A couple of days ago, I started a follow-up to the ‘series’ I did on British folklore, all about what the country is producing for the future, not just the past. And it turned into a bit of a rant, because I’m a grumpy so-and-so and think that, at times, we’re flushing everything down the toilet. The same day I saw a quotation from Shakespeare which just seemed to back up this pessimism ("The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones." See, I’m quoting literature. No-one can say I didn’t deserve that English degree.).
But I’m not just grumpy and pessimistic – I’m also contrary, and dammit, I can go toe-to-toe with Shakespeare (I think I can take him, he’s been dead since 1616). Originally, this new series was going to be about Britain’s latest achievements – scientific, cultural, social, whatever – but I couldn’t get inspired by it. Maybe it’s my lack of patriotism – we’re living in a global village and all that – but those achievements aren’t those of the country (which, when it comes down to it, is a big bunch of rock sitting in the middle of the sea), they’re the achievements of people. And when you look at it like that, it’s not just the big things that matter, not just the internets and human genomes and Doctor Whos. It’s the day-to-day stuff.
See, I know doctors and educators and pastors and parents.
I have friends and relatives who are involved in youthwork, charity work, community work and trekking up mountains.
I know people who work hard and help each other out and who provide a great service to the people who need it.
I know people who create – crafts, stories, databases, poems, pictures.
I know people who are doing their best to raise kids, often under trying circumstances.
I know people and relatives of people who have suffered for serving their country (and one was captured at Dunkirk).
I know a lot of people who actually give a damn about other people, and act like they do.
I know of people who started out as fans and are now having a serious impact on media like comics and TV.
I know people who can sing.
I know people who can play instruments.
I know people who can write.
I know people who can make works of art in all sort of crafts.
I know people who are caring for, or who have cared for, loved ones suffering terrible diseases.
I know people who have been through hell and yet still came out fighting.
I know people who passionately support music, or sports, or film, or the arts.
And none of these fought in World War I; none of them scored the winning goal in the 1966 World Cup. None of them freed America’s slaves, or landed on the moon, or ended apartheid, or made Star Wars. None of them crossed the Red Sea or died for our sins or looked upon the face of God. But in so many little ways, every day, they just keep doing what they’re doing, and inch by inch, little by little, these are going to be the things that overcome apathy or hatred or ignorance. The big things are great, don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t be without the Internet, I cry when I hear about Apollo 11 – but the little things happen way more often.
We publicise the bad – we slap it on the front of newspapers, which I guess is their job, but we also use it, unchallenged, as entertainment; we stick it on Youtube and try to pretend it’s normal. And maybe it even is, but it’s not the whole story, not the story of good and decent people who try to make things better.
What’s the story of the future? I don’t know, it’s not been written yet. But maybe if that story’s going to be any good, we have to stand up and proclaim that yes, actually the good things that are going on, the noble and the hard-working and the hopeful and the compassionate things, are more important than the vapid and the depraved and the ignorant and the sadistic.
It’s not a wake-up call – everyone’s already awake, everyone’s already doing what they’re doing, and that’s cool.
But maybe we need to tell those stories more often; around our campfires, from the front of our cathedrals; in the status box of Facebook, and in the corner of the pub.