The world sometimes seems so full of tragedy, terror and sadness that it can be hard to believe that it is worth hoping for – and working towards – a better, fairer, more harmonious future for all those who inhabit our planet.
Certainly, the last couple of weeks could easily have shaken our belief in this better future, with the deaths of hostages in the Lindt cafe siege in Sydney on 16 December, for example, which were made all the more terrible for those of us who knew them and whose hearts go out to those whose lives have been irrevocably changed and deprived through the actions of the hostage-taker.
The murder of 145 people, including 132 school-children, in a school in Peshawar, Pakistan, also on 16 December, was an almost unthinkable and unspeakable act; had it not been fully documented on our screens and in the words of the survivors, we would have struggled to imagine that any of our fellow human beings could ever have thought it legitimate and justified to kill – in a calculated and deliberate act – any child at all, let alone so many. For those of us who have dedicated our lives to the enabling the children of today to become the responsible, caring adult citizens of tomorrow, it is almost beyond human comprehension.
Tales of tragedy surround us – the shocking death of shoppers in Glasgow yesterday, for example, after they were struck by a dustbin lorry – and they are there even when they are not reported so widely. Scratch beneath the surface of our society, and we find example after example of loneliness, abuse, sadness, frustration and poverty – of spirit as well as of body. It is tempting to feel, surrounded as we are by all of this, that we would be forgiven for falling into despondency, sadness and inaction ourselves.
And yet we mustn’t. In fact, I would go so far as to say that we would not be able to forgive ourselves if we did so. In practice, it takes so little to make a vast difference in this world. A single candle can light an entire room; a single smile can transform the day as it lightens the heart of the giver and of the recipient, and as it is passed onwards to countless others. A single act of kindness sends ripples of goodness out into the world; what begins with one action can have immeasurable consequences for innumerable people as it warms, inspires, and encourages us to action ourselves.
Of course, what this does demand is discipline – the discipline of thought, attention, focus and determination that allows us to acknowledge sadness and tragedy, and hold it in our hearts, while not becoming overwhelmed or drowned in it. This approach to bringing change for the good requires us to commit to living our lives with the intention of working out what the right thing to do is, and of doing it – not just for ourselves, but for others, in the absolute knowledge that we have a role and a responsibility as human beings to contribute to the future of the world and to the lives of those around us.
And what better time to commit to this than now.