A Tree for 2017

A Tree for 2017

The revelation that upwards of a thousand Russian athletes have used drugs to secure their Olympic sporting victories grinds uncomfortably with events in Europe, America, North, South, West and East Africa, the Philippines and the South China Sea. It wraps up a year of profound shock for people trying to make sense of what they were taught as children and what standards they would like for their own followers.

So unpredictable has the year been that I am reluctant even to use the words ‘wraps up’. Who knows what the few remaining days may yet have in store?

I have to confess that nothing in my eighty-five years has ever made me cry as much as the story of the drugged athletes. I weep for them, for those who set up their corruption, for the many who lost their rightful prizes and honour to cheating. I weep for parents, mentors and teachers struggling to impart standards of decent neighbourly behaviour to a society that has forgotten that Sun Szu’s real art of war was to never go to war. Most of all I weep for the grandchildren – yours and mine – for some of whom these events will be an example to be followed, without getting caught. Damn all those whose purpose is to destroy, not build.

But every problem is an opportunity in waiting. 2017 will be a tough year for many people. Could we set our sights on a Tree on the other side of the Field – one unique to each of us – so that we may say in twelve months’ time: ‘it may have been only a small change for the better but it improved other people’s lives’?

Here are five suggestions for what that Tree might be – but with the caveat that the one you invent for yourself will always be better than any of them.

When you see a wrong speak up not with a criticism but with a positive suggestion for putting it right.

Join in politics, local or national, and engage to make them fun and useful. If you don’t they will continue to bore you – and won’t deliver what you want them to.

Learn to ask questions of everyone you meet – and listen to the answers. Your curiosity will increase in leaps and bounds. What is more, you will become an interesting person yourself.

Read some philosophy every week. It will keep your brain working and enable you to join in any conversation. It is the best life-long learning programme you can adopt.

Stop and watch, or listen to, a beautiful event for an hour every week – maybe a sunset, perhaps a painting, a piece of classical music. Use time to think why you are here and what will make your life worthwhile. Then realise that that will depend on what you do for others.

We cannot let 2017 defeat us. We have got to win this one.