To imagine . . .
Two grey executive jets sat at the end of the airport runway, parked out of the way for the weekend. How much must it cost to have such an aircraft?
‘Imagine living a life where you fly in those’.
‘Would you want a life that took you on one of those?’
‘That’s like asking how would I spend the money if I won the lottery; it’s a pointless question. I don’t buy lottery tickets and I’ll never fly in an executive jet. It’s just imagining it that’s intriguing’.
But it wasn’t really possible to imagine what it might be like to live a life that included an executive jet. Never having met someone who enjoyed such a lifestyle, I can only speculate about what might fill their waking hours.
The novelist William Trevor is brilliantly gifted in imagining the lives of others. His novel Felicia’s Journey traces the life of a young woman as it moves from the Irish Midlands to an English industrial town. Her home is a fictional amalgam of towns in Co Laois. The cafeteria where she meets her friends even had the name of an actual establishment in one of those towns. It was easy to imagine sitting in such a cafe, to walk the sort of streets with which she is familiar. Trevor writes of people and places with which his readers can identify; it is hard to imagine the owner of an executive jet appearing in his stories
Imagination without at least some degree of familiarity is difficult. Perhaps the success of the television soaps owes much to the degree to which people identify with the characters and the plots. There might be occasional television drama series that take viewers to places and stories and lifestyles that are thoroughly different from those who are sat at home watching, but, in the long run, popularity seems to depend on empathy.
Reading Martin Meredith’s The State of Africa, a 700-page telling of the history of the continent from the 1950s until the present day, there is a sense of being overwhelmed. What must it have been like to have been in Ethiopia during the 1984 famine, or to have struggled with the corruption of Nigeria, or to have watched daily life in Congo disintegrate during the days of Mobutu? Even worse, what must it have been to have lived in times and places where millions died terrible deaths while tens of millions more endured relentless grinding poverty? It is hard to have one tiny fraction of the empathy needed to try to understand, but unless people have the understanding necessary to bring change, things will never improve.
A world of executive jets and refugee camps – sometimes a failure to be able to imagine doesn’t matter in the slightest; sometimes it matters to people’s very survival.
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