Below is a link to Tony Bates’ latest article in the Irish Times which is on the Headstrong Blog. I have also pasted it below for those of you who are unable to follow the link. Please do take some time to check out Headstrong and their website which will explain the fantastic work they are doing out there in the world of youth mental health.
By Tony Bates
MIND MOVES: We must keep trying to make positive changes
IN THE STORY A Little Princess, there is a moment where Sara wakes up in her cold, wet attic room, to an unfamiliar warmth. Believing that she is still dreaming, she resists opening her eyes so that she can keep her dream alive for as long as possible. But then she does open them, and when she does, her dream does not melt away. Her room has been changed, there are warm, soft blankets on her bed and a fire is burning in the grate.
For the author Frances Hodgson Burnett – who also gave us The Secret Garden – this image came from her own experience. Like Sara, she had lost her father at an early age and found herself living in grim poverty. And like Sara, she had coped by never ceasing to believe that her life could change, that “the magic would come” and that it would protect her from the “worst things” that kept happening in her life.
Revisiting this story over Christmas, I once again encountered this scene that had made such an impression on me as a child. My initial reaction to having my own innocence reawakened was to dismiss it. My adult mind could see how beautifully naive such a perspective on life was. Experience had shown me much too clearly how real suffering was in everyone’s life and how unhealthy it was to try to hold on to a fantasy world. Experience had overtaken innocence. Any attempt to hold on to a deep faith in transformational change was surely infantile. Or was it?
My mind drifted across the stories of wretched misfortune that filled the airwaves in the past year and something struck me that was common to each of them. We have been bombarded with news about very bad things that happened, in the banking world, in the Church, in families where suicide occurred, in communities such as Roscommon where unspeakable abuse was inflicted on innocent children. In each of these stories, there were people who at some point recognised that something was wrong and yet they hadn’t taken action to change what was happening.
For whatever reason, they had accepted what was happening and gone along with it.
The prevailing view of many mature, enlightened people in these situations was that life was far from perfect and that one had to adapt to the way things were.
Possibly the people closest to these injustices thought that everything would magically right itself in the end, and certainly that kind of magical thinking was profoundly inappropriate and destructive. But reading Frances Burnett, I wondered if the problem was that many of these people had lost touch with a basic sense of innocence about life. An innocence that refuses to accept the way things are, that never gives up on trying to make things better in our own lives and in the lives of others.
It is so easy for “maturity” to mask cynicism and despair, and to stop believing that many things in this world of ours can be better, and should be better. The all-knowing shrug that says, “What can you do?” is surely more damaging than a childlike faith in the possibility of life being very different and not giving up on trying to make it better.
As children, we may not be able to do anything more than believe that change is possible. In the story of Sara, it took the initiative of a “kind Indian gentleman” living next door to her to take action on her behalf. As adults, we can also choose to take action on behalf of children and those who are trapped in circumstances beyond their control.
The beginning of a new year is a time when we can stop and ask ourselves some hard questions. Are we happy with what we are becoming? Are we content with what we see happening around us? Do we dare to imagine that our lives could be different? Are we prepared to take action to make our dreams and ideals a reality?
These are the questions that refuse to go away, despite our efforts to avoid them. In the quiet moments of a winter evening, we do well to face them and to consider what course corrections may be warranted in our lives.
This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times and on Headstrong’s blog. All rights are with them.