Mike Russell’s column in the Sunday National stressing the importance of maintaining a positive attitude and “keeping going” falls a bit flat. Not that he is wrong. The current public health crisis has just the elements of threat, uncertainty, lack of control and isolation which can trigger despair. It is important to talk up whatever positives can be found in such an extraordinary situation both for the sake of our own mental well-being and as a counter to those who take delight in emphasising and exaggerating the negatives. What can’t be cured must be endured! Dwelling on inconveniences and misfortunes over which you have no control is seriously unhelpful. There is almost always an upside. Find it and put it at the forefront of your thinking. Congratulate yourself on how well you’re coping. Keep going.
The words that popped into my head as I read Mike Russell’s piece were “Endeavour to persevere!”. You might immediately suppose this to be an allusion to the eponymous inspirational poem by George Wootton. I confess, however, that I was unaware of this gentleman and his works. More prosaically, I was put in mind of a scene from the 1976 Clint Eastwood movie The Outlaw Josey Wales in which the character Lone Waite – played memorably by Chief Dan George – recounts an ‘inspirational’ anecdote of his own.
I wore this frock coat in Washington, before the war. We wore them because we belonged to the five civilised tribes. We dressed ourselves up like Abraham Lincoln. We only got to see the Secretary of the Interior, and he said: “Boy! You boys sure look civilised!” he congratulated us and gave us medals for looking so civilised. We told him about how our land had been stolen and our people were dying. When we finished he shook our hands and said, “Endeavour to persevere!” They stood us in a line: John Jumper, Chili McIntosh, Buffalo Hump, Jim Buckmark, and me — I am Lone Watie. They took our pictures. And the newspapers said, “Indians vow to endeavour to persevere.”
We thought about it for a long time, “Endeavour to persevere.” And when we had thought about it long enough, we declared war on the Union.Watch on YouTube
Now, I’m not saying that Mike Russell’s encouraging words are as empty as the rote platitude offered by the unnamed politician in Lone Watie’s tale. But his stress on “keeping going” is strangely at odds with pronouncements by other politicians – notably, Nicola Sturgeon. She, you will surely recall, was at great pains to insist that the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence should most definitely not keep going. It must stop – completely and immediately. Keeping going is, it would seem, good advice so long as you don’t keep going with the things that certain people would rather weren’t kept going. Endeavour to persevere, by all means. But on the strict condition that you’re persevering only with endeavours which don’t inconvenience certain vested interests.
It’s not only Nicola Sturgeon who wants to be selective on our behalf about where and how our perseverance is applied. One of the emerging tropes of the current public health crisis is the diverse ways in which we are importune to be mindful exclusively of Covid-19. The many variations on the familiar theme of “Now is not the time!”. It seems that whatever one ventures to discuss that is not immediately virus-related someone will respond with “Now is not the time to be thinking about [whatever]!”. There seems to be no topic other than the pandemic and its impact which one will not be chastised for broaching. The back burner is getting decidedly crowded.
There are exceptions, of course. Just as everybody has a seemingly endless list of things that can or must be put off until after Covid-19 has been ‘dealt with’, so they tend to have some issue deemed too important to be deferred. In marked contrast to the independence campaign in Scotland, time and attention must be reserved for the Brexit process. Now is always the time for pet projects and personal hobby-horses.
I find this odd. After all, many and perhaps most of us find ourselves with an unusual amount of time on our hands. This must be so as employment is reserved for those deemed essential while the rest of us are required by law to stay almost entire within the confines of our homes. We are not permitted to do anything that might involve coming withing two metres of other people. Which means we are prohibited from doing most of the things that we would otherwise be doing. We can’t all be occupied testing mucus, stitching face-masks or re-purposing vacuum cleaners as ventilators. You’d think most of us would have plenty time to ponder what would be the important issues of the day were it not for the pandemic, and will inevitably still be the important issues once the prohibition on thinking about anything other than Covid-19 has been lifted.
One might almost think our politicians were aware of this and rather anxious about the possibility of the proletariat using new-found free time to study and reflect upon and discuss those important issues. There is just a hint of desperation about the way we’re selectively told that “Now is not the time!” for this or that. The eagerness with which we’re urged to keep on keeping on is somewhat undermined by then being told not to keep on going here or there. We’re not quite in the realm of control-freakery. But we’re on the border.
If we must endeavour to persevere why can’t we choose what we endeavour to persevere with? Why can’t we endeavour to persevere with whatever we think is important? If we are to keep on keeping on, why should we not take advantage of the chance to keep on keeping on with things that we would normally be distracted from by the demands of work and the pleasures of socialising?
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