Back in the dark dreary days of the eighties, when the birds were falling off the trees with the hunger and the smell of rain-sodden hand-me down duffle coats was the overriding scent of the era, we actually looked forward to Lent and the chance to give up something you were probably unlikely to be having anyway.
Back then, there didn't seem many vices that seemed give-up-able for 40 days. There wasn't that much TV, there was no internet or social media of which to deprive yourselves. In the main, it was sweets and sugar — and so the beet and sweet industry took a blow during the Springtime of each year, as our souls were saved from eternal damnation by virtue of our amazing willpower to deny ourselves goodies that were probably out of reach anyway.
In childish eyes, the belief was that the Easter Eggs that would arrive at the end of Lent would taste all the more delicious if they were preceded by 40 days of abstinence, but I'm not sure if that was the case.
Go back three or four decades before that, and you find that Lent was the season (and maybe the reason ) which spawned the development of the local drama scene in Ireland, as drama festivals were held up and down the country to provide good clean entertainment for the masses deprived of sweets and other vices.
To this day, thousands of amateur actors and back-stage crew are on the road every day for the 40 nights of Lent, getting ready to set up in a small hall in the middle of nowhere, meeting the demands of a local population just mad for good engaging drama.
While in the interest of inclusivity, acknowledging that not everyone follows abstention at Lent, we should look at it as a period of Spring and pre-Summer where we can better ourselves emotionally, spiritually, and perhaps physically. I have no idea what I am going to give up this year. Most of the things that would be good for me to give up, I (being at this stage in life ) have chosen to omit anyway from my diet and lifestyle. Although I do know that I would probably have a more fulfilling existence if I could take my face out of small screens for 40 days and nights.
Maybe instead of giving up something for Lent, we should take up something for Lent. If we could all fine tune our level of empathy, what a greater contribution we would make to society, rather than giving up goodies in order to develop that beach body for summer.
A report published this week in conjunction with NUI Galway, has shown the benefits of empathy in adolescent behaviour and illustrated the complete necessity that exists for it to be included in our education system.
Young people in Ireland are now exposed to a much wider array of influences than previous generations, so it is important to gain an insight into their values and attitudes in relation to empathy, social responsibility, and civic behaviour and to understand the factors that influence these values.
The study found that young people showed high levels of empathy and social responsibility values but low levels of civic behaviour — ie, we all have grand notions about how we should believe in how people are treated, but not many of us act upon this in any meaningful way.
Some of the factors that inhibited young people from rcting on their beliefs were not knowing what to do or fear of showing weakness. Girls scored higher than boys on measures of empathy, social responsibility, and civic behaviour.
With Lent starting next Wednesday, take the next few days to work out how you can contribute to the betterment of the lives of those who live in your community. There is something valuable that we can all do, that make us better people, and will contribute a lot more to society that just giving up Rolos or smashed avocado.