On Social Change in Ireland, “We’ll get there…”

In 2012, I closed a TEDxBelfastWomen talk with “We’ll get there”.

In 2018, I find we may actually be ‘there’.

It referenced my call to throw off the adaptive behaviours common to many on this island – our silence, passivity, self deprecation and shaming ways, in order to take our place on a global stage.

In 2010, I co-founded a coworking space in Newry. The intention was to support the emergence of a more dynamic entrepreneurial ecosystem outside of Dublin and Belfast, on the border. Our contention was that the “peace process” had gone as far as it could go. What was then and now required for Ireland is a “prosperity process”.

That required culture change. And for us to share a different vision of Ireland.

From my vantage point on Carlingford Lough and the border, both Northern Ireland and the Republic were, as C.S. Lewis depicted them, a magical, medial place. A space in-between and one where opportunity abounds.

Culture change is a tall order!

It has been a hard road. Yet, the interesting thing about having a vision, setting an intention – and even failing from time to time, is that when you fail – you fall forward in the direction of your dream.

So imagine my delight in 2016 – when the Centre for Cross Border Studies added this tag line to their Cross Border Social Innovation Conference – “Lagan to the Liffey”.

The Emerald Valley facility had by then closed – but “from the Lagan to the Liffey” – our carefully chosen turn of phrase was designed, where innovation was concerned, to render the border invisible – and it lived on. We’d  fallen forward.

This week, I had notice of an event in Belfast focused on telling Northern Ireland’s story. Two things were heartening. I self-describe as an evangelist for Northern Ireland – both economically and civically.

Economically in trying to drive home-grown innovation and inward investment by highlighting our opportunities and accomplishments. Civically in both America and the Republic of Ireland – in efforts to drive a change in both attitude and language.

We are nearly 20  years on from the peace process – but nonetheless, many in both places remain unreconciled to it.

Control, Alt, Delete: Resetting How We Tell Northern Ireland’s Story 
sounds remarkably like this 2015 blog post:
Ireland 2.0 – America, try ‘Ctrl, Alt, Delete’ .

The journalists on this panel will, undoubtedly, be less impatient than the tone taken with my American readers, out of touch with what Northern Ireland looks like 25, 50 & 100 years after their families emigrated.

My point in these illustrations is not “I told you so”. It is to encourage. I’ve not been alone in writing and repeating these sentiments, and it’s not been to win hearts and minds. It was to support people who clearly felt the same way. To let them know they were not alone. And in time, to make it safe for them to speak up.

Failing and falling forward was worth it!

Robert Reich, Berkley Professor and former Labor Secretary under President Clinton has opened a series of lectures to the public. The course is called, In Focus: How to Ignite Social Change.

This slide speaks to “The Three Elements” it takes to reach the tipping point at which social change happens. Thankfully, in Ireland we have reached that point!

In Northern Ireland with the collapse of the Stormont executive and no devolved government for over a year and in the Republic with an ineffective government, as evidenced by crisis after crisis in Health Care, Housing, Homelessness, and a scandal ridden An Garda Síochána, there is, undeniably, a –

  • Widening gap between ideal and reality
  • Broad public knowledge of that gap

And what of the third?

  • Widespread sense of efficacy  ability to narrow the gap

“Ah sure, you’ll never change it” was the language of hopelessness that had undermined us.

But the last decade has offered proof that citizens could achieve a sense of efficacy – 

The populist genie was out of the bottle. Activism could clearly drive change.

Inspired, in the summer of 2017, a group of activists sent out over 200 press releases, yet couldn’t get media coverage for a “National Housing Cooperative Bill” to be introduced on Dáil Éirann’s return in September.

Undaunted, they then held a press conference at the Irish Hunger Memorial in New York City – the proverbial “33rd county”. They were joined by Cornell University Law Professor Robert Hockett and got the attention of homeless and housing activists there, academics, politicians, philanthropists and investors. And won their hearts, as in true Irish fashion, when the formalities had passed, music ensued. Imagine visitors to the memorial serenaded with an impromptu rendition of “I’ll Tell My Ma When I Go Home.

The Irish Central – a digital newspaper with a reach of 3.5 million unique views a month covered the story, and the media in Ireland took note.

More and more stories began to surface here, “broad public knowledge” of “the gap between the ideal and real” led four brave individuals to join Financial Advisor Padraig Kissane in testimony before the Oireachtas Finance Committee – ultimately breaking the news of what is now estimated to be 33,000 tracker mortgage holders cheated by their banks.

