According To Bryn – Blog 11

What is the real cost of this ridiculousness?

As I have said before, I don’t ever claim to be an expert on any subject. That doesn’t make me indifferent – I love the learning process. I’m interested in lots of things, and perhaps I know quite a lot about the things that really interest me, but to claim expertise I think you need to have an obsessive absorption in that subject to the point of minutiae, and I am doubtful I qualify on that score.

I find history a fascinating subject. I will read or record anything I can find about the history of my native country, how it has evolved over the centuries and the way successive historical events have impacted later generations. One of the most important features of learning about the past is how it can and does educate us on the mistakes of our forebears. It’s a direct link from them to us, as if they’re telling us not to repeat the things they got wrong. If we listen, history shows us how to avoid the mistakes and wrongful acts undertaken by our ancestors and helps us to build a better future.

Historical reference books are only one source of the lessons of the past. Museums are chock full of evidence, artefacts and records about historical events, figures and the part they played. If you choose to look at and into history, you should be prepared to find both good and bad in equal measure. People are complex creatures, all with good and bad traits.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we must acknowledge no-one is perfect and many great writers have produced wonderful pieces of writing over all genres considering the frailties and foibles of the human condition. 

Among the valuable resources available are a plethora of statues the length and breadth of the United Kingdom highlighting the key figures featuring in our land’s history. Obviously, statues are an expensive commission and no civic committee would sanction such expense for a statue of an unknown unremarkable person. They’ll only spend money on a publicly well known figure featuring in events of great interest or importance.

Famous historical figures sometimes feature in contemporaneous paintings and give us clues to their lives and the events that shaped them.

The momentous events of history are important, sometimes even vital to help us as we work together towards a better future. The most crucial thing about history is it is (for the most part) researchable: it’s a collection of recorded facts and events available to everyone. It doesn’t change if you don’t like what you find out. Historical events exist in the records of the past as a permanent reminder of what shaped us.

Key events from the last century influence and inform the way we conduct ourselves today. For example, most people own a wristwatch, but they only came into being as a direct result of the trench warfare of the Great War. It’s a small possibly relatively insignificant item, but the wristwatch is also a very useful saleable commodity – just ask the Swiss!

One of the most appalling skeletons in human history’s cupboard is the enslavement or mistreatment of one group of humans by another. Over the centuries, one of the most subjugated people is the Irish, and speaking from my own personal perspective, I am truly horrified and appalled by the behaviour of my English forebears. They perpetrated some truly awful actions against the Irish. I have met some wonderful Irish people and found them engaging, funny and sociable and there remains in my heart a huge permanent debt we English will never be able to repay to our Irish neighbours.

Slavery is a stain on human history, but that doesn’t mean we can wash it away by clearing away all physical manifestations of its prior existence. No-one can remove enslavement from recorded history – it did exist. We now know it’s horrible, unconscionable and unacceptable and it should never happen again.

In order to ensure that happens, I think we should tell those stories, we should inform – accurately, exactly (warts and all) so anyone reading, seeing otherwise experiencing those stories takes away with them the right messages. Enslavement is not something to celebrate; but it is something we need to accept as one of the realities of human history.

Tearing down the statues of historical figures who played an integral part in history, including slavery, will not help the cause of teaching future generations how to behave properly, with dignity and respect for all our fellow humans, regardless of their race, gender, status, age or origin.

Human behaviour is learned. Each generation learns by example from those around them. We are all, if you like, ‘trained’. Think back to your childhood – someone in your childhood taught you how to wash, dress and brush your teeth, yes? The early years are really important, as reinforced by the Princess of Wales’ recently launched ‘Shaped by us’ initiative. With the proper care during the first years of life, many later maladies could be less impactful or even avoided.

‘Treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself’ is a mantra I remember from my earliest childhood.

There’s nothing to say any one among us has to read this blog or a book, watch a TV program, play or film. Any one of us can decline any of the foregoing by switching channels, doing some other activity.

What I would point out is the existence or otherwise of any of the many statues dotted around the UK will do nothing to alter or obliterate the events of the past. You cannot wipe history by pulling down or destroying representations of that particular portion of history. And are you sure you really want to?

The best way to instruct is to lead by example. If you are a shining example of how to do or behave, people will usually follow your lead. This is precisely what happens in the military. If you join the military, they instruct by showing you how and then getting you to follow the instructions they have given. 

Today’s society at least in the UK is different from the one I grew up in. I get that I’m an oldie now. I was born in the swinging Sixties; the birth of the so-called permissive society and I’ve watched it perform a downward slide. 

People generally don’t respect as they used to, there’s not the same ‘community’ vibe there used to be. We used to do ‘favours’ for our neighbours, watch each other’s children, bring back a bit of shopping, drop in a medical prescription if it was on our way. Those kinds of actions seem rare these days. Perhaps the pace of life is different? Are we, as a society, too engrossed in our own affairs to give even a first thought to the struggles of a friend or neighbour just yards from our door?

I would like to see a return to those values. Do not mistake my message. Racism has no place anywhere. It is a vile form of oppression and bullying and utterly despicable and unacceptable. In the 21st century, the modern society should be able to obliterate racism, along with poverty and homelessness. I would love to be able to wave a magic wand and rid society of these pernicious evils but it will only happen if we as a society start talking and working together. Who knows, maybe here is where we can make a start?

Tearing down statues of former slave traders does not remove the blot of slavery on our history. What those statues can do is remind us that modern-day slavery does still exist. It is alive and well, and a mere matter of months ago, the authorities prosecuted a lorry driver for bringing in a lorry full of trafficked humans from another country. The entire human cargo was deceased. It is and was a most awful tragedy. My heart breaks for the families, friends and loved ones they all leave behind. So, instead of toppling statues and possibly incurring a charge of wilful criminal damage, why not turn your efforts to doing something about modern slavery and human trafficking. Individually, people will probably accomplish very little, but as a concerted collective effort, what can we achieve, if only we try?

Bryn Petersen

Monday, 20th March 2023

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