The right response to life

Declan Coyle’s book dares us to be joyful and to respond to life’s setbacks with a positive attitude


Declan Coyle, a former Columban missionary, who is now a married father of three children including a nine-year-old boy with severe disabilities, has written a self-help book that challenges readers to dare to be positive.

The Green Platform provides the tools needed to make the cross over from the negative “red platform” to a place that is all about being in the moment and consciously choosing a response to life’s setbacks that has nothing to do with victimhood or blame.

Sixty-seven year old Coyle, who mentors sports and business people through his company, Andec Communications, admits that he had been “kind of against positive thinking. I felt it was an emerging aberration. I thought that we Irish are negative but at least we’re real. I didn’t quite get the positive thing.”

But now, after a sometimes tumultuous journey through life, Coyle says that “the single most revolutionary radical act we can commit in today’s world is to dare to be a joyful person, to dare to give children the idea that some adults are actually enjoying themselves.”

A turning point for Coyle was a crucial question that he was asked after returning from his missionary work. Coyle spent five years working in a slum in Zambales in the Philippines. There was an American naval base there.

Coyle says his parish had 16,000 prostitutes in it, selling sex to members of the Navy. He describes the slums he worked in as “horrific”. “The conditions were totally other than what I had expected. In one 90-day period, I buried 65 children under the age of two who had died from hunger-related diseases.”

Speaking Chinese
Coyle learned to speak Chinese when he was sent to the missions in Taipei and Shinchu in Taiwan.

“The idea was that I would bring the good news to the poor. But it ended up that the people there were the ones who evangelised me. Even in their poverty, there was richness in these people.”

But it was when a Jesuit priest spoke to Coyle about his time in the Philippines that he was forced to change his world view. Coyle had done much work around justice in the Philippines, raising awareness and helping to set up co-operative credit unions and sewing machine projects.

Fr Denis Murphy congratulated him on his work but asked him if he was now a happier man or an angrier and bitter person.

“I said that without a doubt, I was angrier and bitter. Fr Denis said that before I go back, I should realise the last thing people in the slums need is another very serious bad-tempered man.

“He said that if I don’t bring joy, laughter and happiness to the people, whatever else I do doesn’t matter. That set me thinking.”

Coyle’s life changed when he was introduced to an Australian woman, Annette Kinne, in the late 1980s. It took Coyle six months to make the decision to leave the priesthood and marry her.

‘Not off the team
“The Columbans are very practical. One of them said to me, ‘If you want to get married, get married. But there’s still poverty, hunger and injustice in the world. You’re not off the team.’”

Over the years, Coyle has made documentaries about the Philippines. He also set up the Philippines’ Development Fund which still operates. The seeds of his book were sown while doing post-graduate studies in liberation theology at Ottawa University as a young man.

“We had an amazing visiting professor, Victor Frankl, the Austrian psychiatrist who had been tortured in Auschwitz during World War 11. The Nazis broke his body and operated on his genitals.

“But Victor said that they couldn’t touch his spirit. He said that every minute of every hour, he chose peace, joy and happiness inside.

“He said that between stimulus and response, there is a space and in that space, he had the last and the greatest of human freedoms which was to choose his response. Now that stunned me. I thought that people made me angry. But Victor pointed out that I was freely choosing anger.”

Later, while undergoing management and personal development courses, Frankl’s wisdom stayed with Coyle.

He also spoke to psychologist, Robert Holden, who told him that after the tears that “honour” a traumatic human experience, a person is then in “a white space” in which they can choose their response to an event.

A difficult hand
Coyle acknowledges that he and his wife have been dealt a difficult hand. Alexander, their youngest child, was diagnosed with the very rare Mowat-Wilson syndrome. “The diagnosis was like a kick in the stomach. Annette cried for three days after we were told.”

Alexander, who attends a special needs school in Wicklow, doesn’t speak and is only beginning to walk. He is doubly incontinent, has allergies and epileptic seizures as well as sleep apnoea. He is fed through a tube.

But Coyle accentuates the positive. “When Alexander looks at you, you’re transformed. He is radiant. He has magic and energy about him. Being with him is about being in the present moment. He has no ego.

“He gets you out of the world of doing and into the world of being. He is unconditional love and has no other agenda.”

You could say that Alexander embodies the green platform.

The Green Platform is published by Ballpoint Press at €14.99.

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