When Mr. Kissane was asked how the banks got away with it for so long, he responded: “They used our Irishness against us.”

Clearly the banks were counting on our silence, passivity and shame. No longer.

Housing rights advocates and financial reformers are on the move. New legislation is to be introduced and the Oireachtas Finance Committee and it’s Chair TD John McGuinness are holding banks to account.  He and TD Pearse Doherty have called on Finance Minister Pascal Donohoe to support class action legislation because “the culture won’t change until the banks are prosecuted” – even though Ireland does not yet have a mechanism to bring one.

Watch this space!

Back to the subject of “getting there” –  my Irish-American father favoured an expression I am only now beginning to appreciate:

“We’ll get there, by degrees, the way an Irishman gets to heaven.”

Alongside wisdom I have always embraced:

Ours is not to complete the task, but neither may we desist from the labour.

For more on activism in Ireland, On Echoing Irish Voices Congruent with Irish Values

 




Nothing changes until we do!

In a recent LinkedIn article, Ready for a Change? – I made the case for choosing change. On one level it’s selfish – I work with people and small businesses when they’re ready for a change.

On another level it’s in service to those clients, neighbours and friends who require change in their wider worlds. More on that later.

Navigating change, personally, professionally or systemically, requires safe spaces.

So whether that involves creating a safe space personally – by throwing off old habits, distancing yourself from the crazy-makers in your life or quieting your undermining self-talk (all three?) – the work begins when we make up our minds that the pain of changing outweighs the pain of staying stuck.

Or more eloquently – as pictured:

Change in our work lives is no different, although creating this safe place is somewhat more fraught. It requires us to bring equal parts of self-confidence and humility to the process.

Unsafe at work may look like

  • the boss is mad
  • the workplace is intimidating
  • I’m a payday away from disaster

Let’s accept that every situation is “out of our control” and all we can control is our reaction to it.

What if we agree that-

  • the boss is mad! We might ask ourselves: Am I bringing my best self to each encounter? Am I consciously or unconsciously pushing his/her buttons? Have I even asked what they might be?
  • the workplace is intimidating! Does my demeanour (fear, lack of confidence, reticence) inadvertently contribute to the dynamic? What changes in my response might change my experience of it?
  •  am a payday away from disaster! How can I manage money more mindfully, get out of debt and expand my options?

What’s going on here is a kind of archeology. Or as it’s called in 12 step rooms – taking a searching and fearless inventory. We’re not judging or chastising, we’re observing our patterns. Not for anyone else’s purposes – just our own.

Because-

  • Every insight is power
  • Every repaired or rejected relationship emboldens us
  • Every safe place we create empowers us

Empowers us personally, professionally and should we choose to widen that sphere of influence – civically.

Back to what I meant by service.

Typically my clients (and often I) am stressed by failures in systems meant to support.

  • Caregivers waste time, energy and resources navigating the social service and health care delivery systems. Should it require a whole day off to take you ageing mother or child to the doctor, or for a scan? Should you have to go on a day that suits the health service or on an appointment day of your choosing?
  • Healthcare professionals are faced with uprooting themselves and their families while retraining or emigrating because working conditions have become too stressful, chaotic and in many cases dangerous.
  • Financial institutions insistent that they “owe no duty of care” to their clients – exacerbate homeowners attempts to renegotiate indebtedness – causing unimaginable pressures on families.
  • A culture of silence renders workplaces and schools inherently unsafe. Our default to, “sure you can’t change that”, “it’s always been that way” – allows for bullying, sexual harassment and exploitation.

Collectively more confident, we would be willing to speak out against systemic ills – without worrying about being labelled bold or cheeky.

Choose change, find your voice and take care to create safe spaces for yourself. Ask for help if you need to – just don’t go it alone!

Finding our voices simply means we willing to tell the truth. For more on what that would look like, I’ve profiled some ordinary citizen-activists doing just that in a blog post On Echoing Irish Voices Congruent with Irish Values.

The systemic abuses I was addressing were unique to the Republic of Ireland. The call to action is equally relevant to my Northern Irish, British and American colleagues where we face different, but equally concerning failures of governance.

 




On Echoing Irish Voices Congruent with Irish Values…

My hope/wish/prayer for 2018 is that Ireland will be a safe place for a #Whistleblower and an increasingly unsafe place for politicians who take cover with “it’s what’s legal” vs. “it’s what is ethical, proactive and kind”.

A government that is far more congruent with Irish values.

To create that Ireland, we need to find our voices. We need to speak up, shout out and demand better leadership. Our silence serves only those who would lie to us, steal from us, and oppress. That individual and collective behaviour in law it is called ‘willful blindness’ and it is actionable.

