Better off without
Mrs Zen has her cousin to stay, who has been suffering from a rubbish boyfriend. This is the kind of boyfriend who is stupid enough to leave his mobile lying around so that his woman can read texts from other women. (It's strange how some feel that electronic communications are somehow different from ones written and paper, so that people who would never read your mail think nothing of peeking at your email, or reading a text on your mobile*.) Those texts, sorry to say, reveal a pattern of cheating and lying that does not show him in a good light. The cousin has turned a blind eye for a long time (although "I wnt to fck u 1 mr time" cannot really be explained away) but finally even she sees what a sordid creep the guy is.
Mrs Zen is comforting the cousin by saying how lucky she is, since other girls have boyfriends who beat them, murder them even. At this, Dr Zen looks up from his important work in fashioning golden metaphor from the lead of contemporary English, and points out that it doesn't actually improve the cousin's boyfriend that there are others worse. He's still a horrible shit, even if he's not the most horrible shit.
It's a notable fallacy of our age that somehow our problems disappear when we notice that others have worse on their plate. The spread of the idea that the world's business is our business, propagated through a news media that picks over the world's sores and presents the very worst as entertainment, has brought us to believe that somehow others' lives affect ours, enrich or lessen them, depending on what they do or what has been done to them. But they don't. It should be obvious that our lives don't become any more dangerous because we read that there is a serial killer in Spain or a rapist in south London. Our children are not more threatened because a child is abducted. Indeed, we are not affected at all by these things, or ought not to be. Our world doesn't become any better or worse for our knowing more about it.
It's an offshoot, of course, of the growing belief that it's our concern what happens elsewhere in the world. Well, I think it is and it isn't. What's certain is that it isn't if that concern detracts from our caring about our own. How many of the handwringers who bitch on day and night about the plight of Iraqis, dams in China, BP's drilling off Colombia, other people's manners and the state of that woman's hair even know the names of their neighbours or what ails them?
In our rush to embrace the new, we sometimes believe that nothing of the old had value. But what a nugget of wisdom "charity begins at home" is. So, Mrs Zen's cousin is my concern du jour, her heartache spilling all over my living room, and I'm content to play my small part in improving her life, which no amount of contemplating others' misfortune ever will.
*Dr Zen does not have this problem on account of not owning a mobile. I'm quite possibly the only person in London who doesn't. "You must be mad," people say. "What if someone wants to ring you when you're walking down the street?" "Well," I say. "The last thing I want when I'm walking down the street is to be rung up." At which I get that peculiar look that says loud and clear "As if it matters what you want!"back