Where do you have your best ideas? In the shower? In bed, in the middle of the night? In the car?
In the era before we carried tiny computers around with us, I always kept a notebook close at hand wherever I went. At night, it sat on my bedside table and tended to fill up, more often than not, during the hours of darkness. I put it there after countless experiences where a groundbreaking thought materialised in my head in the middle of the night and then just as quickly passed out of my mind, before I had the chance to commit it to memory or paper.
Imagine what I could have achieved had I captured all those thoughts!!
And I am clearly not the only one to have suffered! Recent research has begun to give us a far greater understanding of the science behind this. For a layman like me, this article (https://buffer.com/resources/shower-thoughts-science-of-creativity/) has a good go at communicating some of what is going on in our brains.
There is clearly a strong connection between feeling relaxed and generating ideas and it is comforting to know that this is not a new phenomenon.
One of the reasons why the English language is so rich and eloquent is the number of words it uses for similar ideas. I recently explored the derivation of the verb “saunter” (https://twitter.com/claretandwhite), having done a fair bit of sauntering myself over the last year.
Like many words, there is some debate as to its origin but the following explanation seems very appropriate.
Saunter had no connection with walking until the 17th century. Until then the middle English verb was “santer”, which meant to muse or to be in a dream-like state. The theory is that this in turn was connected to the noun “sawnterell”, which was the word for a pretended saint - a thinker, a ponderer, you might say.
And then, presumably, people walking slowly looked so like they were contemplating great thoughts and musing on the purpose of life that suddenly they were “sauntering”.
I am a saunterer - there, I admit it! I often get told off for walking too slowly but the walking police do not realise what damage they are doing to the percolations going on in my mind. By sauntering, I am formulating ideas. When I am stuck for something to write, I go for a walk.
The concept of “writer’s block” has probably been around since writing began but the term itself was first used in the 1940s by a psychiatrist called Edmund Bergler, who had been trained in the Freudian school of psychoanalysis. In 1950, he published a paper in American Imago entitled “Does Writer’s Block Exist?” This was after spending years with “blocked” writers, interviewing and researching.
His conclusion, unsurprisingly, was that they needed therapy; their “blockages” with writing were the result of personal psychological problems. Unblock their own lives and their writing would flourish.
Vague though this was, it has been supported to a certain degree by more recent research. Psychologists Jerome Singer and Michael Barrios took on the issue in the 1970s and 1980s and their conclusions, while more nuanced, broadly highlighted the same problem. A lack of motivation to write had some connection to a lack of overall joy in their lives. This article in The New Yorker provides more detail and also contains stories about the great Graham Greene! (https://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/how-to-beat-writers-block)
So, clearing your mind, as best you can, may be the answer and going for a walk may be how to achieve this.
But whether it is the woods, the shower, the bedroom or the car, take note of where you have your great ideas and be ready to record them before they wash away, for ever. And if they still don’t come, try going for a nice, long saunter!
Have you ever heard of Swansea Jack?
He was a black retriever who lived with his owner, William Thomas, near the River Tawe in Wales. In 1931 Jack jumped into the river to save a drowning 12 year old boy. Then, a few weeks later, this time in front of a small crowd, he rescued a swimmer from the docks.
And it was this second rescue that began to propel Jack towards the superhero status he acquired in later life.
His photograph appeared in the local newspaper and he was awarded a silver collar by the local council. And, after more rescues, the Star newspaper in London bestowed on him the title of “Bravest Dog of the Year.” He received a silver cup from the Lord Mayor of London and two bronze medals from The National Canine Defence League (now known as The Dogs Trust).
It is thought that over his lifetime Swansea Jack may have saved 29 lives. Not bad for a seven year career … especially when you have four legs and a relatively unsophisticated brain!
Animals are amazing.
Did you know a snail can sleep for three years at a time? A bat can eat up to a thousand insects in an hour, apparently. And honey bees flap their wings 200 times per second.
It’s funny where research takes you, sometimes. I recently came across the story of St Cuthbert and the otters, recorded in an account by Saint Bede of Jarrow (AD672 - 735).
