Obsessed with economy, too busy to care: how we see ourselves now

Mon, Nov 26, 2012, 00:00

THE Ipsos MRBI Changing Ireland: Attitudes And Values survey published this week in The Irish Times will provide a unique perspective and great clarity on the true legacy of the Irish economic boom and bust.

With the dust of our economic collapse yet to settle, it has been difficult to discern which pillars of progress have been left standing. The Changing Ireland survey updates a number of Ipsos MRBI studies, including the Éire Anois study conducted in 1987, allowing us to pinpoint where Irish attitudes, values, lifestyles, opinions and ambitions have changed.

The survey has also been expanded to explore new topics, such as attitudes towards immigration, trade unions, technology and the environment.

Also included are selected questions from Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI polls during this period, providing yet another layer of data with which to assess how Irish opinion has evolved on important issues.

The Changing Ireland survey confirms we are not going back to the 1980s, except perhaps in terms of how important we feel it is to have a job.

We recognise that our standard of living has improved, although maintaining this standard of living is not easy for many. We are trying harder to manage our money and we watch what we spend more closely than we did in 1987 when we had a lot less to spend, but arguably needed a lot less to live.

“Nod and wink”

We also see ourselves differently. We see ourselves now as more hard-working and honest. Perhaps we are at last saying goodbye to our “nod-and-wink” culture and the notion that success in Ireland was more about who you knew than what you knew.

Interestingly, the change in our perceived honesty has come about only since 2001, after a decade of tribunals and inquiries: a huge investment, but perhaps a price worth paying if it means we now expect our leaders to lead with integrity.

And we expect more from ourselves. We know it is important to be healthy and we want to exercise more. We feel it is important to have money and would like others to think we are doing well. At the same time we are rightly concerned that if we spend our time working, exercising and online, it leaves very little time to make a contribution to building a more caring society.

Too selfish, too busy

Irish people are less caring now compared to 15-20 years ago, according to 57 per cent of Irish adults, up from 48 per cent in 1987. Not a dramatic increase but a significant one, in the wrong direction. Why? A small number blame the recession, but mostly we blame ourselves for being too selfish or too busy.

Our faith is important to us. Technology is not our new religion. We are still a nation of believers, although with a declining number of followers if we measure following by claimed Mass attendance the previous weekend.

For many of us, Mass is the only occasion on which we come together as a community, so the implications of falling Mass attendance are far-reaching. We are spending some of the time we do not spend at Mass visiting family and friends, jogging, going for a walk or logging on. While all of these activities are worthwhile to a greater or lesser extent, they lack a wider community focus.

Unfortunately we do not have full visibility, from a research data perspective, on how we choose to spend our leisure time. We cannot say definitively that we are being more selfish in the choices we make. In fact, we may be more altruistic and community- directed than we think.

Recent research on behalf of the Irish Sports Council shows a surge in sports volunteering and this may be one of the ways in which we are reinventing what community means to us in 2012.

Obsession with economy

More important than the shifts and trends revealed by the Changing Ireland survey is its focus on values and beliefs.

We have become obsessed with the economy and echoes of this obsession are to be found throughout this study and in other research we conduct. This is an unhealthy obsession because it leaves little time or space in our heads or in our lives to debate and discuss the challenges we will face beyond the current financial crisis.

Should we, for example, be spending more time talking about education? Our study reveals the quality of our education to be a key component of our national identity, yet OECD studies do not paint a picture of Ireland as a world leader in education.

How much time do we devote to thinking about the environment? The protection of the environment and the struggle against pollution is a much less urgent and immediate problem than it was in 1989, according to the Changing Ireland survey.

Twenty shades of bin

Have we convinced ourselves that a global environmental crisis has been averted because we have 20 shades of bin?

Unfortunately there is a long list of important issues being overshadowed by the economy – add religion, government reform, Northern Ireland, the Irish language, trust in institutions, crime and Europe.

A prolonged lack of focus on social and cultural issues will cost us dearly. That road we seem to be kicking everything down is looking very littered indeed.

Damian Loscher is managing director Ipsos MRBI

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