Coutts in Conversation - Mental Health Awareness Week
Humanitarian Terry Waite CBE and educator Sir Anthony Seldon talked about remaining resilient in isolation at the latest Coutts online event
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Terry: Well I have met my captors again – at least the organisation responsible for my capture. As I mentioned in the discussion this morning, I was given an invitation to see a hostage who was said to be on the point of death. I went and was captured. Years later I went back to the same location and met with one of the leaders of the group. I said that we had both moved on and I wanted to make something creative out of the experience of years ago.
He asked me what could be done and I said that I would like heating oil for the thousands of refugees whom I had seen flocking over the border into Beirut. He said they would see to it and I believe they did. Many things one might say about this. First, if you understand WHY people behave as they do you are well on the way to forgiving. Forgiveness does not mean that you agree with the wrong that has been done. It does mean you understand some of the factors, whatever they may be, as to why they did what they did.
Also, I would say that suffering in most cases need not destroy. Out of situations of suffering, it is possible for something creative to arise even though we do not see it at the time. I do not underestimate suffering. It is very hard but it can be turned around. Many great works of art or literature have emerged from situations of considerable suffering. I am not suggesting for one moment that we look for it – it will find us in one way or another. When it does it need not destroy.
Terry: It is very many years since my children were teenagers and my grandchildren will soon be leaving this much maligned period of life!
Any comprehensive reply to this question would fill volumes but to make a start, teenagers share similar characteristics but they differ according to the environment. A teenager coming from a secure family background will, generally speaking, behave differently from one who comes from a highly disturbed situation. Most young people are curious. One needs to find ways of stimulating their imagination, especially in lockdown. If you are enthusiastic that will be as infectious as the virus!
Sir Anthony: Creativity always comes from within. Encourage young people to spend time on what they love doing.
Terry: This is not an easy question to answer as there is no simple answer. Grief is hard but necessary. We are put in touch with emotions that lie at the very heart of our being, and they disturb us greatly.
Once again we have to pass through this process calmly and slowly. Life will never be the same again and, step by step, we need to begin to build a new future for ourselves and those close to us. Life is always changing but grief pulls us up with a jerk and reminds us of our vulnerability, our loneliness and our uncertainty.
Grief can eventually draw out from us that which we may have used sparingly in the past or we did not know that we had – compassion for those who suffer and, perhaps more importantly, empathy. Sympathy is to feel sorry for someone. Empathy is to know what it is like to suffer and mourn.
In one of my books – Out of the Silence – I wrote the following:
Sears my soul,
Penetrates to the very depth
Of my being.
You have entered
A new realm.
You have joined
The community of compassion.
Your sorrow will be turned
Will become laughter,
Your wound will remain,
But now through suffering,
You have a new depth of soul
Sir Anthony: The important thing is not to catastrophise this for young people, who are far more resilient than we think. Nobody knows exactly when boarding schools and universities will reopen, and no one knows if there will be a second spike. The more positive we can all be in and around young people, the better. Think how much worse it would have been 20 years ago before social media.
Terry and Anthony have talked about living for now, being creative and doing other things to support our mental wellbeing. But until we have effective treatments or a vaccine, we are also going to have to accept a higher level of risk in our lives, and make our own risk assessments now that the simple “stay at home” instruction is behind us. How would they comment on managing the fear that so many people have about venturing back into the world?
Sir Anthony: There is always fear in life and there is always risk. We must cultivate courage and looking after others first, while ensuring that those most at risk remain at home.
Sir Anthony: While it is certainly true that mental illness can be contagious and, like fear, it can spread, it is also true that it is real. Not until the First World War did doctors wake up to shellshock and recognise that strain, depression and extreme fear are not signs of weakness.