It seems St Cuthbert enjoyed a nice walk to the seashore after dark, on his own. One night he was followed, however, by a monk who was intrigued to see what St Cuthbert got up to in the dead of night by the sea.
What happened next amazed him so much that it was recorded in the annals.
After wading out into the sea, up to his neck, and singing meditative psalms - a process that lasted until dawn, apparently - St Cuthbert then made his way back to the shore, with sopping wet, cold feet, no doubt. It was then that the two otters appeared. They raced across the beach, rubbed themselves against his feet and dried them with their fur. Cuthbert gave them a blessing and off they went, back home again.
No doubt the otters enjoyed the process as much as St Cuthbert was warmed by it. But animals do have such a capacity to do selfless, wonderful things.
In 2012, David Martin in Surrey was doing some renovations on his house. These involved taking down and repairing a chimney breast. No doubt it is common, when doing such work, to find a dead bird in the chimney. But the pigeon that Mr Martin found was anything but ordinary.
When they looked closer at what was left of the body of the bird, they found attached to one leg a red canister. And inside the canister was a thin piece of paper, which had the words “Pigeon Service” at the top followed by 27 hand-written sections of code.
What, of course, they had discovered was a WW2 pigeon, carrying a secret, coded message from the war in Europe back to Bletchley Park, where it should have been decoded and passed to intelligence services.
Pigeons were regularly used in WW2 by all services to carry messages. They played a vital role in the decoding effort at Bletchley Park, which itself was crucial to eventual Allied success.
At the brilliant Bletchley Park site (bletchleypark.org.uk), there is a display dedicated to animals who have been awarded the Dickin Medal, the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross. The first award was to Winkie, a blue chequered carrier pigeon, who saved a RAF Bomber crew who had ditched in the North Sea in February 1942. She was released by the crew, flew home (some 120 miles) and despite not carrying a message, the base was able to calculate the position of the downed crew and launch a rescue.
Winkie had been found exhausted and covered in oil. She was later awarded the Dickin Medal for “delivering a message under exceptional circumstances”. The whole story can be read here : https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-tayside-central-17138990#:~:text=Seventy%20years%20ago%20a%20carrier,PDSA%20during%20World%20War%20II.
So, when you get annoyed again with your 6 month old Labrador puppy who has chewed another one of your shoes or with your tabby cat’s unstoppable determination to ruin the upholstery of your favourite chair, remember Swansea Jack, Winkie and all the others.
Animals really can be incredible.
Who’s this - alone with stone and sky?
It’s only my old dog and I -
It’s only him; it’s only me;
Alone with stone and grass and tree.
Chappie was my parents’ dog, a German Short-haired Pointer. Rehomed from Spain, he then lived a happy life in South Northants. Sadly, as he got older, his vision got progressively worse and he had been completely blind for a couple of years.
At the age of thirteen and after a contented life spent sleeping in the sun and running like the wind, he was recently put to sleep. The words of Siegfried Sassoon’s poem, “Man and Dog”, brought us all some comfort at what is always a sad time.
I have never yet been able to own a dog of my own. My lifestyle up to this point has meant I could not have looked after one properly.
I can honestly say, however, that without family dogs my life would be much less fulfilling.
So, what is it about dogs that brings joy to me and so many other people? Sassoon has one answer.
What is it makes us more than dust?
My trust in him; in me his trust.
Dogs are loyal. Of that, there can be no doubt.
Capitan was owned by a man called Miguel Guzman in Argentina. Guzman died in 2006. The next day Capitan, his German Shepherd, disappeared and turned up at the cemetery where his master was buried. And he spent the rest of his life there, sitting at his master’s grave being fed and watered by the cemetery staff.
And what about Argos, Odysseus’ hunting dog in Greek mythology? A puppy when Odysseus leaves for Troy, he waits patiently for the entire twenty years of his master’s absence. When the king returns to his palace, disguised as an old beggar, Argos is one of the only ones to recognise him and in one of the most touching scenes in all of literature, the old dog wags his tail one last time and dies in his master’s arms.
The fidelity of dogs is unquestionable. But dogs are great for our wellbeing, too.
