Big Pit: The Advocate

“In the final analysis, the questions of why bad things happen to good people transmutes itself into some very different questions, no longer asking why something happened, but asking how we will respond, what we intend to do now that it happened.” 

 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

The Road Less Traveled

In every age, there is a tipping point that signals a dramatic shift in public sentiment.  For the coal industry, it was the catastrophe at Huskar Colliery in Silkstone, near Barnsley in South Yorkshire.  A fierce thunderstorm caused a stream to overflow into a ventilation drift.  Twenty-six children died; eleven girls from 8 – 16 years of age, and 15 boys from 9 – 12 years of age.  Queen Victoria was appalled when she heard the news and instructed Anthony Ashley Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury (Lord Ashley) to conduct an immediate enquiry.

In every age, there are men and women who advocate for those who are powerless, who speak for those who have no voice.  Lord Ashley, was such a man.  His tireless support for the Victorian poor and working class, garnered him the title of the “Poor Man’s Earl.”   Perhaps his capacity for empathy came from his unhappy childhood when the only person who seemed to care for him was the family’s housekeeper, Maria Mills.

Born in 1801, Lord Ashley was in his mid-twenties when he entered the political scene as a Tory Member of Parliament in 1826.  Within a few short months he had been appointed to four parliamentary committees, one being the Select Committee on Pauper Lunatics in the County of Middlesex.  The County Lunatic Asylums (England) Act 1828 and the Madhouses Act 1828, of which he gave an impassioned speech in their defence, ushered in better treatment of those with mental health issues.  In his diary he wrote:

“So, by God’s blessing, my first effort has been for the advance of human happiness. May I improve hourly! Fright almost deprived me of recollection but again thank Heaven, I did not sit down quite a presumptuous idiot”. 

Lord Ashley introduced the Mines and Collieries Act 1842, which banned the employment of women and children in the underground of coal mines.  His speech earned the support of the Prince Consort who wrote him a note saying, “Best wishes for your total success.”

In our age, we need men and women to advocate for those who are powerless, who speak for those who have no voice…

“Doing the right thing has power.”

Laura Linney

98 thoughts on “Big Pit: The Advocate

  1. Every age has men and women who take up responsibilities so that the rest of the humanity can remain in peace and continue the progress of our race.

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    • Well said!! I agree wholeheartedly – I see daily evidence of your insightful comments!

      “Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth.”
      ― William Faulkner

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    • Thank you Penny! I believe that blogging has increase the potential for making great strides in sharing ways in which to seek positive outcomes. Today is the last day of the III Global Conference on Child Labour that is being held in Brasilia. The work continues…

      “We owe all children a future without violence, without fear and without exploitation.”
      Dilma Rousseff

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  2. Great piece Rebecca… I love it when people who’ve done such good are recognised – even in hindsight.
    Shaftesbury was also the man who stopped climbing boys going up chimneys to clean them… they were usually between four and seven years old – they had to be small to climb the hot sooty chimneys – doesn’t bear thinking about…and usually had to be forced up with beatings etc…
    These things remind me that the world has made some progress!!!!

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    • Wasn’t he remarkable! He had his critics, but he persevered!!! The more I look backwards, the more I understand that we have big shoes to fill. I am thankful for the countless men and women who chose to make a difference – many of them will remain forever hidden in the folds of history. But we are living a different life because of their contributions. They saw a problem and resolved to do something about it. Everyday, I see that many are following in their footsteps…

      “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
      ― Anne Frank

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  3. If one thinks good things don’t happen, then they are only reading the media headlines.
    Everyday I read blogs that share the wonderful things that others do. People helping people. I read uplifting messages of hope and encouragement. It is reassuring.

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    • Yes!! Yes!!! Yes!!!! The messages that come through the blogging wires are full of joy, hope and enthusiasm. I believe that we are embracing an evolving communication paradigm. We may be experiencing extraordinary progress in technology, changes in demographics, and economic uncertainty, but to me, humanity’s capacity to adapt and overcome is gaining momentum.

      “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” Charles Darwin

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    • Just this morning, I was considering how choices we make establishes the way in which we approach life and ultimately determines our level of happiness and well-being. Doing the right thing in little acts builds resilience to take on the tougher challenges and augments our decision-making skill sets. It seems that we are more creative, focused – and alive!!!

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    • Thank you so much for your visit! All the best on your blog – looking forward to our ongoing dialogue! 🙂 History has given us women of courage who have changed the course of history. May me follow in their footsteps…

      “The best protection any woman can have…is courage.” Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

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    • Thank you for your visit and comments! These are the issues that will continue to challenge our way of thinking – the more we circle, the more we will understand how to become an active participant in seeking the greater good. It is in the small things, that great things come into being.

