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I was born in 1952. I was born in London but was raised mostly in the country. As a child I can remember that milk was delivered to our doorstep in glass bottles each day. Horses and carts were still surprisingly commonplace when I was a child too; coal was delivered on a horse drawn wagon and beer was still being delivered by a horse drawn brewery ‘dray!’ People were routinely delivered to their destinations in railway carriages hauled by steam locomotives right up to the time that I left school. In fact one of my greatest childhood pleasures was travelling to and from school by train. As a boy, I even spent my spare time at the railway to watch and record these marvels of engineering snort, steam and puff their way on journeys to far away places.

The aircraft I watched lazily winging across the skies were still mostly driven by propeller engines and jet travel was the almost exclusive preserve of the very rich. Of course, our own holidays, if and when we could afford them, were taken at home or, if we were very lucky, by the sea. Most families around me did not have access to a car; we travelled by bus or we cycled or we walked. In the street where I lived there were only two working men who could afford a motorcycle; both of these were fitted with sidecars and used as the principle means of family transport for these more fortunate and wealthier families. Few of my friends at school had either a television or a telephone in their homes; we all trooped round to our teacher’s house to watch events of national importance.

 In my own lifetime there has been a vast amount of incredible change. Not only that, but in my own lifetime the pace of change has accelerated; and this seems to be speeding up more and more each day. Human intelligence appears to be capable of much more than I ever dared imagine when I was a child. I have witnessed the replacement of steam locomotives with tilting high speed trains that travel at more than 100mph and which have shrunk my world. Not only have my family taken their holidays in exotic and remote countries; we have travelled by air almost every year. I have lived away from home for most of my adult working life and have commuted to and from my home by air. In the street where I live now several families have more than one car and motor cycles have been largely in use for recreation rather than a regular means of transport to and from work. Families can now have a television in every room and most family members carry their own personal and portable telephone with them every day.

 The wider world has experienced changes that have completely amazed me. I have actually seen men walking on the moon. I have seen the information revolution transform my world. People can now mobilise and organise to change their world in inconceivable ways and they do this almost every day. This blog is an example of how. I have just been corresponding with friends all over the world by email and my messages now take a fraction of a second to reach destinations that previously took weeks. I have access to stores of information, to libraries of books, to video images and to music files in such abundance that most days I no longer have time to cope with all the data around me. My children have such an easy facility with technology and are frequently more expert in its use than I am myself. Human beings all over the world have opinions about everything and they are no longer afraid to use our technologies or to make a big noise!

 Our ability, as a species to make war on each other is being constrained; largely because people mobilised and organised opposition quite effectively. Atmospheric nuclear testing has been stopped. Bilateral nuclear weapons agreements have been begun. The politicians we vote for are very clear that nuclear proliferation must be stopped. Generations of ordinary people have taken to the streets and marched to our parliaments to demand an end to this particular insanity.  Young people everywhere across the world risked being beaten, imprisoned and even shot as they campaigned to bring the decades of war in Vietnam to an end. I watched Nelson Mandela walk to freedom on the TV in my living room. I never dared dream that apartheid would be dismantled in my lifetime but I was there to dance in the street parties of Johannesburg with the thousands of South Africans who had waited so patiently in line for several days to cast their vote for the first time ever.

 It has been nothing short of a miracle to witness the peace and reconciliation hearings that prevented a bloodbath of epic proportions take hold in the new South Africa. Peoples who had been bloodied, beaten, imprisoned and cruelly oppressed simply forgave their persecutors and decided to get on with their lives. I grew up with the iron curtain as an indisputable fact of life. Witnessing ordinary people climbing onto the Berlin wall and tearing it down with their bare hands was nothing short of a miracle. I watched in total amazement as young women and mothers climbed onto the tanks in Red Square to press flowers into the hands of startled Russian conscripts. The domination of half the world by the Soviet Union and its allies has now been consigned to history. I meet young adults in their 20s every day who have lived all their lives since the Berlin wall came down.

These same young adults now mobilise and campaign to end poverty, to lobby for effective pollution controls, to protest against the worst excesses of globalisation. The dare to do it and they do it regularly and often. In my own country, in the islands where I live, people who have spent generations bombing and murdering each other now sit down together at the parliament at Stormont and jointly act to prevent a renewal of the conflagration that consumed them just a few years before. Strident public outrage has also shortened the regional wars in Bosnia, in Kosovo, in the Gulf, in Lebanon, in Gaza and in a host of other global hotspots. Human beings now realise the power that he really have and they are not afraid to use it. The peace rallies organised across the entire planet to stop the war in Iraq represented the largest peaceful mobilisation of people at one time in the history of our species.

YES! Of course we can get discouraged sometimes when things go wrong, when our leaders make mistakes, when hubris and greed threaten our homes and our jobs. It is so easy to forget how good we are when a proliferation of media channels stream bad news into our lives 24/7. Outrages like the twin towers of New York, the bombing of UN schools in Gaza, the genocide in Rwanda and Darfur horrify and shock us. Having the graphic details of bloodied bodies and screaming children brought to us on our TV screens is so deeply disgusting that we somehow train ourselves not to feel it. But at some deep level we react and eventually we pluck up the courage to act according to the goodness in our nature. Millions of donations pour in with each appeal. Our rock musicians and our movie stars organise concerts across the planet and these events shame our leaders into commitments and promises to match our giving. So far it has never been enough BUT malaria will probably be beaten; HIV/AIDS is being controlled in an increasing number of countries; technologies designed to preserve life and to prevent disease were one the exclusive preserve of the very rich and now are increasingly becoming available for the very poor.

Progress is painful sometimes and often painfully slow, but progress is being achieved step-by-painful-step every day. What can no longer be denied is that we live in a world where progress is possible. We live in a world where human decency and human dignity are forces for progress. We live in a world where there are no longer any limits to what can be achieved by us! This means that what happens to our planet is now in our own hands; what happens in our lives is essentially up to us. The legacy we leave our children is something we actually can do something about.

I grew up in a religious tradition that taught us human beings were inherently bad. I now live in a largely secular society where the evidence of our inherent goodness is almost overwhelming. In reflecting on these events it really is very difficult to deny that there is something incredibly good, courageous, selfless and generous in the inherent nature of human beings. We are all capable of altruism, we all routinely practise idealism, we will even risk our own lives to do what is right, we all instinctively know now that ethical principles really are necessary to regulate our relationships with each other and to mediate between nations. A general consensus on these principles has resulted in a charter of human rights being adopted by the majority of peoples in the majority of countries of the world. Gradually we are building the institutions and processes that might, just might, save our planet from irreversible climate change and which now give us great possibility of have our lives the way we all deeply want them to be.

NO! Its not simply empty utopian aspiration any more….We have done so much in such a short time. I have seen and experienced so much in my own lifetime; we have now proved beyond any possibility of doubt that so much can be done by people of goodwill!

 All that it will ever take is for each of us to do our best and for each of us to do our bit! Nothing more will be required!

“We live in a moment of history where change is so speeded up that we begin to see the present only when it is already disappearing.”
R D Laing

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August 2020