Siegmund Freud, the renowned psychoanalyst, had a Chow called Jofi who regularly attended consultations with patients. Freud notes in his diary how Jofi would read his patients’ moods, sitting close by to be stroked if they were calm but remaining more distant if they appeared anxious. Jofi was also a great timekeeper, yawning and stretching when the allotted hour was up. She was never late, according to Freud.
Freud got used to working at home with his dogs in the same way that many people have done through 2020 and, in many cases, are still doing in 2021.
Lockdown dogs have definitely become a thing and countless dogs must undoubtedly have enjoyed their owners being more at home than ever before.
But dog news from the last year is not all positive.
There have been many media stories both about unscrupulous breeders cashing in on the lockdown puppy market and new owners ill-prepared for the demands that a dog puts on your life. This BBC report from November 2020 outlines some of the issues surrounding dogs in lockdown : https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-54602197
Owning a dog is a real commitment which is why reputable animal organisations spend time and energy assessing whether people who want to adopt a dog are suited, both in a general sense and to that particular dog.
Wild at Heart Foundation’s current motto is Adopt a dog - not for lockdown, but for life (https://wildatheartfoundation.org/about/) This is an organisation whose mission is to compassionately reduce the world’s 600 million stray dogs through rescue, adoption, sterilisation and education projects.
One of their collaborators in the UK is Dogs4Rescue (https://dogs4rescue.co.uk/about-us/), a rescue centre in semi-rural Manchester where the dogs live together in a kennel-free environment. Dogs4Rescue rehomes stray dogs too with the aim of convincing us that rescue dogs can make wonderful family pets.
Both these organisations and many more do amazing work to care for dogs and improve their life experiences, no matter where they have ended up. Both are open to donations via their websites, if you feel you would like to support them.
Without a rescue organisation rehoming GSPs from Spain, my family would not have met the great Chappie who will get a plaque in the garden along with all the family dogs of the past. Not a monument quite as grand as Lord Byron built for his Newfoundland, Boatswain, but a memory of a legendary dog, nevertheless. Perhaps Chappie needs an inscription like that on Boatswain’s monument as well. He certainly deserves one.
Near this Spot
are deposited the Remains of one
who possessed Beauty without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferocity,
and all the virtues of Man without his Vices.
This praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery
if inscribed over human Ashes,
is but a just tribute to the Memory of
Boatswain, a Dog
who was born in Newfoundland May 1803
and died at Newstead November 18th 1808
Rest in peace, Chappie.
Imagine it, History nerds. One day, on your lockdown walk in the woods, all of a sudden darkness drops on top of you as if someone has flicked a light switch. Next, you hear an eerie whispering and a melodic humming.
Then, suddenly there is light, so much light it dazzles you. And when you regain your senses, standing in front of you is a bearded, magical wizard-like creature, holding a mysteriously large ancient book. After the usual babblings, blowing off dust and casting of spells, they give you one opportunity, one chance to do something truly incredible.
You can go back, they say, to one moment in the past and experience it first-hand. You can see it happening, really happening there in front of you, the sounds, the emotions, the smells, everything.
The Holy Grail, for History enthusiasts!
And then the bearded, supernatural being disappears in a puff of smoke and you are left in the woods, contemplating.
I know what some of you are thinking :
This all seems a little bit unlikely, or
If you really were to travel back in time, you would catch some horrible disease and die, or
Why do wizard-like creatures always have beards?
I know it seems impossible but this is 2020. Anything can happen.
So, come on! Where would you go?
Perhaps you’d go back to 1599 to see the very first performance in the newly-built Globe Theatre, which was probably either Henry V or Julius Caesar.
Or, if you don’t like Shakespeare, maybe you’d travel to June 1613 when the Globe went up in flames during a performance of Henry VIII after a theatrical cannon misfired and set fire to everything.
Imagine being in Westminster Hall in January 1649 to watch the King of England, Charles I, on trial and eventually condemned to death.
Or in Lancashire, October 1829, where you could witness the fastest steam locomotives in the world competing along a newly-built section of railway track between Liverpool and Manchester. You could be in the crowd as George Stephenson’s Rocket defies all understanding and achieves a top speed of 30mph, claiming the hefty £500 prize.
