Not drowning but waving
With gratitude to Stevie Smith
I knew how she felt when she published her immortal poem “Not waving but drowning” in 1957. Although beyond my teens, I was still very emotionally immature, struggling to seek help and confirmation of what was yet to come. I have altered Stevie Smith’s title to express a different level of concern, more as an attempt at optimism than as a cry for rescue. No need to list the many causes of anxiety – the media do that for us every day. Two items have come together at an unfortunate and potentially cataclysmic moment. By themselves these two matters would probably be storms in teacups. Together, right now, they are far from that.
Nancy Pelosi’s ill-conceived visit to Taiwan has already been the subject of a Daily Paradox. She may yet not go. If she does, China finds itself in a position from which a retreat is hard to imagine. It might have been solved by some sabre-rattling. Could it still be, at a time when the USA is publishing what it describes as the definitive document on the source of Covid-19? You do not have to doubt the integrity of the report to see what a provocation it will be to China. Indeed, the greater its authenticity, the greater the perceived slight. The West has always failed to understand the issue of ‘face’ even though it has the same issue but in a rather diluted form.
So potentially serious is the situation that there is even a possibility that the leaders involved will see an opportunity to lower the tone of the rhetoric, reduce the red lines to pale blue ones and devote their time more to securing the medium-term future instead of tomorrow’s political advantage. But it takes big leaders to do that and big leaders need big popular support. So many of today’s leaders seem more likely to turn the red lines into lines of mourning than to tone them down. Popular support seems to be veering – perhaps ‘to have been veering’ – towards hostility rather than peace. Are these combined tsunamis enough to change perceptions, to encourage leaders to lead and to bring some truth to a world of fake news?
The world is at a ‘Dunkirk’. Very different from the shores of France at the start of WWII, this event nevertheless requires the small boats – you and I – to play whatever part we can in an operation of rescue and a restatement of principles. A billion voices are better heard than one voice. Five billion people taking action are more effective than all the agreements ever written. Each of us can make a contribution to sensible, informed opinion about the purpose of life and the future of the planet. All of us have a stake in what the world is to become.
At the start of WWII a little powered fishing boat left the south coast of England, crossed the Channel and rescued eight soldiers from the shore. Their children and grandchildren are very grateful that they did. That little fishing boat was their lifeline to the future.
The owner had seen that the soldiers at Dunkirk were waving, not drowning.
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