SO, tomorrow is another year, an opportunity for a fresh start. As we look back over this year, few will mourn the passing of 2011.Š
Nature did her bit to add to the harsh times and sent a veritable tidal wave of natural disasters our way. No respecter of status, She bestowed drought across the globe from the mighty China to lowly Tuvalu, with large chunks of Texas and the Horn of Africa included. ŠDevastating earthquakes hit New Zealand as did once-in-a-lifetime floods inŠAustralia, Thailand, the Philippines and China, to name but a few. Š
Japan was singled out for particular attention. In March, 21,000 lost their lives as the biggest earthquake since records began hit the north east of the country, causing a giant tsunami. Nuclear meltdown followed the next day when the Fukushima nuclear plant exploded.Š
At the beginning of the year, residents of several states on the USA’s east coast were confined to their houses as 26 inches of snow fell. Six months later, the same people were once again trapped indoors as temperatures soared to an unprecedented 55Š°C (131°F) outside.
Back in the human kingdom, the contrasts were just as apparent. The bankers returned to doing what bankers do best: making money. But mostly for themselves.
The Royal Bank of Scotland is an institution now 84% owned by you and I, the lowly taxpayers. It cost us £45.5 billion. However, this did not stop the top five bankers at RBS shamelessly paying themselves a cool £20 million – despite making a loss. I shudder to think what they would have earned if they had actually managed a profit.
Bankers’ and directors’ salaries weren’t the only things that went up. Gas and electric prices rocketed, as did youth unemployment, the retirement age, the number of industrial disputes and homeless people. The gulf between the Haves and Have Nots grew wider.
I’m starting to depress myself! It isn’t a good idea to spend too much time looking back – especially on a year as difficult as 2011. The human being is an incredibly resilient organism and one that is innately optimistic. One way or another, as individuals and as a society, we will propel ourselves slowly forward to better times.
Despite the gloomy financial situation, there are examples of human kindness all around us. Just this week I reported on the Welcome Centre in Huddersfield being overwhelmed by more food, presents and money being given than ever before for families in crisis at Christmas. Many of the donations came from people who themselves were not well off.
Many of those eternal optimists – children – are doing their bit to make life easier for local people. In Huddersfield’s schools there is a growing emphasis on children contributing to their local community and there are examples every month of school kids helping out in their areas.
Pupils at North Huddersfield Trust School (formerly Fartown) organised a free lunch party for pensioners. The children gave up several days of their half term holiday to learn how to cook the food and to decorate Fartown Village Hall for the occasion. The delight on the pensioners’ faces and proud sense of achievement from the children were a delight to behold.
The Dalai Lama, who knows a thing or two about spiritual wellbeing, has this to say: “If you want others to be happy, practise compassion.” Then he adds: “If you want to be happy, practise compassion.”
This isn’t just Buddhist twaddle – it’s been proved! Research studies at two American universities shows that a compassionate attitude towards others improves mental and physical health.
And there’s plenty to look forward to next year: The London Olympics and Paralympics, Euro 2012 for long-suffering England fans and the real prospect of a Brit winning Wimbledon for tennis fans. There’s even a total solar eclipse in November, although you’ll have to travel to Australia to see it – but why not?
There are dozens of events and street parties already lined up to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in Huddersfield next year. If this year’s royal wedding street parties were anything to go by, those in 2012 will be a great success and, like those, bring our increasingly fragmented communities back closer together again.
Everything is cyclical and I think we have bottomed out in 2011. The only way to go in 2012 is onwards and upwards. Forget 2011, it’s done and dusted – or it will be in a few hours. Let’s look forward with optimism and a can-do attitude to the coming year.
I wish you all a very happy and healthy 2012.