Saturday, May 7, 2016
Fr Paul Connell, president of the Association of Management of Catholic Secondary Schools.
EARLY one morning I was cornered by Rónán Mullen. It occurred in the local Spar shop.
Rónán spotted me and approached with a complaint about media coverage in RTÉ. For those who don’t know him, Rónán Mullen is a senator and a passionate advocate for a Catholic ethos in what is known in some quarters as “family values”. He has plenty of other interests, but the family values thing is what he is best known for.
On the morning in question, he was, as is his custom, polite and precise about his subject matter. He knew I didn’t work for RTÉ, but he wanted to get his point across. I was just waking up, gently feeling my way through the dawning hour, but Rónán was going at full pelt.
He tagged after me as I picked up the bread rolls, cheese and milk, all the way to the checkout.
After I paid, I found myself with my back to the window, next to the door. He didn’t intend to corner me, but that’s how I felt as he continued to make a point. Beside me, the automatic door kept wooshing open and closed because we were in its sensory zone. For a fleeting second I thought I hadn’t woken up at all and was caught in one of those dreams that hover just on the right side of nightmare.
That morning encounter came back to me recently as I saw coverage of Mullen’s re-election to the Seanad. He was returned to the national university panel, and the result drew some shabby criticism on social media.
The main thrust of the negative comment was bemoaning how educated people could vote for somebody with Mullen’s arch-conservative views. The senator might well have responded by asking how could alleged educated people who consider themselves liberal have such contempt for other views, simply because that don’t chime with their own. But he didn’t because he’s a polite chap.
What the abuse — and some of it did descend to that level — highlighted is that some who see themselves as liberal are nothing of the sort. Instead of being open to accommodating all views, they would prefer if voices contrary to their own are silenced.
Not too long ago this was exactly how the Church ran the country.
All contra voices were silenced or marginalised. Honourable men, such as the communist Michael O’Riordan; and the once minister for health, Noel Browne; fell victim to that stuff at national level. In communities up and down the country men or women who stood up to call out what they saw as wrong in the prevailing order suffered a similar fate.
For the last decade or two we have been undergoing the cultural backlash that inevitably follows a long period of subjugation. Today, that manifests itself in some quarters as an intolerance towards those who appear to carry the flame for the values of a church that dominated for so long.
Those who profess allegiance to the values of the Church — particularly in areas of reproduction and sexual morality — now see themselves as under-represented in public life.
There is some evidence to support that view. Politicians who might be of a conservative bent are often reluctant to voice their views for fear of how it might be received in the media.
In such a milieu, a figure like Mullen is to be welcomed. He openly represents a view in the Upper House, albeit on a mandate that is confined to graduates of some of the State’s universities. It is important that voices such as his are listened to in order to discern the views of those he represents. While this is unpalatable to some, a liberal society is one in which all views are heard and tolerated.
This isn’t always easy. Last Wednesday in the Dáil, Danny Healy Rae set out his stall as a climate change denier.
“God above is in charge of the weather and we can’t do anything about it,” he said. In appearance, if not delivery of his speech, Healy Rae could have cut something of an Old Testament figure, enunciating how ‘God works in mysterious ways’.
Much of the reaction has referenced the TD as an embarrassment. Yet he is as entitled to his view as is Michael O’Leary, who vehemently disputes some of the science around climate change, yet he escaped any derision.
Perhaps it was Healy Rae invoking God that got up the noses of many. Notably, there was precious little outrage about the absence of anything on climate change in the agreement to govern reached by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.
Just recently, I found my own tolerance for free speech tested to the limit when I read of an address by Fr Paul Connell, president of the Association of Management of Catholic Secondary Schools.
He told a gathering that dismantling the Catholic ethos of schools would leave children in a moral vacuum and in danger of despair. Catholic schools, he said, have been playing a vital role in helping young people grow in faith.
“The alternative is a vacuum that can express itself in nihilism and the growing phenomenon of self-harm,” he said.
The good priest appears to labour under the misapprehension that his own religion holds the exclusive keys to spiritual health and morality. This infers that children who are educated outside a religious ethos are condemned to a life less lived.
