The thick arm slowly contracted around my neck, squeezing just a bit too much for my liking. The hearty laugh of the large figure who was keeping me captive once again boomed out over the countryside of west Cork “you British planting parasite, I’ll kill you one day when I come with my army!” I didn’t care to lift my Irish passport, nor scold him in Irish for his banter. My crime? Suspicion that my schooling in east Belfast, my sporting associations (playing hockey), and my mixed family backgrounds made me one of the “other” side.
That was Seamus*, my good friend, and my teacher of Irish history from a different perspective. Driving home from the heart of west Cork to my home in Cork city, I’m in a contemplative mood. Putting Seamus’ jokes aside, there are still many deep divisions on this island. We don’t need to point fingers at Trump’s sweeping generalisations about certain demographics of the world population, to see fingers pointing back to us, asking us what we’re doing about the division we’re part of. The division that remains far longer that it should, because we consider our only political action is voting. And then we sit in despair for four years and wait. We mock those “other”s who we voted into power and pretend they’re very different to us. Horrible people, those politicians out there!
But it doesn’t need to be politicians, or for that matter the paramilitaries who bombed my Dad’s shop twice, or the lads who held me up at knife point at the local pitches when asking me what Scottish team I supported (Aberdeen FC, for the record). We’re quick to cause division regardless of the topic.
So how can we get on together as a society?
Some of it I suggest comes in understanding each other. Perhaps sitting side by side in education and seeing each other as normal human beings might be a start. But more than shared experiences, Jonathan Haidt, a democrat and social psychologist in the US, has written a book that has address this very topic. In his book he makes the case that we first understand we’re not as rational as we’d like to think. We often make gut instinct decisions and then rationalise them afterwards. Like a tiny rider (our reason) on a lumbering elephant (our emotions) walking along a tricky path (circumstances of life), we often struggle to end up bringing about the change we desire and get where we want to go.
He also suggests that as those on the left and right of the political spectrum we have different values that mean we talk past each other a lot of the time, as if the “other side” are just stupid and morally deficient. It’s easier to throw metaphorical (or in our case physical) bricks at the opposite side, than it is to sit beside them, put our arms around each other as humans, and help each other move towards a shared future of unity amidst diversity.
Grasp these two things, and a lot of what will be “successful” in election campaigning will make sense to you, and you’ll be better equipped to sit down and work out what would be persuasive to those of diverse opinions.
I help to lead a team of people, running various community spaces in universities and cities across Munster. Each week, hundreds of people from various countries, counties, social backgrounds, races, political views and worldviews all pile in to events. And when I say events, I mean more communities. Communities that aim to break down walls and integrate everyone into a society that will help everyone stay in a learning posture.
My one problem is that it’s hard. Loving people who are different to me is difficult. I’d rather find people of like mind, and enjoy a whale of a night out with them. To find ourselves in a place where we’re naturally rubbing shoulders with every type of person regularly is a rare opportunity that I’ve been blessed with, that is not realistically achievable for everyone.
Why do I have this desire, and what ought to motivate us to get on and do this?
I’m sure there are various answers to this, and so I won’t bore you with mine (you can find it here, if you are interested). But I’d challenge you to ask yourself whether your worldview that you hold to, will give you the motivation to spend an other-person-centred life, serving the needs of society in its full diversity (and not just forcing a uniformity of thought on them all)? As the university I work in says: