Having started to listen to Dylan again I wondered, as many have, whether Bob Dylan meant that the truth is so obvious (blowin in the wind) or one of life’s incomprehensible intangibles when he wrote the song in 1962. This has never been properly answered – the great wordsmith has remained consistently vague on its real meaning. The lyrics, however one might interpret them still have a poignancy over fifty years later:
Yes, ‘n’ how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, ‘n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
We have just had the latest crime figures which show that homicide and knife crime have both risen significantly in the last year and the Office for National Statistics suggest that this may mark the end of the long term fall in crime. Murder rates have increased by 12% and offences involving knives or sharp instruments have risen 16%. While statistics are just that, numbers, what these figures represent are hundreds and thousands of people bereaved by and hurt by crime. Real people who, like all right thinkers, look for answers and a way forward recognising that the past cannot be changed but expecting that our society and our representatives will make a serious attempt to listen and learn and make it less likely others will have to suffer a similar trauma in the future.
So what have Bob Dylan and his lyrics got to do with this? Well, I’d suggest that he is summing up the seemingly intractable problem we are facing: what can we do to make things better? There are lots of suggestions and ideas out there, blowing in the wind: tougher sentences; educational programmes; more police on the streets and so on – prevention and protection measures. But as one idea is presented it is usually negated by a counter suggestion – so, how many ears do I need to have before I can listen and hear people cry and so make informed decisions about what best to do?
For it is in listening and hearing that we best learn. And we could, perhaps, do well to take a learn from Barry and Margaret Mizen . It has been ten years since their son, Jimmy was murdered and in the time since Barry and his wife Margaret have worked tirelessly to make sure their son’s death wasn’t completely in vain. Their example of quiet unassuming listening, especially to young people, is something all of us, especially those tasked with shaping and governing our society might think about emulating. It’s by listening that we have our opinions and values shaped and honed throughout our lives and provide us, often, with the strength and resilience we need when we face adversity. And it helps us find a way through, to try to get to grips with the intractable.
That is surely what all victims of crime need – to have their voice heard, to be listened to so that their present and future needs can be met. It’s only by opening our ears that we can begin to understand that indeed too many people have died. These are not statistics – they are human beings who lived at the side, below or above you and I. Our response is one that, ultimately, will help shape just who we are and what our values mean to us as individuals and to or society.
We have certainly seen improvements over the years: a national service to support those bereaved by homicide being a good example. But there is still a long way to go in terms of our approach to dealing with crime and, crucially, how we respond to the needs of those adversely impacted by it. By learning from the past and supporting people in a focused and effective way we can help shape and grow the future we all deserve.
To end on a positive note it is clear that there are those who listen and have had their own values and responses shaped as a result. It is humbling to hear the stories of those individuals given bravery awards for their responses during the London Bridge terror attack. Their witness and courage is a call to us all to consider how best we honour their memory and help build on it.