Creating a Better Environment

Psychology touches every aspect of human behaviour – social, educational, economic, political, philosophical, scientific media, religious. We are psychological beings and we operate out from individual interior worlds creatively constructed in response to what we encounter in the outside worlds of family, community, wider society, nationally and internationally. Acknowledgement of the reality that all words and actions arise from each person’s interior world and that, ultimately, responsibility lies with the individual, is a pill that is difficult to swallow in a culture where judgement and criticism is more common than compassion and understanding. Again, my spiritual mentor, John O Donohue, puts it so well – ‘the process of self-discovery is not easy; it may involve suffering, doubt, discovery. But we must not shrink from the fullness of our being in order to reduce the pain.’

Self-realisation leads to accountability and responsibility for self and all our actions; when these latter qualities of maturity are not present, then what exists are threats to personal, interpersonal and societal wellbeing. Nevertheless, these very threats are a cry out from our true nature for resolution of what hides our fullness.

At the present time, our country and most of the Western world are struggling with a major economic recession. Ireland is doing well in terms of fiscal rectitude; I still have grave concerns about the emotional and social rectitude that is required but not yet emerging. I believe one of the economic ways to stimulate emotional-social-economic prosperity is tourism. We have an amazingly beautiful island and given that hotel, restaurant and other tourist costs have considerably reduced, there is a great possibility of increasing tourism from both within and without the country. One of the blights on our landscape that may militate against the economic recovery is litter. I have been very conscious over the last number of months of the rubbish strewn along the sides of the M8 from Dunkettle, Cork roundabout to Fermoy, particularly, the first two or three miles. Cork city has been hailed as a ‘must see’ city and it would be a pity for that image to be tarnished by the trail of litter to the main entry and departure routes from the city. Incidentally, the littering of our roadways is widespread and few byroads escape not only the discarded empty cans and wrappers but also major household waste and even pieces of furniture and electrical items.

There may be many psychological reasons why individuals dump their litter from their cars. Possibilities are that they have been psychologically ‘rubbished’ or ‘dumped upon’ or that in their inner relationship with themselves they ‘rubbish’ themselves and allow others ‘to dump’ their problems on them. When such psychological issues exist what tends to happen is an unwitting re-enactment in a behavioural way of these relationship issues in the hope that somebody will detect the personal and interpersonal suffering that is present for the individuals who are ‘dumping their rubbish’ on the countryside.  Of course, there may also be social issues underpinning why people litter – such as poverty and unemployment or the injustice of being landed with the banks debts.

Whatever the causes are, there is a need to create an ethos where it’s ‘cool to keep Cork clean’ or ‘cool to keep Ireland clean.’  Interestingly, in South Africa, where there is massive poverty, when I travel long distances there, I do not come across one potato crisp bag or soft drinks plastic bottle on roadsides. Somehow, a pride in the beauty of the country has been evoked in South Africa. We managed here in Ireland to lead the world in creating an ethos where smoking in public places became taboo and, similarly, with the drink-driving campaign, responsible alcohol consumption is slowly, but surely, emerging. We now need to put our creative heads together to create an ethos among all Irish national and foreign nationals, to take pride in our beautiful island, whilst at the same time finding a way to acknowledge the hurts, doubts, grievances and injustices that can be the sources of littering. Ultimately, it is about each of us seeing the beauty of our own unique and unrepeatable nature but, as noted, that can be a long journey of self-discovery. Fines certainly act as a deterrent but somehow ‘Cleaner Ireland’ campaigns need to appeal to our finer nature. Education in terms of civic pride and responsibility is important as is modelling by adults for children of maintenance of the beauty of our landscape. Competitions in schools for creative ways to be ‘litter free’ could stimulate motivation and media encouragement and rewarding of ideas could accelerate the process of a cleaner Ireland. Some companies and communities have ‘adopted a road’ and arrange for regular clean-ups – an initiative that can be multiplied nationally. Whatever it takes – let us continue to find ways to have an eye-pleasing rather than an eye-sore environment.

Dr. Tony Humphreys is a clinical psychologist, author, national and international speaker. His book ‘Leadership with Consciousness’ is relevant to this article.