How the saintly disappoint us. Gary Barlow has been found to owe millions of pounds in tax, having taken part in ‘aggressive tax avoidance schemes’. Some have demanded he return his OBE, awarded for his work for charity. Should he?
We’re a pretty gracious lot when it comes to those with power. In a few weeks’ time, everyone will have forgotten Gary Barlow’s tax ‘avoidance’ and gone back to buying his songs and stamping his face on shirts. We forgot about Jimmy Carr’s similar screw-up soon enough, and it’s not as though we set up a guillotine outside the Houses of Parliament after the big MP scandal – our response was largely limited to sarcastic tweets about duck houses. Grace means that bad deeds don’t cancel out good ones.
But grace also means that good deeds don’t cancel out the bad. Gary Barlow’s work for charity does not alter his failure to understand charity’s true nature – acts of self-sacrifice, considering the other to be as important as us, willingly taking on responsibility for others in the knowledge that all we have is a gracious gift anyway.
All of us live in a state of responsibility, whether we want to admit it or not – we are responsible to those around us, just as they are, in turn, responsible. Each of us lives in a finely balanced web of giving and receiving, of dependence and being depended upon. When it emerges that someone has decided that they live above this system – especially when that someone is held in such high esteem by so many, and whose very power comes from the support of those he has betrayed – seeds of doubt are cast among those who have committed. If the powerful feel no need to respond in kind, whom can I trust? And why should I partake, if others will not?
While he will most likely be forgiven, the scars of this breach of trust will remain in public consciousness, fuelling the atmosphere of suspicion and fear that has become so common in the language of the public square. Like any relationship, the relationship between Mr Barlow and the British public will only be truly healed with an acknowledgement of guilt – with the language of ‘sin’ and ‘failure’, not of ‘mistake’ or ‘error of judgment’. This isn’t really a question of ‘to OBE or not to OBE’. It’s a question of trust. With great power comes great responsibility. That responsibility includes admitting one’s failings, and being willing to fall on the grace of those you have failed. Let’s hope he does exactly that.
(image via Wikimedia pics)