THE growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs” – George Eliot.

In a time when the world seems on fire with hate and violence, with a whirlwind of tyranny and war revealing that the lessons of history have not been learnt, perhaps it’s a good time to learn the lessons of what George Eliot called “unhistoric acts”.

What did Eliot mean by this?

The quote above is part of the last line in her novel Middlemarch. It’s a reference to a character in the novel, and how her “way of being” impacted on the world. But it’s also a statement of universal truth: that the world around us, and the lives we live, have been shaped and influenced by countless “unhistoric acts” done by people we do not know, whose lives will forever remain unrecorded and hidden, and who lie in “unvisited tombs”.

When we wander in an ancient graveyard, full of old or decaying monuments, as I did recently at ancient Morham, we wander amongst people who once lived but are now unremembered. Eliot’s words echoed within me as I stood by the gravestones, wondering who this person was; not their occupation or social standing, but their “way of being”.

They are just faint names and dates now, with unrecorded lives, many with unreadable inscriptions. Even the communities they once lived in are gone, mere tumbled stones hidden under ploughed fields. But their “unhistoric acts” were their legacy.

There are countless cruel and unkind “unhistoric acts” as well, of course. But I am utterly convinced that, despite all the bullying and unkindness in the world, the balance is still in favour of the “unhistoric acts” by those whose “way of being” brings kindness, empathy and joy to people.

Maybe part of the problem is that simple good actions or comments aren’t considered news. Hate speech, acts of violence, deceit and unkindness fill the news and social media. The powerful and privileged fill our screens and our attention with their ego and interests. Bad news makes the news.

If someone throws a brick at someone, it will be news, but if they throw a thousand smiles and kind words, they become “unhistoric acts”.

But although unrecorded by history, they are not without huge effect. That is Eliot’s point. And it’s an empowering one, especially these days, when so many of us feel powerless in the face of so much inhumanity.

All of us have our lives to lead. In doing so, we perform every day our own “unhistoric acts”. Our own “way of being” is what shapes the way we see the world, but also how the world around us is shaped. History usually doesn’t notice simple kindness and empathetic acts, but they are not done to gain the limelight.

Each moment when humanity is shown, when kindness and compassion outweigh cruelty and hate, the scales are tipped. Then unhistoric acts can indeed sweep the tide of history itself.

We all have the power to be part of this “unhistory”, no matter our influence, no matter the number of social media followers, no matter our wealth or power. We can all make our “way of being” a positive change in the world.

This is not about being politically active, but socially aware. I’ve discovered something about politics. Bullying and lack of empathy can exist in every political colour. So it’s not about being political, it’s about being human. Not for glory, not for fame or historical legacy, not for power, popularity or gain; not for acknowledgement or credit – but for humanity and that alone.

This is a power we all have, to shape our world for what Eliot called “the growing good”, with our “unhistoric acts”.