Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Eve Earley, Co Founder of Emerald Valley talks about what drives her

On a recent visit to Emerald Valley, in Newry, we spoke with Eve Earley, Co Founder of the business incubation centre, about her reasons for coming to Ireland to work on such a project. This is her candid story!


What would you be moving to “this feckin country” for?

Easy! You live in one of the most beautiful places on the planet.  When I describe Slieve League, Shannon Pot, Mussendun Temple, Knocknorea, and Navan Fort to the locals they say they’ve never been.  They are magical and sacred places. Were we to allow ourselves a connection to the land, to times before the age of industry and clocks, to get back to our agrarian roots and live in the present moment – We would be able to see the Narnia CS Lewis saw in the Mournes and Carlingford Lough.

When I moved here my Jewish friends called it “making Aliyah” – the right of return. A call – first described by Abram’s journey to go “to a land that I will show you”.

In mythology, it is called the heroic quest. Every culture has a story like it, our children know it as Star Wars or the Matrix. Why would every culture have virtually the same story?  Probably because human development is the same no matter the culture. You grow, you fight to separate from your parents, you achieve independence, competence, you mature, grow old, achieve a sense of wholeness and die.

Joseph Campbell (Follow Your Bliss) described the biblical & mythological stories as a mirror of the ego’s passage through life stages.

The concept of being called to a new place – psychologically and physically fit my own midlife journey. When the opportunity presented itself, I didn’t question it. In fact, I jumped so quickly, I didn’t even have time to be afraid.

In many ways it was a time of giving birth to a fully formed adult self – or as a friend puts it – “Choosing to become CEO of your own life”.

I recovered from a decades long depression and addiction to food, by living consciously and carefully. It required accepting that both were a way of coping with the legacy of a traumatic childhood. Forgiving myself and the adults in my life too wounded to protect me, was part of the process.

Acknowledging that I was a survivor was the hardest. “Sure, if I could do it, it couldn’t have been that bad.” I sounded a little like my friends from Belfast, Derry/L’derry & South Armagh who say, “Well, I wasn’t directly affected by the troubles.”

Compliance and passivity were an adequate means of survival during childhood.  But adaptive responses that serve us well in one life stage, do not serve us well when we move to another.

Not shedding those automatic and self destructive adaptations when my circumstances changed as an adult was limiting.

Finding a voice, asserting my needs and choosing not to accept unacceptable treatment were the tools of my recovery. Feeling entitled to be treated as well as I treated my own children was my benchmark.

My adult and recovering self arrived in November 2008. Irish Times Financial writer, Fintan O’Toole was begging folks to pay attention to the banking crisis. I had personal knowledge of a major criminal breach. No one would listen, no one was outraged, no one thought the problem was urgent.  I did, my expat friends did, but not our Irish neighbours.

The most direct message I got about how to fit in was from my American born, now resident, friend. She told me I couldn’t send back an awful restaurant entrĂ©e.  The butcher told me I couldn’t have “that” cut of meat, especially requested for my children’s first visit.  “Your children will just have to learn to eat Irish”. I apparently needed to learn to be shamed into passive, polite acceptance of less than what I wanted. Less than acceptable.

“NO!”  Suddenly I understood what the legacy of Norman, Viking , British conquerors and emigrations born of famine and economic need was:  Lower your expectations or leave. Don’t raise your head above the parapet. Accept that “you will never change that”.

Add to that begrudgery. An unwillingness to celebrate other folks success. Face it – in a land of limited resources and opportunity, someone else’s success was likely to have cost “me” something.

At one time this and lowering expectations was a perfectly reasonable adaptive response to unacceptable situations.

It is the gift of my personal recovery that informs my life and work on this island. When I was growing up in post-war, post-Holocaust America in a largely Jewish neighborhood, “grownups” always spoke of news and world events and punctuated the sentence with: “Yes, but what will it mean for the Jews?”

My recovery is the same – but my “never again” promise is to the little girl I was, the one who cried herself to sleep every night wondering why there were no “grownups” to rescue me.

I view every circumstance, economic or political, framed only with the question? “What will it mean for the children”.

We are an entire populations still accepting the legacy of conflict and that is an appropriate legacy for adults born in this place as it was.

To move on, however, to give our children the gift of a limitless future, we need to hold back the limits born of our fears. Our children need to know it is OK to aspire to greatness. That success is to be celebrated because it is like an abundant harvest. My crop and your crop will thrive side by side and not be diminished by each other’s plenty.

Jean Kennedy Smith on leaving as the American Ambassador to the ROI was asked what her abiding memory of Ireland would be.  “A legitimate sense of outrage”.  I would add to that a legitimate sense of urgency.

In February 2010, when the bomb at the Newry courthouse had my children asking me to move South or home – out of a “theatre of conflict” (why would no one call it a “war zone”), I accepted that staying meant chose to actively witness how an individual recovery might inform a communal one.

Recovering from depression I realized I wasn’t trapped, I was stuck. Not by a marriage, where I was well enough loved, but by a perception that I was powerless to change my fate.

I couldn’t save my little girl from the abuse or neglect of wounded parents, but I could help her heal. I can’t even begin to imagine the horror of life here during the troubles; I know traffic stops with armed police and snipers posted around explosive filled trucks terrifies me.

What terrifies me more is that it does not terrify my neighbours.

They are numb to it. Shut down. Protected from experiencing the horror they knew and might come again. But it means on a core level, afraid. Their entire posture is defensive.

It  is a normal, adaptive response to trauma. But like me moving into adulthood with leftover behaviours designed for my childhood – those adaptive responses impair our children’s ability to move forward. No young gymnast succeeds with a parent who says: “don’t climb so high, you will fall”.

We need to admit the peace process as we know it has gone as far as it will go without a prosperity process. We can’t move forward if we can’t let go of old resentments about who “gets everything” when there isn’t enough to go around?

A prosperity process will empower our children to remain on this island. To live and work here. How will we move forward if we expel the best and brightest of a generation reared in peace?  

Emerald Valley is a place to empower change. Empower prosperity by motivating and educating our children and their parents.  It is a reminder that every election, every news event, every day should begin with the query: “What will this mean for the children”.  

Nichola and her peers have the power to bring the work and investment that will allow us to export our intellectual property and not our children. I need to model to their parents that a different future, one they cannot even imagine, is not to be feared.

My task is to reframe the Ireland they know into the one which I know. Seen by millions of tourists whose lens is not clouded by the experience of war.