We read history books, we sit in history classrooms, we watch history documentaries and listen to history lectures. But there is always a distance between us and them. Just think what it would be like to actually be there, to actually be able to watch William Shakespeare watching his own play performed, to see Oliver Cromwell glaring at the stubborn king, to hear the belching of The Rocket as it speeds along. We’re all allowed to dream!
So, where would you go?
I’d be tempted to transport to Italy, 1592. Naples, more precisely. An architect called Domenico Fontana has designed an underground aqueduct and the works are in progress. There are men digging, everywhere.
Then, you imagine, one of them sees something in the earth, something he doesn’t expect to see. A flash of colour. He calls his mate over. They dig a bit more and they reveal more colour, a picture. A wall with a picture. And what are these? Words engraved on the wall. An inscription?
Eventually, Domenico himself appears.
“It’s nothing,” he says. “Carry on!”
It wasn’t nothing, of course. What they had discovered was the Roman city of Pompeii, a city largely forgotten for a thousand years buried by a volcanic eruption in AD79. The diggers had hit upon ancient walls, covered with paintings and inscriptions, as the course of the underground aqueduct passed through, and under, large parts of the ancient city.
But Fontana himself kept quiet and nothing came of it. Proper excavations didn’t really get going for another couple of hundred years. The UNESCO World Heritage archaeological site we know today, that attracts millions of tourists every year, is largely the result of the last 150 years and indeed continues to be dug, still revealing treasures and insights into the ancient world.
To see the first glimpses of a hidden city, though, a site that would in the centuries to come progress our understanding of the Roman world so significantly, to meet the workers whose spades breathed life into Pompeii for the first time in 1500 years, to be part of that discovery, this is where I would go.
But would you tell them what, in fact, they had discovered and how important their discovery would become? Or would you just let them get back to building their aqueduct?
So, history nerds, on your woodland walks this Christmas, keep an eye out for bearded wizards offering time travel services and make sure you’re ready to give them a quick answer.
Where would you go?
What could be clearer? If you need logs, you can buy them here. If you don’t need logs, don’t bother visiting!
Clarity achieved in words and working effectively to deliver sales to this company. The copywriter’s dream.
After all, you wouldn’t want the sign to read,
IT SEEMS WE PROBABLY SELL LOGS.
No qualifiers, no jargon
As any copywriter will tell you, qualifiers generally don’t help in advertising. Absolutes are clearer.
We will, rather than we may. All, rather than many. Always, rather than often. And there’s no room for perhaps, essentially or somewhat.
Absolutes bring clarity to writing. Qualifiers bring doubt. And if you don’t know what you mean, how can you expect your reader to?
Have a look at The University of North Carolina’s take on qualifiers (https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/qualifiers/) if it appears you’re still somewhat confused!
And copywriters will also tell you to get rid of jargon and overly boastful adjectives. Customers have become too savvy for that.
WE SELL STUNNING, ORIGINAL WOOD, CHOPPED DELICATELY INTO CHARMING AND CHARACTERFUL SEGMENTS
Just say it clearly, honestly and without flannel.
So far so good. Clarity works. Everybody wins. Right?
Yes, clarity must be effective because even the government is using it.
Marketing Communications firm, The MullenLowe Group, has helped the government deliver its latest Covid messaging. And it works. Wash your hands regularly, wear a mask on your face and socially distance.
In April it was STAY HOME, PROTECT THE NHS, SAVE LIVES. Again a clear, honest message that accompanied the initial UK lockdown and eventually resulted in an effective suppression of the virus.
But when the virus had been (as it turned out) temporarily suppressed in the summer, the message changed.
STAY ALERT, CONTROL THE VIRUS, SAVE LIVES
The Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer, amongst many others (mostly on Twitter), said this was too vague. And when combined with the clearer, but some said contradictory, branding (EAT OUT TO HELP OUT) the effect was exactly the opposite of what they were striving for. More complex conditions had created a more vague, less clear message. It was the log sellers’ version of,
WE SELL STUFF
Sally Dibb, Professor of Marketing and Society at Coventry University, argues that a more effective umbrella message might have been something like, WE’RE IN THIS TOGETHER. Then they could have added more layers of detail without ever contradicting the overall message. She argues this would have provided clarity and consistency which could have kept more people on their side (https://theconversation.com/where-the-uk-government-is-going-wrong-in-its-coronavirus-messaging-according-to-a-marketing-expert-146783)
So what’s the problem with clarity?
