Aras Attracta- Failure Diminishes Us all

Any man’s death diminishes me,

because I am involved in Mankind” (John Donne)

We are diminished when we see apparent wrong doing.

Watching the recent Prime Time Special on Aras Attracta, the residence for people with learning difficulties, I moved through a series of reactions.

My first reaction, was that this work is hard work, work that I would not be able to do. I had a sympathy for all involved, both the residents and the careworkers

The next stage was an alarm at the inappropriate language being used by their carers towards the residents and I became increasingly sympathetic towards them.

Soon I became actually frightened when it became apparent to me that the carers had no real training. They were posited with their residents and trained only in how to avoid getting the residence itself into trouble through any breach of regulations. Regulations never further human connections or understanding.

The actions of the “manager” who actually sat upon an elderly resident simply diminished every one of us as human beings.

LACK OF TRAINING

Such “training” as these people had in caring for their fellow humans clearly had nothing whatever to do with any sort of personal development, starting with their own.

There is an old scholastic philosophical saying which is “ Ex nihilo, nihil fit”. It roughly translates as “Out of nothing, nothing comes”. The carers, because of poor personal development and training, were simply not capable of rendering the deductive type of care which would initiate and continue the development of their charges.

This was supposed to be a “home” and therefore, a place where one would expect those who resided there to be cared for and developed. The residents of this home had clearly tools of communication (although limited) which had never been sharpened through appropriate responses when they tried to use those tools. The carers were not equipped to respond. Nobody here could grow and gentleness was seldom evident

COMMUNITY RESPONSIBILITY

Responsibility for this deplorable state of affairs rests not only on the HSE but on the community at large. I am not referring to the community of Swinford, but to the college of communities which is the entity called Ireland.

I lived as in Monaghan during the 1950s where there was a psychiatric hospital which was run in those days by a Dr Glass. The residents were free to move around the hospital and also to walk down the into town etc. Everything was done to enable the patients. The community was comfortable with this. Those who cared for the residents of the hospital were highly respected and well paid. Indeed, such nursing was an employment highly sought after by very capable people.

I am not saying everything was perfect. I’m sure that there were some things that were not. However, perhaps we have thrown out some good elements of an old system.

JEAN VANIER

Jean Vanier founded the L’Arche, which is a federation of communities for people with developmental disabilities and their carers. These communities were established throughout France initially and then in other countries in Europe. Vanier believes that such people should be free to decide where they live and should participate in their own home. They should be free to move from place to place . They should also be free to choose who would look after them. He emphasises that they have often been rejected even by their mother at birth. Such rejection is not voluntary, but instantaneous and is deeply felt by the child. The mother too suffers. There is an anger deep within such people and they have needs for acceptance which cry out to be met. What was seen on the Prime time programme did not in any way meet the needs of people who were crying out for acceptance

Tolerance of difficult behaviour is the norm in a home under the Jean Vanier system. Any retribution would be frowned on. Many of the carers are volunteers who wish to serve. In such houses there is great joy and also great sadness. Emotions are expressed and accepted.

THE ROLE OF CARERS

The residents of Aras Attracta are not patients , but they do need to be enabled. They cry out for acceptance and a treatment which gives them worth. However, our society – that is every one of us – considers that it is alright to assign lowly paid carers to such people. We then load those people with rules and regulations. Rules and regulations are superb for order but not for people development. Often such carers are personally committed but they are unsupported and are poorly trained. Nowhere in all the reaction to Prime Time have I seen an outcry to put in skilled carers and to pay them accordingly. What I have seen is just a general hue and cry a little like a lynch mob.

There are also people in the role of carer who simply are temperamentally not suited to the task. What makes them temperamentally not suited is the set of beliefs and attitudes which they bring to the task. Lack of growth promoting education consolidates such beliefs and makes such carers more subject to the influence of their superiors and hence to the culture of the place where they work. Their own self esteem is too low and their view is such that they cannot see people with learning difficulties and other limitations as real people entitled to love and respect. Indeed, it may well be asked are such people capable of giving any kind of genuine caring . Such people should be easily identified at interview. This work is not for them.

