We're a privileged lot, us ambulance people. We knock on people's doors, people we have never met before and in all likelihood will never see again, and they just let us in. In fact, not only do they allow us in, they invite us into their homes. Any time of the day or night, we knock on the door, strangers in every sense of the word, and step into somebody else's world, usually without any fear. And in these worlds, these homes, we see lives laid bare. Emotion at its most raw, sadness and anger in equal measure, happiness rarely, but for just a brief period we're allowed a quick peek into lives that not only do we not live, but often couldn't imagine.
From beautiful homes, some bigger than my street, fenced off, gated properties with the rich and sometimes famous, to squalid apartments, crawling with rats and bearing a gut-wrenching smell that needs to be experienced to be understood, we see them all.
We see happy families, smiling photos beaming down from the walls, and families torn apart by an unknown, unloved past. There are single parents, adopting and adopted families, children who grow up with everything they could wish for, and children who grow up with nothing.
This country is the same as any other, the people here too. Most of us strive to make the best with what we have, to live our lives to our fullest potential, to be a member who contributes to a society in order to make it more livable, more comfortable for both ourselves and everyone else. These are the basics of human life, of being part of normal society.
These last few days, starting in London and spreading around the country, have shown another side to our first world society. An ugly side, a threatening side, a destructive side. We've seen society at its worst.
There's a sense of entitlement that exists amongst too many. It starts with people expecting to have everything handed to them on a plate. People don't want to have to think for themselves any more, so that where once, many years ago, ambulances would only be called in the most dire of circumstances, now a mere six hour old case of sinusitis is cause for a deferment of responsibilities onto somebody else.
Let someone else tell me what to do, it's too hard to think for myself.
I'm not a member of society, I'm me. And I'm the most important.
What I want, I will have.
The longer it goes on, the more it becomes ingrained as a norm. It's culminated over these past few days by several hundred people deciding that normal society just isn't for them. They don't want to be a part of it, and don't care about any other members of it.
If I want a television, I'll just go and get one.
If I want the latest trend in sportswear, I'll just smash my way into a shop and take it.
That's not my house, or shop, so who cares if I set fire to it?
This isn't a democratic exhibition of freedom. Freedom isn't expressed by attacking public and private property; homes, cars, even ambulances.
This isn't a political protest, aimed at changing any one of many government strategies or some perceived unfairness.
This isn't the underprivileged minority, or a certain race, or only young men. The pictures tell a different story altogether. There's a huge mix. The demographics can't be narrowed down in any way, but the thought process can:
What's mine is mine, and what's yours is also mine.
It starts with disregard for society as a whole and its rules; it's a disregard for private belongings, a disregard for public provisions, and eventually leads to a disregard for human life in general. We can consider ourselves lucky if all we do is count the cost in the number of human lives lost. But that is not all we've lost. People have lost their homes, their businesses, their streets.
They have lost financially and physically. They have lost their pasts, their presents, their futures. But we, as a society, have lost a great deal more.
We have lost our dignity.
Now's the time to fight to get it back, and maybe, just maybe, by showing these criminal thugs and hoodlums that we care, by teaching them that there is another way, they might decide to rejoin society as valued members rather than self-proclaimed outcasts.
And as I watch London burn, I can only hope.