Monday 24 October 2016

Good living means making good choices in our lives

Published 08/09/2013 | 05:00

LIFE is about choices. So said the American psychiatrist, Dr William Glasser, who died on August 28. His 1965 book, Reality Therapy, left a lasting impression on me, not least because of the political implications of its robust rejection of victimhood.

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Glasser's system is now called Choice Theory. It says our aim in life is to love and be loved. Whether we achieve that depends on the choices we make. That includes choosing to be miserable.

Last week threw up many examples of choices, ranging from the ridiculous to the sporting to the sombre. Let me start with the No 2 bus, which runs from Cork city centre to the red-flagged northside,

Passing the North Cathedral, an auld fella (no, not me) began to shout about how he had once rugby-tackled a Shinner who had accosted him during a church collection – an abrasive attitude that could have attracted retribution in that part of town.

So an anonymous guardian angel at the back of the bus gave him some guidance. "Shut up outta that Mickey, you're only drawing rats." The auld fella shut up. At a minor level he was exercising a rational choice.

Another kind of choice faces the Cork and Clare teams today. Whether to play Croke Park or play each other. The team that chooses to brood on it being a big occasion is bound to lose. The team that chooses to treat it with careless love, as a game of hurling, is most likely to come out on top.

Choice also determines what we do at a national level. Noting that Choice Theory is now being taught in Ireland, Padraig O'Morain remarked in The Irish Times: "That's a good development in a country where playing the victim is a national sport."

Amen to that. In Northern Ireland, victimhood nearly led to civil war. In the Republic, choosing to be a recession victim is the route to a deep depression, and a part in the suicide statistics.

Even facing execution we have a choice. Ned Kelly could have made self-justifying speeches. But he stepped into space with the sanguine "such is life" that made him a legend.

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Choices good and not so good decided the radio clash between Sean O'Rourke and Pat Kenny. Just like the front page in a newspaper, the first story was the one that mattered. Last Monday the only story was the death of Seamus Heaney.

Pat Kenny made a poor choice in Bono. The legendary singer did not lack sincerity. But he had nothing new to say about Seamus Heaney. "Whatever you say, say nothing," can't be the motto of a major current affairs show.

Edna O'Brien, Sean O'Rourke's guest, said a lot less, but what she said cut to the core. In passing, let me say I believe O'Brien to be the best practical living literary critic. Her short book on James Joyce is still the best introduction to that writer.

She gave us 10 minutes of pure gold on the life and work of Seamus Heaney. And was comfortable when O'Rourke correctly raised the matter of Heaney's complex choices when responding to Northern politics.

But it would have been even better if someone like Jenny McCartney, from a strong Unionist background, had taken part too. Her tribute in the Spectator titled 'Seamus Heaney's Poems were for Protestants too' is a moving account of her mental arguments and agreements with the poet.

This is how she finishes: "There was an inexplicable loneliness when he died, the sense of an end to a long conversation, of remembered passions fading. It is good still to have the poems. It all mattered so much you see, and he understood its weight."

She means the political and historical weight. Pity O'Rourke's researchers did not reach beyond our green walls of grief to remind us of Heaney's calming response to the recent flag riots.

"There will never be a united Ireland, so why not let them fly it. I think Sinn Fein could have taken it easy. No hurry on flags."

His gentle "no hurry on flags", reaching out to Loyalists, gently nudging Nationalists, offers both sides a good choice, now and for the future,

* * *

Charles Haughey made a lot of bad choices. But he made some good ones too, like the free travel and artists' tax relief. Last week I learnt about one more.

Micheal Cottrell of Baltimore Sea Safari took us out in the Liscannor Star to look for feeding fin whales. A few miles beyond Cape Clear I was dozing off to the drumming of the engine when a shout alerted me to an awesome sight.

First we saw white spume spurting high into the air, and the breath-taking sight of these mighty creatures, bending their backs before diving, or rearing out of the water with open mouths to hoover up sprat.

Micheal told us that 20 years ago foreign whale hunters harpooned without mercy in Irish waters. But in 1991, Charles Haughey declared Irish waters a sanctuary, the first of its kind in Europe. For that choice we must be grateful to his tattered ghost.

* * *

By far the best example of choice theory in action last week came from Ivan Yates, as told to Pat Kenny. During the boom, Yates made bad choices. He got greedy, bought too many bookie shops, gave personal guarantees to banks.

But in his hour of misery he still had one choice. How would he handle his situation? Here he made some good choices. And no, I am not talking about him choosing to go to Wales to discharge his bankruptcy.

I am talking about his choice not to become a victim. About his choice to blame himself first, and only then apportion blame to the banks. About his choice to go public with his problem.

Yates is the only politician, current or former, to follow the advice of any good political adviser, when faced with a major crisis: hang lantern on the problem, don't wait for the media mob to come for you, but go forward with your hands high and tell all.

That is something that neither Bertie Ahern nor Brian Cowen were able to do. All they had to do was admit that bad stuff happened on their watch, accept responsibility, apologise fully, and they'd have been forgiven by now.

Micheal Martin did apologise. But not without qualification. His recent attempt to airbrush Ahern out of the peace process amounts to an indirect blame game.

Ahern is entitled to his due share in the events that led to his embrace with Ian Paisley at the Boyne. Martin's attempted airbrushing only makes him look weak. The Irish people are too sharp to be seduced by petty political sleights of hand.

* * *

Let me leave you with a good choice. If you are anywhere near Skibbereen this coming week, you can get a gourmet Taste of West Cork. You can start with John Minihan's powerful photos of local food producers in John Field's store, reminding us of the great line in Life of Brian: blessed are the cheesemakers.

Amid all the gourmet goodies, don't forget three local classics: Mary Ann's in Castletownshend, Annie May's pub in Skibbereen and up the street, Ocean Wild, the best fish and chipper in Ireland, because proprietor Declan Ryan drives to Union Hall to buy his fish from the sea.

Sunday Independent

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