Remembrance Day offers us an opportunity to reflect upon what lasting legacy we leave for the next generation, writes Royal Scottish Geographical Society (RSGS) Chief Executive, Mike Robinson 

HeraldScotland:

AT 11am on 11 November each year, since World War One ended 103 years ago, many of us across the Commonwealth stop and observe a two-minute silence. 

In those moments, we quietly reflect on the sacrifice of previous generations, who gave us the freedom to live the lives we do today. 

More than one million Commonwealth soldiers and many civilians lost their lives. 

It is a day for the nation to remember and honour those who ‘sacrificed’ themselves to secure and protect our freedom.

Their ‘sacrifice’ is quite rightly commemorated and reflected upon – and not just in this First World War, but in wars before and afterwards too, particularly World War II. 

These generations who fought and died protecting the country against existential threats, also in turn brought about accelerated rights and freedoms for future generations. War was a great leveller. 

People from lowly backgrounds were required to take on more authority as officers and generals from the ruling elite were killed. Women entered the workforce and undertook more non-traditional roles.

It forced changes in a previously rigid and reluctant society.

The legacy of that sacrifice was also to acknowledge the rights and roles of everybody, by building a fairer society, in recognition of the role so many played. It was the First World War which led to voting rights for most men and women, and other sweeping social reforms. 

It prompted a post-Victorian society riven by deep inequality to begin to level the playing field. The Second World War too led to the creation of a more universal welfare state, and the brilliant and bold move to establish services such as the NHS, as a right to health was seen as the very least we all deserved.

Rudyard Kipling wrote his well-known poem Recessional at the end of the 19th Century before WW1, featuring the now common phrase, ‘Lest we forget’ which reflects on that sacrifice and has become a mainstay of Armistice Day. 

It was written as a warning, to caution against jingoism, and to highlight that if a nation forgets the true source of its success – its people, its society, its culture – then its military or material possessions will be insufficient in times of war.

It is as much a reminder for us to consider and cherish what we hold dear.

For me 11 November is a poignant chance to mark all of this – the sacrifice of the past and the consequent benefit to the modern day. It is a time to remember some of the freedoms it is so easy to take for granted – democracy, security, economy, education, freedom of the press, health, environment and nature, stability, peace. 

A time to thank our predecessors for their role in the society and conditions of the present day. 

But, here in 2021, 11 November happens to fall on the second last day of the UN Climate Conference, COP26. 

In this light, what is it that Kipling’s poem is reminding us not to lose sight of today?  

Our generations have borrowed from the future, not invested in it.  We have borrowed from the future of nature and are in debt to it. We have borrowed from our atmosphere... from the soil and the sea. 

We are borrowing financially from the future too. What right have we got to burden younger generations with such anxiety, debt and fear, without doing everything in our power to act in their best interests, and by doing so, to fill them with hope and reassurance?

So, faced with some very real current environmental, social and political challenges, maybe this year everyone should also take two minutes to stop and think about what sacrifices we ourselves are making for our children and our children’s children.  

To remind ourselves what really matters and consider how we wish to be remembered. Lest we forget.

As COP26 draws to a close, let us hope our global political leaders will do the same.
If we want people to stop and remember us in 10, 20 or 100 years’ time, with as much gratitude and appreciation as we do our predecessors, then we need to do an awful lot better. 

What is the legacy that we want to pass on to future generations and how will they choose to thank us for it?

climatesolutionsnetwork.com 

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