Thursday, 15 December 2011

The final wise man, but what a wise man

So, to my fourth and final wise man.

I hope you enjoyed and were provoked by my last piece. Here, a few days later, just like that fourth wise man, is the conclusion.

Like everyone who was forced by human compulsion to watch last summer’s diabolic riots with enormous sadness, three images stand out for me. I’d like to point out at this point that I know the run up to it, and know that our police force may not be whiter than white, but I’d rather have them there than not. Regardless of their actions, we have something difficult, cumbersome and utterly, utterly irrefutable to deal with such incidents: it’s called THE LAW. The law should have dealt with it, not the mob. Note to mob: You’re wrong, whatever you say on Twitter or Facebook, you’re wrong.

The first image was the sight of the furniture shop in Croydon totally engulfed by flames. Had it not been such a painfully sad story, the spectacle might almost have been beautiful.

Secondly, the sight of a teenager, dressed top to toe in expensive clothes (so no real social injustice there) climbing up a wall in a bookmakers to rip a television screen from a shelf, and the mindless, needless aggression that must have accompanied that act.

And the third? A father, who had lost his son, with every justification in the world to be angry, standing up to the mob and telling them to go home. It is this man, Tariq Jahan, who I would like to nominate as my fourth wise man.

We have our leader already – step forward Mr D. We have the quiet, sensitive toiler, who kickstarted (quite literally) a breakout of monumental peace. We have our social glue, our smiler. But every successful team needs an activist, and energy bringer, a spark. One who compliments the qualities of the others and still brings something new to the group. A d’Artangnan figure, if you like. I believe Mr Jahan could be this figure.

Haroon Jahan, Shazad Ali and Abdul Musavir were victims of this summer’s riots. Three young men who stood up to defend their community. At the news of their deaths, tensions rose even higher, and thousands took to the streets. This was transforming slowly, subtly and powerfully from a pointless act of violence to a thirst for concentrated revenge. Something had to give.

Step forward father of one of the men, Tariq Jahan, who stood and addressed the baying crowd. No-one needed an introduction to know who he was, or how he must have felt at that moment. He had more right than anyone in that city of my birth to feel grief, anger and injustice at that time.

However, with the streets at his disposal, did he call for vengeance?

No. He asked a question.

“Who here wants to lose a son or a brother tonight?”

I recall watching these images with tears in my eyes. What bravery this must have taken I can only guess. The streets around him remained silent and deferential, but the tension remained. When no answer was forthcoming, Mr Jahan stepped in.

“Then go back to your homes.”

In the following days, he stated publicly how humbled he was by the reaction of the community, especially the young people, who listened to his request for calm. Surely it is we who should be humbled. Surely, as it is us who have not experienced this unbearable loss (and, trust me, I love nothing more on this planet than being a father) who should be truly humbled.

“If I were a wise man, I would play my part”. Mr Jahan, who, as far as I’m concerned deserves a knighthood, certainly played his part. Therefore, I would humbly ask him to play the role of my fourth wise man for the 21st century. Dickens played his part. The unknown football instigator played his and then some. Noddy continues so to do. Ask yourself: have I played mine? Have I been the human I’m cracked up to be?

So my quartet of wisdom comprises men of all ages, of different faiths and of different nations. Different skills and talents representing different standpoints. But isn’t that what a successful team needs? Also, in order to face up to the challenges and demands of the 21st century, we need to appeal to the world entire.

No women? I know a thousand wise women, but that’s another blog, and some stories I shouldn’t reveal on an education-based website.

So, as we usher in 2012, let us hope that these and other wise men (and wise women) can contribute to the leading the world to a safer and happier year. 2011 has been a worrying year – the middle east and our own country just a part of a larger global antagonism, and then we must remember the poor people of Japan. Below the news, we must try and reclaim a happier, brighter world for all those on the margins: the homeless, the unwanted, the downtrodden, and even further, those people who have every material comfort imaginable, but live in fear of those near by. Don’t give something up for new year; take something up, and let that something make a small, unnoticeable difference.

