Monday, November 30, 2020

Recognising basic human dignity

From time to time one has a conversation that keeps one thinking for a very, very long time, after the fact. Long before covid19,  when one could actually shoot the breeze with complete strangers and occupy ones time getting to know people, without the threat of catching something airborne and very deadly. 

I was walking architectural building plans through the municipality to get stamps from each department, to eventually get final approval . The heritage department always has very interesting characters, who actually care enough about history to actively find a job that looks to preserve it. 

So it was on this particular day many, many years ago - I had just steamed through the land usage department and then flew through the zoning department. They then sent me to the heritage department on the 14th or 16th floor - I forget now. Anyway it was one of those council rooms in the back and beyond of the municipality building, that one could sense slow history growing on the walls, on the desk and in every corner of the room. 

One would ring the bell and wait and eventually an enlightened heritage official would make their way to the front desk,  from a place beyond the publics scrutiny. It was the usual checking of the plans, the position, the erf, the suburb - either you got sent back to zoning or through to another more complicated heritage department and process. 

For some reason when all was verified and found in order, the small talk led to the topic of "recognising basic human dignity." yes I know right - rather a BIG jump from "You been busy?' to such a meaty topic. But such is the organic nature of conversation - it can spark like wild fire in a million different exciting directions. 

Well this next story is possibly well known, possibly told differently, possibly nothing like i remember it 20 years down the line. however I'm remembering the tale told me, from many, many  years back, in a heritage department office. On a very slow day, when my mind was occupied with paying bills and trying to just survive life. Really much like today, right now. So the telling of this remembered story will have holes and I might even miss the original point completely. As I said , conversations that keep one thinking for years down the line, don't necessarily remain accurate to the telling, only really accurate to my perceived understanding, which granted might be limited.

Amongst the deep history photos and heritage items the professional behind the counter started setting the scene to what I found to be a great tale. In the interests of telling the story and not getting caught up in the current climate of political correctness, I'm deliberately just going to leave out every single name, place and any information that will spark a step left riot and then take the focus away from the crux of the tale. Which remember is, recognising basic human dignity. 

Many years ago a certain very famous world museum painstakingly was collecting and had collected much art and items of deep interest and many, many  objects from a very proud, grand and once greatly established nation. A proud peoples who have been subsequently completely brutalised by the advent of a very greedy human driven new order. In the wake of such a long , over hundreds of years decimation process, much important heritage history was at risk now of being lost and in much need of being painstakingly preserved. So this very famous museum stepped up to take on this very important and expensive task of curatorship. 

Not sure if man preserves his history for the lesson of never wanting to repeat it or because he wants  to simply remember what happened - there is a difference. 

The museum spent many millions to preserve the objects in specially built glass cases , temperature specific and light deprived housings. The incredibly vast collection of items from this now decimated great nation, was staggering and took much effort and many millions to preserve on just a daily basis.

The curator of the museum , a very enlightened great nation heritage professional, who was deeply passionate about the preservation of this fascinating material was visited by the current chief of all the great nations, who's long heritage was now preserved in this great world museum. 

Now this very old great chief , shuffled into the curators office , he couldn't speak a word of English , he was dressed in the mighty clothes of his great nations legacy - passed down from father to son, over many generations, its wear was old but still very powerful to the gaze. the curator was very tempted to try preserve the incredible history on display in front of him. But instinctively knew the difference between history and the present. 

The great chief flanked by 2 of the great nations current strongest warriors, also dressed in the clothing that represented their deep heritage. Spoke in the language familiar to him and interpreted by one of the young warriors. After an incredibly detailed very respectful interaction,  the great chief summed up what he was there for, he thanked the curator for the incredible work he had done in preserving his nations artefacts. 

He deeply thanked the museum for the incredible work it had done in preserving all this valuable heritage information. But he made it known that the great spirit that oversees the remaining members of the nation. who in a vision to him,  had told him to bring home all the items of his nation in the museum. So he wanted the curator to box the entire collection , stored in several massive museum buildings, under sensitive expensive conditions, to be ready for his collection. To be taken back to the plains of his people, to be respectfully given back to the nation and the earth that had been robbed of its incredible legacy.

The curator was completely astounded - he petitioned and implored and told the 3 nations representatives it was absolutely impossible - much would be lost in the process and it was completely foolish and would never ever be allowed. The great chief just respectfully stared and like all great men, made it clear , it was not open for negotiation.

The curator and the museum immediately solicited the countries best lawyers , employed the greatest legal minds and went into a court room battle over the validity of this completely outrageous claim. The museums legal bench was loaded with the greatest current minds they could afford. the type of minds that cost many millions just to get an opinion from. 

On the day of the first court hearing the chief arrived with just his 2 warriors - he shuffled into the courtroom  and was very present with every facet of the unfolding proceedings. Through interpretation the court wrote down every word of this great old chief,  as he spoke in riddle and rhyme. And petitioned for the return of his nations deeply symbolic heritage.

The court case went right to the supreme court in the land over much time, costing many millions in the process.  Eventually a very wise judge at the very end of a very long legal process concluded that all the artefacts indeed belonged to the great nation. And should be respectfully given back to them. so they can respect and honour their dead, their customs and their people. The full cost of the entire legal process was for the museum to carry.

The museum was absolutely devastated, the curator was completely broken. The court set a day when the start of the handover would begin, when the chief with his entourage of many helpers would arrive to start the process of packing up, boxing and taking back their great nations heritage.

The designated court day eventually arrived and the chief stood in the exact same office he had occupied many months before - the same 2 warriors on either side of him. The now completely broken curator could hardly look up as he was devastated at his life's preservation work being completely destroyed. 

The chief started talking and the warrior interpreted the wise old mans words. The curator didn't really hear much, but he did notice that the chief had arrived with just the 2 warriors, as before. The curator didn't get much from the long detailed discussion but he did understand the chiefs very last few words.

"The museum can keep all the artefacts, exactly as they have done over the many years,  exactly in the current condition they reside in at present". 

At that the old chief turned to leave the small office,  the curator was incredulous - WHY!! why  did we just go through this incredibly expensive, time consuming process , if nothing was ever going to change? 

The chief,  through his interpreter said - "But things have changed! You now know that all these artefacts, belong to our great nation and not to you."

This powerful little tale , told to you from my memory of a conversation, in a very slow day heritage office, 20 years back, has got me thinking about what's happening right now. 

Do not ever underestimate the recognition of peoples basic human dignity. And sometimes its just a simple perception and perspective change that's required. A healthy change of established thinking is more powerful than the actual moving around of structures, architecture and established precedents.