by Niall Doherty

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My three-year stint in the United States has come to an end. I’ll be back in Ireland by the time you read this post. I’m staying for a few months, getting my business up and running, then moving to Spain before May 1, 2011.

But I have some big things I want to accomplish while I’m here. I don’t like seeing my country make depressing headlines around the world, and I’d like to be part of the solution.

What’s wrong with Ireland?

The other day I asked my Irish friends on Facebook this simple question: In three words or less, what’s wrong with Ireland?

The vast majority of the answers were as I expected: The government, Fianna Fail, the EU bank, greed, etc. etc.

Note the pattern with answers like these: they all come from a victim mentality.

Our leaders failed us, and now we’re fucked. It’s not our fault we’re in this mess. There’s nothing we can do to fix it. Hopefully those gobshites in power get their act together before the country implodes completely.

I have a theory about the victim mentality in Ireland. I never really noticed it growing up here. But that’s the funny thing about going away for a while; you start to see things differently, alternative viewpoints, different ways of thinking.

And I’m not alone here. The vast majority of Irish emigrants I’ve met express similar sentiments: Ireland can be an overwhelmingly negative and begrudging place. (It’s fine if you disagree with that, but if you’ve never spent significant time living abroad, realize that you have a narrow frame of reference.)

But where does this come from? My theory is that it comes from the 800 years of oppression by the English. For generation after generation, the Irish people literally were not allowed be too happy, too successful, too progressive. That oppression seems to have seeped into the collective consciousness of the country.

We shake our heads at people who dare to stand up and fight for what they believe in, wishing they’d shut up and stop making such a scene. We may have forgotten that it was just such heretical behavior that ended up freeing Ireland from British rule.

We also seem to quite enjoy telling our friends and family not to get their hopes up.

Don’t dream too big, don’t try too hard. The lower your expectations, the less disappointed you’ll be when things inevitably go arseways.

And we worry so much about what others think of us, even if those others are people we don’t like or respect. We sacrifice our deepest beliefs and give up on our biggest dreams because we’d rather not have them talking about us down at the pub on a Friday night.

(Side note: if you this post doesn’t prompt you to be part of the solution, please do me at least one small favor: When you see someone who is trying to make a positive difference, don’t belittle or ridicule them. Just get out of their way.)

Personal responsibility

I’ve written before about Circle of Influence and Circle of Concern, but I’m going to go over it again here, because it’s important.


The diagram looks like this:

It seems most Irish people focus the bulk of their attention beyond their circle of influence. We spend time and energy discussing the economy, the government, the weather, professional sports, world politics, last night’s telly, the latest celebrity scandal, and on and on. Such discussions have their place. I’m not saying we should never discuss these things. But these issues are beyond our control. Spending all that time and energy thinking about them, talking about them, worrying about them, it results in very little, if any, positive difference in the world.

What does make a positive difference is when we shift the majority of our attention to issues within our circle of influence. Your own personal development is within that circle. Community betterment is within that circle. Honing your professional skills and serving your customers and clients better is within that circle. Reducing your impact on the environment is within that circle. Living a healthy lifestyle is within that circle. Being a great parent, brother, sister, friend; all within that circle.

The really nice thing about focusing primarily on your circle of influence, is that the circle grows over time. You might not have much say in what your local government does now, but get busy becoming an important business leader or respected environmentalist and suddenly your voice carries more weight.

In Ireland, I see a lot of people complaining about the current state of affairs. Granted, the country isn’t looking too hot right now. But hopefully you realize that talking about it and worrying about it doesn’t change much. It’s a waste of energy.

The way out is to ask yourself one question: “What can I do to make things better?”

We’re talking about personal responsibility. You don’t have to take on something big and scary; just start small.

  • What can you do to make your own life better? It could be as simple as making a positive change in your diet and exercise habits.
  • What can you do to make your family life better? It could be as simple as taking time each day to really listen to someone close to you.
  • What can you do to make your community better? It could be as simple as picking up other people’s rubbish as you’re walking down the road, or offering your professional skills pro bono for the good of the neighborhood.

This might all sound like small stuff, like it won’t make much difference. But believe me, it does. A country is a collection of individuals. If each individual gets better, the country gets better. It’s that simple.

Yes, the banks and the government failed us. Yes, certain people and parties should be held accountable. Yes, we should not soon forget these failures (or we’ll end up making the same mistakes again). But the best thing we can do for our country doesn’t involve pointing fingers and assigning blame. It involves each individual taking personal responsibility and doing what they can to make things better.

If you’re with me at all on this, please get in touch. As I said, I’m not staying in Ireland for long (the vagabond lifestyle awaits), but I hope to make a significant positive difference while I’m here. I’ll need your support to do the best I can.

And I realize I have a lot to learn. I don’t have all the answers, far from it. So if you disagree with anything above or believe I’m missing something important, please let me know in the comments. Mature, open-minded discussion is another way for us all to get better.

Mise le meas.