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The latest report on child abuse in the Dublin Archdiocese does not fail to shock. The abuse itself is chilling, depressing and appalling, but compounding it is the behaviour of senior bishops and cardinals as they conspired – over a 40 year period – to cover up the scale of the scandal throughout the Dublin area. A new word has been added to the common lexicon – “mental reservation“: where bishops could freely excuse themselves from telling the truth when under pressure to do so. The welfare of children was of little importance to these men, and the resultant suffering is incalculable.

Mary Raftery neatly sums up the gravity of this report and it’s implications for the Catholic Church in Ireland. One passage in particular stands out:

What emerges most clearly from the report is that priests, bishops, archbishops and cardinals had the greatest difficulty in telling right from wrong, and crucially that their determination of what constituted wrongdoing was vastly different from that of the population at large.

Let’s think about that, for a second. The Catholic Church, like most religions, believes that the greatest value it confers to society is its ability to guide people in distinguishing right from wrong. And yet, it’s most eminent leaders and scholars behaved – and still behave – in a way that would lead you to the firm conclusion that, despite their years of learning, refinement and experience, they have no clue as to what is commonly accepted as morally acceptable or morally abhorrent behaviour. If the very leaders of this church can’t distinguish between right and wrong, what use is Catholicism at all? Why should any sane society uncritically accept the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church in our schools? What real benefit does it offer our children?

The implications of the report are clear: The Church badly needs to be removed from the affairs of the Irish State. Let the parents and teachers teach our children right from wrong – they will do a better job. The churchmen had their chance for long time and they blew it. Enough is enough.

I’ve just posted this article to some local newspapers as part of my job as PRO for our local Toastmasters club, but I thought I would post it here also, as it’s a subject that interests me greatly. Please let me know what you think. Would you have anything to add?

One of the most important life skills is the ability to start and hold a conversation with new people. Conversation is an art that requires tact, understanding and self-knowledge.

When starting out on a conversation with strangers it usually works to think small. Small-talk on topics such as the weather, the immediate surroundings, a recent news or sporting event or a pleasant comment about what the other person is wearing can be a very effective way of beginning a dialogue between two people. Small talk is particularly good for two reasons – it will help you both start from a common, neutral position and it will also give you an indication if the other person is interested in a conversation at all. Sometimes, for whatever reason, people might not want to talk and that’s OK. A flat response to an innocuous topic is signal enough to end the conversation and move on.

Things that get most people talking are topics to do with themselves. You can use the FORE technique – Family, Occupation, Recreation and Education. How are the kids doing? What project are you working on? What sports are you interested in? Where did you go to school? All these questions may open doors to the other person’s life, making it easy for them to talk with ease.

A useful approach in conversations is to use open ended questions. Questions starting with “Did”, “Are”, “Can” or “Is” are fine in a court of law, but might not move the conversation forward as they may only elicit “yes” and “no” responses. Instead, you should ask open questions that require the other person to elaborate. “What”, “How”, “When” and “Why” type questions are often much more appropriate if you want to get a conversation moving.

When conversing with strangers it is good practice to keep the conversation positive and to avoid negativity as much as possible. Criticism or sarcasm, whether direct or implied, can have an immediate effect of putting others on the defensive and closing them down. If your aim is to get the other person talking, but you disagree with what they have just said, you are often better off staying quiet or perhaps adding a different perspective, than flat out contradicting them.

Finally and most importantly, you need to actively listen to what the other person is saying. Repeating, paraphrasing, building on what the other person has said or adding an anecdote or a bit of humour helps to make people feel at ease and keep the conversation flowing.

You might note from this article that the art of a good conversationalist is to focus on the interests, opinions and experiences of the other person, not you. People will often leave with a good impression of you when they feel they have been truly listened to and not subjected to a monologue about your thoughts and attitudes. Economy can sometimes be the key to a successful conversation.

Dimitri Dempsey

Spot the difference? Me neither.

The Irish Minister for Transport, Mr. Noel Dempsey, announced yesterday that he is determined to press ahead with tough new bullshit limits in the face of a backbench revolt.

Mr Dempsey, who works every second night as the President of Russia, announced that new gulags would be built in Siberia for public personalities who were caught with over 5 miligrams of bullshit in their public utterances. Up to now, the limit has been set at 8 miligrams, which is far higher than all other EU countries excluding the UK.

At a party meeting last week, representatives within Dempsey’s own party forcefully expressed their opposition to this move. Some are threatening to vote against the legislation when it appears before parliament. Mattie McGrath, from Tipperary, said that bullshit could relax jumpy parliamentarians and that he was partial to a bit of bullshit himself on occasion to make any of his public utterances even halfway coherent.

The most vociferous comments came from Jackie Healy-Rae in Kerry, who said that high levels of bullshit should be a mandatory requirement for all parliamentarians. “I’ve often used plenty of bullshit in my speeches, and it never did me a bit of harm”. He cites former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, “who was well known to use 90 miligrams of bullshit any chance he could get, and did they lock him up for it? Not a chance.”

Sources believe that Minister Dempsey has a difficult road ahead of him. According to one source, the legislation is dead at the starting blocks. “The level of bullshit in public use these days is so bad that it won’t happen without massive investment in Garda resources”, she said. “Gardai will need to invest in state of the art bullshit detectors while the number of random bullshit tests will need to be doubled, or even tripled. Who is going to pay for that?”. It currently believed that the new limits won’t become law before 2011.

The minister himself was unable for comment this morning. He was was in Vladivostok opening a new missile defense installation.

Berlin Wall

Photo: GothPhil (Flickr - cc licensed)

Today marks the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, an event I remember as if it were yesterday. The fall of the Berlin Wall was the high point of an astonishing period in world history, beginning with the fall of the Polish government in June 1989 and culminating in the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. In the space of a few months, the world changed utterly. The message, at least for a while, was one of hope: that repressive regimes can come to an end when the conditions are right.

Ten years before this, another political change took place in Iran, when the Ayatollah Khomeini wrested power from the Shah in a popular uprising that swept the nation. Khomeini created an Islamic Republic, supposedly freeing the country from the yoke of dictatorship and setting up a kind of utopia on Earth along Islamic principles. This new Iranian state quickly revealed itself to be just another tawdry dictatorship in clerical disguise, and now the youth of Iran are fighting for the same freedoms as their parents, thirty years ago.  Some are paying with their lives.

Iranian protest

Photo: faramarz (Flickr - cc licensed)

If history is any guide, rotten regimes often  succumb eventually to a combination of relentless external and internal pressures. These pressures do not need to be violent, but they do need to be sustained. We can only hope that this will be soon be the fate of the current Iranian republic.

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