Sunday, April 15, 2007

Viva La Difference!

I understand that in many parts of Africa, men and women don't see women's breasts as sexually attractive. They are seen as glands for feeding babies. I listened to a radio piece not long ago which described an African woman's reaction on being told that western men found breasts exciting. "You mean that western men are like babies!!??" She could just manage to say this amid fits of laughter.

I heard an interview with an author (whose name escapes me) from one of the southern USA states. This black lady grew up in an environment where toilets were always outside the house. She described how she still finds it hard to get used to the idea that modern society can accept the stink of fecal waste from bathrooms inside houses - and in particular from an ensuite right beside where you sleep!

I'm merely making the point that it is not always as obvious as we think to see other people's ingrained traditions. But with a little patient listening, dialogue and thought one can easily enough begin to understand.

I watched a Questions and Answers program a few months ago on RTE which got me thinking on similar lines to the above examples. One question asked reaction from the panel to Enda Kenny's initiative for making immigrants to the country feel more welcome and integrate better. A simple and jokey opening contribution from the DUP's Jeffery Donaldson passed without any comment from others in the panel, but it stopped me in my tracks. This is a paraphrase but it went like....

"Well, I speak for my own people in the North who were also immigrants to this island and we have felt the need for an initiative like this for the last 400 years!"

Wow! All many of us southerners can think about the families from the plantation of Ulster is that they were invaders. Did we ever consider that maybe they saw themselves in the 17th century as immigrants who were unwelcome? Yes, before I hear howls of protest from nationalists - there are two sides to this story, I'm well aware of the history of it all (and indeed my mother was a nationalist growing up in NI who could tell many a sorry tale). But I'm just making a general point that ordinary families only integrate and fuse into a society when they feel they are welcome and both sides respect each other's viewpoint. Hostility breeds more hostility and you often end up with ghettos and polarisation.

We need to forget about a united Ireland until we unite in welcome and fellowship and seeing the other viewpoint. The unionists and nationalists in NI have more to share and enjoy than they perhaps realise. It's the small things - as always - which offer clues that it is slowly happening. A great example was Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams jointly signing a request to have the UK Government's Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain and his staff vacate their Stormont offices. This was wonderful in itself, but equally good was the little human story behind closed doors afterwards which as far as I can detect was only barely reported....

Gerry Adams it seems quipped to Ian Paisley that he never thought he would see the big man so eager to get the Brits out! In reaction we are told that Ian howled with laughter in his well known and unique way. Laughter together, what a wonderful start.

Different outlooks, but in truth - not so different really.

13 comments:

Omaniblog said...

John of dublin,
I'm pissed off: I wrote a long comment saying how brilliant I found this post of yours and then I wiped it off by accident. I haven't the heart to climb back up on the pen's back. But I remember writing congratulations, I agree with your every word, and admire your introduction as a fine bit of capturing readers interest.
"The Irish Border as a cultural divide" by Heslinga is a great book on what the migrations into Ulster were really like.

John of Dublin said...

Hi Omani! Thanks for those nice comments. I'm pissed off too that I missed you original longer dissertation!! Ha ha!

Omaniblog said...

I remember I also wrote that it amused me to think of Adams & McGuinness as British agents and Paisley as an agent of the southern government.

Dario Sanchez said...

JoD, you raise some interesting points, and indeed the settlers from the Plantations considered themselves to be 'settling' Ireland, much like the Native Americans were considered 'savage' too, so their intentions were a little misguided.

They did nothing to ingratiate themselves with the local populace though; my family history goes back to the Norman invasion of Ireland, and the Normans intermarried and integrated seamlessly with the Irish. The Ulster Scots didn't.

However, I agree that the whole Protestant vs. Catholic shite has dragged on long enough. While a united Ireland would overwhelm our country's economic and political systems - in the short term at least - there would be an inverted situation to the one that exists today:
Unionists in the minority, resenting the presence of Irish troops, and wanting independence or the status quo.

Apologies for the length of my comment.

John of Dublin said...

I agree with what you say Dario. I know you can see the thrust of my general points though.

Thanks for all the thoughts.

k8 said...

I in my naievety am confused. I have been of the frame of mind from experience that people in the north are quite cagey about their territory. Whenever I've been up there, it's been explained to me in no uncertain terms that I am a complete foreigner to them. Even driving through some towns with a Wicklow car reg. can be daunting!
The politics up there have been twisting my melon since I can remember. I've had to quit reading any books on the above before finishing them. I can't read a book that doesn't make sense! UDP, PUP, IRA, UPP, DUP... WTF?

John of Dublin said...

Hi K8. Thanks for the comments.

You are right to be confused. As always with humanity there is much diversity. Many unionists in NI are very defensive, a sign of fear and embattlement. But quite a few love Ireland as a whole - you would be amazed how many holiday in Donegal. Another stupid barrier is economics - the British are so out of touch with it's neighbours in terms of currency, road signs, prices etc that it makes our island seem even more divided. You might smile at my article on this...

http://earthanduniverse.blogspot.com/2006/11/traveling-through-northern.html

Omaniblog said...

I miss you, so I hope you are on a good holiday.

Omaniblog said...

Now the bold Paige is recommending you. You'll probably have a longer holiday and watch the stat counter mount.

John of Dublin said...

Hi Omani. Thanks for spotting that Paige ref. - I've thanked her! I'm not really on holiday, been busy with photography and Flickr. Will think of something else to blog on real soon.

Omaniblog said...

Oh good. You are there and breathing. I think you are resting on your laurels.

Anyway there isn't much to blog about is there...

Omaniblog said...

I wish you'd post a piece saying that you have suspended publication until .... then I wouldn't keep dropping in hoping...

John of Dublin said...

Hi Omani. Yes, went last week to Bordeaux. Should have mentioned it on the blog I guess - I didn't think anyone would care! Thanks for the comments.