Friday, September 27, 2013

World Suicide Prevention Day - fear, kindness and not being an asshole

On September 10th people from mental health organizations, the Inuit community and government officials gathered on Parliament Hill in Ottawa for World Suicide Prevention Day.

They talked about stigma, the need for awareness and education, and fear.  Fear to talk about suicide. Fear of not having the resources needed. Fear of be judged because of the stigma attached to suicide.

Plenty of things to be afraid of.

(PHOTOS: Jana Chytilova/CNW Group/Mental Health Commission of Canada)

In the wake of Irish poet Seamus Heany's death at the end of August (of natural causes) Micheal Enright's wrote an essay titled, Seamus Heany's poetry sheds light on our modern fears.  It's an excellent read that I heard Enright read aloud on CBC Radio One's The Sunday Edition a few weeks ago.  It includes a comprehensive list of possible fears like war, unemployment, the death of a loved one, our own mortality, a poisoned planet.

Lots and lots of things to fear.

But the essay ends with a quote from Heany's Nobel Prize lecture in Stockholm in 1995, "Walk on air, against your better judgement." Which, as Michael Enright says, was his dying message to his wife and to us. 

"Noli timere - Don't be afraid."

While we're busy trying not to be afraid, maybe another way to move toward preventing suicide in our country, and around the world, is to act with more kindness.

Is it easier to be kind or mean?

Author and professor George Saunders has and continues to influence my writing.  I'm not alone in this. He is listed on TIME's 2013 annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world.

In an interview he did with Hazlitt, he spoke about the organizing principle of his latest collection The Tenth of December

If there is an organizing principle in the stories, Saunders noticed that they seem "to be a lot about those occasions where human beings do the good things. How does that happen? What were the contributing factors to somebody actually finding the wherewithal to do the right thing in a given situation?"

This notion of acting with more kindness is also reflected in his address to grads of Syracuse University for the class of 2013. You can read the whole thing here.  

Speaking of University, it's September. 

Something that could induce suicidal thoughts this time of year is going back to school. Those of you in your twenties are maybe finishing University, or thinking about starting, or quitting and traveling through Cambodia or Argentina or wherever.

Which brings me to Cheryl Strayed, a person who doles out advice, informed and logical advice in my opinion, on life and love and generally how to be a better person and lead a fulfilling life.

So wherever you end up (if you're in you're twenties), below is some valuable advice that Strayed has for you (which is applicable at any age) from her book Tiny Beautiful Things:

" about ten times more magnanimous than you believe yourself capable of being.  Your life will be a hundred times better for it. This is good advice for anyone at any age, but particularly for people in their twenties.  Why?  Because in your twenties you're becoming who you're going to be and so you might as well not be an asshole. Also, it's harder to be magnanimous when you're in your twenties, I think, and so that's why I'd like to remind you of it. You're generally less humble in that decade than you'll ever be and this lack of humility is oddly mixed with insecurity and uncertainty and fear. You will learn a lot of about yourself if you stretch in the direction of goodness, of bigness, of kindenss, of forgiveness, of emotional bravery. Be a warrior for love."

Is acting with more generosity, more humility and less selfishness going to prevent suicide?

I don't know.

But I think it's worth a try.

A passage from Seamus Heaney's Cure at Troy, is often quoted at times where speakers want to invoke a sense of hope after a terrible event. It was coincidentally mentioned at the speeches on Parliament Hill.

Below is Heany's poem, Mint, introduced to me by a writer friend.

Check out the last two lines. "Because we failed them in our disregard"

Are we failing those who are contemplating suicide by disregarding them like an overgrown wild plant?  Do we turn against people because we are afraid?  Are we afraid of people who might in some way also spell promise and newness in the back yard of our life?

Noli timere indeed.


It looked like a clump of small dusty nettles
Growing wild at the gable of the house 
Beyond where we dumped our refuse and old bottles:
Unverdant ever, almost beneath notice.

But, to be fair, it also spelled promise
And newness in the back yard of our life
As if something callow but tenacious
Sauntered in our green alleys and grew rife. 

The snip of scissor blades, the light of Sunday
Mornings when the mint was cut and loved:
My last things will be first things slipping from me.
Yet all things go free that have survived.

Let the smells of mint go heady and defenceless
Like inmates liberated in that yard.
Like the disregarded ones we turned against 
Because we'd failed them in our disregard.

No comments:

Post a Comment