On reflection, my most destructive habits (e.g. smoking) are now happily consigned to the past. Even so, I still cautiously avoid getting physically too close while anyone’s actively smoking and even find myself holding my breath as I walk past them. I would hate to become ‘hooked’ again and know full well that it would only require me to listen to the delusion that ‘one little cigarette would do me no harm’ to be led astray. I always feel sad to see young people smoking, but understand that they wouldn’t appreciate me pointing out the dangers of smoking to them.
So, no specific New Year resolutions. However, I do have a number of wishes I’d love to see come to fruition:
I’d like to live in a more equal society where the gap between the richest and the poorest people in my own country and on this planet is dramatically reduced. I don’t think the answer to this is quite as simple as just taking all their money off the rich - a truly fair and just world requires all of us to play a part.
I’d like to see some genuine consensus between our leaders on environmental issues. So far we’ve only witnessed lip-service and a good deal of hot air - we live together on one planet, and it behoves us all to take more care of it. Our politicians are all too often vain, complacent and slippery and must be held to account, which demands more effort from individuals like you and me - politicians will only pay attention if we make them listen.
I’d like to live in a world where peace prevails and where differences are aired around a table. Most human conflict ultimately concludes in this way, so what a shame we find the inevitable solution so unthinkable at the beginning. The cost of intransigence is invariably great suffering and too often means the loss of many innocent lives. I’d dearly love to see the world’s arms dealers go out of business. Harry Patch (1898 - 2009), last surviving British soldier who fought in World War One, put it very powerfully when he asked: “Why did we fight? The peace was settled round a table, so why the hell couldn’t they do that at the start, without losing millions of men?”
Unless every human being on this planet has a profound change of heart, it’s hard to imagine these wishes coming true in 2016, in my lifetime, or even within the lifetime of my beautiful new grand-daughter - or even that of her own grand-daughter. Yet, these remain my wishes for this and for every New Year.
And I do truly believe that change begins with me.
In 1987 my wife and I moved out of London to a village in Sussex. I told the man who owned our little grocery store that the reason we didn’t buy his eggs was because they weren’t free-range. The following week he got some in for a try-out. Guess what? His egg sales actually increased. Thirty years on it’s hard to imagine a time when free-range eggs were not widely available. Likewise, when Mrs Thatcher refused to impose sanctions upon the South African Government and its loathsome apartheid system, thousands and thousands of people in Britain and Ireland boycotted South African products e.g. fruit. I believe this action on the part of many individuals made a real difference; justice finally prevailed, Nelson Mandela was released from prison and the rest is history. One young woman in Ireland and her union colleagues spent two and a half years on strike pay after refusing to sell Outspan grapefruit at her checkout.
Like I said, I believe change begins with me. The American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead put it like this: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Let’s all do our best to make it a healthy, peaceful and happy 2016 for all!
Irish anti-apartheid movement: