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In the scheme of things....



In an interview just prior to the Australian Open tennis championships, one of the world’s leading players was asked about how his preparation for the big tournament had been hindered by various unforeseen things. He offered a surprising perspective. He said: ‘In the scheme of things, none of this is very important…’ It’s not the sort of opinion that professional sports stars usually offer. So many of them speak as if their game is the most important thing happening on the planet and usually show little broader awareness. Focusing as narrowly as they do enables them to become the best. He did not elaborate much on this ‘scheme of things’ but it’s clear that his mind was on things beyond tennis.


During these last two years of lockdown, it has been difficult to maintain a real sense of perspective. Focus has narrowed for most of us. Confined to the house and its immediate environs for much of the time, it has been difficult to think beyond surviving well, difficult to see beyond our immediate family and their welfare.


So what is this ‘the scheme of things’ – or perhaps rather ‘our’ scheme of things? We have been wondering what it might be and what helps us to keep an eye on ‘the big picture’ or ‘the tide not the waves’.


In the wider world this week we have become more aware of the mounting threat of conflict in the Ukraine as President Putin flexes his muscles in an attempt to expand the bounds of Mother Russia. The volcano and tsunami which devastated Tonga has quickly slipped down the news agenda but it reminds us forcibly of just how fragile our ecosystem is and the suffering which results when it is damaged. Various stories show the fast creeping and rather threatening influence of the People’s Republic of China in our own country. The Chinese have a growing stake in property, energy, IT networks and much more in this country – even seeking to influence the functioning of the UK parliament . Recognising the threats under which so many people live puts our ‘first world problems’ in perspective.


Social media may enable us to keep an eye on ‘the scheme of things’. Alongside the pictures of children and happy families this week came news of the illness of people in families whom we care about even if we have not seen them for years. It reminds us again of the fragility of all our lives – always an important marker in ‘the scheme of things’.


Sometimes to give contexts to those events, it’s helpful to know what our friends and various thought-leaders are reading and watching, listening to and discussing. What they are thinking about and focusing their attention on. But there’s always a danger – that we shall be seduced by curiosity or novelty or FOMO or the personal charisma of the people who post – and so trivial stories can cloud the real scheme of things.


This week’s nightly hour of the BBC’s live ‘Winterwatch’ has been a constant reminder of the significance of the natural world – our vital dependence on, for instance, the bugs in piles of leaves under our feet that do their part to maintain the ecosystem on which we all depend.


And there’s so much more... This week the satirical magazine Private Eye, Mozart, Salley Vickers, Rafa Nadal, and a spider in a frozen web have all offered small reminders about keeping our eyes and ears on this elusive ‘scheme of things’. That quest is central to becoming -and remaining - truly human beings.

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