Switching on the television news eight o’clock on an Austrian January morning, it was a mistake to turn to the BBC and expect the sort of news coverage for which the BBC was once famous. BBC World’s news bulletin include Justin Bieber in its headlines. An item that would once have slipped into a show business news slot is now considered worthy of headline status, but what’s the point of protesting? The BBC would say this is what people wanted. Never mind the fate of tens of millions in Central Africa, let’s have news of an obnoxious teenager.
A gentle, holy and wise man, once said to me words that sounded odd at the time. “You start out thinking you are going to change the world and very quickly realize your are not, but as the years pass you realize that it does not matter”. It seemed always a bleak piece of advice, if there was no chance of changing the world, then why bother at all? The gentle man’s words were probably more worldly wise than ambitions to be ‘significant’, to be someone who made ‘a difference’.
The brilliant Paul Eddington, whose acting career brought laughter to millions, seemed to share the perspective. In a television interview when very ill, he commented:
“A journalist once asked me what I would like my epitaph to be and I said I think I would like it to be ‘He did very little harm’. And that’s not easy. Most people seem to me to do a great deal of harm. If I could be remembered as having done very little, that would suit me.”
To aspire to do little harm seemed odd, maybe it was easy for someone who had reached the top to make such a suggestion, or maybe it was an understanding that only became possible because he had reached the top.
The passing years slowly bring an appreciation of the gentle man’s words. Few people change the world and fewer still change it for the better and Paul Eddington’s minimisation of harm becomes a more realistic ambition. The achievements become personal ones; ones that do not even merit mention in conversation and certainly merit no public attaention.
Failed ambitions do not matter, they were probably never feasible in the first place. Contentment is in causing little harm, in the little triumphs – in not being the sort of person now thought newsworthy.