I have a confession to make. I used to be a Daily Mail reader. Ok, I know I’ve now lost about half of you. Meanwhile those hailing from outside the UK are wondering what I’m talking about.
In short, the Daily Mail (Or Daily Fail/Daily Heil/insert vaguely humorous, loosely rhyming word) is a newspaper with a distinctly sanctimonious tone. It loves to bash the working classes, women, non-white people and LGBT folk, all while displaying faux concern for the “hard-working British taxpayer”, who is somehow always being wronged by the afore-mentioned groups. The Daily Mail is the shit-stirring girl at school, cornering you by the lockers and whispering “guess what so-and-so said about you earlier”.
Yet, just like that girl, the Mail is somehow popular. When I was younger I used to read it religiously and nod along to its espoused “values”.
I remember a few years ago having a Facebook debate about state benefits with a girl I vaguely knew. She patiently tried to explain that many communities in the UK have been ravaged by decades of disastrous government policies and the decline of industries; that many people were now unemployed and poor, which increased the likelihood of substance abuse and domestic violence; that the welfare state is essential in helping those people.
I scoffed. “We all make our own destinies”. I was absolutely, arrogantly convinced of that. Those people “sponging” off the state just had to try harder. To be stronger and resist bad habits, to move away from their home towns in search of work. To stop blaming immigrants for their lack of prospects.
The “blaming immigrants” bit I was particularly shirty about. As an immigrant arriving in the UK aged 11, with my newly-single and impoverished mum, I’d had to learn English from scratch, adapt to a whole new way of life and deal with taunts about my foreign name and accent. I’d then spent years studying and working twice as hard as the locals, so that I could prove myself and create a relatively comfortable lifestyle.
I resented the accusations, mainly from people that I wrote off as “chavs”, that my kind got all the jobs handed on a plate or were being looked after by the government at the expense of locals. I was this chippy little ball of energy and conceit and defensiveness. Convinced that I’d achieved everything in life so far by my own efforts alone, and that if I could do it then so could others.
But is there really such a thing as a “self-made” person? I don’t think so anymore. Yes, talent and hard work matter, but so does help from the right people and being in the right place at the right time. Looking back, there were many privileges I enjoyed; people who gave me a leg-up; and just plain old good luck.
My main safety net in life has been my mum. Despite our often difficult and chaotic family life, she was always the one person I could count on. She made sure I was clothed and fed, and read books to me, and shielded me from the harsh realities of life. When I was a stroppy teenager she put up with my many tantrums and insisted I worked hard at school so that I could go to university. When I ran out of money she helped me out, no questions asked. I was able to take low paid internships and move around the country in search of opportunities, because I knew that if worst came to worst, she would help me.
Having somebody like this in your life is an enormous advantage. One which not everybody has. No man (or woman) is an island – we all need someone to give us a little push, a little help, or that crucial break. Be that person.
What do you think? Do out destinies depend on us alone, or do circumstances play a part?