So the happenings in Aras Attracta are not simply due to some sort of “bad” people but are a complex net which embraces all of our society and it echoes the thinking which sent poor and troublesome children to borstals in years gone by.

WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE

I call on those responsible

      1. To immediately appoint people orientated Managers – not accountants – to run such care homes

      2. To ignore impending official Investigations and Enquiries. Let them continue but don’t wait. Act now to make improvements. Subsequent reports will just become debating documents. HIQA have inspected many of these residences. We know that there are problems here and perhaps in all residences which care for people. Another report will not help anyone.

      3. To subject all carers to a process of evaluation as to their suitability. Then train them on enabling people under their care.

      4. To begin a process of community education to help us all to become more accepting of differences in people and to integrate those such as the residents of Aras Attracta more into Society

It is essential that we stop talking about Aras Attracta and the unfortunate residents and carers there and begin focusing on a national dimension. Call in more volunteers and get going on this problem.

Remember we are all responsible because we are involved in mankind.

WE DIG THE FOUNDATIONS

Others build on them.

Our purpose in life, it is said, is to create memories. So many ordinary lives are represented just by those memories that they have created. Our memories are like photographs in our heads. As we grow we develop a store , a library of such photographs.068

My head teems with the photographs created by ordinary men and women of Monaghan and further afield , who populated my life and built my soul as I developed my personhood.

My photographs are brightly lit in my head and populated by good people.

The first of those people was my father. He was full of energy and fun. We had merriment in the fields during hay making as we tried to ground him from the top of a cock of green hay. He danced and kept his footing and we pitched the mutilated grass at his feet.

It was sport when he pulled the string of our mothers apron as she washed dishes in the kitchen. They laughed and talked playing cards with our neighbours, while I sat on the bottom step of our stairs in the dark behind a closed door. Those moments I enjoyed as they all argued about “reneging” or protested loudly and then paid over the wager , one old penny. They would never hear the creak of the stairs and so, they were unaware of my presence . I sat there, unnoticed, busily recording in my head the atmosphere and the tone for my mental photograph.

My father was the character in my photographs who portrayed strength, kindness , love and fun. My mother was the participant who portrayed quiet, concern and reliability. She seemed unlimited, and while aware of her standing in the community, she was not limited by it.

Those photographs form my first file. They illustrate for me the goodness of human beings. My parents enjoyment of their lives, whether in the field, kitchen or at the dance, has given me a foundation to believe in the goodness of my fellow man.

IMG_1289Daisies and green grass on the curve of a hill is the next picture from my Early File. My first adult friend Mrs McGeough is sitting with all two years and something of me. She pulled the daisies and talked to me. This was a playing video. The wind moved the flowers topped with their little white petals, and her quiet but definite sounds were recorded. She told me about manners and saying “Please” and “Thank you”.She later taught me in school – my first formal education lessons.

My neighbour Pat Boylan comes next. Pat gave me opportunities to ride his farm horse, and led him up and down the road as I sat on the huge animal’s back. Pat had black hair in abundance and this was covered by a hat. Such waste of time as riding on that horse bought me a scolding from my mother, but it was of little consequence when compared with the pleasure of the swaying of the animal underneath me as he ambled up the hilly roads of Monaghan. And Pat talked to me, and helped me to be at one with nature.

There were many others in my early life photo file who provided examples of hard work, determination, and above all, hospitality. One of these was my close friend’s mother, Mrs Rooney. The welcome, time and tea she provided for me from this vantage point of years having passed , seems to have been unlimited. She always chatted and spoke gently, even to the dog or cat who had dared stray into her kitchen. Truly a gentle lady. Her photograph is entwined with a Jubilee solid fuel cooker and a humming and steaming kettle always ready for pouring, on the hot plate.

That hospitality continued into my adulthood and was evidenced by the fact that I brought my pre-teen children down to the Rooney Household. Mrs Rooney and her energetic husband Barney had welcomed us. And as we drove out the lane on our way home my son announced “ Dad that was great – a REAL farm!” . He had witnessed for the first time hens, a sow, horses, a donkey, ducks and geese. All in the one farmyard.

I had many other wonderful neighbours and they all fortified my belief in the goodness of human beings. Included among them was Mrs Clisdell, who brought freshly baked bread and tarts to our house regularly, maybe on a weekly basis. And there was Mrs McCabe with her shop. All made photographs in my head of generosity and service.

As we grow and develop our internal recording systems do not fail. I have another file filled with atmospheric photographs from my more adult years. There was Fr. (later Monsignor) Cahill who cared so kindly for me when I was ill on one occasion while I was an adolescent in a boarding school. He had the authority of a teacher, the power of a Dean, and the status of a clergyman. Yet he was kind and sufficiently humble to bring food to a sick boy.

Time passed and life did not rob me of mentors and people of influence. I have an entire wall for display in my heart dedicated to my good friend Pat Broderick. One photograph locked in there shows Pat standing in the doorway of his small garage , smoking a cigarette , clad in his blue mechanic’s overalls with the Shell logo, smiling as he chats to a customer. Then there is another picture of him sitting chatting on the wall in front of his home on a long summer evening. He taught me many things through both his story and and his actions.

All these men and women exhibited kindness, understanding . Each one of them helped me to grow and develop, changed me for the better. They provided me with hope as I invested myself in the adult world.

We all are creating photographs all of the time for others, images for a new generation. We ought to be consciously worthy subjects for those photographers. Our acts of kindnesses, achievements, and humanity will always be recorded. So will other less wholesome actions be recorded and those too will be remembered. The mind’s camera does not discriminate or adjudicate Whatever is recorded can be the adornment of a wonderful bright gallery or it may be a detritus condemned to darkest of basements.

We ,who built on the foundations of our ancestors become, in our turn, the foundations for another generation

“A Question of Conscience” reflection for St Patrick’s Day

“A Question of Conscience”, a book by Tony Flannery with a foreword by Mary McAleese, former President of Ireland.
This book outlines the trials of a man whose life encompasses a generation reared in and nourished by the excitement of the 1960s, a time full of hope. He was a man prepared for self sacrifice and ready to embrace humanity as a real Christian. His life prevails through a harsh era of denial and self aggrandisement by Catholic authority, the very negation of Christianity. Tony Flannery is now “silenced” or, more accurately, banished from engaging in his previous fifty years of work. It is to be noted that all who worked in the Church were not harsh and driven by self interest.
This is the week of St Patrick’s celebrations and a time to celebrate all things Irish.
St Patrick, the missionary, according to history came to Ireland in 432 and brought Christianity to the island. Out of this grew, over centuries, a Celtic Christianity which crossed the northern Irish Sea and spread to Iona and Scotland and down into Northern England. Katherine Swift, in her lovely book “The Morville Hours” explains how Celtic Christian missionaries encountered the Roman Christian missionaries in middle England. There was a definite difference in the behaviours of both. Katherine Swift mentions how the Bishop of Mercia travelled though his extensive diocese on foot. A visitor and a servant. Pope Francis echoes this attitude. The Roman authorities, however, ordered the bishop to travel mounted on horseback. This was to emphasise the importance and power of a bishop. These and other differences were to be sorted out at the Council of Whitby. The Romans won. Celtic Christianity, as an entity, was stopped in its tracks.
People such as Tony Flannery, and Brendan Hoban from Mayo, keep alive that Celtic determination to stand up and be counted even at great personal cost.
Sadly, we also see the same authoritarianism in the Irish Political system. Self interest of those in power is paramount, and the system, even though rotten, must be maintained and not questioned. This is evidenced by the treatment of the “Whistleblowers” by the state in the present controversy concerning the Gardai.
Tony Flannery, the priest, and many others will question and hopefully continue to operate in accordance with conscience. It is always “A Question of Conscience” when we gently grow as people.

PS” The Morville Hours” by Katerine Swift a book about developing her garden, full of information and reflection. It can be downloaded from Audible.co.uk.

