Wellbeing, rather than the more boring GDP, has fluttered on the edges of political acceptability for some years now. Kindness has been coming into fashion after the pandemic, not just in the sermons of archbishops but as an acceptable subject for academic research. Is it possible that altruism, or sheer goodness, can again become values celebrated in the public domain? Portia was once able to proclaim that mercy was 'twice blest' and profited both the recipient and the donor.
Your Granny could have told you that, even if she would have put it in less resonant terms, but her voice was drowned by a flood of modern cynicism or by charges of hypocrisy. Is the cimate right for a struggle against public cynicism and faux hypocrisy? People who had no idea what cynicism actually was have been able to mindlessly proclaim themselves cynics. Cynicism is in fact a disease not amenable to treatment by antibiotics, but which withers the soul and damages the mind. It is the final enemy of all progress and change.
I recently attended a gathering in Glasgow and found myself surrounded by the real thing, actual goodness and real, living good people. The occasion was a celebration of the achievements of Mary's Meals, a charity set up in a shed in Dalmally by one Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow – and there's a name to arouse a ready sardonic guffaw! – with the aim initially of feeding needy children in the war in former Yugoslavia. It has grown to become a worldwide phenomenon which now provides a meal a day in places of education to some 2.2 million kids. They lament that there are 64 million kids who are still facing daily hunger.
I have no idea where these figures come from, and I have no intention of encouraging cynicism or even scepticism. The point is that the tone of the speeches from the platform was unremittingly good-hearted, such as draws bar-room cynicism elsewhere, but any such response would have been badly out of place here. There was Judy Murray, always a good draw with the public, talking of how she had started her involvement with a gift of tennis balls and telling people that Andy and Jamie had loved tinned pears and Ambrosia custard as their pudding. There was a woman from Arran talking about the activities of her church group knitting to help out.
The presenter provided a series of slogans from people like St Francis of Assisi to Mark Twain by way of Mohammed Ali and Shel Silverstein. All proclaimed that, in any circumstances, the popular view may be that such and such an ideal is all very well in theory but it's impossible to attain, and that remains the settled truth until someone goes out and does it. Nelson Mandela, always quotable and immune to all cynical comment, was of the same mind. It may be true that never has there been a time of such desperation worldwide, but there are good people fighting to remedy that. Maybe it is becoming possible to rehabilitate goodness and kindness as political standards.
But I am scared to say so in public in case I am the object of cynical derision.
Many thanks to Gerry Hassan for his very considered article on 'The power of silence and remembrance' (16 November 2022
It must have been spine-tingling to have been on the streets of Britain at that first time of silence in 1919, but actually none of us can imagine the emotions involved. Gerry brought out so many of the burning issues of the time at the end of the Great War, which have often been forgotten or deliberately swept under the carpet.
And now into the 21st century it is interesting how (even more than late night Christmas Eve) folk congregate in churches across the land for Remembrance Sunday services, as well as at War Memorials. Could that be to do with such places being especially conducive to silence? Certainly my experience in our own Cathedral where we have a time of silence and meditation every week at the beginning of the service (as opposed to the more traditional rushing in and then belting out a hymn) has been much appreciated by local and visitor alike. An opportunity in an increasingly noisy world for a bit of time out if nothing else.
As a footnote, I noticed in his reproduction of the Daily Record
from 1919 another headline that caught my eye: 'Jobbery and Corruption, and the endeavours of a noble Lord to challenge the government of the day over blanket profiteering
and the selling of surplus [presumably war] stores. Another instance of plus ca change!'
Minister to St Magnus Cathedral
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