I have a friend who talks about being confident enough to “punch above your weight”. He does it with great confidence and aplomb, jetting off around the world to meet with the great and the good – but he knows what he is talking about, and even when he doesn’t, you never could tell he was adrift because he always has such composure.
Being altogether less composed and less confident, I am astonished at times at what he is able to achieve – “brassneck”, he would say.
Most times, I am still the quiet little kid who left High Ham Church of England Primary School in July 1972. Stepping up a weight or more at times, I very quickly lose my nerve, and revert to being the country kid.
Not understanding how one of the Irish law courts would conduct its affairs, I asked a barrister friend what would happen. The same evening he was able to phone me with an answer to all my queries and more besides; he had phoned a colleague who was able to provide immediate answers.
Putting the phone down at the end of the conversation, I wondered what would happen if I remained the country kid all the time. I wondered what would happen if I didn’t have people I could phone or contacts I could write to, because that’s the way it is for most people.
Anyone who has had to deal with Irish Government departments will know how difficult it is to even get an acknowledgment that they have received a letter. Four months to the day since writing to the Revenue Commissioners about money they owe, the letter remains unacknowledged. It is not a problem, a friend pointed me to an accountant who delights in relieving the Commissioners of money that is not theirs.
Getting anything done requires cultivating a network of “friends”; people who know someone, people who know the right number; people who know the name of the person who sent the unsigned letter; people who know who can answer the questions. If all else fails, being on first name terms with the local TDs is helpful – I know Mary and Sean and Eamon, three of the five in the constituency.
But what about people who haven’t the confidence to punch above their weight? What about people who have no-one to phone? What about the people with no networks?
Most of us are still like eleven year old kids from a country primary school, it’s not only that we don’t know people, it’s that we wouldn’t have the confidence to contact them if we did. Punching above your weight is fine, but you need to know how to punch and where to punch and to be able to punch with strength. Ireland in 2008 can sometimes feel like being a flyweight boxer standing blindfolded and punching out at opponents who feint away into thin air.