Waterford Harbour

Waterford Harbour
Cheekpoint village 1940's

Friday, 11 May 2012

It all turns on affection

My grandmother had a phrase “the longer you live in a place, the longer you live”.  I found it a curious phrase, one that tended to be used on the death of a friend or neighbour I remember.  Like many of my grandmothers utterances,  I never stopped the conversation or brought it back to explore the particular phrase.  Regret for sure.

My Grandmother lived in a home where at least two generations had lived previously.  Her mothers father, Bill Malone had moved to the area during the famine that swept Ireland in 1847.  He moved with what he owned using a small Prong (local boat)as transport.  Rowing from a small area up the river Barrow called (from memory) Clearystown.  Did he marry in to an existing family?  I never heard my Gran talk on it, I certainly never thought to ask.  If he had, then obviously our homestead is a lot older than I imagined.

 My Gran, apart from her time living in homes as a maid spent her whole life in and around this acre of land in Cheekpoint beside the Suir.

She often lamented those that had to move away, those who had emigrated.  I remember her sadness, her thoughts far away, as she recalled the Great Western carrying the body of her dead brother home from England following a fall from scaffold on a building site in Brighton.  He laid in a hospital bed for a few weeks, enough for her father and brother to get across and be with him as he died.  Years later I saw a photo of the ship passing up the harbour within view of the house, carrying his body back to be buried. 

The photo was returned in an album from American cousins.  No doubt it was part of a package that was sent across, I imagine the letter long faded, that communicated the tragedy of Michael Moran’s death to his brother and extended family.

The American connection was also real and tangible.  As kids we used to get the packages, funny smelling clothes, stange designs and patterns that we never saw the like of, and bunches of school supplies.  At some point, these cousins arrived.  Strangely dressed, strangely accented.  They drove a car, and as a child I believed they drove from Long Island New York. 

Three brothers resided there belonging to my gran.  Only one would ever return to her, to die within a few short years, the other two died in America.  All dying, in her opinion, before their time.

I often wondered was it from this she took her saying.  This cycle of emigration, hard work and early death.  In her own way was she reflecting on an economic system that crushed the very life out of people.  If she was, it was an analysis that certainly never extended to the Catholic Church and it's role in our life.

I was reminded of her phrase as I watched Wendell Berry deliver the 41st Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, entitled “It All Turns on Affection,” from the Concert Hall of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on April 23rd, this year. http://events.tvworldwide.com/Events/NEH2012JeffersonLecture.aspx?VID=events%2Fneh%2F120423_NEH_Jefferson_Lecture_KennedyCtr.flv&Cap=events%2Fneh%2F120423_NEH_Jefferson_Lecture_KennedyCtr.xml

 Wendell championed the position of small farmers and their unique and intrinsic value to a small community.  He spoke of his own family, back to his grandfather in the 1890’s and how he was mistreated by big business, and almost reduced to penury.  He spoke of how his family has persisted however, how they had roots, how they belonged, identified with and gave value to a small piece of land and a small rural community that afforded them a meagre income. 

I thought of my gran as he spoke of abuse by the rich tobacco tycoon James B Duke how he had through political and economic control, essentially decided what he would pay to farmers, not what their crops were worth.  I remembered my grandmother’s story of the day she had sold a fish on her way to market.  How the fish monger heard and warned that if she ever did likewise, he would blacken her name and not only would he not buy her families fish, but neither would anyone else.

But I thought of her too in the love and genuine affection that both he has and she had for the place they were born.  For the place of family.  For the place of neighbours.  For the place of friends. 

