I always thought the story of King Cnut (the real name of the 11th century king many of us might remember as Canute) was one where the king was foolish and arrogant in believing he could stop the sea just because he was king, and that he was publicly embarrassed when he could not.
Apparently, this is untrue.
In the first recording of the story, made by Henry of Huntingdon, Cnut was in fact intentionally demonstrating how useless his kingly power was against the one true power of
God who commands nature. He did this to attempt to brush off the extreme/excessive flattery of his courtiers (who needs yes men, eh?!) and, according to good old Henry’s account, Cnut also never wore his crown again after this demonstration.
I found out this original story because I have recently been thinking about how the story of King Cnut (as I used to know it; the idiot king embarrassing himself) is relevant to the world today, and I wanted to check my memory on him before I made passing reference here. Good thing, eh?!
The allegory of a human standing against unstoppable forces, and inevitably failing, rings true today in many ways.
The way I stand atop Chesil Beach with my eyes closed when a storm is upon us, to feel my weakness against the wind and the waves. The way people argue about polarised opinion, or tell others not to be black and white, without realising they are talking about ends of a spectrum/continuum; ignoring the space between themselves and, with it, all the people that sit somewhere in that space. The way some people are still sexist, racist, ageist, classist, xenophobic, etc., despite the fact that the majority of people in the world automatically see every single other person as fully equal to themselves. The way that people who create systems seem to forget that even theirs will succumb to entropy. And the way governments and corporations are denying and/or ‘cleverly’ sidestepping the elements of climate change we are all responsible for.
The way nature washes easily over all of us.
In all these, as with Cnut, the inevitability of change will win in the end. And, thanks to my tiny new bit of knowledge on Cnut, I now realise we have a choice. We can arrogantly try to face down the tide of change or we can humbly accept it as immutable. Or, I suppose – considering one of the things I typed in the last paragraph – we could do a little bit of one and a little bit of the other. Sometimes cocky, sometimes humble. Just like everyone!
But, what I really mean to say is that whatever we do, however we respond to how things are changing, if we sometimes forget to respond with love, or sometimes forget to be the most environmentally friendly or kindest people we could be, a change – The Change – is definitely flowing towards us. I think I can see it. There are certainly shapes forming. And I can definitely feel it building up deep in the middle of my chest.
It is getting closer and closer.
A world of tolerance, understanding and love between people and all of nature is on the horizon. And no one can stop it. Whatever they do and whatever mistakes we/they make on the way, it is coming. So, as Bob Dylan once sung, and as the new Cnut I now know would do; “Get out of the way if you can’t lend a hand.”
We explored the idea of man standing against the freedom of nature in the world’s first Facebook play, The NoW.