Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Workshop in Belfast on the Day after the American Election

Entry for 4 November:

Months ago I agreed to cover the Belfast one-day workshop in our ESRC-funded grant project on developing research training capacity in counselling trainers. This was originally intended as a feeder for our five-day summer school program, but the Belfast workshop got scheduled after the summer school, so now it’s a feeder for a possible 2009 summer school.

Rather than attempt the whole thing in one day, I flew in last night, election day in the US. Diane and I had voted weeks ago by absentee ballot, so it was all over but the waiting for us. It was an eerie feeling, flying into a foreign city on election night, temporarily homeless. At some point, I remembered sitting in the Lodi Public Library on election night in 1960, waiting for my dad to finish up at the office and pick me up to take me home, filled with a sense of lonely dislocation, as large historical forces ground themselves into a new alignment, marking the beginning of a new era. Last night, this impression was rendered stronger by the fact that I am in the midst of a very bad cold, hacking, coughing and congested.

I had dinner with Jean McMinn, a faculty member on the counselling course at Queens University in Belfast; she had asked for the opportunity to pick my brain about what might be entailed in their setting up a new research clinic in the School of Education. I was happy to do this, and in spite of feeling unwell, it was a most interesting evening, as she spoke of the legacy of The Troubles, the long civil war in Northern Ireland, that is still too toxic to discuss openly when counsellor and client are unsure of each other’s position before the ceasefire 13 years ago (“How would my therapist feel if she knew that I was an IRA supporter?”).

My cough made it difficult to sleep, and the unfolding drama of the election returns proved to be too big a temptation for me to resist; I got up and checked the news at 1:30am GMT (8:30pm in Ohio) and again at 3:30am, watching the fascination of British television with this historic election. I was watching at 4am, as the polls closed on the west coast, they called the election for Obama, and at 4:30 when McCain gracefully and movingly conceded the election. I felt deeply moved, to tears, as I watched the crowds in Chicago and New York City, gathered mark the occasion and to celebrate. One of the many factors in our move to Scotland was our embarrassment at being associated with a country with such an inept, narrow-minded administration, which we saw as moving us all rapidly toward becoming a police state, and which was elected to office by the American people, including our neighbors in Toledo, not just once but twice. As I watched, I felt the beginning of a deep tectonic reversal, and even felt a bit of hope and pride that just maybe we had finally gotten something right.

This morning I got up, somewhat worse for the wear, and met Kaye Richards in the lobby for the walk over to the Queens University School of Education. We had 14 attendees, a varied lot including local counselling course faculty, some folks up from Trinity College Dublin (Laco’s haunt), a couple of nervous CBT therapists fearing ostracism, and several others. On reviewing their hopes and fears (a standard ritual in counselling training events in the UK), it quickly became obvious that we were never going approach being able to meet the needs this diverse but fascinating group.

We resigned ourselves to being as entertaining as possible: Kaye balanced on her high heels while she outlined the context of the RDI project and BACP’s proposed Core Curriculum; I turned John McLeod’s potted tour of the history of psychotherapy research into breathless race through the main research findings from thousands of research studies, alternating passion and cynicism, while shamelessly plugging Mick’s new book; we dropped the canned voice-over powerpoint presentation on evaluation research in favour of an extended version of my outcome monitoring/stealth quantitative input; we allayed the CBT therapists' fears by providing them the opportunity to be heard and respected; and we ended up helping the group think about setting up their own Northern Ireland Counselling Research Google Group. In between, there was the now-familiar ritual of attendees coming up to us to ask us about their research ideas. Before leaving, I met for a bit with Jean and her head of school, Tony, to discuss ideas about the possible Queens University research clinic.

On the hour-long way back to the airport (I’d made the mistake of flying into Belfast International Airport rather than Belfast City Airport), I had a long talk with the taxi driver, a Belfast native, about the election and what it might mean for the US and the rest of the world. It’s not clear to me from this distance whether Americans are really aware of the extent to which the rest of the world has been waiting with bated breath for this outcome, but it’s really true, and now it appears that there is widespread hope that things will be different and that the US will once again collaborate with other countries rather try to bully or go it alone. I’m almost afraid to hope, but what else is there?

As I walked back up the hill from the Hyndland train station tonight, I heard the distant pop-pop of fireworks, marking Bonfire Night (AKA Guy Fawkes Day), and it made me think in contrast of Northern Ireland, just emerging from The Troubles. No need there to celebrate an ancient attempt to incite civil war; the real thing is still too raw and close. America’s celebration of new hope seems more appropriate to me tonight.

1 comment:

yogagirl said...

Hi Robert. I too have been unexpectedly moved by this election. As much as I REALLY didn't want Bush to win 4 years ago, or 8 years ago, I can't honestly remember if I even voted. But this year I voted. And then I waited. I didn't stay up to see the results but I woke up Tuesday morning with a sense of anticipation, not wanting to consider the alternative! I think for me, this quote from this morning's Herald is particularly apt:

“For a generation deprived of its moon landing moment, this will do. The babies of the baby boomer generation have grown used to thinking there is nothing new, far less startling, under the sun. All the best songs were sung before we were born, all the classic novels written. Now here's a new tale, and it's a good one. America's first black president.”

And yes, there were a few tears.

Hope your cold gets better soon.