I loved Wendell’s turn of phrase.  Obviously a well educated man.  But for all my Grans lack of an education, I loved hers more.  The longer you live in a place, the longer you live.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

principals of a sustainable rural community that I think are worth considering

From Wendell Berry
[The concept of "Mendo Island" is not to be isolationist or provincial, but rather to focus our attention and efforts locally, transitioning to more community-sufficiency, and in that process we also help those in far away places who are being devastated by the so-called "global economy" and "green revolution". -DS]
A community economy is not an economy in which well-placed persons can make a ‘killing’. It is an economy whose aim is generosity and a well-distributed and safeguarded abundance.
Wendell Berry is a strong defender of family, rural communities, and traditional family farms. These underlying principles could be described as ‘the preservation of ecological diversity and integrity, and the renewal, on sound cultural and ecological principles, of local economies and local communities:
1. Always ask of any proposed change or innovation: What will this do to our community? How will this affect our common wealth.
2. Always include local nature – the land, the water, the air, the native creatures – within the membership of the community.
3. Always ask how local needs might be supplied from local sources, including the mutual help of neighbors.
4. Always supply local needs first (and only then think of exporting products – first to nearby cities, then to others).
5. Understand the ultimate unsoundness of the industrial doctrine of ‘labor saving’ if that implies poor work, unemployment, or any kind of pollution or contamination.
6. Develop properly scaled value-adding industries for local products to ensure that the community does not become merely a colony of national or global economy.
7. Develop small-scale industries and businesses to support the local farm and/or forest economy.
8. Strive to supply as much of the community’s own energy as possible.
9. Strive to increase earnings (in whatever form) within the community for as long as possible before they are paid out.
10. Make sure that money paid into the local economy circulates within the community and decrease expenditures outside the community.
11. Make the community able to invest in itself by maintaining its properties, keeping itself clean (without dirtying some other place), caring for its old people, and teaching its children.
12. See that the old and young take care of one another. The young must learn from the old, not necessarily, and not always in school. There must be no institutionalized childcare and no homes for the aged. The community knows and remembers itself by the association of old and young.
13. Account for costs now conventionally hidden or externalized. Whenever possible, these must be debited against monetary income.
14. Look into the possible uses of local currency, community-funded loan programs, systems of barter, and the like.
15. Always be aware of the economic value of neighborly acts. In our time, the costs of living are greatly increased by the loss of neighborhood, which leaves people to face their calamities alone.
16. A rural community should always be acquainted and interconnected with community-minded people in nearby towns and cities.
17. A sustainable rural economy will depend on urban consumers loyal to local products. Therefore, we are talking about an economy that will always be more cooperative than competitive.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

road testing my template

Some responses to the key areas for the community plan

Rather than design a survey, I have used the mind mapping format to generate ideas for myself.  I am listing them here, and also some further notes on the survey idea.  Ray will also send on a sustainability template from previous word re Ireland-Newfoundland exchanges.
Need to revisit older community consultation processes – Weisbord etc

As I responded to prompts found that some flowed more easily into catagories so will need to change original key area.  Also whn looking at the responses found that some could more easily fit under the headings below.

People – retirement home, early years setting, community cafĂ©/meeting place, quality space to live in, socialise in, work in

Safety and security issues for locals

Health – prevention, access, complimentary, good food, healthy buildings, access to exercise etc

Environment – this is our future we need to protect it.  Habitats; strand, fields, woods, minaun, hedgerows, river, park, trees

Walks; marsh, minaun, woods, hurthill, church, glazing woods, faithlegg

Transport;  roads, place of cars, cycle, walking, footpaths, access to city, river

Energy – wind, river, bulk buying, future proofing, community ownership

Housing; social, second home/holiday home issue, living quality, energy efficiency, Radon, elderly, vacancy,

Heritage – Minaun, Farming, Fishing, Sea faring, river map, Bolton, schooling, Churchs, Ita’s well, Field /place names, (see also fishery plan)

Employment; dormant village – services thereof, social services elder care etc, resturants, pubs, cafes, shop, post office, heritage, fishing, farming, tourism, crafts, micro enterprises, working from home, broadband issues, walks, fishery skills
Fishery; sustainability, value add, respect, trips, angling, tourism, eels, salmon, sheelfish, cod, herring, shellfish

Need for a catch all – people may not know where to put an idea, what goes under specific category etc

Need for a pilot re its applicability

Saturday, 31 March 2012

thinking towards a community plan

Some notes on areas for an action plan

Possibility of using an electronic survey - survey monkey to do some initial information gathering via current email addresses of mine, the community alliance group and via the village facebook page.