Or, as Paul Rowe, the CEO of Educate Together, responded in a blog: “At its heart is the idea that only a religious perspective can engage with the hopes, feelings, and the spiritual and emotional life of a human being. It implies that a child or person without a religious perspective is somehow deficient or less complete as a human.”
For those whose children are being educated under patrons like Educate Together and other multi or non-denominational bodies, Connell’s address can be interpreted as offensive. For anybody interested in values such as equality of treatment for all, it could be interpreted as entirely alien.
For most people, however, the view expressed is largely irrelevant in today’s world. While the Church has demonstrated excellent political skills in retaining control of the vast majority of schools in the State, its role as the ultimate authority on moral behaviour has long since disappeared.
There was a time when Connell’s kindred spirits from the old Ireland would have disseminated an identical view to his — secure in the knowledge that it would go undisputed.
Those days are gone. Today, all views must be tolerated, even those that stretch tolerance to its limits.
What if there was a study dedicated to unearthing the secrets to a happy and purposeful life? It would have to be conducted over the course of many decades, following the lives of real people from childhood until old age, in order to see how they changed and what they learned. And it would probably be too ambitious for anyone to actually undertake.
Only, a group of Harvard researchers did undertake it, producing a comprehensive, flesh-and-blood picture of some of life’s fundamental questions: how we grow and change, what we value as time goes on, and what is likely to make us happy and fulfilled.
The study, known as the Harvard Grant Study, has some limitations — it didn’t include women, for starters. Still, it provides an unrivaled glimpse into a subset of humanity, following 268 male Harvard undergraduates from the classes of 1938-1940 (now well into their 90s) for 75 years, collecting data on various aspects of their lives at regular intervals. And the conclusions are universal.
Love Is Really All That Matters
It may seem obvious, but that doesn’t make it any less true: Love is key to a happy and fulfilling life. As Vaillant puts it, there are two pillars of happiness. “One is love,” he writes. “The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.”
Vaillant has said that the study’s most important finding is that the only thing that matters in life is relationships. A man could have a successful career, money and good physical health, but without supportive, loving relationships, he wouldn’t be happy (“Happiness is only the cart; love is the horse.”).
It’s About More than Money and Power
The Grant Study’s findings echoed those of other studies — that acquiring more money and power doesn’t correlate to greater happiness. That’s not to say money or traditional career success don’t matter. But they’re small parts of a much larger picture — and while they may loom large for us in the moment, they diminish in importance when viewed in the context of a full life.
“We found that contentment in the late 70s was not even suggestively associated with parental social class or even the man’s own income,” says Vaillant. “In terms of achievement, the only thing that matters is that you be content at your work.”
Regardless of How We Begin Life, We Can All Become Happier
A man named Godfrey Minot Camille went into the Grant study with fairly bleak prospects for life satisfaction: He had the lowest rating for future stability of all the subjects and he had previously attempted suicide. But at the end of his life, he was one of the happiest. Why? As Vaillant explains, “He spent his life searching for love.”
Connection Is Crucial
“Joy is connection,” Vaillant says. “The more areas in your life you can make connection, the better.”
The study found strong relationships to be far and away the strongest predictor of life satisfaction. And in terms of career satisfaction, too, feeling connected to one’s work was far more important than making money or achieving traditional success.
“The conclusion of the study, not in a medical but in a psychological sense, is that connection is the whole shooting match,” says Vaillant.
As life goes on, connections become even more important. The Grant Study provides strong support for the growing body of research that has linked social ties with longevity, lower stress levels and improved overall well-being.
Challenges –- and the Perspective They Give You — Can Make You Happier
The journey from immaturity to maturity, says Vaillant, is a sort of movement from narcissism to connection, and a big part of this shift has to do with the way we deal with challenges.
Coping mechanisms — “the capacity to make gold out of shit,” as Vaillant puts it — have a significant effect on social support and overall well-being. The secret is replacing narcissism, a single-minded focus on one’s own emotional oscillations and perceived problems, with mature coping defenses, Vaillant explains, citing Mother Teresa and Beethoven as examples.
