There is a saying, no doubt attributed to that most prolific of authors known as ‘Anon’, that is simple, precise and worthy of further thought. Actually, it has received a great deal of thought, and here I will contribute my own brief and modest contribution. This saying is, simply, that life is short. This pithy phrase is so apt that it has received a great deal of attention in all sorts of places and from many authorities, not least from numerous philosophers. Here I am minded specifically of the writings of a particularly famous British philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, who referred to life as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. Of course, this is in the context of a larger and rather complicated work, and I do not intend at this point to write an equally large treatise on the philosophy of mediation, although this is a deliciously tempting idea which I will certainly consider at some point in the future. Or perhaps not.
I have been thinking about life rather more than usual recently, not least as I am writing this on a day when the glorious summer is but a memory and thoughts of central heating are starting to permeate. But apart from weather other things have been happening. I suppose that change is a constant in life, and certainly these past few months I have had had my share of changes, some good and some bad. The good were, well, very good and the bad, awful. In fact, the bad have overshadowed the good, and it is on one of these in particular that I want to reflect.
On 9 July 2018 I received a phone call out of the blue and in rather unusual circumstances informing me that a close friend, well, actually one of my best friends, had killed himself. I was in a meeting at the time and finding me had taken the caller some determined detective work, which, had thankfully paid off. This news came as a great shock, it was something not expected by anyone, and it has taken some time to come to terms with this tragedy. The funeral, held a month later, helped to some extent, although as is usual with these events it was a slightly surreal experience. Still, the legacy left as a result of this tragedy will no doubt be remembered forever. As time has gone on more and more details have emerged which sadly have raised more and more questions and have not provided any further explanations as to why this happened.
As a doctor I have had my share of exposure to death, so while sadly this is not a new experience for me, in hospitals it is not unusual for very ill people to die despite the plethora of interventions that go on. This does not lessen the sadness at all, and death remains a complex aspect of life that we don’t like to think or talk about. It is perhaps worse when the death is unexpected, particularly tragic when it happens to younger people, although this is by no means true or absolute. In the case of my friend, his life was far too short and I suspect the void left will take some time to fill.
So what does this have to do with mediation? I suppose that any and all means of avoiding tragedies such as the suicide of my friend are not only worth trying – but truly must be tried – with early communication and resolution of the problem the key to this. In life we are faced with a potentially great number of adverse situations that should ideally be dealt with early before they fester and perhaps lead to unwanted and avoidable outcomes. Leaving things and not addressing them early can often make the situation worse, and maybe early intervention via mediation or whatever equivalent could help avoid unhappy outcomes.
I am not sure whether my friend would still be alive even with intervention, and sadly we will never know. But my feeling is that it would definitely have been worth trying. The impact of his death so far has been immense, and I wish things were different, that he had both had the help he needed and that he would have wanted this – unanswered questions remain here and I think ‘closure’ will take a long time, if it ever happens.
So, life is short, and when you think about it, it gets shorter every day. In my opinion life should be amazing, with each day to be looked forward to and savoured. We need to think about all the good in the world, and when things are not going well to move things forward by sharing concerns and getting the right help at the right time. Unfortunately the reality for many people is that life is a challenge and a burden, and some find it difficult or impossible to get help or support to make necessary changes. The first step involves speaking to others, as hard as this can be, getting advice, being proactive and making positive changes. This is, of course, easier said than done, but once the process has started it can help to alleviate distress and can make things better. Obviously all those involved would need to want this and be prepared to work at this, and I suspect that most people, having reflected carefully, would really rather avoid the trauma and upset that adversity brings.
When in doubt I find music to be a powerful means of understanding and dealing with emotions, and I am reminded here of words from a song by one of the greatest song-writing partnerships the world has ever known, namely Lennon and McCartney. Their song, ‘We can work it out’, from their 1965 album Rubber Soul, could perhaps be an anthem for mediation and for conflict in general:
Life is very short and there’s no time
For fussing and fighting my friend.
Try to see it my way,
Only time will tell if I am right or I am wrong.
While you see it your way
There’s a chance that we may fall apart before too long.
We can work it out.
Wise words to live by…
In memory of T.L. (17 May 1966 – 8 July 2018).
Rest in Peace.
Consultant psychiatrist with extensive medicolegal, managerial and judicial expertise acting as medical consultant to ASM and an accomplished linguist and academic.