‘Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise.’
The latter was not written by W. B. Yeats (as is commonly quoted), but can be found in the book of Hebrews (13.2). It seems a good New Year resolution for us all to adopt, for wouldn’t the world be a greater place? However, a less sanguine approach will be taken by many, with the realisation that we have yet to resolve the financial difficulties that have recently beset us. A line genuinely by Yeats, from his poem Easter 1916, is more appropriate to the straitened times we continue to face: ‘All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born.’
I suggest that the beauty in this case could come with the growing need to increasingly draw on our own resources for food and entertainment, as money and jobs become scarcer. Growing your own fruit and vegetables is a remarkably healthy activity, with fresh air and exercise providing physical and mental well-being, combined with fresh food and a reduced grocery bill. Home-grown entertainment provides another mental boost, such as the company of friends around a table of home-cooked food, digging out those old board games, or re-discovering a good book that has languished untouched on a shelf for years. In the year of Charles Dickens’ 200th anniversary, perhaps re-reading one of his would be a good place to start for mental nourishment (for the New Year, what better than Great Expectations?).
You may have other New Year resolutions such as losing weight, exercising more, stopping smoking, drinking less alcohol, reducing cholesterol, and so on; all good worthy aims. However, why not add to those one or two other issues that you would like to see society confront as a whole? New Year should not be just about tackling personal issues. If society was made a better and healthier place, so too would be our own lives by default.
For example, just consider some of the problems society is currently facing. Eleven million people alive today will live to see their 100th birthday (almost 18% of the population), meaning that the pension crisis is only in its infancy. The concomitant reduction in the social care budget for elderly care only compounds the difficulties our elderly are already facing. At the other end of the spectrum, there is a global shortage of midwives (including in the UK), costing a million lives per year in infant and maternal deaths; whilst our own under-age pregnancy rate continues to rise, as does the rate of sexually transmitted disease amongst teenage girls. Of course, alcohol remains part of the problem; additionally causing injuries, relationship breakdowns and loss of working time.
Elsewhere, a lack of donor organs for transplantation sees precious (often young) lives needlessly lost; whilst the medico-legal world struggles with the issues of voluntary euthanasia and the use of organs harvested as a result. In Britain alone, tens of thousands of children wait for families to adopt them, as their formative years disappear, often amidst peripatetic lives of one foster home after another. Meanwhile, the bedrock of our caring society, the National Health Service, is under very real threat, as is our traditional approach to General Practice as the centre of that service. And if that is not sufficient, the very core values that often drive individuals within caring professions are being demonised and extruded from the workplace; I speak of those values deeply rooted in a person’s faith, be it Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism or any other where the fundamental teaching and beliefs, when appropriately harnessed, can be a powerful aid to all in our society.
New Year is about resolutions, change and fresh starts. Exercise more and stop smoking by all means (in fact, please do). However, what about making 2012 the year when you resolve to make a small contribution to at least one of the many other challenges facing our worldwide society? After all, major successes all start with small steps.
A happy, healthy and thoughtful New Year to you all.
(First published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, Thursday, 29th December 2012.)