I recently watched The Departed. For those of you not familiar with it the basic premise is a cop undercover as a bad guy and a bad guy undercover as a cop. It works, and they are successful, because they dress and act the part. The one pretending to be a cop has the full button-down, deferential attitude required while the cop-come-criminal plays the angry man to a tee. Everyone there believes them; they have no reason not to. Although the audience know the truth the plot works because people see what they want to see.
Dr Harold Shipman was able to become Britain’s worst serial killer because he gave the impression of the caring doctor – one who even went out to see his patients unasked for when they were dying. It was no wonder people apparently put him in their wills! No one suspected him for so long simply because he played his part so well.
We hear sometimes of the most unlikely people helping out – bikers doing toy collections for example. They make the news because we are surprised, although why should they be less human simply because they dress in a certain way and like different things?
What really shocks us to the core though are those people who are meant to be doing good but aren’t. Cleaners who steal from vulnerable employees, careers who abuse their charges, nurses who leave patients begging for water. These cases are incredibly rare but when we hear of them we are rightly appalled. It is not simply that they are paid to do a job – by accepting that role they have agreed to take on a persona, even if it doesn’t come naturally, and to be honest and fulfill it. We start to fear that if these few people are able to disregard this moral contract it might be widespread. It’s not, but the fear has entered our hearts and we lose trust in image dictating behaviour.
In some ways this is actually a good thing. I don’t mean people abusing their position (there’s a special place in Hell for them as far as I’m concerned!) but maybe we shouldn’t think that an image dictates a personality. The heavily tattooed man could spend his time helping at a hospice, the sweet looking little old lady could be a right cow. The point is we don’t know until we have spent time in their company.
And the Bad Samaritan of the title? Once again there has been an accident victim robbed by someone supposedly helping him. They have a seat in Hell right next to the others.