But even if you get your branding right, is there a danger that by striving for clarity, you can actually create more trouble? Warning, I am about to discuss Brexit. Take cover!
TAKE BACK CONTROL, GET BREXIT DONE, £35O MILLION A WEEK FOR THE NHS
Need a lie down?
You cannot argue that these messages were unclear, however. But did they create more problems than they solved?
The more we search for clarity, the more divisive and divided we become. You are either pro-Brexit or anti-Brexit. You are pro-national security or you are pro-refugees. Either you are in favour of foreign aid or you want more domestic spending.
But I may like some elements of Brexit while regretting others. I may want to support refugees while still keeping the UK secure. I may think helping the poor in other countries is as equally worthwhile as funding the NHS.
Where has the middle ground gone? Where is the nuance?
It is certainly hard to find on Twitter, the platform that only allows 240 characters to express opinions. This attracts and encourages polarised opinion, simply because there is not enough space to put forward a nuanced argument … and people don’t have time to read it.
Ex-Conservative minister and London Mayoral candidate Rory Stewart has argued all this already, of course : https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2019/11/rory-stewart-wants-change-way-british-democracy-works/601480/
But he lost, not just in the Tory leadership election but in the Brexit debate too. And when campaigning stopped in the London Mayoral elections, he was not winning!
WE SELL LOGS, IF YOU PROVIDE US WITH MONEY AND CAN TRANSPORT THEM YOURSELVES
A more nuanced message but a ridiculous one for the log sellers.
So, the log sellers know what they are doing.
The message works. It’s clear. You can be consistent. You target your potential customers. You can deliver what you say you will.
But selling logs, with all due respect, is low stakes in terms of world issues. When the stakes are higher, when lives, whole economies and livelihoods are on the line, has our search for clarity led us somewhere more dangerous? Has a need for clear, simple messages actually served to divide society? And, if so, are we copywriters at all to blame?
Half dark, half light,
The dusky red and orange sky,
The majesty of the evening light
Welcomes us, enthralled,
To nature’s auditorium,
This festival of sight.
We find a spot to wait it out.
A half moon looks on,
The best seat in the house.
The stage is bare,
The lights dim.
First a murmuring, an awakening,
In the wings semi-nocturnal arguments erupt,
Like rowdy teenagers, they interrupt
In high-pitched discourse,
These loutish delinquents of the sky.
Then more, the noise swells,
Hubbub, babble, a commotion brews.
And then, look, in the sky,
Silhouetted against their fire red canvas,
The aerial acrobats stand by,
Thugs, no more.
Twisting and turning,
Rising and falling,
Like iron filings shaped by a magnet
They dance the evening by.
The shapes, the shapes they make,
These acrobatic artists of the sky,
Painting their canvas with hope and light.
Pulsing, breathing as one.
One flash a dragon,
The next, a whale, a dolphin.
Black then grey,
Dark then light,
An otter! A throbbing, living, moving spectacle to thrill
Their devoted crowd.
Fleeting images, never still
But vibrant, full of life.
Living sculptures in the sky.
And look, another group
Late to the scene but keen to make up time,
They race across the stage
In hot pursuit.
But soon, too soon,
The darkening light.
Like dancers at the end of the night,
Their energy spent,
The ballet ends.
The speckled hoodlums return,
Like rowdy clubbers arriving home
They rest in trees, in reed beds,
Still keen to chat the night away,
Their acrobatic displays
Consigned to memory,
Teasing us for another day.
And we, our weary way we wend,
Cold, but warm from the glow
Of this natural pageant,
This circus of life.
The year is 2155. Margie and Tommy have found a real book, one that’s printed on paper. Margie can’t believe what it says about school.
“ A man? How could a man be a teacher?”
