I can’t add a post to the blog like Steve’s below without also adding a brief word about the tragic death of Gary Speed. Football has always been my game, as Rugby has been Steve’s, and at one time we were both slim enough to play them, Steve at a much greater level then I. Whilst I never saw Gary Speed play and he was never a player at one of ‘my’ clubs, I was aware of him as an iconic figure in the game, particularly in Wales, and especially in the past year as manager of the national side, a role in which he was demonstrating tremendous promise. Given this his death is a tragedy for the whole of Wales and has rightly been acknowledged as such.
The nature of his death also points out the stress which leadership creates and the loneliness it can engender. It is only a few years ago that a friend of mine, and a visitor to the University, Mike Todd, the then Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police Force, died of exposure in Snowdonia. Like Gary, Mike was a genuinely nice guy and clearly in his case the responsibilities of leadership became too much for him to take, and his human failings impossible for him to admit. In both cases the question why two apparently successful, well liked and admired personalities at the top of their professions chose to take their own lives is inescapable.
In my typical fashion I tend to see this in terms of popular culture and it brought to mind Paul Simon’s old song ‘Richard Cory‘. In his song Simon portrays a man who has everything capitalism can offer, money, power, fame, a respectable image and an infamous private life, and yet Richard Cory commits suicide. Of course in Simon’s version there is a pointed class perspective as the song is delivered by one of Richard Cory’s employees whose life is so miserable that he wishes he ‘could be Richard Cory’, that is dead. The point of all this is that it seems clear from such events that in our society being successful, well financially rewarded, famous, admired and respected for some at least does not seem preferable to dying. Maybe we should start asking what it is about our society which makes even its success stories so abject.
Postscript: subsequent to writing the words above I have been reminded of the suicide in November 2009 of German goalkeeper Robert Enke. Robert was the Germany first choice goalkeeper and set to make an imporatnt inpact in the 2010 South Africa World Cup. Subsequently BBC Radio 5 Live produced a documentary about his suicide which received a MIND award for the best factual programme on mental illness. To quote, or rather paraphrase as I am not sure of his precise words, a German psychiatrist from that programme: We have a common belief that success is important and desirable, and we have a common belief that once someone has suffered from mental illness that they can never achieve that success. Our society promoting these ridiculous beliefs means that most of us, those who are not regarded, or who do not regard themselves, as ‘successful’, are under-valued, and mental health is ghettoised and stigmatised, driving many to deny and hide their ‘shameful’ secrets. So much for our other fostered belief that society is supposed to work for the people. Ha!