NOTE: I began writing this blog about one month ago on a Monday morning just before Christmas.
I have just been listening to the Sean O’Rourke programme, which featured an interview with An Tánaiste from Greece informing us about the progress in arrangements to bring our quota of refugees to Ireland. Earlier there was a discussion about Garda pension arrangements, trade union recognition, et al. Then an interview with Mr. Irwin, founder and now retiring CEO of the Jack and Jill Foundation about the work done by them over the past twenty years or so. Over the week-end I had listened to discussions around Irish art and culture reminding me how wonderful and unique we Irish are. Then, as I sit here listening to “O Holy Night” on the Ronan Collins Show, I check in to Facebook and the first item in my Facebook page is a comment from one of the “anti-water protest” pages objecting to our welcoming of refugees while homeless Irish people are living and dying on our streets. And that is just in the past two hours. Add to that the kaleidoscope of disturbing images and snippets from different media and I find myself torn apart, struggling with conflicted emotions.
I promised myself as I started to write this piece that I would not use adjectives or any words that carried emotion or judgment. I failed but I have gone back and edited those words so that I took the emotions back into my psyche and owned them. The result is that I now feel angry, despairing, powerless, dirtied, complicit, confused, useless, but still determined not to give in. I am listening to the RTÉ news telling me of summary executions of non-combatant civilians in Aleppo in Syria, I can’t be sure that I can continue to process and control these emotions as I write.
Nevertheless, I have devoted my whole life, sometimes with conscious focus but more often than not driven by an unconscious, inexplicable, internal tumult to confront the Unknown, and possibly Unknowable, in an effort to make sense of this chaos.
A few rocks of logic have given me a handhold to survive. And I would like to describe these before making an appeal. It is part of our human condition that we must admit and accept that we struggle to understand what Life is about. Some people accept the tenets of a received religion which gives them a measure of consolation provided they maintain their “Belief in the Unbelievable” (G.K. Chesterton’s description of religion) which appears to be based upon an assumption that “God is Good” albeit not understandable to the human mind, and “Evil” is attributable to a separate entity. Others develop the assumption that there is no “God” and that Life, the Universe, and Everything, is some kind of glorious happenstance that doesn’t require a meaning other than that “it is”, and “après moi”, not only is there no “la deluge”, there isn’t even a tear drop. Truly Theatre of the Absurd!
I began to see a glimmer of humanist hope in the middle 1970s. I had returned from a four-year contract in Zambia, working on the second largest underground copper mine in the world, where I had reached the level of Chief Training Officer. The challenge of working in a different culture and different working environment had opened my mind and led me to question many of my inherited certainties. Back in Ireland after a short spell in consultancy in the UK and Angola, I was introduced to the work of the Tavistock Institute and the work of Melanie Klein, a psychotherapist, who had studied under Sigmund Freud. Without going into the theoretical details of her work which dominated my work and my world for the following thirty years, I can summarise in lay-person’s language the essence of her work.
Melanie Klein was a psychotherapist who focused on studying young children up to the age of two in order to understand how the human psyche (total mental system) learned how to understand and respond to the world around it. In essence she suggested that the child discovers by accident and by experimenting that there are “good” things and “bad” things about the world that can please or upset, love or hurt, and a mental boundary is thus created between Good and Evil. The good things are internalised/eaten and give pleasure, the nasties are spat out, thrown up, put beyond the boundary that was created in the psyche and externalised. This way of dealing with “objects” is imprinted in the psyche before the child has developed speech to describe its feelings and these “bottled” experiences become the basic mechanism we use throughout our life for dealing with the people and events that impinge on us. This means that we unconsciously reject anything that upsets or offends us and “project” it, like a slide onto a screen, and see it in someone or something external to us. This gives us some consolation but it doesn’t last very long because it is only the association with the external object that is projected. We are still left with the feeling response of disgust, or anger, or fear that was generated initially.
I emphasise that this is done unconsciously. But every time I see, hear, or read a rant on facebook or a report in a television/radio interview that seems to be biased, I am reminded of that mechanism and wonder what can be done to bring about a resolution of the unconscious reaction. We have been fuming with anger against those who have imposed austerity upon us, we are angry with the Government for what we believe they are doing to us. But while the anger burns away at our souls, and people suffer evictions, and loss, and pain in their lives, nothing seems to happen as a result of that anger. Innocent people, adults and children find their lives reduced to bare survival. Why? The inequalities in society are worsening. Why is nothing being done?
I believe that it is essential for our very health, physical and mental, that we learn to understand this psychic avoidance mechanism. We live in an increasingly dangerous and uncontrolled environment. Yet, if we are to survive we must come to terms with these learned responses that once served a useful purpose but nowadays are a time bomb ticking down the seconds to our destruction. I am thinking in particular about the anger, violent and palpable, that is expressed by so many people in response to the increasing violence we experience from society, from government, even from those close to us. For that reason I have been asking myself is it worth the risk of putting my head above the parapet to draw attention to this violence. Because much of it is an unconscious, “knee-jerk”, reaction to the pain experienced by so many people our instinctive reaction is to deny it. That is my reaction also, hoping that it will go away, or that someone else will take up the cudgel to attack it. That is why I have held back on posting this message since just before Christmas.
A gap is opening between Government and people. It is widening to a gulf of not knowing. And it is not just in Ireland, but in many other countries that regard themselves as democracies.