In response to a column I wrote three weeks ago a reader commented on the violence that was perpetrated in religious-run schools in Ireland. He reminded readers of the brutality that went on in schools and how religious brothers and priests tortured us.
I'm one of those victims. Let me assure the writer I was at the receiving end of some of that savagery. I agree with the letter writer 100 per cent. And not only did they physically and sexually abuse their victims, they also inflicted terrible psychological damage. Look at the sneering and bullying that went on.
How and why did it all go so wrong? But it was not just the mental and physical violence, it was also how we were taught. Most of us did our homework out of fear. We knew that if we did not produce the goods the next day we would be attacked.
Of course there were the good and kind teachers but in general the regime was brutalising. My father who was the kindest and gentlest of people, who was born in 1909, often spoke to me of some of the cruelty he saw and experienced at boarding school. That violence went on a long time. Of course our generation has not rid the world of violence but at least our schools in this part of the world are managed a lot better than they were in the not-too-distant past.
One of the great moments in Irish education was when corporal punishment was banned and then later made illegal. It was banned in 1982 and it took another 14 years before it was made illegal. I taught before and after the change. Hitting children was and is a barbarity. How much more pleasant, effective, indeed, humanising it is to be gentle and kind.
And I saw a dose of that last week. I had arrived at Tralee bus station with my bicycle, planning to take the bus as far as Camp in West Kerry. Also waiting for the bus was a group of young people coming from school. They reminded me of my school days. The bus was parked at the bay with its luggage side door open. I loaded my bike without asking anyone. So when an inspector appeared I told him. Instead of being officious and full of nonsense, he was polite and kind and indeed told me there was plenty of space.
I was the first on the bus and sat in the front seat. A good place to be as I needed to watch out for where I planned to get off. For over 30 minutes I observed the driver being respectful , courteous and kind to every passenger who got on and off the bus. He never once failed to say hello and goodbye to a passenger and indeed, watch out for those who were not the most agile. I explained to him where I wanted to get off. He listened carefully to me and stopped the bus at the exact place that I had requested.
I never met or saw the man before. No doubt he has all the failings of any human being, just as the teachers who brutalised us also had good points. But please give me the bus driver any day ahead of those nasty teachers. I'll remember him for a long time just as I remember those teachers for all the wrong and very different reasons. An impressive Bus Éireann driver. And I have met many of them.
'My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness'.-Dalai Lama.