      “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” Robert F. Kennedy

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  4. “In our age, we need men and women to advocate for those who are powerless, who speak for those who have no voice…”

    I have been feeling this strongly of late. In the United States, every day more people are slipping from the middle class into poverty. And now our government is shut down, throwing more people out of work.

    The workers at my neighborhood grocery store are threatening to strike tomorrow. The chain that owns the store has cut their hours and benefits. If they go on strike tomorrow, I will support them. I admire their bravery and their willingness to work together for the common good.

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    • I agree wholeheartedly. It seems that we experiencing an evolution brought about by our ability to communicate and share knowledge and participate in thoughtful dialogue. The Industrial Revolution was the shift to new manufacturing processes, but in the transition there seemed to develop a greater awareness of social responsibility. I think the same thing is happening today; we are sharing our concerns, and making significant lifestyle changes. Your comments are a profound confirmation that advocacy is thriving. And that gives me great comfort!!!

      “Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.” Nelson Mandela

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  5. Bless Lord Ashley and all the good people who go about helping without much notice given to them. May the souls of the poor children that perished in the coal mines, and everywhere else, rest easier than good folk walk the earth. A great post, Rebecca. Thank you.

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    • A wonderful benediction – thank you! I was thinking of those children when I was writing the post. We must seek better ways because of their sacrifice and remember their legacy. Their lives meant something to us all!

      “We set out to save the Shire, Sam and it has been saved – but not for me.” J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

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  6. What a wonderful post, I always love the things I learn here on your blog. I really enjoyed the quote you started with too, very thought provoking… and sort of makes a lot of things feel okay. I also really loved the quote you left on my blog last week, thank you so much for your caring and your kind words about Moonlight, it really meant a lot to us. Kathryn

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    • Thank you so much Kathryn for joining the dialogue! I was touched by your beautiful tribute to Moonlight. I like that first quote because it reminded me that we can act, respond, and pursue the greater good. And along the way, we meet extraordinary kindred spirits who share the journey. In the end, that is all that will matter…

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    • I agree!!! Sometimes we think that what we do makes no difference, that our actions are inconsequential. And yet, I recall when a kind word of encouragement changed my destiny and gave me courage to take a new direction.

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  7. You’re are a humanist and an altruist from the very beginning as you’ve chosen that quote signed by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, UN GRAND HOMME… my very best and respectful regards, Mélanie NB

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    • Thank you so very much for your heartwarming comments. I have always been interested in Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. He was brilliant and had a remarkable understanding of our relationship with the infinite. While many of his ideas came into conflict with the status quo, he persevered. Perhaps that is the essence of this post; for it is only when we embrace our humanity and seek a compassionate thought process that we find our way.

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    • We didn’t make is down to South Yorkshire this time around! Another place to visit (we will be back!) I did look it up and found that Barnsley was a notable industrial town centred on coal mining and glassmaking. Isn’t it interesting that during a time of rapid industrial progress, we had a corresponding increase in moral courage. Over and over I saw evidence of rising interest in human rights advocacy. This was my biggest takeaway – together, we can change the course of human destiny. We can chose the better way.

      “What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?”
      Vincent Van Gogh

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  8. Hi Rebecca.
    It is always good to be reminded about “good” people. And there are more of them than we imagine! These days in the U.S. it has been easy to get discouraged about these “Tea Party” folk who simply seem to be content with vitriol and hate mongering. Still and all there are people who do the right thing. Sometimes they are even in politics – though that seems to be rare.

    By the way, I noticed your new icon/avatar. I didn’t recognize you at first. Very nice.

    Take care and have a good weekend!! Pat

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    • Thank you for your heartwarming comments. I agree – there are many who chose the better path, that reject greed and hatred. I am learning, albeit slowly, that it is in the small things that we can make a difference. Looking back at those who came before gives me courage and strength to make the right decisions that lead to hope, not despair. Do you remember Sojourner Truth, who was born into slavery and turned into a powerful advocate for human rights? We, who have many advantages, the best being freedom, have no excuse but seek peaceful solutions.

      “That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne five children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?” Sojourner Truth

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  9. Buna ziua!…De doua zile am schimbat numele la blog…deoarece au fost neintelegeri si am fost nevoita sa schimb numele la blog. Eu sunt aceiasi Ileana si va astept in casuta mea virtuala cand doriti si cand puteti!…O zi frumoasa alaturi de familie!…Noua mea adresa…
    http://doareuileana.wordpress.com/

    Hello! … Two days ago I changed the name of the blog … because they were misunderstanding and I had to change the name of the blog. I am the same Ileana and wait in my virtual box when you want and when you can! … A beautiful day with your family! … My new address …

    http://doareuileana.wordpress.com/

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    • Thank you so much for letting me know of your name change!!! I love you new name – Just me!!! I wondered why I hadn’t seen you in my reader! Have a wonderful weekend – you made my full of sunshine!

