walkhighlands


Paradigm shifts

viewpointSOMETIMES events can occur in such a simultaneous way that it can shake you to the core, make you readjust your values, cause you to think a little deeper about your own beliefs.

As we are all so well aware, just as the recent General Election was being ramped up to full high-octane a natural disaster struck Nepal. It was catastrophic and the consequences will be far reaching, but more of that later.

While the news of the earthquake dominated the headlines for a few days they were soon replaced by the news of a Royal birth. The bairn will be somewhere in the line to the throne so it’s an important new story but I was shocked to hear a television reporter suggest that this “good news” story was welcome relief to all the gloom and doom from Nepal.

Gloom and doom? Tens of thousands of people lost their lives. I suspect tens of thousands more will die from disease. Hundreds of thousands have lost their homes, their livelihoods and their living and I have grave doubts if Nepal’s tourism industry, their only industry, will ever recover.

And some scientists are predicting that the ‘big one’, an avalanche of epic proportions, has yet to come. A sobering thought. The Himalayan mountain chain is relatively young and the Asian/Indian plates are still fidgety. Anything could happen, anytime.

This so-called gloom and doom of Nepal is disaster on a catastrophic scale.

But like many others, while I was saddened by what had happened and gave some money to charities I then became caught up again in the whole General Election brouhaha, a campaign that became the most pathetic political event of my lifetime, headlined by smears, fear-mongering and false promises, the usual parading of personalities and the expected partisan reporting by a Unionist-dominated media.

Then two events occurred within hours of each other that caused a paradigm shift in my way of thinking.

The first event was Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy walking down Buchanan Street with comedian Eddie Izzard. They stopped to address the public and were shouted down by opponents who may, or may not have been nationalists.

Now you’d think this was fairly normal in a General Election campaign. A politician holds a rally and is heckled. He was heckled vociferously but Murphy is pretty good at that himself. He knows the score – he is a seasoned campaigner.

But for me the whole escapade seemed a long way from serious politics. A political tub-thumper, supported by a popular comedian, in a street argy-bargy with protestors, and it headlined in the media as though a violent riot had broken out in the streets of Glasgow!

It was no more than a tacky publicity exercise gone sour.

To me this sad little scene summed up what politics in the UK has become – distorted truths, personal slurs and career politicians who will blatantly lie to win a televised argument. I often long for the principled brilliance of politicians like Tony Benn and Michael Foot.

This minor Buchanan Street altercation was treated by parts of the media as something serious, a game-changer. It was barely even worth a look from passers-by…

Regular readers of this column will be aware of my own political leanings so I’m not going to discuss the pros and cons of the election but this year’s event, focused against the carnage and desolation of the Nepalese disaster, has made me think very seriously about my own politics, my own ambitions and essentially, who I am as a human being.

The second event I refered to was a when a friend of mine, whose wife is Nepalese, sent me the two accompanying photographs. I’d like you to take a look at them. They are before and after shots of Langtang village in Nepal, a village I know very well, or at least I did, for it doesn’t exist any more.

I trekked there with my wife and Meg and Richard Else in 2012 and returned the following year with my wife, my son Gordon and his partner Hannah. On both occasions we were overwhelmed by the beauty of the place, its peace and tranquility, and the hospitality of those who lived there.

As a result of the earthquake Langtang village was demolished and swept away by avalanches and mud slides. It’s reckoned there could be dozens, if not hundreds of villages in Nepal that suffered the same fate.

before

A before and after shot of Langtang village – a scene of utter devastation. Thanks to Anil Tamang for the image of Langtang after the earthquake, avalanche and mud flows.

A before and after shot of Langtang village – a scene of utter devastation. Thanks to Anil Tamang for the image of Langtang after the earthquake, avalanche and mud flows.

Gone. Demolished. Wiped out – as though they had never existed.

Only the memories remain. For me those memories are of sitting in the sun after a hard day’s trekking sipping Everest beer; or sitting around the table in the tea-house swopping songs with our host and his family; or lying on the hillside above the village hearing the faint calls of yak herders from the pastures below; or sampling yak cheeses in the village cheese factory. Happy, joyful memories.

But for Dorje Tamang memories of Lantang are of his brothers and his mother who died in the earthquake. And of his home – flattened and demolished by the snow and the ice and the mud. And of his yaks, his only hint of wealth, all dead. And with that, his future appears to be dead too. He has nothing left. Absolutely nothing. And he is one of many, many thousands.

Politics has been described as a necessary evil but I now have a very different perspective on it. In the great scheme of things it’s transitory and relatively unimportant for most of us. The politicians will always see themselves all right – even the failed politicians get a massive handout from the public purse to help them get over the bitter taste of defeat and a goodly few will end up in the House of Lords with a generous salary from some bank or corporate company.

It’s taken tragedy on such a massive scale to remove the scales from my eyes and see our political system for what it is – mean, insular and self serving. As a result our consumerist, materialistic and increasingly corporate political system has not only lost touch with the natural world – it’s also lost touch with basic humanity.

A friend reminded me the other day of what this Nepalese tragedy has done for many of us. “These days we are too caught up in our heads,” she said, “we’ve forgotten we have a heart. And that is what these tragic pictures (of Nepal) are doing for us… pulling at our hearts. Reminding us that we have one.”

I’m well aware that politics is pretty corrupting and rotten the world over. I know that events in Nepal will not change that. Many of us will chuck a few pounds towards some charity and in six months time will probably have forgotten about Nepal when some other calamity hits the headlines but, if this awful event touches the hearts of some of us, and as Sue suggested, reminds us that we do have a heart, then perhaps some good might come out of it. It might even change how we think about our politics, and how we might put some care and humanity back into it.

To donate to help the continuing aid effort in Nepal, please visit the DEC Nepal Appeal




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