Don't blame me, it was my grandmother
THAT'S MEN:We must at times take flak for others’ actions
IT WAS, I think, Frank O’Connor who wrote about a Christian Brother whose personality changed when he had a haircut.
He was no worse than any other teacher of his day most of the time, but a haircut made him vicious in the classroom.
I doubt whether the man himself actually attributed his change of personality to his visit to the barber.
I expect he took his harshness at these times to be due to the failings of the boys whom he taught.
In other words, he thought he was acting for one reason whereas in fact he was acting for an entirely different reason.
He’s not the only one.
When the children were smaller I realised that if I had been listening to Morning Ireland I was more likely to bite their heads off than if I had been fortunate enough to avoid that strong brew of bad news and sometimes tetchy presenters.
So I thought I was reprimanding the children for their behaviour, whereas in fact I was simply discharging my anger at whatever new act of barefaced effrontery was being reported on the radio news.
All of which brings me to the philosopher Spinoza, who argued, if I understand correctly, that we only think we have free will because we haven’t a clue why we do what we do.
For instance, you think you shot down that proposal from the head of marketing because it was silly, but you really turned it down because she has the same voice as that aunt who belittled you when you were a child.
Which leaves you and me in the odd position that we are products of all sorts of past influences and yet we must take responsibility for our present “choices”.
Otherwise, life in a society in which people do not take responsibility for behaviours that they are not entirely responsible for would be intolerable.
What, you may ask, is the point in knowing this? None. Sorry. Then again, don’t blame me. Blame my great grandmother.
If you want to read more about all this, you could try iti.ms/N9N2JNfor an article by Séamus Carey, author of The Whole Child: Restoring Wonder to the Art of Parenting.
Addendum:Where is she now? On November 22nd, 1933, writer Signe Toksvig and her husband Francis Hackett were travelling to their home in Ireland following a visit to London.
When they went for the train to Holyhead, she notes in her diary, “a woman in a fur coat came up to me and asked would I take a child to Dublin? I hemmed but could not refuse.
“Child was two years and nine months, I thought she looked older, but woman said she had been sent over on approval and refused, as Harley St specialist said that she had a cast in one eye and was undergrown for her age.
“She assured me she would sleep in the train, but nary a bit did she.
“However, there were two nice girls in the carriage, one from Belfast, the other Liverpool, and they helped me entertain the little lively gold-curled, hazel-eyed divil, who called herself [ . . . ]every time she looked in a glass which she did very often.
“Taxi to boat, and on boat I handed her to stewardess whom [ . . . ]hated, to leave in the morning.
“F. and I took her to Dr Eustace in Parnell Sq to whom she was labelled, eventually, to go to Ma Soeur, Sisters in Pelletstown, Castleknock .
“It was her second time out on approval. She had a nervous propitiatory smile; loved dusting and making beds, said to be ‘wellborn’ and found in a garden.” (From Signe Toksvig’s Irish Diaries 1926-1937, Lilliput Press).
I have removed the child’s name – she would be in her early 80s now and may prefer not to be identified.
I hope all worked out well for her after a hard start to life.
Padraig O’Morain (email@example.com) is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.
His book, Light Mind - Mindfulness for Daily Living, is published by Veritas. His monthly mindfulness newsletter is available free by email