A country in need of some mothering


RENEWING THE REPUBLIC:Mothers represent nurturing and patience – qualities absent in public life but which would lead us to act for long-term benefits, writes DAMIEN RICE

A FATHER and son were driving on a motorway and crashed. The father was killed immediately. The son was rushed to hospital and into the operating room. The surgeon came into the room, looked at the boy and said: “I cannot operate on this child, this is my son.”


To those who know this riddle, and a dribble of others who see it, the answer is obvious. I’ve shared it with numerous friends and strangers and the only person who got the answer immediately was a 16-year-old. Most others went bulldozing their brains for solutions and debated the possibilities, often complaining that the information given wasn’t enough, or insisting that it was a trick question.

It’s not a trick, it’s very simple, but it may be a bug in the brain. It may well be the result of the programming of our minds, which sometimes disallows us to see beyond the limits of our upbringing, education and training. When people eventually hear the answer they often kick themselves for missing it.

I know very little about politics in terms of the daily goings on and debates. It tires me out and holds little interest for me to revel in the latest scandal or complaints that people have for each other, particularly when politicians from opposing parties have a go at one another. I keep thinking that if only for a moment they would actually listen to each other, and I mean truly listen, it would save so much time.

Everyone has a perspective and I’ve noticed, for myself, that I learn the most valuable lessons from those with whom I strongly disagree, as long as my antennae are open to receiving them.

When I was invited to write some words on what’s wrong with politics in Ireland and how we might fix it, I thought that it was a bit like asking a baker to diagnose the engine problem of a car. I’m a musician, I thought, what do I know about politics? Yet it didn’t stop my mind producing the predictable splurge of personal opinions on the matter.

When I asked a few others their opinions, I was reminded that humans think very differently. So how does one choose? What’s the right answer? Is there a “right” answer to the politics question? How does one filter through the plethora of proposals and come up with one that pleases everyone? Everyone’s answer is right for someone, but no one is right for everyone. Is the political situation an engine that needs repair, or is it a riddle?

Here we are in 2010, in the midst of what is being called a “recession”. It’s said that politicians have lied to us, that bankers have butchered our finances and that many people have lost their homes and/or their jobs. It’s like the great exhale of carbon dioxide after our delicious spell of inhaling all that oxygen from the whirlwind we called the Celtic Tiger, and now something of a stillness has set in.

What goes up tends to go back down, yet some people are baffled at how this happened in Ireland and want to know who let this happen. Sometimes it’s entertaining to watch the finger-pointing that goes on. Sometimes it’s jarring.

I heard an interesting perspective on finger-pointing where someone said it begins with us naming everything. Everything has a name and if it doesn’t then we give it a name. We give it a meaning. We even give it a place to sit on the scales between what we call “good” and “bad”. We do the same with people and their behaviour. This person is good. That person is bad. We debate, disagree, fight and go to war if we’re mad enough.

There’s an old proverb that says: “When you point a finger at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at you.” Can we be sure that what “we” want is best? With the father and son riddle, people so often look in the wrong place for the answer and jump in with suggestions like: “The father killed in the car is a priest” or “It’s his godfather or stepfather” or “The child has two fathers, they are a gay couple”, and so on.

I hear similar responses to the politics question in Ireland, where the majority of proposed solutions pile up at the door of our new church, the church of economic prosperity. Money, it seems, is the one thing we cannot get out of our minds as the focus for how to fix this problem we think we have, just as those who struggle with the father and son riddle cannot seem to get their minds off fathers.

When I make an effort to clear my mind of its habitual patterns and then take a look at what has happened in Ireland, it seems quite obvious to me that the hunger for money was itself the catalyst that brought about this problem in the first place.

The corruption within politics is almost always linked to money. The property fiasco and the ugliest era of housing development in the history of Ireland is all a result of money-hunger too. Throw ’em up cheap, Charlie. When I walk around Dublin, I can’t help but think that at least when the English conquered us they built some decent houses.

