A new view of the world

19th August 2005 at 01:00
At Christmas 1968, Apollo 8, circling the moon, presented us with unprecedented views of our earth. Listening to Genesis we were met, for the first time, with pictures of "earthrise" on our blue planet. Astronaut John Young pointed out that the earth was so small in the capsule window he could cover it with his thumbnail. As the song written later suggested, "From a distance" the wars and destruction of humanity seemed pointless and inexplicable.

This summer, we had a pale but powerful imitation of their experience, when a family wedding took us to Vietnam. Everyone of my generation has a ready-made scrapbook of Vietnam memories, composed of stills and newsreel footage: helicopter gunships, plastic body bags, a little girl running, burning and screaming.

So I flew into Hanoi with a lot of information about Vietnam but next to no knowledge of the country or its people. What I found was astonishing and disturbing in the most positive sense, in that it ruffled my world view in a way that only vivid experience can.

I met a people who were hospitable, hard-working, fiercely family orientated and, despite decades of war and occupation, completely without bitterness. They were reflective to the point of wisdom, and with the most beguiling and welcoming of smiles never far from any face.

In the bustling streets of Hanoi, an apparent lack of traffic rules led to what can only be described as well-organised chaos - no road rage, and few accidents because folk clearly looked out for each other and used bikes, mopeds and cars as means of transport rather than displays of power. The contents of open-fronted shops spilt on to the pavements and owners were quite happy to have a noon siesta, leaving it to shoppers to wake them up when they wanted to buy.

No doubt the corporate west will seek to exert its influence over Vietnam as the country continues to progress, but it felt to me as if this was a people who might well have the sense of tradition, family and self-worth to resist some of the more hideous aspects of globalisation.

Returning to school this month, our PE staff will be out on the sports pitches encouraging our footballers to look up, be aware of what is around them and play the game with vision. It would be nice if we would start echoing that message in the classroom so that a focus on world citizenship helps our students to gain perspective, and to raise their game above the materialistic, the banal and the exploitative.

In our schools, we have the young people to make a better world and we must ensure they have the guidance and encouragement to do so.

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