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Thought for the Day - John Bell

Duration: 02:51

Is it easier to celebrate a tragedy or a victory?

I don’t normally begin the day grappling with the kind of conundrum which is better suited to a philosophy examination. But when I listened to the news yesterday morning, that question flitted through my mind.

Is it easier to celebrate a tragedy or a victory?

People aboard the MS Balmoral currently tracing the historic maiden voyage of the Titanic might suggest that at up to £6,000 a berth, it is more expensive to celebrate a tragedy. I wonder whether had the Titanic completed its first trip, there would have been such a high profile replica voyage to celebrate its success.

When in, say ten years' time, there is a reunion of former Oxford rowers, will their victories over Cambridge be as poignantly remembered as Saturday’s twice aborted race and the collapse of one of their crew?

I don’t know whether there is a psychological predisposition in us to contemplate tragedy more than victory, but I sense that we all know something about it.. Tomorrow, for example I’ll note the anniversary of my mother’s death much more easily than I’ll ever remember my graduation.

It’s a bit like laughter and tears. If sufficiently moved or upset, we might weep for a long time, but we cannot by thought alone treat ourselves to thirty minutes of a belly laugh.

Maybe the reason why it was yesterday that I was contemplating this deep mystery, was because Sunday was the second of the weekend’s great Christian memorials. Friday commemorated the death of Christ, Sunday his resurrection..

Whether or not we are believers, we would all probably say that of the two, the more poignant is the crucifixion, not simply because it is easier to visualise, but because all of us know intimately both our potential for doing wrong and the pain we have felt when wrong has been done to us. There is something horribly universal about an innocent person being persecuted.

But Easter, the resurrection, the more mystical celebration not only stretches our imagination, but it upsets our bias towards the negative. For in the face of populist cynicism and sentimental optimism, it challenges us to believe, in the words of Desmond Tutu that

Goodness is stronger than evil
Love is stronger than hate,
Light is stronger than darkness
Life is stronger than death;
and that victory is ours, through him who loves us.

Available since: Tue 10 Apr 2012

This clip is from

Today 09/04/2012

Debating Syrian unrest, Brazil's growing importance, and Paddington Bear's latest outing.

First broadcast: 09 Apr 2012

Image for 09/04/2012 Not currently available

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