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OPINION: The evils of walking backwards (only joking)

The Pingan Building Shenzhen reflected in a puddle. PHoto by Daragh Moller

Luminous rings circle trees in Central Park Shenzhen. Photo by Zhang Yi Zhang.

“Let this darkness be a bell tower and you the bell. As you ring, what batters you becomes your strength,” Rainer Maria Rilke, from Let This Darkness be a Bell Tower.

In a week the Family and Care referendum goes to the polls and the country will test the efficacy of the Constitution of Ireland (1937), the perfect time to think about doing something differently is upon us.

Former taoiseach John Bruton who died on 6th February 2024 aged 76 wrote about the durability of the Irish Constitution and how it links to how lives are lived: “Religious thinking about social matters influenced the constitution for the simple reason that it influenced the Irish people in their daily lives.”  This he said the reason the Constitution of Ireland remains durable, now 87 years in existence.

According to Juliane Kokott and Martin Kaspar in The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Constitutional Law: “Constitutional efficacy relates to the difference between the ‘written’ constitution and constitutional reality.” That is, the smaller the difference, the higher the degree of efficacy can be achieved.

On the other side of the world, Shenzhen’s Central Park is full of people, as the sun falls through the trees. Not far downtown from Ping An Da Sha, the city’s tallest building, the leafy green cicadas are buzzing as the evening heat drops.

Walking slowly forward and backwards, in lines and different directions without much difficulty, walking backwards is a thing people do here, but nobody pays special attention to it.

Walking backwards can help you walk forward, according to Grown and Healthy, a channel that promotes “self-improvement through movement”. The benefits of walking backwards might also bring people together in a night of line dancing and why not? The physical benefits of walking backwards are also apparent if you try using a treadmill for that purpose.

Longevity in humans is sometimes tested by doing something different. Perhaps this is why older people in China’s cities appear to walk backwards more than young people appear to. In Chinese medicine, walking backwards is said to heal a multitude of sins, as well as ills.  Indeed, some Chinese believe walking backwards offers the opportunity to reflect on past mistakes by retracing them, step by mistaken step. In a country with city populations exceeding tens of millions – Shenzhen is 22 million – the possibilities can be imagined. But like dancing in the street in huge numbers which they also do, people here seem to manage it without catastrophic collisions.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the country will “step backwards” should it vote against the proposed changes.

Time will tell.

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