“Mother Teresa had a perfectly terrible childhood, and her inner spiritual life was very painful,” says Vaillant. “But she had a highly successful life by caring about other people.
Creative expression is another way to productively deal with challenges and achieve meaning and well-being.
“The secret of Beethoven being able to cope with misery through his art was when he wrote ‘Ode to Joy,’” says Vaillant. “Beethoven was able to make connection with his music.”
Friday, May 6, 2016
Following a ground-breaking case in Germany last week, in which a former Auschwitz guard apologised for his crimes, Andrew Nagorski looks at the refusal of many former Nazis to say sorry.
Seventy years after the Nuremberg trials, something truly extraordinary happened in a German courtroom last week. Reinhold Hanning, a 94-year-old former Auschwitz guard, who will go down in history as one of the last of Hitler’s perpetrators to be charged for his role in the Third Reich, offered an apology.
Hanning declared he was “sincerely sorry” and “ashamed” that he had belonged to a criminal organisation that committed mass murder and countless atrocities, and that he had never done anything to prevent such actions.
In today’s world, that hardly sounds like a startling admission. But it is almost unprecedented for those who have been charged with carrying out the Holocaust and other Nazi crimes since the end of the Second World War. To say this is a case of too little too late is a vast understatement. Nonetheless, this does not diminish the significance of Hanning’s remarks.
They matter particularly because there are only a dwindling number of Nazi war criminals still alive. For the Nazi hunters — the government investigators and prosecutors along with the freelance operatives who have tracked and exposed the perpetrators — this magnifies the role of these remaining court cases.
They offer a last chance for confronting not just the legal but the moral issues that the perpetrators have so consistently tried to dodge in the past. And for providing the also rapidly dwindling number of Holocaust survivors the chance to face their tormenters.
Right from the beginning, most Nazi war criminals never apologised for anything. At age 27, Benjamin Ferencz was the chief prosecutor in the Nuremberg trial of the commanders of the Einsatzgruppen, the special squads that conducted mass killings of Jews, gypsies and other civilian ‘enemies’ on the Eastern Front before the killings shifted to the gas chambers in the camps.
As Ferencz told me during an interview for my book The Nazi Hunters, he still vividly recalls the protestations of Otto Ohlendorf, one of those condemned to death, that he was only doing his duty. After his sentencing, Ohlendorf told him: “The Jews in America will suffer for this.”
Even one of the most notorious architects of the Final Solution, Adolf Eichmann, organiser of the mass deportation of Jews to Auschwitz and other concentration camps, portrayed himself as a mere functionary who had no animosity towards his victims.
He told the Israeli police investigator who questioned him after the Mossad abducted him from Argentina in 1960: “I had nothing to do with killing Jews. I’ve never killed a Jew. And I’ve never ordered anyone to kill a Jew.” That gave him “a certain peace of mind”, he added, although he was under no illusions about his ultimate fate. He was the only top Nazi to be tried and hanged by the Israelis.
For Germany’s most famous Nazi hunter, the behavior of those relatively few mass murderers who were ever held to account for their crimes was exasperating for another reason. Fritz Bauer, a German prosecutor from a secular Jewish family who had spent most of the Nazi era in exile, returned after the war determined to make his countrymen face up to the horrors committed in their name.
To that end, he orchestrated the Frankfurt trial of 22 former Auschwitz personnel in the 1960s — not the big bosses, but the people who had tortured and killed prisoners on a daily basis.
During a trial that featured a procession of survivors who testified in agonisng detail about their ordeals, Bauer vented his frustration. In an interview, he pointed out that the prosecution had been waiting “for one of the defendants… to address the witnesses who had survived and had their whole families annihilated with one humane word… it would have cleared the air.”
That never happened.
Ferencz, now 96, pointed out that right after the war, this refusal to admit guilt or show any compassion to the victims was widespread.
“I never had a German come up to me and say ‘I’m sorry’, all the time I was in Germany,” he told me. “That was my biggest disappointment; nobody, including my mass murderers, ever said I’m sorry. That was the mentality.”
