By Professor Connell Fanning Our world is now one where for many it has become something of a cultivated pose to eschew reading, wholeheartedly proclaim reading little or nothing much as a badge of honour, and smugly, if not contentiously or combatively, demand an instant reason as to what’s the point of reading . The life journey of an open mind recounted in Mr O’Mahony’s memoir Creating Space: The Education of a Broadcaster is a considered and definitive answer. This lovely book from an attractive mind is the perfect antidote to the infection of indifference from anyone who says they do not mind what they read and that anything is good enough if they were to read at all. There is no contest as to whose company one would choose. The mind revealed here is an example of good company for the right journey through life. O’Mahony’s journey illustrates Jacques Barzun’s notion that “…. when the will to self-searching has you by the throat, there is immense value in being able to find a Self” and of what he called a “well-made Self”: a solid entity that you can trust, because you have made it yourself, and made it well. A well-made Self is not a haphazard collection of habits and prejudices, of notions and fancies: it is an ordered set of reflections, conclusions and convictions and of how the task of continually bringing these elements together and putting some order among them requires an outside stimulus and a discipline … [which] for most people … are deliberately chosen. They take the form of getting outside one’s routine and filling the mind with vicarious experiences. This is best done through reading. Creating Space: The Education of a Broadcaster is a lovely book – well-written, enjoyable, uplifting and enlightening memoir of an iconic broadcaster which conveys beautifully how serious, in the proper (not po-faced) sense, the author was about his mind, his thinking, and his understanding of the world and people. Most of all it tells how he created space for a real education – a self-authored book by a self-authoring mind. While highly recommended for a satisfying holiday read, you may have to go to some trouble to get a copy as the publisher seems to have gone AWOL, at least in my experience. I happened upon it on a table in the Liam Ruiseal bookshop in Oliver Plunkett Street in Cork a few weeks ago. I took the 3 copies in stock after reading the fascinating chapter on ‘Building a Personal Library’. Since then I stop in almost daily to see if stock has been replenished and also search Waterstones and Easons as I prefer to buy from real bookshops when I can. No sign of it. Curiosity got me to phone the publisher (The Liffey Press at 01 8511458 given on the website) a number of times over a few days and each time the number rang out and went to message recording. This may be a Cork … Read More
Today is Hannah Arendt’s 110th Birthday and to celebrate it we have opened a few more places to our Film Club starting on Tuesday 18th October at the new fabulous Cameo Cinema at The Montenotte Hotel, Cork. We invite you to join our unique programme to re-fresh and develop your faculty of judgement by exercising how to think with some of her great ideas. This is a powerful way to practice making better judgments, to enhance understanding of self and to improve how you relate to others. For details and booking: click here.
As the 80th anniversary of one of the most influential books of the twentieth century – John Maynard Keynes’s The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936) – passes, it is a puzzle that this book was listed in 2005 as one of the most harmful books of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by an influential media voice in the U.S. The claim made is that the book is “a recipe for ever-expanding government. This claim is highly dubious as even a cursory perusal of the book would easily confirm. But, even if the claim about government were valid, it would not justify putting Keynes’s book in a list which includes Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf and Mao Zedong’s Quotations from Chairman Mao. It can be easily ascertained that people who are so judgmental can’t even have looked the book over, not to mind read or studied the book. Also, it is simply not credible that an author of Keynes’s integrity could express the philosophy he did in many of his writings and then go on to write a book in the same category as those by two of the most inhumane and murderous political leaders of the twentieth century. What can Keynes do for Ireland in 2016? Keynes was always committed to bettering this world for all people in all he did and expressed his ideas for a good society in many places throughout his life. The ideas which guided and motivated his actions were concisely expressed in 1916: “The outstanding ideals of the economic society in which we live are its failure to provide for full employment and in arbitrary and inequitable distribution of wealth and income.” While Ireland is close to commemorating the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rebellion with its iconic Proclamation – the address of “The Provisional Government of the Irish Republic to the People of Ireland” – with