyer who sought to minimise the attack by saying it was not a king-hit. (Yes, I know he was only mitigating for his client, but even so…) Meanness of the father who did not find it in his heart to mention the victim’s suffering and spitefulness of the victim who apparently gloated over the prison sentence and the unpleasantness it might bring. Will meanness always be a feature of being human or can we hope to get better as time goes on? I find I don’t know the answer.
Perhaps it’s not all hopeless: I learnt yesterday of an advert made by a famous boxing champion in Australia called Danny Green. He has started a campaign to persuade young men to think before they punch after becoming incensed when he heard about a man dying from a single punch to the head on a night out. ‘Take it from me. One punch can be lethal,’ he says. ‘If you get hit without warning, without any gloves, it can be deadly. It’s lethal, it’s deadly, it’s disgraceful and we need to stamp this out.’ Brave words and true words – I hope they work.