To all who have read and understood, peace be with you. To those who have not understood or have taken offence, my most humble apologies, and peace also be with you. However you celebrate the impending festivities, I hope it is incredibly special for you and yours.

For 2011, that is all.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Three Wise Men

Whilst heads of other educational or world establishments may choose to utilize their December blogs for Christmas messages, this blogger feels it may be more apt to exploit the conjoining of the festive season and my technological responsibilities to greater social purpose. Therefore, I would humbly offer you the following words to ponder. I hope they bring nothing more than a smile and some warmth to you and to yours, and if they do little more than fill the void between reruns of Christmas specials, I may finally have served some purpose on this earth.

In coming up with this idea, I wish to apologise in advance for any offence my ideas may cause. I once wrote a Christmas play for children called “Rats amazing” in which the characters of the nativity each arrived with rats and other vermin, and the usual plot unraveled to end with a nativity scene. I thought it was okay. The governors at the Church of England school had sanctioned it. However, the Christians in the audience (all three of them) complained bitterly, and I therefore frontload this offering with the sincere message that no offence is intended.

Every year schools seem to have the same discussions: who will be Mary? How many camels shall we have? Where’s the baby gone from the 1970s style crib, and why did they have 1970s style school furniture 2000 years before? I was once party (again, in a Church of England school) to a discussion about how many kings we should have – 5 or 6?. Forgive me, but I always thought it was three on the day, with one arriving late.

This in turn, if you’re irritating like me, leads to the whole “well, were they kings?” discussion. Were they Magi, astrologers, the proverbial wise men? I would (once again, with no offence intended whatsoever) go further – were they diplomats, sent to represent civilization at a key turning point? Were they politicians, seeking to act on the behalf of others for good? Or, Heaven forfend, for ill? Were they simply lucky, arriving as they did at that place at that time? Were they merchants, peddling gold and precious objects around Judea?

Let’s stick with the idea of wise men. For this blog, I’d like to offer you up and alternative set of wise men, thinking about their lasting impact on a 21st century landscape. If they were truly wise men all those years ago, how did they use their immaculate experience to benefit others, and what might we learn? The enduring story still perplexes, mystifies and humbles, but a sideways think around it may present some brainfood.

For wise man number one, the leader, the spokesman, the negotiator, I would offer up a certain Mr Charles Dickens. “A Christmas Carol!” I hear you all cry. Well, no, not entirely. In fact, that only serves as the literary representation of why I’m electing to imbue old Charlie with Wisdom status.

So why is he here if not for the Carol? Allow me to point out one or two things. Dickens, who spent time in his childhood in a Union workhouse, was determined to be successful. He worked laboriously on his writing, acting and public speaking. He was an advocate of the poor and needy, and a champion of justice. Furthermore, he was a believer in redemption. He thought that with hard work, dedication, a bit of luck, a man could become leader of his own destiny. Many of his characters have to overcome adversity to fulfill their recognized potential – think it through, you’ve all seen Oliver. That is what the carol is all about, and some of his lesser known works; The Chimes is also a ghost story just like Christmas Carol, which takes place during the midnight bells of New Year’s Eve, and sees a horrible character becoming good.

Above all, Dickens believed in the power of light and kindness as a human power for good. He believed that tenderness, compassion, love and joy were the key triggers to success for the human race, and he tried to tell everyone. Imagine how powerful that message would have been in the 1800s, or 2000 years ago, or even in Brussels this week.

And that’s where we get to the Christmas Carol. Whether you fall down on the side of Alistair Sim, or the side of Kermit the frog, everyone knows at least one catchphrase from this story – usually “Bah, humbug!” The point is this: A Christmas Carol is simply a moral tale on how the human race can change for the better. It’s about having the courage to stand up and say “I was wrong!” and then having the courage to put it right. It’s about accepting that there are things on this planet which are unacceptable, and stepping up to the plate which reads “Making a difference”. Yes, it’s got the ghosts, and the graveyards, and the tears, and the jokes, but then, every Dickens book has them (except Great Expectations – graveyards galore but short on the gags). Dickens was using these, as ever, as his vehicle to tell a ripping yarn laden with moral values.

