Awful Acts of Mankind

20 08 2009

There is no doubt about it, but we live in good times – at least there is a lot of good. Our society may be crumbling from the inside out, but there are a lot of things that are good about living in the early part of the twenty first century.

I was particularly made mindful of this when, on holiday recently, we went down an old disused coal mine and then went round the above ground museum later. There are some terrible things in this world, things done by mankind, that most of the time most of us are not aware of.  Coal mining, I concluded was one of those things.

Miners will tell you that it is considerably different today to what it used to be down mines. I can only go on what we were told by our guide, an ex-miner, but life as the family of a coal miner in the early part of the nineteenth century was nothing less than slavery! Miners at the face worked in a two foot high gallery hacking out the coal for their twleve hour shift, taking their food and drink down with them, working an living in virtual darkness.  Shifts were twelve hours. Accidents were common. Women and young children also worked down the mine.   Young girls were used to open and shut the draught doors in the the galleries and if their family couldn’t afford a candle, she would work in pitch darkness, often tied to the door to make sure she didn’t run away. The only light she saw in her shift was when men or women passing through came by with their own candles.  Yes, the mine owner provided housing but the workers didn’t receive money, only tokens to be spent in the mine owner’s shop for goods that were priced a third more than in the open market. There was no escape.

When the mines started to be closed down there were interesting conflicting views. On one side were miners saying these mines should have been shut years ago. On the other side were miners bewailing the closing of the pits because it was the end of the community. Because of the hardness of the life (the coal mining industry is the most dangerous industry) it brought a resilience and closeness in the community, seldom found elsewhere. It might have been a great community but I’m glad I never had to work there and have lived in a world of staggering ease by comparison.

There are countless of other ‘hard situations’ that could be cited both now and in history. We the human race haven’t done very well sometimes. Often we’ve justified it on a variety of dubious grounds.  Today we live in a (largely) different world, that is (mostly) considerably better yet we don’t have to look far to see lifestyles that are dubious at best.

In the major cities of  the world we have white collar workers who work long, tense hours for staggering amounts of money, workers who have forsaken family life, and permanent relationships. It’s a staggeringly different world to that of the miner: it lacks the physical hardship and danger – and it is clean! Both work, or worked,  long hours but the hardship of the miner seemed to create a strong community whereas the long hours of the money-driven lawyers, bankers and money makers of the city, seem to destroy community, and certainly family life.

In a completely different category we could perhaps include teachers in the world of wrongs, teachers whose hours don’t end when school ends, but who work on long into the evenings, teachers who often work under incredible stress at the coal-face of the breakdown of society. How many teachers simply live with almost permanent exhaustion and take it work granted?

Yes, these modern examples that I’ve cited would be scorned by the miner. These people have good salaries and expensive lifestyles. These people want for little, little that is except peace, quietness, family relationships and a stress-free life. Like the famous frog being slowly boiled to death, we tolerate these things and accept them as normal. May there come a time of civilisation when we look back and see these times as ‘the bad old days’. Is this how God made it to be?  No, it’s how we’ve chosen it to be – but we could choose otherwise.

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