Need to explore the potential of a community enterprise structure - >http://alternativeeconomicorganising.wordpress.com/

Need to consider a decision making and governance structure.

Need to explore potential funding for many of the activities.

Possible structure

People – Early years – youth – families – elderly:  Audit of needs

Services – what we have and what’s required for the area into the future

Employment – audit of what we have, the potential, the needs, the future needs – River –Fishing- Farming- Tourism – Heritage- Services -

Educational – Early years – Primary – Secondary – Tertiary – Adult – Community

Environmental – Transport – Housing – The river, The land – drinking water

Energy – future issues and how to meet these

Health – prevention – alternatives – access

Volunteer section - Human Resources to implement a plan

Possible methodology

·         Questionnaire based on key areas as above

·         Community meeting with stakeholders – representative of all groups in the community

Community Association

Parish Council

Development Group

Thursday Club

Primary School

Credit Union


Irish Country Woman’s Association

Book Club

Fisherman’s Association

Gaultier Historical group

Environmental Alliance

Friends of Cheekpoint Quay

St Vincent De Paul

·         A public consultation highlighting areas of interest, ideas generated, further input/critique

·         Write up of main plan followed by further consultation

·         Publication

Should we look for outside expertise to oversee the plan, bring some objectivity

Should we look for funding, and if so from where?

Need for a template around implementing the plan, needs to be SMART at a minimum

Need to initiate discussion, generate ideas, bring some critical analysis to getting peoples ideas around current/future issues ; environmental, social, economic

Need to identify some people to support this based on their current critical analysis and vision for a better future


Saturday, 24 March 2012

should we show tolerance to our neighbours

“We see people and things not as they are, but as we are” Anthony De Mello

These last few weeks of revisiting previous musings and re writing them in a reflective way has helped to refine some thoughts, but also to stimulate new ideas and directions.  A colleague has offered some critique of my views, that I tend towards pessimism, the glass half empty.  Rightly or wrongly it’s a perspective.  She also offered some new avenues for exploration which I have added to the fb page and which I can also explore as time comes to me. 

Two elements of my thinking are becoming clearer about my community.  That the ideas, initiatives, projects being discussed are disconnected from each other and as such are just reactions to opportunities, rather than a specific direction, or a clearly defined strategy.  Also that to engage with all in the community may be a struggle, as there is so much new blood, so many different lifestyles, so many different perspectives on life, community, work and play.

How do we encourage and engage with those new people.  Do we?

Some time back, while still studying I introduced a word into a workshop on defining community that once it was out of my mouth I felt it was like a snake in the room.  The word was tolerance.  Tolerance is a word that has been going around in my head a long time.  In speaking it out that night it was a revelation to me.  Not the discussion, or reactions or perspectives on the word but my own reflections on the word.  It offered an opportunity to reflect on my own community and the tolerance shown to new comers or blow ins. 

This notion of speaking out is a concept I learned many years ago, the value of speaking your mind in a safe place and even the hearing of the words allows us to rephrase it, reshape it or clear it out of our system. So tolerance.  not really a nice phrase.  consider - I show tolerance to my children, or I tolerate them, I tolerate my neighbours, I tolerate my friends.  Tolerance is a word often used by politicians or religious leaders etc to reflect an attitude to others opinions or beliefes.  But at the back of it in my opinion is a view that I/we are right, but we acknowledge your right to another view.

I have had a big problem with new comers to my small traditional fishing community.  I have stereotypes that pop into my head; labelling people as yuppies, SUV drivers, smart dressers, posh talkers, new money or “mortgaged to the hilt”.  I realise now that my images are determined by the experience of living where I do.  I don’t have issues with emigrants, refugees or asylum seekers for example.  They will never have access to my village.  The property prices are too high, the rent to exorbitant.  My connection with these will be secondary, through media, through services, through work as a community worker.