Action requires embracing our entitlement to a ‘legitimate sense of outrage’. Or call it ‘righteous indignation’ over our leadership’s major failures and small slights.

Major failures among which are:

  1. closing rural Post Offices and locating a new Children’s Hospital in the centre of Dublin (a 5 hour drive from Donegal, 4 hrs from Kerry)
  2. ignoring a tri-city/county regional economic development approach to Cork/Limerick/Galway by continuing to drive Foreign Direct Investment primarily to Dublin
  3. failing to gear up for the additional housing required by post Brexit growth of financial service sector jobs relocating from London – creating more upward pressure on housing costs

…and only one of many small slights

  • a citizenry that accepts that it’s okay for taxpayer funded RTE to make you wait over 1 minute through advertising to hear an RTE Player broadcast of newsmakers interviewed on all the the above

The bold texts links to articles or videos of interest; for more information on the work of ordinary citizen activists –

Homelessness – @Right2Homes; Website; Founder, Brian J Reilly
Healthcare – @Bumbleance; Website; Founders, Mary & Tony Heffernan
Education – @IRLChangED; Website; Founder, Frank Milling
Corruption in Banking – @WhistleIrl; Website; Jonathan Sugarman
Legislative Oversight & Abuse of Powers – @ChangeisUptoYou; Website, Founder, Tom Darcy
Willful Blindness – @M_Heffernan In her book and TED talk

Not one person here is in it for the glory! Most are reluctant activists, they have worked individually and collectively, doggedly determined, while cajoled, undermined, harassed and in some cases bankrupted, to speak up and give voice to others.

Pick a cause, focus and support their efforts. Each have made great strides, advanced new agendas and empowered change. Follow, engage and if it resonates, support their efforts. Or bring forward your own.

*David McWilliams’ testimony references findings published in his 2005 book The Pope’s Children.

 




On NI, flags & the ‘je ne sais quoi’ of leadership…

Thank you to Alan Carson for suggestion my attendance and to Stephen Gough for organising “The State of the Union; Beyond 2021” event in East Belfast this week. The impression I left with was that we are all aching for great leadership.

This is the first of two posts I will offer on my insights from the session.fullsizeoutput_161




Mother’s Day, Martin & Me

“If you want to understand any woman you must first ask about her mother and listen carefully. Stories about food show a strong connection. Wistful silences demonstrate unfinished business. The more a daughter knows the details of her mother’s life – without flinching or whining – the stronger the daughter.” Anita Diamont

Mothering, all parenting – is not a benign undertaking. We give as good as we got. Well mothered children grow up to be parents who can offer the same. For less well-mothered children, even in spite of our best efforts, our woundedness becomes inter-generational, having rendered us less than perfect parents.

English paediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott addressed this in outlining the concept of good enough mother. He was writing 50+ years ago, so it’s fair to read ‘mother’ as ‘parent’.

Dr Jennifer Kunst describes Winnicott’s ‘good enough mother’ as:

… sincerely preoccupied with being a mother. She pays attention to her baby. She provides a holding environment. She offers both physical and emotional care. She provides security. When she fails, she tries again. She weathers painful feelings. She makes sacrifices. Winnicott’s good enough mother is not so much a goddess; she is a gardener. She tends her baby with love, patience, effort, and care.

And in a TED Talk, Why good leaders make you feel safe, the author Simon Sinek compares good leaders to good parents.

“The closest analogy I can give to what a great leader is, is like being a parent…What makes a great parent? We want to give our child opportunities, education, discipline them when necessary, all so that they can grow up and achieve more than we could for ourselves.

Great leaders want exactly the same thing. They want to provide their people opportunities, education and discipline when necessary, build their self confidence, give them the opportunity to try and fail, all so that they can achieve more than we could ever imagine for ourselves.”

I’d like to pitch the idea of “good enough leadership”.

This week’s coverage of death of Martin McGuinness – Northern Ireland’s former Deputy First Minister, IRA Commander, and one of the main architects of the Good Friday Agreement – reminded me of the Diamont quote.

Praised by many who knew and empathised with the details of his life, vilified by others – his legacy was and will be debated for decades. I’m choosing to see it her way:

“The more a [people] know the details of [a leader’s] life – without flinching or whining – the stronger the [people].”

Those who saw him as a great leader, experienced great leadership and benefited. Those who saw him as a good enough leader, also benefited.

