We are watching television. Some of us are listening to our radios. Suddenly all programmes on all television and radio stations are interrupted, and an announcer says: we interrupt this programme to go straight to Number 10 Downing Street for an important announcement from the prime minister.
There is a pause. A few bars of the National Anthem are played, the screen flickers for a moment, and then we see the prime minster. What we hear is unexpected. What we hear is extraordinary. What we hear it this:
Ladies and gentlemen, I speak to you from the cabinet room at 10 Downing Street. I have an important announcement to make, and it concerns us all.
This country of ours has been in existence for over a thousand years. We have seen Saxon kings come and go; we have seen a Norman invasion; we have seen castles built and then castle knocked down; we have seen civil war and we have seen empires rise and fall. We have seen terrible wars and desperate economic calamities. At the same time, we have seen amazing developments in science and extraordinary inventions. We have also seen the creation of wonderful art: literature, theatre, and so much more.
Our Island nation has indeed lived through extraordinary times. And through those times, we have continued to work and build and prosper. Never have our people stopped working. Never have we laid down the tools of our trade for more than a few moments. This has been true of us for over a thousand years.
What I have to say to you tonight is ‘well done’. We have worked and worked, we have toiled and laboured, and at last our work is done. The country we set out to create is finished. Job done. And job well done. Clearly, we will have to maintain what we have created, but that aside, we can at last take a well-earned rest. We have the country we and our ancestors have been striving for. What an extraordinary achievement. Once again, I say to all of you: VERY WELL DONE.
Ah well. Just a dream, I suppose. And I know that a world without endeavour and creativity would not be the best of worlds. But the ‘dream’ does make the point that we need to ask ourselves if we have got things out of balance. Let’s face it, our modern societies are absurdly wealthy, and yet we work just as hard as we ever did, and we are probably just as stressed as we ever were. I will always make the point that the issues facing us in our modern industrialised world are spiritual issues. In other words, they relate to the human spirit (soul if you like) as opposed to material or physical things. We do work incredibly hard, but so much of what we do is aimed at material progress instead of progress that can relate directly to the human spirit, to the human mind, to our sense of individual and collective wellbeing. These times of pandemic are a threat to us, but they are also an opportunity. We need to get back to enhancing our material prosperity – up to a point – but we need to slow that progression down, so that matters of the spirit, matters of the mind, matters of mental and spiritual wellbeing can be given their due and long overdue places in our lives.
To build and use material things is very human. But to do so at the expense of our actual humanity, at the expense of that most precious aspect of ourselves, namely our minds and spirits, is to wreak untold damage on ourselves, on our psyches, on our sense of self-esteem,, and on our children’s and grandchildren’s futures.