Empathy

Is it possible to have too much empathy? I’m sure it must hamper people in roles where you cannot please everyone. These roles are normally those in leadership. Sorry to keep banging on about her, but Mo Mowlam had to make difficult choices when she had to choose the importance of the N. Ireland peace process over honouring the wishes of of victims of terror. There had been atrocities on both sides, but, in order to negotiate de-comissioning she had to agree to the release from prison of so called ‘freedom fighters’. Paramilitaries who had harmed and masscared people for the sake of what they believed in. It was very hard for her to justify to the victims of those families why their loved ones killers were being freed. Of course it upset her to see their pain but she had to believe in the bigger picture. To move forward they could not wallow in the past – they had to forgive and move on. Too much empathy would have overcome this decision – what decision is right?

A new work colleague started this week. She has taken on a big role with lots of pressure and responsibility. It didn’t take long for us to discover common ground and in discussing where our paths may have crossed in the past a painful memory arose in her mind. She explained that her Mum had died a few months ago and she started to well up in tears. She was looking at the clock as she tried to pull herself together as she had two back-to-back meetings with VIPs. Seeing her grief, still so raw, instantly brought tears to my eyes as she recalled how her Mother had cried all the way back home after dropping her off at university on her first day.

Later I thought about the idea of losing my mother and I instantly felt a pang of loss deep loss at the thought of it. I was opening a door at the time and i thought “imagine opening this door without the person you love most in the world?” I know its a weird thing to say – something so trivial as opening a door but the person you form an attachment and deep and lasting bond is crucial to everday perspective. Take that away and your lost. That is why its so tragic for children who don’t get the chance to form that bond in the first place. Life is intolerable for them and it takes an amazing strength of character to pursue a life without the support of someone who gives unconditional love and support.

I felt bad that my empathy led to her opening up emotions that she was trying to keep a lid on , particularly before an important meeting. That’s the hardest thing – life stops for you but no-one else – I think WH Auden’s poem sums up the feelings of most people grieving  – perhaps the last of the verse in particular:

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good

Sorry for the sombre mood….:(

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A national destiny dictated by fate?

I am reading the final pages of Mo Mowlam’s book and it exposes what was wrong with Blair’s Government and his leadership style. It was written in the early noughties and, amazingly, Mo’s concerns on global affairs that could impact upon the Northern Ireland Peace Process were correct. The impending recession, the introduction of the Euro, Gordon Brown taking over as leader of the Labour party and the events of September 11 all had an effect on progress.

Two points in particular struck a chord with me. First Mo believed that September 11 had an effect on the views of US citizens. Post 9/11 there was less US sympathy for Sinn Fein and the IRA’s militant approach to politics.

Second, she knew that Tony Blair was very politically close to Gordon Brown and feared for the future of the party. Her fears were realised when Brown later took over the leadership and promptly lost the majority support of the British public.

I did not know that Mo could have had a go at the Labour leadership herself. If she had I’m sure there would have been a different result in the last general election – At best Labout would have won, at worst the Lib Dems would have approached Mo first before Cameron. For me that would have been a potentially brilliant combination. Maybe too good as I would have not been able to cope with any failures. Mo, however, had observed that, as prime minister, Tony had less quality time with his family and had aged beyond his years because of the burden of leading the country and she was not willing to subject her life to that. To do that role she knew she would have to sacrifice her life’s happiness for what she believed in. As I read this I imagined what would have happened if Mo had gone for leadership. The fact that she had already predicted Gordon’s rise to leader (like many of her contemporaries) has led me to believe that fate dictates our political landscape to a large extent with the end result that, as voters, we have to decide on the best of a bad bunch served up by the political in-fighting of the parties. I think the public should choose the party leaders then we might stand a chance of getting closer to the better PM.

Just a thought….

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Just a spoonful of inspiration….

helps you tolerate life a little longer. Sorry don’t mean to be depressive – it just makes those shittier days a little bit more bearable if you have something or someone to inspire you. I am enjoying finishing my day reading Mo Mowlam’s autobiography just before I go to sleep. No matter how challenging, boring or annoying your day has been, it is strangely calming to read about one person’s battle to get the Northern Ireland peace process back on track while battling treatment for a brain tumour at the same time. Mo Mowlam seems to have a rare and unique ability to cope with the incredibly stressful demands of being secretary of state for NI, at a time when murders were occuring daily in the country by both sides. She also rose above the commentary of her apperance and rapid weight gain, a story that would have affected most women to the core and probably crippled their confidence in public. In addition, she still found time to keep her constituents happy, make sure all communities in NI were being heard and their needs addressed – as well as put on the odd concert or gathering for the community featuring the likes of U2 and Elton John.

I also enjoyed watching a documentary on the life of snooker player Ronnie O Sullivan, his struggle with addiction and his personal self-esteem and confidence issues. Yet he is perhaps the best snooker player in the world. Most of his career his father was in jail and his father told him that he liked it when he played the biog snooker championships because, for him, it was like Ronnie was visiting him in prison every time he played on national television. Ronnie found that pressure hard to handle, knowing his father was watching from his prison cell. Ronnie has no airs or graces – what you see is what you get and I like that about him. Its also refreshing to find someone else who is not afraid to retain their dialect or slang regardless of their audience. Someone else uses ‘quid’ and ‘earroles’ in their everyday language. I dont feel so common when a high profile character on TV is relaxed in the way he speaks. My Dad has a South London accent but when I catch him answering the phone at work I love hearing his ‘phone voice’ – he almost sounds camp. I often ring him up first thing in the morning before the office secretary has got in so I can listen to his phone voice.

I find myself adjusting the way I speak, particularly when speaking to work colleagues of a certain class and also my parents in law who are a little bit posh. I wish I could relax and just talk “how I wanna” but I am worried about the reaction if I do. Don’t get me wrong I am no Katie Price, but it would be nice not to have to consciously think about my langauge and tone all the time.

Those that are inspiring are those that have achieved something without having to adjust themselves in anyway – they have just had to apply themselves. They have achieved because of who they are not despite it. Mo Mowlam is a prime example of this. Perhaps the biggest respect for her comes from her decision to enter the notorious ‘Maze’ prison in NI when the peace talks hit crisis point and she had no option but to talk to the incarcerated paramilitaries – mass murderers. I remember at the time finding it hard to believe watching it on television, particularly the involvement of Sinn Fein, who, to many of us Brits were almost (not quite) on a par with the Taliban in terms of the level of brutality they showed towards their ‘enemies’. But Mo pulled it off – she knew it was the right thing to do but if it went wrong it would have been the end of her political career – but she was willing to take that gamble. This one act was pivotal in the peace process and she succeeded – what a great movie that would make.

Most of us have forgotten how bad it was in NI before the Good Friday agreement. No more random bomb explosions in the UK, no more news of daily killings between the protestants and catholics in NI. Mo really did help to achieve peace and over a decade later we have forgotten what it was like to be so near acts of terrorism – that is what peace feels like – you just forget. At least that is what it feels like from a British point of view – Belfast may be different but it is still an improvement.

Inspirational people provide a little bit of therapy because they are proof it is possible to defy the status quo and do something cool with your life.

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