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Achieving political change takes both vision and patience


26 October 2014

Many people refuse to engage in politics because they believe it cannot achieve major changes in society. In many cases they got involved but became discouraged when they saw no visible results from their efforts.

Accordingly I made this the theme for my twenty-second "Thought for the Week" given on BBC Radio Manchester earlier today.

The text is reproduced below.

Thought for the week

When my children were young, on every road trip, 10 minutes after starting they would ask “Daddy, are we there yet?”

No adult will confess to behaving that way. However I regularly see similar behaviour from adults.

I often speak to groups of people asking them to get involved in public affairs. Most of them agree that our country would benefit from some changes, and they often agree about what those changes should be. Despite that, most of them say that there is no point. They believe nothing can be done to achieve change. That is the reason they give for not getting involved.

When I dig a bit further, I often hear stories about how they did once get involved. However they didn’t achieve the changes they wanted immediately. Accordingly, they became discouraged and gave up. That is why they are apathetic today. Because they didn’t get what they wanted immediately.

They ignore the lesson from science. We all know that eventually dripping water will wear away a stone.

They also ignore the lesson from history. History teaches us how long achieving major changes can take.

Last year, when Nelson Mandela died, he was probably the most admired person on the planet for the way he helped to liberate South Africa. However the African National Congress was founded in South Africa in 1912, six years before Mandela was born. Despite that, South Africa did not become free until its first democratic election in 1994. That was 82 years after the founding of the ANC.

My own lifelong interest in politics was inspired by President John F. Kennedy of the USA. When speaking to the students at the University of California, Kennedy told them the story of great French Marshal Lyautey.

The Marshal once asked his gardener to plant a tree. The gardener objected. He said the tree was slow-growing and would not reach maturity for a hundred years. The Marshal replied immediately: “In that case, there is no time to lose. Plant it this afternoon.”

Each of us is responsible for doing what we can to improve the world. The time to start is now.


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