its emphasis on freedom, equality, prosperity, and happiness, it is worth noting that Keynes in the same year was echoing similar sentiments which still remain unfulfilled one hundred years later. The reason is that what Keynes called in 1926 “the political problem of mankind” has not been solved by political leaders: “The political problem of mankind is to combine three things; Economic Efficiency, Social Justice, and Individual Liberty. The first needs criticism, precaution and technical knowledge; the second, an unselfish and enthusiastic spirit which loves the ordinary man; the third, tolerance, breadth, appreciation of the excellences of variety and independence, which prefers above everything, to give unhindered opportunity to the exceptional and to the aspiring”. This philosophy resonates with the challenges for political leadership in the Irish situation following the indecisive results of the election on Friday last. As the elected representatives scramble to form a new Government and get their hands on the levers of state power, it would do no harm were they to give themselves some reflective space to contemplate the three aspects which Keynes suggested needed to be combined for a good … Read More
“…. when the will to self-searching has you by the throat, there is immense value in being able to find a Self: that is to say, a solid entity that you can trust, because you have made it yourself, and made it well. A well-made Self is not a haphazard collection of habits and prejudices, of notions and fancies: it is an ordered set of reflections, conclusions and convictions. Now the task of continually bringing these elements together and putting some order among them requires an outside stimulus and a discipline. This stimulus may be of the regrettable kind, such as a grave illness or a great sorrow; or it may be a strong and sustained religious faith. But for most people, the stimulus and discipline are deliberately chosen. They take the form of getting outside one’s routine and filling the mind with vicarious experiences. This is best done through reading.” Jacques Barzun, An American Commencement (1987), in A Jacques Barzun Reader, Harper Collins, 2002:511-2
In a world of seemingly less and less time for good reading – with room for reflection and meaningful conversation – the question of what to read becomes increasingly problematic, not least in the expectation that everything must have immediate usefulness. Understandably, we often look to others for guidance, suggestions and to ‘like’ and ‘follow’. This only shifts what to read to whom we listen – not all together bad if the company we choose is good company for the right journey. David Brooks, the well-known New York Times Op-Ed columnist, as is clear from many of his columns, takes reading seriously and so we find him to be a good reader and good company when looking for interesting and stimulating reading. At the end of every year he ‘presents’ his Sidney Awards, which he calls after the independent-minded philosopher Sidney Hook, for the best long-form essays of the year. Long-form Essays allow for more substance and development of ideas in a way that cannot be developed in short articles and certainly not in 140 characters which has become the dominant mode of communication. Here are his ‘finalists’ for 2015: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/18/opinion/the-2015-sidney-awards.html http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/22/opinion/the-2015-sidney-awards-part-2.html
Our Associate Practitioner Assumpta O’Kane does a useful exercise with people in which she asks them to think of someone they know whom they would seek out for ‘good conversation’. She then asks them to write down phrases which capture the character of that person and conversations with them. The participants then share their thoughts. Invariably, people describe their good conversationalist as someone with “the growth mindset”, as Carol Dweck in Mindsets calls it, in contrast to “the fixed mindset”. Sample from Assumpta’s recent session with our Reading for Change Book Club In a recent letter in the Irish Examiner newspaper, a friend of the Centre, Margaret Humphreys, lamented the fracturing of the “art of pleasant face-to-face conversation” in response to Michelle Murphy’s article Why we are all talked out with our heads in a smartphone in the same newspaper. Margaret asks: “What can be more pleasant than meeting up with friends?” She suggests that being constantly available for interruptions and instant responses and “massaging touch-screens” on smartphones and other devices is definitely not the recipe for the good conversation at the “heart of existence” and the enjoyment of “the gift of comradeship”. Two weeks later in the same newspaper, our neighbour here in the UCC Business Research Centres, Tom Butler, challenges the digital myth of electronic devices in the classroom and lists quite a number of unintended undesirable consequences for children’s education. One of these is the undermining of ‘social skills’. The most important of all social skills for the quality of society, in our view, is the art of good conversation coupled with the ability to think together.