The Friend at the Table.

copy-20121004-215231.jpg

When we sit down at the table to drink tea, eat a meal,  it is good to consider that  our friends are at the table. Some maybe family and some may not, but they are our friends.

What makes our family important is that they are our friends in particular when they sit at table with us. Laughter and good conversation ought to be the foundation of any meal. A meal is enhanced nutrition and the enhancement is our friends. Of course many make meal times, times of tension and that is sad, it is also poor nutrition.

Our partners when they sit with us are special friends and it is a time to say those gentle things which often in the rush of the day are not said, it is a time to withdraw those things which should never have been said. And through conversation it is an opportunity to grow as human beings.

As life unfolds, we experience new things , we react to new situations and we are influenced by the opinions of others. So we become  different people each day and hence at the table we are new people revealing our selves to our friends. It is  a mystery of living that we  change and that our  experiences hone our minds, souls and attitudes. Some times something goes awry and we regress rather than grow and it is here especially that our table friends are important.

Family mealtime can be  something of a destination correction for one of our friends . Those real friends at the table can provide the correction. They point out the mistakes in our deductions, they slant the meaning of the words differently and the offer solutions where non were evident.

Hence at the table be a Friend as we expect our fellow diners to be and let us  build deeper relationships.

Gently grow with real Friends

20121004-215231.jpg

The purpose of this blog is to highlight the fact that in this busy world full of schedules, and tools which allow us to communicate at any hour of the day or night and be communicated with in turn, there can be another approach to living our lives.

It requires gentleness, and  recognition of progress in those we associate with. Such gentleness and recognition of effort does promote growth in the widest sense.  Today’s world makes demands, issues threats, and  seldom shows recognition of progress or effort. This  approach to living hinders  growth in all of us , increases fear, and blights our lives.
In Gentlegrow we will highlight and celebrate ordinary people who are growing gently, whose progress and change may not be spectacular, but that progress  is always real. It has been my belief for many years that each person has the power within them to make progress, but they often need a helping hand from what can be termed a facilitator. Real friends make good facilitators, in that they  overlook our faults, highlight our strengths, and nudge us onwards towards our objective. “Friends” are often contented with us as we are, and progress on our part often makes them feel inadequate, and nobody wants that feeling. So “friends” can hinder our growth and progress,  because such change makes their comfort zone less comfortable . Herein lies the difference between Real Friends and “Friends”

This blog has been inspired by many.

As a young boy in rural Ireland in the 1950’s , I had the experience of my father leaving the warmth of his home on an open tractor at about 10  pm on a Novembers night to go to the support of a neighbour who had just had a family conflict. It rained heavily and my father  was soaked, as he steered his Ford Nan tractor over rough terrain. His task was to recreate family harmony. The Grandfather of the house had left his residence which was his son’s home and made his way up dark lanes to his former home. This building was without roof and minus windows. Inside it was more like a wild plant nursery. My father found Grandfather in the fire recess with a jute bag around his shoulders and him smoking his pipe. This man was in his eighties and in normal circumstances would not have been congenial company. He was noted for being a little contrary. I asked my father about his approach.He indicated he had none other than his presence and his respect for the old man and his son. I asked what did he do. ” I joined him in the recess and smoked woodbines (a brand of cheap cigarettes) until about 2.00 am and then I said ” Mickey should’nt we go home” The old man replied “Aye” and both in the dark went out to the tractor and my father brought the old man home to his welcoming son and family.

Once a young lady let go in my office with a tirade of abuse, as she lashed out about the things that were less than perfect in her life. I listened and did not in any way use my rank to halt the display of temper and anger and gently waited for it to abate which it did. We parted without any further appointment to meet, but with out any residual negative feelings. I wondered how she would feel, when she would reflect on what she had done and what she had said. It was delightful to meet her a few weeks later and see her smile. The smile came from within and lit up her face as she told me about her gratitude for that hour or more which she had in my office. I too was grateful because I too had grown.

This blog will be about ordinary people making progress because their growth has been furthered by gentleness