And I’d like to believe that the impact of “good enough parenting” and “good enough leadership” is not what it says about us – but rather how it may benefit the next generation.

Because even those who have vilified him – having suffered horribly as a result of his paramilitary leadership, are now experiencing the benefit of a generation of Northern Irish Nationalists reared to be unwilling to take up arms.

Rationalisation? Perhaps – but on this Mothering Sunday, 2017, I’d like to believe that ‘good enough’ really is good enough because for all our missteps, we shared a commitment to providing:

… opportunities, education, discipline… when necessary, all so that they can grow up and achieve more than we could for ourselves.




Do something! Complacency is failing us…

"Do what is beyond your strength even should you fail sometimes."

“Do what is beyond your strength even should you fail sometimes.”

As the brilliant documentary “Older than the Ireland” so vividly illustrated, 100 years is not a long time.

It does, however, highlight how action taken today can significantly impact the Ireland of 2116.

I for one think we need to seriously adjust the trajectory.

Heartened and inspired by the leadership evidenced in the stories shared at Tangible Ireland’s Ambassador Summer School – 48 hours later I was faced with the critical need for a seismic shift in the expectations of the citizens of this island.

The state of Dublin is a disgrace.

We’ve invited the world to share in our commemoration, to witness our progress and experience our energy.

I joined an American tourist, spouse of a convention goer, who had no intimate knowledge of the Irish or Ireland. And I was deeply ashamed.

Navigating the streets, even outside the GPO is near impossible. Construction, broken pavements and crowds of pedestrians detoured around significant destinations, were confused, huddling over maps and tripping on obstacles.

Public transport is rerouted, the place looks dirty and disheveled.

It was a bit like being invited to a wedding when halfway down the aisle the bridal party decided that a change of hair, makeup and dresses was in order. And then they changed right there.

Let this serve as a call to action: We’re better than this!

Our emigrants have built cities all over the world. The children of this island have gone on to impact excellence in military, political, business and civic leadership all over the world. And we tolerate less than mediocrity here. I propose that we proclaim that:

The days of “whatever you say, say nothing” are over.
The days of “ah, sure they’ve got the run of themselves” are over.
The days of “sure, it’s grand, besides, you’ll never change it” are over.

Take action. Use digital media to bring examples of the unacceptable to light. Deficits in the delivery of public services, entitlement programs and long term planning can be brought to the attention of us all. Use the airwaves and Twitter-sphere to highlight failures and abuses of systems. Hold the names- just tell us what ought to be and is not. Use the hashtag #BetterThanThis. If #Shameful suits, use that too.

We’ll amplify each other’s frustrations, research and post the wisdom and experience of those who have overcome similar challenges and together we can bring the ideals of the founders to fruition in this our second century.

Alternatively, use and follow #PositiveIreland for the good news stories.

Let no one less than Charles Stewart Parnell inspire the call to action.

“We have never attempted to fix the ne plus ultra to the progress
of Ireland’s nationhood and we never shall.”




On Education, testing not required…

…or even relevant.

The links provided will offer a view into what system changes are succeeding elsewhere. The video below says it all.

Let’s get out of their way, stop lecturing and test less. Let’s motivate and challenge our young people to show us what they can do!

In Ireland, both in the Republic and in Northern Ireland we accept the unacceptable, which looks like:

What needs to change?

Noted education expert Sir Ken Robinson has written and spoken extensively on the subject. Changing Education Paradigms is an excellent summary of the issues at hand.

In Ireland, I invite you to follow the work of ChangED a new think tank focused on challenging us all to drive reforms in education across the island.

ChangEDYou can follow their work on Twitter @IRLChangED and watch for their position papers to be published this fall. The papers will address:

  • Mental Health in Education
  • School Admissions
  • Technology in Education

You can help:

Follow the good news stories, and when a school or a group distinguishes itself, please bring it everyone’s attention. People fear change and nothing alleviates that fear like the success stories.

Like this one:

CM Schools IntroIn Dublin at Donabate Portrane Educate Together, they’re Teaching Empathy, Leadership & Confidence. It is one of 12 Changemaker schools designated by Ashoka Ireland, an international network of social entrepreneurs.

It is when we demand this kind of innovation in education at every school in all levels that it will happen. Empower teachers, principals and parents by getting involved.
Educate yourself!

There is a wealth of information out there about innovative programs from around the world.

I will close with a summary statement of the goals of ChangED and suggest that it be a goal every citizen embraces.

ChangED aims to ensure that education in Ireland has equality of opportunity, excellence in teaching and learning, accountability, sustainability, a global outlook, wellbeing, resilience and an appreciation of the richness of different cultures and languages as its hallmarks.

