Tuesday, April 4, 2017

It's our environment, stupid

This week's Independent News & Media Irish regional newspapers' column.

Michael Commane
I have written in this column on previous occasions about a homeless man, whom I know, who is in prison at present.

Last Monday week I visited him in Cloverhill Remand Prison. 

On this occasion we had a long and detailed chat. We spent an hour talking, during which time he paraphrased his life-story. From day one it paints a bleak picture. He has been in and out of 'trouble' most of his life. He honestly believes that he has been a victim and that his family and the authorities have given him a raw deal.

From what I know of the man I am of  the opinion he needs psychiatric care. He also needs TLC.

A prison can be a bleak place, at least in Ireland. I remember on one occasion being in a prison in Germany and being greatly impressed with the campus, its architecture, the general environment, and the room in which I visited the prisoner. Having said that, the Training Unit in Mountjoy is a kind place.

On leaving Cloverhill Prison I cycled part of the way home before taking a bus. I have a fold-up bicycle, which is pure magic. Provided there is space on the bus I can place it in the luggage bay.

On this particular occasion there was a buggy in the bay but I managed to arrange things in such a way that there was place for my bike and the buggy. I saw a woman with a baby in her arms so I presumed it was her buggy. It was. 

When she was getting off a young man and I took off the buggy for her. Not a hint of a thank you. She had three small children with her, and if I can recollect correctly, she raised her voice to them on a number of occasions. 

On a completely superficial call, the woman came across as being unfriendly. Maybe I got it totally wrong, but that was the vibe I felt that day on that bus. Then again, if I had three toddlers in tow, how might I behave? Our circumstances always play a role in our behaviour.

Two days later I saw a motorist and a cyclist involved in 'words'. The motorist reversed his car and came too close to the cyclist. It was clearly the motorist who was at fault but incredibly, the motorist chastised the cyclist, using foul language. I wonder what were his circumstances?

What makes us rude and aggressive?  Is it in all of us, and depending on environment and circumstances it raises its ugly head?

And then I think of my job as a hospital chaplain: I never see a whiff of the sort of 'stuff' I see on the streets inside the hospital gates.

Every day I observe love, kindness, goodness and I see it in great dollops. My job involves sitting down, listening and talking to people. Trying too to be kind. And in so doing, enabling people and me, maybe even to see a glimpse of God.

Imagine if my friend in prison had experienced in his early life acts of genuine kindness and love would he be in Cloverhill today? I doubt it.

There are no simple answers to anything. But being kind and considerate to others is always the best policy.

It costs no money to be kind. It costs no money to say hello and smile. And it makes a world of a difference, to the receiver and the giver.

What role does our environment, our circumstances play in our behaviour? It sure is 100-Dollar question.

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