I come in contact with my new neighbours at the school, in the shop or church, walking on the road or at parties where we are invited by mutual friends or at our kids birthdays.  But the opportunities are rare and sometimes awkward.  For example the evening we christened our nephew over seven years ago.  Another child was being christened at the same time.  He was of a new family, developers and business people originally from Dublin.  We were at opposite sides of the church, or side was full, loud with children and casually dressed.  There’s was a small crowd, no children save the baby and as memory serves (though perhaps a value laden reflection!) all well groomed, men in collar, and if not tie, at least jackets.  But it was the priest that poured oil on the flames.  From the moment he started to speak the stereotypes abounded.  They were aimed at our family however, how he had christened so many (as if we bred like rabbits) or how the village could be called Dohertyland there were so many of us.

Perhaps the worst feeling towards the newcomers is that they are not locals.  The locals that I grew up with but who hadn’t land to build on or who weren’t lucky enough to inherit as I was are now living in Waterford city or elsewhere, generally because they can’t afford a site or a house in their own village.  The market has ruled, and it has ruled in favour of the well off.  This will be the reality for my children in years to come.  Where will they live, where will my grandchildren (if any) be raised?

 The reality is however, that locals have refused to sell to locals.  They have opted for the big money, they have held onto land in the hope of a big earner.  The new arrivals are not to blame, but it is easier to blame them than look at the reality of the housing market, government policy, how developers operate or the changes that are impacting on farmers.

 Another reality is that there have always been new people coming into the village.  My great, great grand father Bill Malone rowed to the village during the famine (1847) in his boat in the hope of finding food.  My fathers side came to Waterford as sail makers during the ship building period sometime during the early 18th Century.  People have married in also, including my wife, brother in law, sister in law.  So what is my problem.

Whats the difference now to the past, whats the difference to my wife and those building from outside.  I guess my wife is invited in, the other invites themselves.  Or is it that my wife has an introduction.  She is with a local, she fits in to an instant family, has sisters in law to talk to, visit or socialise with.  A thought for me is that what has changed in Ireland particularly in my generation is the opportunities for new comers to integrate.  In the past people who moved here, most usually worked here also, as farm labourers or as fishermen.  The kids went to school, they all went to church together, the pub was the central point.  Transport was poor, people had to get on with each other there was no escape. 

Essentially one of the biggest problems is that the changes that affected the country through the modernisation period we have experienced are having a significant impact on the ability of people to enter into community.  Not all children attend the local school, church attendance is low, despite the downturn people still work long hours outside the village (or abroad) and we now socialise more in our own homes than in the local pub.

The net effect of all that is that it is easier to sneer or ignore the new comers rather than as locals seeing ways to welcome them in.  It’s not that it would be too easy.  We are surrounded by messages about keeping to ourselves.  But in essence humans are social beings, we want to be part of, we want to get along, it’s important for us to be included.  What is a community if it is not united in some ways, comfortable with each other, mindful of our neighbours needs and at least open to understanding each other and respecting each other.

As a community worker I feel I should be looking at ways of welcoming people, providing opportunities to hear each other, to get to know each other to begin a process of building trust.  In essence its about breaking down barriers, starting with my own, my immediate family and beyond.  I don’t underestimate this however. 

I think there is a strong tendency in all of us to yearn for a gilded past, whether Tonnies Gemeinschaft, or a rural idyll, or Thomas Hardys “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” an innocent thrown to the mercy of the industrial age.  I have a strong urge towards both.

Yet if I am to have any clarity around what this community can be, how it will look in 100 years time, what direction it needs to go in, it will be a vision clarified, planned and driven by a mixture of old and new residents.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Why is empowerment so hard?

