Learning from the past, acting in the present

Small head, Big world
Small head, Big world

However you look at it, 2016 was seismic. I am not just referring to tectonic plates. Many people in my bubble, or echo-chamber, find themselves articulating political views which are outside the mainstream.  As a life-long non-conformist there’s little strange in that really, but I sense our age-group has, rather belatedly, found time to voice political opinions. Happy, if you like, to be out-of-step. It has to be accepted that social media seems to have given a platform for this expression – even if it’s importance is probably over-stated.

What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?

The Brexit vote was a result of selfishness and a lack of regard for a common good. The lack of reasoned debate was as appalling, as was the over-simplistic othering of immigrants.

The USA Presidential election campaign and outcome has appeared farcical – and beyond satire.

“If you look at the history of mankind, this lurch to the right, making self-protection instead of magmanimity our mantra, is instinctive when the going gets tough. Yet across the globe there are millions of individuals like you – active, politically aware, socially conscious and prepared to take action to shape a brave new world around their hopes and dreams.” Mariella Frostrup, The Observer Magazine, 4 December 2016

I remain convinced we have not learned from the political follies of the 1970s and 1980s.

Meeting with four school friends recently we recognised that we, by-and-large, share a worldview. We discussed what we could do about making the world a better place. Even asking the question probably sets us apart: thinking about others first, and not just comparing our material gains. But, to kick-off, we felt able to put to rest one of our debates from 1973-4, “Bob Dylan poet, or not?”, as the Nobel Committee seems to have reached a conclusion about his literature. Prompted by my list of albums from 1973-4 someone asked about lasting musical influences and JR declared for Leonard Cohen, not because he had just died, but for a love of words and poetry. JR did medicine. GB plumbed for Bruce Springsteen and I went for Neil Young. I think we all still love music based on those formative years together.

GB told about being asked by John Woods, the headteacher, fairly soon after leaving school if his line of work in international development had been inlfuenced by the school. At the time Geoff was taken aback thinking he had made personal choices which should not be claimed by John Woods. Time has confirmed that we do see the influence upon us all – our choices were in teaching, social work and medicine, not the City and corporate plunder. We had a life-affirming discussion and meal together. (There is much more on our school-life together at the sub-site www.pannage.com/fssw73)

A really good friend of mine and his wife have come through a terrifying time from non-symptom but scan identification of a large brain tumour – and two subsequent and successful 0perations to remove it. It took two ops because after eight hours the surgeon declared the team was too tired to continue safely. The second operation took another four hours of surgery. These medical people are amazing. And so, too, is the human body which can tolerate such drastic intervention and, yet, bounce back to recovery so quickly. I’m wishing both well for 2017.

Sadder in outcome, we also experienced the hospital-based end-of-life care for my father-in-law and found the NHS to be amazing. Having opted to remain in his own home well into his nineties, he had avoided the transition into a care home. It wasn’t until this year that he had carers support his independent living. And everyone who knew him commented on his willingness to help anyone else. A true gentleman. Through this I also appreciated the gift of his kind and gracious daughter.

From the global to the local, from the wider-perspective to the personal focus, it is best to to stay living for the moment.

Wolf Mendl in his 1974 Swarthmore Lecture, “Prophets and Reconcilers”, concluded:
“For us it is not so important when the perfect world will be achieved or what it will be like. What matters is living our lives in the power of love and not worrying too much about the results. In doing this, the means become part of the end. Hence we lose the sense of helplessness and futility in the face of the world’s crushing problems. We also lose the craving for success, always focusing on the goal to the exclusion of the way of getting there. We must literally not take too much thought for the morrow but throw ourselves whole-heartedly into the present. That is the beauty of the way of love, it cannot be planned, and its end cannot be foretold.”

A basis for optimism?

I refuse to believe that individuals are all powerful over a common good. Reason and higher values will prevail. I read this last November and thought it resonates with this view – and puts Johnson/Gove/Farage or Trump into perspective – as it works equally for heroes and villains. I also believe it is a fundamental weakness of history education and where geography is so much more significant and important.

“I’ve written about the dangers of focusing on the heroics of individuals in the civil rights movement, such as Dr King, as I think it’s more important to focus on the heroics of ordinary folks. If you believe it’s only amazing people who are doing great things, you don’t realise you can do it, too. The reason people teach the great man theory is it immobilises you: then they’ve got you.”
Judy Richardson, ‘That’s me in the picture’, The Guardian Weekend, 12 November 2015

My friend Harry said “Being grumpy can be profoundly satisfying” and I concur. Grumpy means ‘it shouldn’t happen’ or ‘it should change’, with an active outcome, while it is misery that says ‘nothing can be done.’ Acting for the present…

So Let's Just Pretend 2016 Didn't Happen
So Let’s Just Pretend 2016 Didn’t Happen

See Stephen Collins a gift for Christmas cartoon
“Well you have been saying so much lately how you want to get outside your echochamber and speak to people with differing views…”

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