At times of change and upheaval like these, we naturally look within ourselves for some sense of meaning with which to frame it all. The hard part is that a role which many of us have seen filled by the same person for our entire lives has now changed hands. My attempt to make sense of it all follows…
The almost timeless quality of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is what set her apart from the day-to-day machinations of politics, the economy and everything else that seems to be forever in a constant state of flux. For she was someone who appeared to be present and yet stoically detached at the same time. She was both with us as a sovereign and a higher form of guiding presence who would always be in attendance during the major events of British life.
From state visits and tours to all four corners of the world, to the London games and the untimely passing of many national heroes and heroines, the Queen was ever-present. She would be there at the centre and yet was never one to dominate the limelight and detract from the work, talent and excellence of others. She was truly a sovereign first and a person second, and that is the promise she made some 70 glorious years ago. How many of us can honestly say that we would have been able to provide the same balance and staying power as one of the most recognisable people in the world for such a period of time?
Now the crown has passed to Charles III, where does that leave us as a nation, an island, and as a group of individuals who are in need of unity now more than ever?
You only have to look back two years to the pandemic to see how, when times were uncertain and uneasy for millions, the Queen taking to the airwaves provided a sense of stability many of us needed. The familiar comfort of her presence, rather than anything in particular she said, helped galvanise millions and show us that we would come out the other side if we all worked together. There are many amongst who now feel like her stabilising presence has been lost forever, and that’s a natural feeling at times of great upheaval like these.
While the Queen will never again grace us with her presence, she will continue to bestow a legacy on the nation. The warm manner in which His Majesty Charles III has ascended to the thrown is a welcome tonic for anyone worried about the future role of monarchy in this country. As is the warm and trustworthy relationship the new Prince of Wales has always maintained with the public as he has come of age and become a clear statesman in waiting. If the events of the past few days are anything to go by, I personally feel confident in predicting that the King, and his future heir, will be central parts of the enduring legacy left behind by her majesty.
So, where do we go from here in the new world we now live in? In a world in which concepts like free speech and cancel culture seem to be forever at odds with one another in the media and online, it’s important that we take a moment to step back and consider what unites us.
Everyone will have different opinions on any given subject, and their right to voice them in ways that potentially cause offence to others is part of living in a free and open society. But due to the seemingly endless nature of the ways we can now communicate online en mass, fringe opinions and arguments are constantly amplified and discourse polarised as a result. My belief is a simple one: by looking within ourselves for meaning, we can find unity rather than opposition. It’s about stepping back from the brink of conflict with others about certain topics and understanding that every single one of us will have differing opinions. What unites us are a set of core human ideals exemplified by a sovereign who watched over us, rather than ruled us, for over 70 years.
My own personal goal for the remainder of 2022 is to take the lessons this type of selfless example of public service has given me and use them to shape the way I think about life. It’s about gaining a sense of perspective that allows you to resist the rush to judgement that’s so dramatically become the hallmark for much of life in the digital age. Slowing down slightly, finding time to consider a point of view, and keeping in mind what truly matters to you in life are all things we can learn from the example of Her Majesty. They’re also traits we can already see in the warmth and stoicism of His Majesty.
The way in which our new King has greeted the public with warmth and kindness while attempting to process the most profound sense of personal grief is a lesson in restraint to us all. It’s not about bottling up your emotions, it’s about finding ways to communicate, adapt and show yourself in the best possible light to the rest of the world. And when the entire world is watching your every move, to say that this is easier said than done is perhaps the biggest understatement of all.
I’d like to finish with a brief mention of when I had the pleasure of seeing Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in Exeter over 10 years ago. I was fortunate to be only one row back in a crowd that was at least half a dozen deep and saw her driving out of the unveiling ceremony she had just completed. In the brief moment we made eye contact I felt a connection with her that I still remember to this day. It’s a connection that showed me what it means to stand for something no matter what else is happening in the world.