Democracy sometimes gives birth to apathy and mediocrity. I don’t know why exactly. Is it because we’re not challenged enough that we allow the mundane to set in? Perhaps some expert could explain it and the irony in our ideals – where there is democracy and wealth, depression often follows.

The United States, the high-priest of capitalism, has one of the highest rates of depression per capita. A survey carried out by the World Health Organisation and Harvard Medical School showed the US had 9.6 per cent of the population experiencing bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder or chronic minor depression over the course of a year – compared with 0.8 per cent in Nigeria. Ireland is ranked one of the top 10 wealthiest countries, per capita, in the world, so it’s funny to think that we might call these hard times. We could go to Burma if we’d like a perspective on hard times.

My greatest surprise, when visiting the refugee camps on the Thai-Burmese border, was that although the people lived in seriously harsh conditions, they still had a joy about them that was inspiring, but I guess everything is relative. There’s something in this though, something that’s easy to overlook. Wherever people have little, in general, there is gratitude for the little they have, and this gratitude breeds happiness. Wherever people have excess, in general, there is stress, and stress is depressing.

We measure a country’s wealth based on the gross national product (GNP) of the country. GNP = consumption + government expenditure + investment + (exports – imports). So, the more a government spends, the higher the GNP. If Ireland spent billions on weapons in 2010 and declared war on our friends in Iceland, we would theoretically increase our GNP for that year. How ludicrous a system is this? It has been suggested that GNH (gross national happiness) is a better way to measure a country’s true wealth based on the quality of life. I agree. Read up on it.

It may appear that I have a low opinion of money from my ramblings above. I’d like to clarify that I don’t. I think money can be a wonderful gift. I see it as energy. It comes, it goes, and like any form of energy it can be used in creative and beautiful ways.

From a purely personal point of view, I agreed to write this piece because I thought I might learn something from the exercise, and if I can contribute anything useful in the process, then all the better. It’s been quite a while since I’ve taken the time properly to consider the situation in Ireland. I’ve been more of a passenger over the years and it’s been quite a challenge coming up with suggestions of how to answer the question posed.

I honestly feel very inspired by this period in Ireland. I think it holds massive potential for us to get creative and think of how to move forward in a positive and considerate way. Human nature is sometimes a mystery and I’m learning to embrace it all with a new gratitude. Instead of criticising, I’m learning that creative suggestion is far more productive.

Men have dominated the majority of cultures in the world and so it’s not surprising that most people have difficulty seeing that the surgeon was actually the boy’s mother. With this old way of thinking we sometimes miss the obvious.

Similarly, in politics, we get stuck on old-fashioned male-dominated habits and could benefit greatly by including female qualities into our approach. Mothers represent nurturing and patience and I’d like to see more of this in politics and in all aspects of Irish life.

We are a country with a colourful history and there’s a certain kind of magic about Ireland that is somewhat unexplainable. Were it not for the long-term sacrifices of our great-grandparents, we might still be under English rule. They had a vision of a better quality of life and their challenge was so much greater than what we are faced with today.

The question is, do we care enough? If not for ourselves, can we at least find the motivation to do it for our kids?

We can clean up our rivers and beaches and bring back the salmon. We can replant the forests we’ve torn down. We can become leaders in green energy production, and boost our economy like we did with computer chips. We can open our eyes and see that petrochemical fertilisers and genetically engineered products are damaging our natural habitat and poisoning people, and instead invest in large-scale organic growing and permaculture like they have in the Netherlands.

We can ban fishing in the breeding grounds, especially bottom trawling, to allow fish to reproduce – this has been practised in various places around the world and proven to increase the overall fish stocks.

We can move to renewable fuels and be prepared for when oil stocks run out and think of our children’s future instead of taking the easy way out for now.

All of these things, and many more, are just sensible options. They involve nurturing and patience in the beginning and have great rewards in the long term.

We’re a small country and it’s possible to achieve a lot in a small country. Instead of arguing over old stories, we can work together to transform Ireland into the truly magical place it deserves to be – and be an inspiration for the world.

Damien Rice is a singer-songwriter and musician. A former member of the 1990s rock group Juniper, he has since pursued a successful solo career

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