We have no say as to when, where, or to whom we are born. Nor can we dictate the circumstances of our upbringing, the quality of our physical development or the culture that envelopes us. Our lives unfold in accordance with the cultural values surrounding us.
We learn to adjust. To cope with challenges and learn how to manage our lives within that milieu of existence.
King Charles III is ten years younger than I am. Born into a British family enveloped with cultural significance and assigned historical roles that today seem archaic and superfluous. By the time he was five years old his mother became queen. And Charles was acutely aware of the symbolism associated with being a royal and heir to his mother’s position when she died.
His most influential early-day family mentors were his father, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and uncle, Louis Mountbatten. They oversaw his initial education, making sure he was shaped into a vigorous youth. Capable of enduring mental and physical rigors. Later he was guided into naval service and became a jet and helicopter pilot, as well as a ship’s commanding officer.
Charles is also well-known as Diana’s husband and father of their two children, William and Harry. Also for the tragedy that surrounded the marriage and Diana’s death. The media attention given those aspects of Charles’ life sublimates something else about him that is infinitely more significant.
A characteristic I hope emerges more distinctly now that he is King.
During his late teen years to the present, Charles developed an intense interest in anthropology and our human relationship with the spiritual world. That interest made him seem like an oddball to members of his family and the national press. He was criticized for hanging around scholars and others who advocated a closer connection to our ancient roots and cultural underpinnings.
To many, Charles seemed like a looney vestige of a long-lost past, seeking to develop a modern society based on a cultural myth. Of a time when people lived in small villages and interacted with each other in ways that were mutually beneficial.
When empathy and caring prevailed. When the world was not dominated by economic and political juggernauts that controlled our thoughts and behaviors in ways dictated by those in charge.
Unlike those of us who can only talk or write about such ideas, Charles has money to make things happen. Projects designed to make a difference in many categories of human life. Just a few of his projects almost boggle the mind.
They cover everything from saving the environment to sustaining the economy. He has given considerable attention to saving and sustaining Britain’s rural communities. The nation’s enduring traditions are high on his list of priorities, and he is a major contributor to the visual and performing arts.
Charles initiates and leads projects rooted in the belief that the culture we live in must have more depth and meaning. Wealthy Americans who sponsor charitable foundations also give away money based on their priorities. But I have rarely seen the kind of philosophical depth behind those projects that Charles exudes.
Maybe the difference has something to do with vision.
For years I administered a university research and development center that depended on grants from government and foundations. We were successful in acquiring grant money because we had people in the office who knew how to respond to “RFPs” (requests for proposals).
My grant proposal writers could figuratively get inside the heads of those administering the money (bureaucrats or foundation personnel). They used the right catch phrases, pushed the right psychological buttons, and made our proposed project seem like solid gold. Even when it wasn’t.
Some foundations did not release RFPs, but instead initiated contact themselves if they believed a project aligned with their priorities.
University administrators always encouraged the seeking of grant money regardless of the project’s quality. But too often I found the funded projects to be superficial. A waste of time and money. They were either trivial or redundant. They lacked substance, because the vision underlying them was too shallow.
Shallow vision is the kind that provides short-term answers for long-term problems. Or offers solutions that have already been tried and failed.
True vision always involves system modifications which eliminates tinkering around the edges of something.
When Charles talks about bettering the environment, he is not suggesting we plant a few more trees or drive fewer miles. He insists on a larger, more systemic commitment. The same is true with enriching the culture.
Cultural enrichment is more than opening a museum or building monuments to the past. It requires a kind of values examination and growing awareness of who and what we aspire to be as a collection of people. Getting to that point requires ongoing and multifaceted education. Institutionally based and incorporated into the daily activities of a community.
Plato believed in the philosopher king form of government. That our leaders should be reflective and intellectually rooted in the best of human wisdom.
Charles comes close to meeting that criterion. A ruling principle vastly better than allowing ambitious and shallow dictators force their will on the nation they lead.
Or depending solely on democracy’s sponsorship of contentious debate that promotes fear or the application of popular quick-fix solutions.
King Charles III is mortal and will eventually die. It will be interesting to see what legacy he leaves Great Britain and the world. Or how he serves the culture into which he was born.
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