“Well, he just told the boys and girls things and gave them homework and asked them questions.”
“A man isn’t smart enough,” Margie says.
Isaac Asimov’s short story The Fun They Had was first published in 1951. In the story, children learn at home using telebooks and instruction from a mechanical, robot teacher, a system far removed from Margie’s grandfather’s day when children learnt together in schools and classrooms from a human teacher.
What a far-fetched idea for a story, you might have said in 2019. But now?
So, has the pandemic changed the way we should approach education now? Is online education the future of learning for children and young people?
What are the arguments for online learning?
Of course, we have to take into account the differences between a Year 1 pupil and a sixth-former. But proponents of online learning point to advantages that can benefit all ages.
It’s easier to learn in chunks, at your own pace. Classroom learning is crammed into longer segments and you have no choice when you do it.
You can encourage deeper thought in learners. After all, you are not limited by the confines of a physical classroom. The world is your classroom. Well, the internet, anyway.
Teachers have to make resources more clear and accessible as they have less time to interact with learners. This means pupils make more progress.
And even though you lose out on physical interaction, discussion boards, breakout rooms and chat forums can provide useful opportunities for collaboration, even enhancing the experience for quieter pupils who might not have participated in a classroom discussion at all.
But do these arguments hold up in the real world? Teachers perhaps have a more evidenced opinion at the end of 2020 than they had at the beginning of the year!
What do the teachers say?
Like in any profession, there are lots of different opinions. The only thing they seem to agree about is that parents’ meetings are better online! As for the experience of learning, the picture is less clear.
Learning at your own pace can be beneficial, especially in secondary settings, and it is good for independent research. But learners who work more slowly just get further and further behind and their experience of live lessons, if there are any, is less good because of this.
Pupils do have the time to think but equally they don’t have the buzz of a live classroom discussion to inspire deeper thinking. The clunky mute, unmute, mute scenarios do not come close to the momentum generated by a lively classroom debate.
Teacher resources do need to be more thorough and clear. However, that takes time which is not something teachers have an enormous amount of. Voice recording lessons and instructions, creating all new resources, one experienced KS3 teacher described it as “being like an NQT again.” And it often comes down to teachers’ IT skills and the support available in schools as well as the access learners themselves have to reliable IT equipment and wifi.
And there is a bigger question prompted by this debate. The biggest question of all, actually.
What is education for?
The criticism of online learning is that it is sterile, dull, unsociable. Surely learning should be exactly the opposite?
Online learning can undoubtedly focus teachers and students to stick to the point, to avoid unnecessary conversations that divert from the focus of the lesson. But where’s the fun in that? Education must be more than the acquiring of knowledge and skills that can be applied to a particular subject. And in the hands of good teachers, smart teachers, it is.
One primary teacher spoke to me of the importance of pupils being “socialised while they’re learning.” And this requires a good teacher, a human teacher, to be able to read the room, to know how to deal with issues that arise and to care for the needs of the whole child. In the virtual world, that does seem more challenging to do. A happy child will learn better and that is perhaps why one primary school deputy head told me, “I think most primary teachers just want children in the classroom.”
So, in 2155 will the real life Margie and Tommy look back fondly on post-2020 education and marvel at “the fun they had” in physical classrooms? Or is online education the future and can that provide the excitement and thrill that learning always should?
Human teachers, I can’t imagine you’ll have time but if you do, leave your thoughts underneath! And keep your eyes out for those robots!
As any child in a school History lesson will tell you, people living in the past were clearly clueless. Of course you can’t get rid of bubonic plague by ringing the church bells! Obviously the earth is not flat!
And we in the present are totally clued in. After all, we’ve invented the internet, we’ve virtually rid the world of terrible diseases like smallpox and polio. We’ve put men and women into space and landed robots on Mars!
But as any History teacher will tell you, things are rarely as simple as that.
Not everyone in the past was a fool
Yes, there were some weird and wacky ideas for avoiding infection and treating patients during the many outbreaks of plague during the middle ages and later periods. But for every patient drinking vinegar or whipping themselves, there were also measures which bear a striking resemblance to what we have been through in 2020.