 “Community work is concerned . or should be concerned – with empowerment. By empowerment I mean empowerment through consciousness raising to active analysis rather than keeping the people happy where they are, or finding ways to keep them happy where they are. I think empowerment, rather than .capacity building., is particularly important at the moment. Don’t fool yourself, they are not the same. Capacity building is about stretching the elastic as far as it can go. Consciousness raising is about kicking the ball out into the next field and getting out yourself as well after it”

 Stasia Crickley: Head of Applied Social Studies,NUI Maynooth

 I’ve been stretching the elastic I feel.  This is what we have been given, now how can we make it work.  In work, structures, funding, deadlines, communication difficulties etc all combine to make thinking creatively or radically difficult.  Time for reflection, criticism, clarifying purpose or direction is limited.  Yet to be an agent of empowerment of oneself or a resource of others is what I set out on this life path for. 

 Even in my own community I struggle.  Work time, personal time, family time, educational time for the children, crisis time with family, voluntary work, relationship time.  Where to make the time?  How to create the space? Where to find the courage?

 Although I have practiced and experienced both capacity building and empowerment in my life and work, I know that empowerment leads to lasting change. But it’s the most difficult, to experience or to support.  It comes at a price. 

For me it can be broken down into two particular areas conscientisation and participation. 

 Conscientisation is the term used by the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire.  Through it local communities become aware of the impacts on them.  Via his action/reflection cycle community participants:

  • Think about their problem
  • Plan what steps to take
  • Act on their plan
  • Reflect on the outcomes and think and plan the next steps.
Participation is the other key element to empowerment.  Bakers ladder of participation defines the difference between what he terms on the lowest rung of the ladder pseudo participation, to the top which he calls community participation.   Information provision is what he determines as pseudo participation.  In this information is centrally decided on what is relevant, centrally generated and then dispersed with little or no mechanism for active feedback.

The next rung is community consultation.  Here the information is circulated in a controlling manner, the community or participants are asked for their opinion but have no real control on how their feedback is used.

The third rung is community representation.  Here members of the community get to sit on the respective decision making bodies and have a say. There are numerous issues with this representation from deficits in resources, capacity, skills, experience and the access to power brokers.

Finally community participation. This builds on the previous three rungs but here the local community is centrally involved in the decisions and are there for the implementation and evaluation of such decisions also. 

Empowerment for me is about both these elements working with people where they are at, reducing or removing the barriers to a minimum and essentially actioning the issues most relevant to a community as defined by the community.  But it comes at a cost.  Time. Commitment.  Energy.  Gradual change which flies in the face of many people’s yearning for instant results.  Ultimately it challenges the existing power holders in a community or society.  Who wants to lose control?  It’s a scary place for anyone.  Thus effective empowerment is a struggle, a hard slog, potentially frightening and difficult to deliver.   

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Whats equality?

Equality is seen as a fundamental right in a liberal economy such as Irelands. Equality of opportunity allows that all may have equal access to the opportunities to get on in life whatever their station, to get on and achieve. A term synonymous with equality of opportunity is the “trickle down effect”.

This economic notion (I think it was the Chicago School of Economics, as favoured by Reaganomics and Thatcher ism) that increasing economic opportunity and money in a society is dispersed throughout the economy and that everyone will feel the benefit. In Ireland it was described by such political luminaries as Bertram Ahern and Charles McCreevy as the rising tide that lifts all boats.

Community workers had, in my circle at least, long held the belief that the rising tide certainly doesn’t lift all boats and that the trickle down effect had little or no benefits at all for those on the margins of society. That the boats that even did rise, caught a different wave to our political and business elites, and are now left in negative equity, broke, redundant, or run ragged by hawkish banks. Equality of opportunity obviously has different rules according to status!

The notion that equality of opportunity, or participation for that matter, has any benefit, is laughable surely, if you lack the resources to participate. For example what is the point in a course being organised if you haven’t the transport to access it. Where is the sense of inviting citizens to a meeting, if the time don't suit, if the venue is inaccessible to a wheelchair. How can the illiterate read a poster. What if you can't afford the price?