If you really want to drill down into the Christmas in the Carol, look at the little speeches, such as his nephew saying “…although it’s never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I say Christmas has done me good and will do me good…”. If Dickens thought that his legacy was as the pensmith of a jolly old Christmas cartoon, he would have gone mental. Well, even more mental.

So that’s our leader of wise men: a champion of social justice, a fierce advocate of the poor and downtrodden, and the author of one of the world’s largest and finest collections of “How it should be done”s.

So, to our second wise man. Only a young man, and I only wish I could tell you his name. Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control, no-one actually knows it. Nor can I tell you his nationality. All we can guess is that he was a young man, a long way from home, serving people he would never have met. If Dickens was our leader, this wise man is our worker, our humility, our water carrier. This is the one you never notice, the one who cleans up after himself, the one who would never have brought anything showy like gold; he’d always bring something practical yet impressive, something thoughtful and kind, such as myrrh.

For my second wise man is courageous young man who made a decision that would change his life and the life of many more. My second wise man is the young soldier who decided, on Christmas day in 1914, that he wasn’t staying in his trench, and, in the midst of what would be the most terrible conflict ever, decided to go and offer the gift of friendship in the form of kicking a ball around.

No-one knows the truth about this apocryphal tale; it is right up there with the Angel of Mons in the “Woh, did that really happen?” stakes but the general consensus is that the football match on Christmas day 1914 actually happened. Stanley Weintraub’s excellent book Silent Night offers more insight than I might. However, think about this: someone had to start it. One person had to have the courage, or simply even the idea, to break out of the shackles of warfare.

It still makes me stop and think. In the middle of the most catastrophic act of man to hit the planet, men of many nations simply … stopped. Now that is a wise act.

Finally, our joker in the pack. Our mouthpiece. Our social animal. The one everyone will remember at parties. The one everyone will say “Wasn’t he funny?”. Every group needs its social manipulator, and here we have ours.

On a regular 1970s July Thursday, in the middle of an unseasonable heatwave, a man from Wolverhampton couldn’t believe his luck. There he was, having enjoyed very minor glam rock success in the UK and the US, suddenly meeting his idol. Not only that, he was in the apartment of his idol, playing a famous white piano synonymous with the idol.

When placed in this situation, many people might go to pieces. I met one of my heroes and became a jibbering wreck. Some may resort to silliness, some to shyness. Not our wise man, oh no, no, no. Whilst playing John Lennon’s white “Imagine” piano, our third wise man did none of these. He simply sat there, with one of his mates, and penned a now world famous anthem. Later that day, he recorded it. Yes, I offer as our third wise man Norbert Holder, better known as Noddy.

Are you having a laugh? You may cry. No, I’m not. For a very simple reason: every single year, Noddy Holder goes out of his way to remind people that he knows how lucky he was and is. He makes it no secret that he thought the record would be a flash in the pan, and that he would really rather remember playing John Lennon’s piano a little more fondly. He donates proceeds from re-releases to charity, time and time again, and makes it clear that his work of art is for everyone to share and enjoy, and that no-one should take it too seriously. When our world is becoming a serious and dark place, someone with a social conscience, and a little humour, will save the day.

There you have them. Our leader, our intellectual and our talker. Our water carrier and labourer who ensures the unpleasant things get done. Our social glue, the person who knows what it is to give, and what it is to laugh. Wisdom? A very special kind of it, yes, I think so…

I hope this little piece of self indulgence has made you think, or at least smile, once. I hope you will consider it merely a new reflection of an old theme. I hope it reveals how seriously I take the subject, and I sincerely pray it has caused no offence. I hope your Christmas is amazingly special, and that you and your loved ones enjoy it together. Above all, I hope that the wisdom of someone will relieve the world of its current struggles, but I think that’s a big hope.

Thank you all. That is all.

PS Next week I will reveal my fourth wise man. Simply, a brave father.