Sufferers were isolated in their homes or in plague hospitals. Ships were restricted to port to control movement of people and goods. Indeed, in Venice the authorities isolated ships for a period of forty days, hence the word “quarantine” (after the Italian for forty).
And there is no denying that popular opinion had the earth as flat until surprisingly recently. But perhaps based on the reports of Phoenician sailors, Plato was teaching his students in the fourth century BC that the earth was round. And a man in Alexandria called Eratosthenes even calculated the exact circumference of the earth : https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/history/ancient-greeks-proved-earth-round-eratosthenes-alexandria-syene-summer-solstice-a8131376.html
So, let’s not pretend we are the only clever ones. And there is no way we are right about everything, anyway.
What will people laugh at us for in years to come?
So, what mistakes are we making today that our descendants will cringe about in the History lessons of the future?
There are lots of conspiracy theories, of course.
Some say our use of mobile phones is causing unseen health issues. Reports have suggested that they are linked to areas like cancer, damage to fertility and reproduction, DNA damage and the health of our children.
Amplified by social media, the anti-vaccination movement continues to put forward the potential dangers of vaccination as a way of dealing with public health emergencies. You might expect during a global pandemic that vaccination would be overwhelmingly popular. A survey of 1000 New Yorkers in April 2020, however, found that only 59% would take a Covid vaccine and only 53% would give it to their children.
Or maybe it’s what we eat, our consumption of processed foods or our obsession with dieting to lose weight.
The point is that, at the moment, we don’t know. History will ultimately decide.
So, let’s not get complacent. There will be things that we do everyday that people in the future will sit in their classrooms and cafes laughing at us for.
So, my question for current History students, their teachers, and indeed everybody else, is what normal activity have you done today that might prove hilariously stupid to future generations? What do you do regularly that your descendants in the future might laugh at you for?
Leave a comment below and let’s see if we can learn from the past to improve the future.
I’ve always loved barn owls. So, when a pair took up residence in the nook of a tree close to my garden early last summer, attempting not to resign myself to lockdown gloom, I was eager to see them. Every day on my lockdown walk, I stopped by the tree and looked upwards. And it wasn’t long before I found one, perched on a branch no doubt thinking about what to catch for breakfast! What I didn’t realise then, though, is what effect these birds would have over the next few months on my mood.
There’s definitely something about barn owls. Something the ancient Greeks took as good fortune but the Romans read often as a signal of imminent death! Is it their heart shaped face? Or their piercing scream? Or is it just the fact that you only ever tend to catch a brief, ghostly glimpse of them as one swoops past you in the dusky half-light?
Whatever their attraction, my interaction with these birds definitely improved my mental wellbeing. Stopping every day, looking closely and finding these magnificent birds was making me feel happy. I didn’t know how but it was!
What does the science say?
The science is very clear. The evidence suggests that being in nature has an enormous effect on our brains and our behaviour, helping to reduce anxiety and increase creativity and attention span.
Researchers in Finland found that people who lived in a city but walked for twenty minutes a day in an urban park or wood reported much greater stress relief than those who walked for the same amount of time through the city centre.
Science is even beginning to point to the fact that being in nature makes us kinder and more generous.
In a study published in 2014 at The University of California, Berkeley, participants were exposed to scenes from nature (which had been independently rated for their beauty) and then they played two economics games to measure their generosity and trust. Those who had seen more beautiful natural scenes acted more generously and trustingly in the games.
So, clearly engaging with nature is good for us.
What can we do to connect with nature more often?
The mental health charity, Mind, has plenty of ideas (https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/nature-and-mental-health/ideas-to-try-in-nature/) :
You don’t need to go looking for a barn owl in the countryside, of course. Spending a bit of time each day in the park could be a simple place to start. Stop to watch a squirrel clambering around in a tree or a dog chasing a ball.
Or just get outside near your house and look at a spider building a web or a goldfinch eating from a bird feeder.
However you manage to be outside, stop, look and you will find nature. Do it regularly and you’ll feel the benefits.
And maybe, just maybe, you’ll catch a glimpse of a ghostly white predator hunting in the half-light.