I went to visit my Mum (at a suitable social distance) a few days ago . It was my first trip of any distance for several months. Driving back I was struck by some things which I wouldn’t have noticed in the past when such trips were everyday occurrences.
One thing that stood out was that, of the many cyclists around, a good number weren’t wearing bike helmets. Why didn’t they wear a helmet, I wondered, when this puts them at more risk of serious injury? There could be many reasons for this, and I didn’t stop to ask! Some might not have the money to buy one. Maybe others were in too much of a rush leaving the house.
For many though I suspect two reasons were significant. Firstly some won’t really be aware of how much difference a helmet can make in an accident. We often make mistakes because of our ignorance. Secondly, others will not really take the reality of our human frailness seriously. They’re sure they’ll be safe and no serious accident will come to them – having confidence in themselves to avoid any problems. But we are more frail and fragile than many of us recognise – I’ve written more about this recently.
One of the main items in last week’s news was about statutes, particular about what to do – in light of the Black Lives Matter movement – with statues of individuals from the past who were connected with slavery, or who demonstrated racist views. Some statutes have now been taken down or covered up. The debate continues about others.
Slavery is horrific in all its forms and should have no place now or at any time. It is to our great shame that there is still so much modern slavery. Racism is likewise unacceptable and should be roundly condemned wherever it is encountered.
Nevertheless, it’s also true that individuals from the past were the product of their own time and culture, and we cannot judge them purely through a contemporary lens. How might people a few centuries on judge us about something which seems normal now but becomes morally unacceptable in their time?
The harder we dig into a person’s lives, even the great and good of the past that we may greatly admire, the more we will discover some less appealing parts of their history and character. Eventually we will need to take them all down. Perhaps the best course of action is to not put any statues up in the first place?
We seem to want to put someone on a pedestal and look up to and admire them, whether that person is ourselves, or another of our ‘heroes’ of the past or present. But ultimately whoever we put there is likely to let us down.
There are many people whose lives we can be truly thankful for. But there is only one who is truly worthy of worship.