Germany has come a very long way since then. The Holocaust and other wartime atrocities are routinely taught in schools; as a whole, the country now has a commendable record of facing the darkest chapter in its history and seeking to atone for it. That is in large part the product of the efforts of Nazi hunters like Ferencz, Bauer, and others who pushed for such trials, not allowing the past to be buried along with its victims. But those who were most directly involved in the machinery of death were largely immune to any appeals to conscience.
Jesus said when he was crucified: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
The Nazi criminals knew all too well what they were doing. It is only now that at least one is admitting as much.
Andrew Nagorski, a former Newsweek foreign correspondent and editor, is the author of The Nazi Hunters, which will be released on May 10.
Thursday, May 5, 2016
In the 1970s and 1980s, Olivia O’Leary reigned supreme in Irish journalism.
A formidable broadcaster, the undoubted queen of current affairs, she was a woman in a world of men who commanded enormous respect for her analytical and interviewing skills.
She was fearless.
Olivia O'Leary has revealed her battle with depression during her 20s.
So when such a figure admits to having been floored by depression, to having been unable to get off the sofa, to even get up in the morning, when she speaks candidly on radio of “sitting on a train, and missing my stop as I couldn’t motivate myself to stand up and get up”, there is a generation of men and women aged 40-90 who sit up and listen.
“When somebody in the public domain talks about depression and anxiety, particularly when they are honest and discuss how they developed techniques to manage it, that they learnt to lead a full life with it, that is huge, it is everything that we in mental health services are trying to do,“ says Paul Gilligan, chief executive of St Patrick’s University Hospital.
O’Leary is just the latest in a line of Irish public figures who have broken the omerta around mental health difficulties. She said she was inspired by the courage of Longford/Westmeath TD, Robert Troy who stood up in the Dáil last week and outlined his recent struggles with depression and anxiety.
In recent years, Niall Breslin, aka Bressie, has become the uncrowned patron saint of mental health, while Majella O’Donnell’s disclosure helped a whole generation of older women admit that it’s OK to divulge that they can’t cope.
GAA stars Conor Cusack, Aisling Thompson, and Martin Shanahan spoke to another cohort of the population, as have Mary McEvoy, Marian Keyes, and Brent Pope.
John Saunders of Shine Ireland, which supports people with mental ill health, says that by speaking out, such celebrities unknowingly “provide a model for everybody to talk to family and friends, to their GP”.
“They become a conduit to the conversations that need to be had around the country,” says Saunders.
Saunders and Gilligan believe that as a country, we are only in the nascent stages of understanding mental health and how important it is to manage it.
“But by having more conversations like Olivia O’Leary and Robert Troy have started, we will also begin as a nation to learn what is normal stress and what requires help,” says Saunders.
“As this conversation continues we will begin to differentiate between the stress that is like having a cold and the stress that needs expert help; we will learn how to recognise and manage changes in our mental health.”
The refusal to admit that you or a family member is experiencing depression or anxiety is one of the last taboos in this country, say both experts. This taboo may have lost some of its shame in recent years but a stigma is still engrained, says Gilligan.
We are a country that up to about 10 years ago, chose to lock up our most distressed, to often write them off at a young age, he says.
Research undertaken last year by St Patrick’s Mental Health Services shows that our shift in attitudes of late might not be as seismic as we’d like to think. Only 53% of survey respondents agreed that people with a mental health difficulty are trustworthy. Another 67% agreed that Irish people view being treated for a mental health difficulty as a sign of personal failure.
Gilligan says a deep contradiction exists. One in four people suffer mental health difficulties in their life, which means everyone knows a family member or friend that has experienced such distress, yet such above mentioned opinions around trustworthiness, reliability, and ‘failure’ endure.
Saunders says the silence around mental health has bred this ignorance and made life harder for those suffering. That is why, he says, the likes of O’Leary and Troy are doing a true public service by squashing stigma and by opening up about what they are doing in their lives to help prevent relapse.
Claire O' Sullivan