According to Kathleen Lynch of University College Dublin's Equality Dept “Substantive equality depends not simply on having the formal right to participate but on having the actual ability and resources to exercise that right…”

Speaking at the Community Workers Conference some years back in Kilkenny, Lynch defined fours core equality issues in Irish society- economic, political, socio-cultural and affective. She stated that “The perpetuation of inequality would not be so politically acceptable however, without a legitimating ideology, a set of ideas that continues to justify current practice and make it seem plausible...the legitimating ideology of Irish education policy is that of neo-liberalism. The focus has been on equalising opportunities rather than equalising resources. Consequently, what has been achieved in education is a minimalist type of equality of access, but not equality of participation, and certainly not equality of outcome. At best, the goal has been to increase the proportionate representation of marginalised groups in the more privileged areas of education.”

For Lynch then the inequalities inherent in the Irish political system are so embedded that the only recourse is for equality of outcome or success. By this she means that all groups within a society marginalised or not would have “…equality between these groups in terms of access to, and the distribution of, educational, economic, cultural, political and other benefits.”

I realise that people laughed at these notions during the boom times in Ireland, but perhaps now their would be some greater insight and appreciation. There are certainly plenty of examples as to where the system has failed and continues to fail.

As a local community how is equality of outcome to be achieved. How could we ensure that all benefit equally, bearing in mind that many are starting with more than others. Is it easier if we look at it in terms of what as individuals we need. Some require jobs, some require esteem, some require friendship, some may just want to give something back.

Does it start then with trying to understand and appreciate what are each persons personal needs. Or is it something more collective, a statement perhaps. As a community we aspire to..., as a community we want... we will have succeeded when we have...

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Who cares what the locals think

How do we begin to move a community towards sustainability? What role can locals play in shaping their own futures? Surely the lead role. Surely the vast majority of control. Surely their voice, words and actions are preeminent. Local solutions to locally defined problems, in words that are locally not just understood, but acted upon.

But how well do we understand the issues. How prominent are issues of global warming, peak oil, sustainable agriculture and fishing or food miles etc. As individuals perhaps, but a collective perspective?

What are the benefits to reaching outside, harvesting the expertise of others, whether resources, concepts or skills. Experts. I’ve noticed a willingness of others to place their trust in the expertise of officials, guru’s, paid workers or lofty titled individuals, even over their own common sense.

I remember a discussion some time back about the founding “fathers” of sociology. Comte, Durkenhiem, Marx and Weber were the four mentioned. All these Men! contributed to the present understanding of what sociology is. Their ideas and concepts are the foundations that we use to understand modern society. I could see the relevance of their ideas and the need to understand them but I kept returning to a point in my head that its not just the theory that is important but equally relevant is how it is used (or abused) thereafter.

Even a working class man creating theories and/or developing methods of working to allow for social change can only control what is developed in as far as they have some power over it. The reality is that these methods will almost certainly be employed by others for their purposes.

People from different social class - experiences, values, expectations, would use and interpret any sociological research method in relation to their own experiences. They have this notion of being neutral or that they can stand aside from the research but can they?

Ok so apparently this is where research ethics comes charging in to the rescue. The idea being that you put it all out there on the page, where you are coming from, opinions, limits, expectations etc so that the reader can make a considered opinion on your perspective and thus be in a greater position to interpret your research. I have real issues with this though. I mean we can claim anything, pretend to be as honest as we like, but we all carry baggage, issues we are not even aware of, prejudices that we have been reared with. These just don’t get swept aside with an ability to write down a statement of ethics. These emotions /feelings so inherent within these prejudices can take years of working through.

I like the idea though that researchers can be active participants in the project and that they can be promoters and encouragers of solutions. But I have a hang up about say an American coming to Ireland and living amongst a community for a few years and defining the communities problems. I have problems about my own ability to do this elsewhere.

If people want to seriously do social or community research then why not enable local communities to do it themselves, interpret it themselves and define their own solutions, put them into practice and evaluate the outcomes, redefining solutions in light of achievements and difficulties.

Local research of locally defined problems generating local solutions.

