Last night, I saw the new Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody.
There is a scene towards the end that depicts Mercury learning he is HIV positive. Shot without words, the image of a doctor and the film’s context is all you need to understand what is happening.
It is a devestating moment, but one that also conjured a profound sense of gratitude towards doctors and nurses.
All around the world, the common values and norms that preserve and protect our humanity appear to be crumbling. In this context, the Hippocratic Oath is quite magical; the concept of a group of people trained to save and protect us – and committed to confidentiality and non-judgement – is a norm that endures.
What a potent reminder of our common humanity.
When you stand in front of a doctor or nurse, you are at your most vulnerable; your most human. And the fact that so many people choose to enter the medical profession encapsulates our simple human desire to help others.
Yet it is this same vulnerability that so often drives us to reject this natural empathy.
The film builds towards Queen’s Live Aid performance in 1985. It crudely charts the making, breaking, and ‘remaking’ of Mercury.
By becoming a hero, Mercury was no longer allowed to be human. Suddenly, everything about his life was fair game. And when he made mistakes – as every single one of us does – his superhuman status justified a ‘take down’. A familiar pattern.
In a similar way, it has become fashionable to pillory Bob Geldof and the Live Aid movement.
While there is absolutely a debate to be had about Geldof’s methods and approach, isn’t it strange that we’re encouraged to malign a man who was simply so moved by human suffering, that he moved millions more to do something about it?
It is this instinct to respond to those in need – that same which drives doctors and nurses – that makes us human. Rigorous challenge around how we act on this instinct is needed. Ridicule towards those who embody it is not.
Why then, do we so often do the latter? The simple answer is fear.
Mocking the achievements of others makes us more comfortable with our own failings. Tearing down our heroes reminds us never to hope too hard. Scapegoating minorities helps us rationalise our own helplessness.
If we don’t try, we can’t fail. If we don’t trust, we can’t hurt. If it is someone else’s fault, then our conscience is clear.
We can react to vulnerability with fear. Or, we can treat it as a reminder of our common humanity – connecting with those around us as we ask doctors and nurses to connect with us: without judgement or assumption, simply as fellow humans.
When we choose to do this, a gay immigrant who rejects all of society’s norms can become a national hero in 1980s Britain. When we don’t, that same man can face stigma, racial abuse and intrusion his whole life.
If we let our better instincts win, our common values might just endure.