 

 




On…Continuing Education

“A mind is a terrible thing to waste” images

So goes the very powerful fundraising campaign launched by United Negro College Fund in 1972. It’s one of the most enduring tag-lines Madison Avenue has brought the world. It endures because the sentiment is universal.

Dust off the cobwebs, turn off the talking heads and find out what real people working on the front lines of social, political and educational change, are up to.

The season of “Summer Schools” is underway. It’s a glorious opportunity to surround yourself with the intellectually curious, to have your thinking challenged and be infused with a dose of positivity.

We are sadly lacking mature leadership on the island of Ireland and it has never been more important for all of us to develop ourselves into an active and engaged citizenry.

The McGill, Merriman & xChange Summer Schools are now behind us. There is ample coverage of all available and still time to consider The Thomas D’Arcy McGee Summer School in Carlingford  which will address “D’Arcy McGee, 1916 and Revolutionary Republicanism” and Tangible Ireland’s Ambassador Summer School which covers “Business & Civic Leadership”.

10438192_10152972256463206_6277862567984746412_n

Don’t do it for yourself, do it for your children and grandchildren. Education doesn’t end with “qualifications“, it’s a life-long process. Model it!

Why? Frederick Douglas sums it up perfectly: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men

 

 

*(per the 2014 post – and an excellent incentive to mark your calendars for the 2017 events…)  The McGill Summer School will stream its programming on “Reforming and Rebuilding our State”. And there’s still time to plan an outing to Glenties. Audio highlights of the xChange Summer School about “Changing Conversations” are available. Still ahead are the Merriman Summer School where “Emotional Life in Ireland” will be explored; The Thomas D’Arcy McGee Summer School in Carlingford  will address “The Famine in Ulster”; Tangible Ireland’s Ambassador Summer School covers “Business & Civic Leadership” and there are many more.

 




Forgiving and Moving on…

Not.

Not now. For some, perhaps not ever.

How much energy, creativity or progress is lost to us personally, professionally or civically, because we don’t choose to address  this?

Post conflict is complicated, human nature is not.

Holding anger -Crumlin-3

This wisdom is over 2500 years old.

Clearly, our limitations haven’t
eased in nearly 3 millennia.

 

Ironic that I was propelled here by a shift. A decades long process of forgiving freed for me the energy required to move…

…to this place of unforgiveness.

Accepting what will likely not change is an option. We can put aside forgiving. We must, however, “act as if” we have forgiven.

What would that look like? How to proceed?

Why? Ask yourself one question:

When will we love our collective children enough to consign our ancestor’s hatred to history?

Because it matters.




Culture Change and a “Prosperity Process”

Culture shock comes close to describing my experience as a second generation Irish-American in Ireland.

I was frequently told that I needed to learn how to “act Irish”. Apparently this calls for a combination of politeness, passivity, not being direct, self-deprecation, an avoidance of self-promotion, and a tendency toward begrudgery.

Any attempt to fall back on my US-cultivated cultural norms around self promotion, assertiveness and confidence, earned me the label “cheeky,” or “bold,” or “troublesome.”

ChangeMetaPersonally and professionally, conformity seemed counterproductive at the height of the financial crisis. The negative impact on people’s mental and physical health and well being was palpable. Passivity, while the acceptable default response, seemed a significant part of the problem.

I came to believe that reflecting my contrary perspective, while “bold”, could help others appreciate that:

  • A reluctance to self promote, a propensity to begrudge and a tendency to shame success, do not serve us well when competing in a 21st century global economy.
  • We can catalyse their own personal and communal change.
  • We can take a chance on ourselves.

It’s the message I deliver in coaching and training individuals and small businesses in my private practice and to a wider audience via Neo Ireland.

To that end, Neo Ireland*:

  • supports events that serve as an inspirational and educational outreach to SMEs and microbusinesses by providing them with business development support and exposure to wider networks
    • BizCampNI
    • Newry Creates
    • Women that Work
  • supports “Newry Hackers”  by making space available to volunteers who mentor young people to develop their IT skills.
  • echoes the positive stories and challenges the negativity we experience.
  • discourages passivity and inspires a confidence that things can be better.
  • encourages people to demand excellence in leadership across the public, private and third sectors.
  • works to model tolerance, patience and the possibility of agreeing to disagree.

We invite you to join the discussions at any time via Twitter, Facebook or Linkedin.

*Closed in 2015, Empowering Change continues Neo Ireland’s outreach.