Last Thursday evening I attended a production of the musical Annie at Linn Primary school in Larne.
The production lasted for two hours, involved 113 children, one third of the pupils at the school most of them from P4 to P7, it was the fourth and final performance that week and the hall was filled to capacity with proud parents and grandparents.
The children were superb. They sang and acted with confidence, and even though they were bound to be tired, they seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves.
As I watched them sing their songs, speak their lines, change scenery etc I thought of the hours of work which must have been put in by the staff to bring a disparate bunch of children to the place where they could perform so competently.
There would have been all types. Some extrovert some shy, some full of confidence, some with no belief in themselves at all, some from homes where parents would have been supportive, some from homes where parents would show little interest in what happened at school, some very intelligent and some who would and probably will continue to struggle with academic life, yet the skill, dedication and encouragement of the staff from the caretaker to the principal gave them a belief in themselves.
It is what we sometimes forget about teaching and schools. Good teachers and good schools take children of all sorts and shapes, lift their eyes to what they have the potential to achieve and then inspire them to reach for the goal.
The bright picture of encouragement was shattered the next morning when I had to debate with Basil McCrea on the Nolan show, that morning dollop of pessimism, negativity and despair which blasts across the airwaves and has anyone with an ounce of sense reaching for the off button on their radio. And there is no better contributor, if the objective is drive listeners to despair, than the leader of NI21 Basil McCrea. He can make Stephen Nolan seem like a ray of sunshine he is so negative.
Nothing is working, everything is hopeless, no one is doing anything, everybody is useless and so it went on. Then we wonder why two thirds of young people want to leave Northern Ireland (though I must say I doubt the accuracy of this figure). With advocates for our political system such as bleak Basil, it is little wonder that even though Northern Ireland has been transformed over the past 10 years, a large section of the public think there has been no change and the future holds little hope for the current or the next generation.
Of course we have problems to grapple with, but that is part of the human condition and we are no different from any other country in the world. Yes our political system is cumbersome but it was designed and sold to the public by the very people who complain about it.
We have to accept that until there is a willingness across both communities to change it we will have to live with the frustrations which stem from the numerous checks and balances built into an enforced coalition of parties which have radically different outlooks on life.
While there are many objectives which have not been delivered some of that is due to the lack of public support for the compromises which would be required so the sensible thing is to accept that we will have to live with the divisive issue of parades, flags and the past until attitudes change.
In the meantime, can we not accept that many things have changed for the better. Visitors to Northern Ireland are better at painting the positive qualities of our country than we are. They see it as a safe, welcoming place with many attractive features including the people, natural beauty and high quality recreational facilities.
Industrialists see our young, energetic and well- qualified workforce, attractive low cost location and politically stable country as a good place to invest. We are free of the widespread terrorist violence which blighted a whole generation.
Instead of continually directing the eyes of people to the problems which beset us in order to make some cheap political point and while doing so spread despondency, defeatism and depression, as politicians and leaders we should be inspiring people to capitalise on the strengths which we have and using them to create a vision of a country which we all can be proud of and want to live in.
On a small scale the staff in Linn Primary school did that with youngsters who were not perfect, had all the limitations which children have but when inspired, achieved well beyond what might have been expected of them. I believe that if we get out of the negative, cynical politics of the Basil McCreas of this world, just like Annie we can begin to believe that “the sun will come out tomorrow” and better still we can make it happen.