Churchill’s faithful black dog, and why we might be grateful…

I wonder if anyone heard this last Sunday morning-

(The programme blurb-)

“For a couple of days in May 1940, the fate of the world turned on the fall of a leaf” says John Gray. He outlines the strange conjunction of events – and the work of chance – that led to Churchill becoming Prime Minister.

He muses on how Churchill was found by one of his advisers around one o’clock on the morning of May 9th “brooding alone in one of his clubs”. He was given a crucial bit of advice which may have secured him the job. What would have happened Gray wonders if he hadn’t been found and that advice – to say nothing! – not been passed on?

He also ponders whether it was it Churchill’s recurring melancholy which made for his greatness? “It’s hard to resist the thought that the dark view of the world that came on Churchill in his moods of desolation enabled him to see what others could not”.

“Churchill had not one life but several” says Gray. Without them all, “history would have been very different, and the world darker than anything we can easily imagine”.

Interesting for several reasons- the obvious historical one- the other leading candidate for Prime Ministership (who most MPs wanted) probably would have sued for peace rather than fought on against Hitler. As a pacifist, I would have supported him in this- but the end result of Churchill’s influence on British politics at this time was war- and history has rather sided with him on this one…

The other reason however is related to how we understand depression.

Churchill was stalked by what he called his ‘black dog’ all his life. He was prone to black moods and fits of despair- it separated him from those around him, and made him different.

Depression is a terrible thing- it destroys lives. But Depression is not only a terrible thing- and those who journey with the black dog often achieve a level of insight and depth of understanding that others do not.

Depression in this sense may actually be a means of equipping us for life.

Some time ago I wrote a post on why I found all the obsession with positivity rather difficult. All those shiny happy invocations to will ourselves to ever greater heights. Here it is- entitled ‘In which I find myself reacting against positive thinking’. This is really not because I believe that to be miserable is good, and that we are all doomed (although perhaps we might be when I come to think about it.) Rather I believe that we start from where we are- and I am sick of people telling us to be someone else.

Human life is made up of light and shade- and as well as pure white there are many shades of grey. My experience is that most art emerges from the shadows- most creativity is achieved through adversity- and perhaps great statesmen also need a hinterland…

2 thoughts on “Churchill’s faithful black dog, and why we might be grateful…

  1. Chris, I hope you have extra room, because if the apocalypse comes, I’m heading for your island. When I read anything you write, it is as if I had a twin I didn’t know about who writes what I think, or have experienced. I thank you for sharing your beliefs and your wide range of interests and the intelligence with which you present these to the world.


    PS I suspect a tremendous sense of humour too.

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