Returning from a quick shopping trip just now, I found two of my neighbours standing chatting in exactly the same place I had passed them half an hour earlier on my way out. We all grinned, and I commented that there was always plenty to talk about.
“There is now,” said the younger woman, with a grimace.
“They aren’t going to do anything!” exclaimed the older one, shaking her head disbelievingly.
They told me what had happened, and the quandary they were now in. They had witnessed one of our other neighbours reversing her car into Fred’s Mini, which was inconveniently parked opposite her drive. In spite of the loud bang, Fred had not made an appearance, and the lady responsible for the collision had quickly disappeared into her own house, leaving her car (which was unmarked) standing looking innocent on her drive. My two witnesses were now waiting to see whether the culprit was going to own up.
“If she doesn’t, do you think we ought to tell him?”
“Well yes, but … well, you know … ”
I knew how they were feeling. Ours is a friendly neighbourhood, and Fred ought to be informed, but they didn’t want to upset anybody. In addition, the clumsy driver and her husband are foreigners, Eastern Europeans, who so far have been very pleasant but – well, you know …
At that moment, the foreign man came out of the house and walked away down the road. He was obviously not going to apprise Fred of the incident.
“Will you say something?”
“He might punch me,” said the older witness, although he didn’t look like a violent man.
“Perhaps they don’t know what to do?”
“You could let her know that you saw what happened, and suggest she tells Fred,” I said.
They looked doubtful.
I hadn’t seen or heard anything of the collision, and I had frozen goods in my shopping bag, so I moved on before they started to defrost. But I felt almost as bad as my two ladies, since I was now in the know. I peeped out of the window a few minutes later and they had gone. I don’t think they will say anything, but their consciences are nibbling at them.
They are in a similar dilemma to a friend I saw recently, who suspects a member of her family is growing cannabis in his home. She is torn between talking to him or his father, and reporting him to the police. Of course, the law says she should report him but it would cause a rift in the family, so she’s keeping quiet. And feeling very uncomfortable.
“I don’t know for sure,” she says, trying to find an excuse for her passivity, “But all the signs are there.”
It happens all the time: we know exactly the course of action we should take, but at the same time we know that it could have unpleasant consequences for us personally and so we prefer not to rock the boat. Why are we such cowards? Sometimes, it’s a minor matter and not worth tittle-tattling about, but other times it’s more serious.
We see substantive evidence that someone is having an affair but we don’t tell the unsuspecting spouse. Or we realise that a friend is making money illegally. Or a mother discovers that her child has been radicalised and is on the way to becoming a terrorist. Or we see signs of child abuse. How many times do we turn a blind eye, and pretend that everything in the garden is lovely, either because we don’t want to get involved or because of misplaced loyalty? Meanwhile, unscrupulous people are getting away – as the saying goes – with murder.