“Everything flows, and nothing stays,” said the Greek Heraclitus in around 500 BC. For him, change was the fundamental truth underlying everything that is caught up in the flow of time.
History is a testament to that philosopher’s insight. Every day, societies and individual lives worldwide are shaped and reshaped in small and large ways. Fashion comes and goes, and famine takes away plenty, monarchs and governments are swept away, science provides us with technologies that our ancestors would have perceived as magic, discoveries are made, wars are won and lost. As Lord Alfred Tennyson later puts it, “The old order changeth, yielding place to the new.”
The world is in a constant state of flux – but every so often, events occur that have a vastly more profound effect than the everyday shifting tides of politics and progress. Since we invented the wheel, there have been certain moments in which history itself has turned. Some of them, like the ‘Moon Landing’ of 1969-were immediately recognized as a great stepping stone in the history of humankind, witnessed by millions of people. At other times -for example, when a bunch of geeks launched a new computer program – it is only when we look back that we can see the moment as pivotal.
However, whether it is Christopher Columbus sighting the New World, setting in motion events that would lead to the rise of a great superpower, or a young man called Elvis Presley making a disc that would redefine pop culture forever, such moments have reverberated down the centuries. In a great domino effect chain of cause and effect, they have changed the world in ways that the people involved could never have imagined.
Many events have shaped the world we live in. Some have flown from the act of putting pen to paper with an idea, such as Charles Darwin’s “Origin Of Species.” Other moments have taken place behind the closed doors of little-known laboratories. Still, more have taken place before humanity’s fascinated gaze on television, or, like World War II, D-Day landings, have involved the lives and deaths of thousands.
Not all represent change for the better:- the Wall Street Crash had untold misery in the United States and around the globe and the unforgettable dot com bubble, and the terrible events of September 11, 2001, and September 26, 2008, have affected countless more lives than those of the people trapped in those buildings that day. And the sinking of the Titanic and the explosion of the Columbia Space Shuttle, whose fate was decided seconds after it was launched, are tragic reminders of human fallibility.
But some events also show our ability to achieve great feats, such as conquering the world’s highest peak and reaching out into space and our ingenuity in making leaps of scientific progress. Moments such as Live Aid in the summer of 1985 demonstrate the depth of human generosity and our willingness to be moved to the great acts of compassion. And as a last entry to the list, I would comment on the election of the United States of America’s first black President only 53 years after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to vacate her seat on a bus for a white man, serves to remind us how rapidly progress can happen:- how quickly events can change the world.