I like this notion. I like it for my own concept of what effective community research could be and do. Outsiders do have a role. I acknowledge the ability, experience and knowledge of outside expertise. I can see the need for technical advice, possibly funding, certainly the need to sell outcomes that would require county council approval, govt departments buy in etc. But this outside influence should not create a dependant relationship. It should be at least equal, mutually respectful and recognise the strengths and abilities on both sides. At best it should be firmly rooted in the community being researched and controlled therein too.

Wonderful weeds

What can weeds tell us about community?

My Nan was a wonderful gardener.  She would spend her days bent over picking, thinning, admiring and chatting away to her flowers, shrubs and veg.  She would curse the weeds.  Ripping them out of the ground or later when arthritis had taken over her hips whack them back with her “sticks”.

She never used weed killers.  Frowned on them.  I never remember asking her why, so I don’t know if she had concerns about damaging the earth, its water sources, or bugs and such.  As a child I was just aware that she just didn’t appear to like them.  Much later when I took over her garden, I discovered I had much to learn from her practice and from books.  The notion of a weed being a flower in the wrong place.  The importance to butterflies of having nettles around. The role that dandelions played in herbal medicine.  The fun of learning their names and their uses. 

Why was it that I could find this information relevant and worthwhile, when others merrily sprayed and poured poisons with a gay and wilful abandon?  What creates the openness in some and blocks another.   How does this translate into living communities of people?

Who in community are the weeds and pests we want rid of.  In this country we have a proud tradition of sending away – Magdalene laundries, industrial schools, mental hospitals.  We send people to prison rather than try to understand their issues.  That the largest prison in the state is peopled with men from a handful of working class neighbourhoods in Dublin is so obviously an indicator of a social/housing issue as to be practically obvious.  But we prefer to look for other reasons?  Or do we think this deeply at all?

Recently I had the occasion to speak with a child psychologist about a particular child.  She has been troubled, going through a difficult time.  He listened more than spoke.  Exceptional ability kept coming up as a potential area of exploration.  I was confused for isn’t this rare.  Not to him, of the hundreds of children he sees most are just that – exceptional, gifted, and bright.  So bright that they can process a situation and react in the time that their parents/guardians/key workers  take to get the opening lines of their thinking out of their mouths.

These children are powerless however.  They live in an adult controlled world.  Their giftedness therefore becomes a curse. Because even though they need adult support, the assistance they most regularly receive is to be told, ordered, and quietened.  They get labelled as difficult or troubled.  They get medicated.  I know these techniques in other areas of my life.  Paulo Freire called it the banking method of education.  Kathleen Lynch of UCD’s equality Studies dept calls it the deficit model of education.  In community work we call it disempowerment.  In gardening terms, I guess we call it control!

Nils Christie, a Norwegian academic, has opined that to be part of any community is a privilege.  Now that’s a very different perspective.  An example from his writing, which spoke to me on many levels, was that even a criminal in a community, is more than just a criminal, he has a history, a past, present and hopefully a future.  Community suggests caring, suggests interest in, suggests guidance.  A person may do wrong, may go wayward, may slip, may just be plain fed up with us all, but they are still part of us. 

It is perhaps easier to dismiss and to label such a person when they are not from among us.  A criminal is to be mistrusted, shunned, not given a chance.  But when we know a criminal, when we know the story, when we remember him as a boy, remember what he has endured, he becomes more than just an action.  He has an identity, a name and a place in our reality, a context.

Being in the midst of those who make us uncomfortable, who we disagree with, who we mistrust, and who perhaps we don’t think we want or need, is part of living in a community.  They don’t have to be criminals; they can be the person next door, the priest, teacher, and our family.  We are forced on some level to come to terms with such people.  We cannot escape.  We pass them on the road, queue with them at the shop, and maybe pray with them at church.  This facing of, this coming to terms with, this acceptance at some level is good for us.   

I f my garden can tell me anything about my community, it’s that everyone needs to be respected and to have a voice.  Each person has a part of the solution in them.  It’s only by creating the space for this piece of solution to be offered, that a person can take a next step.

Just like our garden, maybe I need to try creating spaces that are less controlled, managed or planned.