The Power of Conversation


Moving forward is not so much about pure information or science as it is about our humanity. Essentially our humanity is about growing and changing in relationship with our fellow human beings. As babies we are rather self centered, and as we grow we become more aware and sensitive to others. It is a task for a lifetime.
Often we are growing and developing and we are not quite aware of it. It is just after the events that their significance reaches us. One of the great promoters of personal growth is intimacy and conversation. We begin with the closeness of the mother to the child and the use of apparently meaningless sounds and phrases.
The richest occasions of conversation, laced with intimacy, happen at the most unexpected times and in the most ordinary places and even, sometimes, in  quite busy situations. The participants are often not close in that usual sense of being friends, or lovers. They are just people with a story to tell. And it can only be told to one who listens. Furthermore, the listener is blessed and both participants grow.

An Invitation to the fireside

One of the latest of these occasions of conversation occurred for me at a dog show. A lady who was known to me by name, passed by where I was working on our stand . It was late in the evening and things were beginning to come to an end. She was someone who I knew to see and little more. I did know that one of her family had had a rare and unsettling encounter with illness which impacted heavily on her. I greeted her , enquired about her family member, and she stopped to answer. For me it was an enriching experience laced with humanity and truthfulness. I hope it was also for her. Like all good conversations, it cannot happen again, but it can be remembered and the person valued. It leaves a mark.

The words are not significant, just the people
It reminds me of another occasion when a student presented herself in my office, I asked some inane or common question . She answered and then cried. I was quiet, asked no questions, had no answers and offered no advice. I was just there. The student later that evening went home and told her mother that she had had a wonderful conversation with me. Her mother telephoned me subsequently to thank me and told me her daughter was in such good form. She also tried to find out what we talked about. I told her truthfully that I could not tell her, because even though in time it was very recent, the words we exchanged were few and rather common and inconsequential in themselves.
There is also the experience of time standing, and of conversation being outside of any temporal limitation. A memorable occasion was with an old departed friend. His first name was Paddy. He loved Cowboy films and we loved conversation. I visited him every evening while I was in my 20’s and he was in his late fifties. His wife made tea about six o’clock, and I would leave about seven. On this particular evening Paddy told me he was waiting for a film, a good film, which was starting after seven o’clock. In his joking way he told me clearly he did not wish to miss it. It was clear to me that my “ witering on” would not be welcome However some conversation began and it was almost 10 p.m. when reality reached us and the film was finished . It had been playing in front of us and neither of us noticed it as we debated some issue or other. Paddy taught me much , gentleness of approach and kindness was huge in his life. I still remember his lessons. They are for another day. May He and His wife Rest in Peace, and I thank them both for being great friends.
Very few words remain in my memory of my discussions with Paddy, but his personality are as clear today as then. The gems of his wisdom remain with me and their value is as important today in this busy , communication driven world, as they were then thirty or more years ago.
Lastly it is my privilege to spend many hours with my wife, talking, reflecting and wondering. We realize that there are no answers to many of life’s issues, just approaches and facets, sometimes many more that we can deal with. We have spent time in joy and sadness viewing those approaches and facets. Once again the words are gone ,or will be gone, but the memory of the occasion and the events will remain.
Growing gently demands listening, and giving. In all the above there were just ordinary people with no agendas. No one wanted to impress. Each was listening and giving their feelings, ideas, and experiences.

Gently grow with real Friends


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

“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

The Friend at the Table.


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.