Kathy Sheridan: We should stop cribbing about the ‘small stuff’ – and think big

‘Cynicism is not the same as a healthy, non-shrill scepticism (witness Catherine Murphy)’

Many who have experienced serious illness must have read Una Mullally's column on Monday with a great spark of recognition. She wrote about the perspective gained and about learning to mute the constant soundtrack of negativity from people sweating the small stuff.

“Small” stuff is subjective, of course. Your small stuff – the company pension provision, say – could be my exceedingly big stuff, depending on our respective ages. But some stuff is universal. One hangover of my brush with illness a couple of years ago is a resounding new intolerance of people who whinge about stuff such as delayed flights. Comment threads are rarely funny, but I laughed out loud at a maddened poster who wondered if one flight under discussion had been operated by Médecins Sans Frontières , such were the terrible maladies of almost everyone on board what was, in fact, a holiday flight. Yes, there were sodding awful inconveniences for everyone involved, but perspective is when you think about the extraordinary multiple privileges of being healthy, free and solvent enough to take a holiday flight in the first place.

Constant negativity is exhausting and not only for the reader/listener. Ireland’s crash into fiscal hell has taught us to be pessimistic, distrustful, deeply cynical. When we attempt a wary step towards the bright side, some niggling voice will remind us of Bertie Ahern’s bubble-time remarks to an applauding Ictu audience, “I don’t know how people sitting on the sidelines, cribbing and moaning... don’t commit suicide...”

That was a long, harrowing eight years ago. And just as Watergate (which brought down a president) persuaded every budding journalist that no story, however trivial, was not a conspiracy that didn’t go all the way to the top, the Irish public has been persuaded that no official data, no one in authority, no elected politician associated with the ancien regime is to be trusted. But the flipside of this blanket rejection is that the new-era cribbers and moaners are deemed to be an unalloyed good and anyone who thinks otherwise is a right-wing stooge. That’s hardly healthy either.


Some perspective isn't hard to find. A glance at Twitter over the weekend revealed the following : an image of a distraught Syrian refugee being arrested in front of his young family; a close-up of an Israeli soldier trying to arrest a boy with a broken arm; the Baltimore Sun's profiles of the 45 people killed in July, the deadliest month in the city's modern history; the three journalists sentenced to three years by an Egyptian court for doing their job.

All this followed a week when 71 men, women and children were found decomposing in a suffocating meat truck on our wealthy continent. When a gunfight between the Greek coast guard and smugglers left a 15-year-old dead. While Islamic State pursued its barbaric campaign of sexual slavery and destruction of ancient historical sites on one side of the world, on the other, the Republican frontrunner for the US presidency retweeted a message addressed to him about Megyn Kelly, the Fox News anchor who asked about his disgusting attitude towards women. It read: "The bimbo back in town. I hope not for long." In Britain, the frontrunner for the Labour party leadership proposed segregated rail carriages for women. And the Economist tweeted a story about our own little island, headlined: "Northern Ireland's fragile government is in danger of collapsing."

Meanwhile, participants in Saturday's big Right2Water rally were also on Twitter. Sinn Féiners was complaining RTÉ had deliberately edited coverage to exclude the party's involvement. A prominent non-party protester retweeted an objection to The Irish Times online's decision to put the water protest below a column about the IRA's allegedly massive global assets. Elsewhere, some of the original anti-water charges campaigners expressed concern that "some political parties" would use the campaign for their own election ends. As if. And Right2Water's Brendan Ogle talked about standing candidates of its own in the election. And so, the battle for individuality ratchets up.

It’s a fact of life that a political party’s job is to distinguish itself from all the others. Those who do it with relentlessly negative rhetoric and unrealistic promises carry a heavy responsibility. Cynicism is not the same as a healthy, non-shrill scepticism (witness Catherine Murphy). Peddling unrealistic promises is not the same as offering hope (witness the people of Greece).

Relentless negativity kills the little shoots of optimism that get us out of bed every day. This country has problems. The charge sheet is out there: mental health services, child poverty, guidance counsellors, A&E, homelessness. But an election is in sight with unprecedented, myriad choices and proportional representation, a system many of our near neighbours would give their right arms for.

We could focus on another set of Twitter images carried over the weekend: those inspiring scenes from football terraces across Germany, of fans hoisting enormous banners, proclaiming "Welcome refugees". Now that's what I call perspective.

Twitter: @kathysheridanIT