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  10. Wonderful post, wonderful blog… thankfully we are now tipping the balance in the way of love… but still a long way to go… and we will endeavour to keep making a difference and creating awareness for all to awaken to their true voice and power… Maybe we can enjoy each other’s journey… Barbara

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  11. Dear Rebecca,
    thank you for your post giving that important history lesson. Oh dear, I must admid I didn`t know a thing about Lord Ashley.
    You are so right, we need strong folks to advocate the rights of the helpless.
    Klausbernd and his happy Bookfayries Siri and Selma send their love across the big waters
    Have a happy day!

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    • I confess that I had no idea who Lord Ashley was or what he did until I went on my Industrial Revolution tour this past August. If we don’t look back, we miss out on the remarkable stories of people who strived for better outcomes. That is what I so like about following your blog!

      I am an optimist! We continue to make progress – real progress because people decide that it is the right thing to do.

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      • Dear Rebecca,
        I agree, we continue to make progress – but what`s the aim?
        A “better” society?
        Happiness for everyone?
        I don`t know. Do you?
        Have a GREAT day 🙂
        Hugs
        Klausbernd

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      • Wasn’t it Voltaire who once said “Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.” ? A very good question – progress for what? Happiness is such an elusive and individualist quality and yet humanity seeks is most diligently, knowing that somewhere, somehow it exists. A ‘better’ society is open to various interpretations. I don’t know the answer – and that is perhaps what makes life so interesting for me. I rather like what Hermann Hesse has to say on the matter.

        “I believe that I am not responsible for the meaningfulness or meaninglessness of life, but that I am responsible for what I do with the life I’ve got.” Hermann Hesse, Verliebt in die verrückte Welt: Betrachtungen, Gedichte, Erzählungen, Briefe

        Thank you so much for your comments and thoughts – you add so much to my personal knowledge.

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      • Dear Rebecca,
        thank you as well!
        Yes, the aims of life … and maybe to have an aim should be questioned as well as one particular way of life only.
        Anyway, have a happy weekend.
        With a big HUG
        Klausbernd and his aimlessly happy Bookfayries Siri and Selma

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      • They have cousins everywhere. I will ask them, if they fancy flying to Vancouver. Maybe one day two little Bookfayries stand in front of your door with a big smile on their faces.
        A happy weekend to you as well
        Klausbernd

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  12. We al, across Canada share the same threat at the hands of self-serving so-called fellow citizens, such as in my Province of Québec where backward thinkers are willing to sacrifice the freedom of others, as to language and religious beliefs, to further their political cause. Or in the west of our country where tar-sand oil profits and its transport, at any cost, includes the indefensible threat to our ecological environment, to all intent and purpose being ignored by the profiting provinces as well as our present federal government lording their power over all of us by any means, as we have been witnessing more so than ever these last few months.

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    • Your comments remind me of the poet, Ella Wheeler Wilcox, when she said: “To sin by silence, when they should protest, makes cowards of men.” There is never a time when we should not speak out against injustice, intolerance, and inhumanity. If we have been given breath, we must be active participants in our community, whether local or global. Every one of your posts and comments is a testament to to your commitment to pursuing positive, life-affirming outcomes.

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  13. A very good article, Rebecca. There are people out there that can raise their voices and make a difference, but the greatest peril of the society today is indifference. I see it every day.

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    • Indifference kills the soul and it is so easy to fall into until the moment when you know that to live means to embrace courage. Maya Angelou says it better than I can – “Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”

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  14. Rebecca, I haven’t started following your blog because I have been lazy and in the dumps. But each time you have stopped by mine and “liked” has caused me to seek yours out, read something and comment. You have a wonderful blog, and clearly you touch the hearts and souls of many. I enjoy the insight your August tour gave you, and look forward reading more of your posts. Take care, Bill

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    • Thank you, Bill!! I came to blogging to share in the joy of discovery – we are engaged in a huge conversation. I chanced by a poem today by Arthur O’Shaughnessy, which says is all….

      “We are the music-makers,
      And we are the dreamers of dreams,
      Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
      And sitting by desolate streams.
      World-losers and world-forsakers,
      Upon whom the pale moon gleams;
      Yet we are the movers and shakers,
      Of the world forever, it seems.”

      Arthur O’Shaughnessy, Poems of Arthur O’Shaughnessy

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