It's a good thing that people talk about mental health. In the forty-or-so years I've been going, there has been a shift from dismissing mentally ill people as nutters, through the sympathetic-but-still-not-that-helpful treatment of depression by reminding the sufferer of all the good things about their life, to taking seriously the fact that some people's mental landscape just isn't the same as most others'. You can see it occasionally getting abused, perhaps by the canny schoolkid who blames a perfectly normal teenage lack of interest in doing any work on their anxiety, which curiously enough doesn't manifest itself in any other situation... sometimes it is adults who attach all the ills of their life to their bad mental health, when in fact they contribute a fair number of poor choices. Sometimes the illness drives the choices and it is impossible to tell what the best thing to do with and for that person is. Sometimes, the illness is so pernicious that it convinces the sufferer that he or she has done something deeply, irredeemably wrong, or perhaps convinces those around that that is the next step in its development. So it is a good thing that mental health is not the taboo that it has been even in my memory. It is the same as with the prejudices I wrote about (relatively) recently, that in my lifetime there has been a swing, from openly expressed (my grandparents and even my parents would be openly disgusted by, for example, a gay man even hinting at anything sexual) through to the more covert ("he's gay but he's lovely...", or scouring a list of names, finding anything remotely unusual and commenting on the likely ethnic origin of the person so named), to being robustly challenged at every expression that carries with it some form of prejudice.
Seeing images of the few remaining survivors of the Holocaust of the 1930s and 1940s should remind us of that progress. It is within my grandparents' lifetimes that people - who might have appeared to be kind, warm, normal, should you have met them on the street - were convinced that an entire race needed to be wiped out for the safety of the rest. The thought that this sort of thing might happen again has always seemed remote, as perhaps the prospect of a second Great War must have done at the beginning of 1919. So it seems that we must guard against it in whatever way we might. I, in my small way, try to educate, civilise and generally improve those around me, by getting them to think, challenging their views where there might be a chance of something constructive coming from it, sometimes by introducing something they hadn't contemplated before - a poem, a painting, a song. I can't help but reread in that sentence a sort of hopeless earnestness, a forlorn, even quixotic idealism that marks me out in some way, probably as a fool. But I will persist in that foolishness, because, for every ten or even hundred people I confuse or frustrate when I insist on showing them something interesting, if just one gets it, then it is worth it. Humans - as I find myself saying a lot, even with the raised eyebrow that I cannot now omit - are the cleverest thing we know about in the entire universe, without (current!) exception. So perhaps we should celebrate the achievements of humanity, focus on what we can do that is the nearly unbelievable achievement of our species, and focus that energy, inventiveness and will on being better, not being richer or more powerful or having more stuff. That's the great sadness of how 'the economy' is measured, for me - they keep going on about wealth, wealth creation and all that. Wealth is not about stuff - although stuff can be wonderful in the right context - but the immaterial wealth of knowing things, being able to be interested in the best that other people have created, that's what wealth is.
And so, a sort of 'share': Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, by Bruegel...
And Auden (wasn't he a nancy as well, Sir?)...
Musee des Beaux Arts
About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought