“We see people and things not as they are, but as we are” Anthony De Mello
These last few
weeks of revisiting previous musings and re writing them in a reflective way
has helped to refine some thoughts, but also to stimulate new ideas and
directions. A colleague has offered some
critique of my views, that I tend towards pessimism, the glass half empty. Rightly or wrongly it’s a perspective. She also offered some new avenues for
exploration which I have added to the fb page and which I can also explore as
time comes to me.
Two elements of my thinking are becoming clearer about my
community. That the ideas, initiatives, projects
being discussed are disconnected from each other and as such are just reactions
to opportunities, rather than a specific direction, or a clearly defined
strategy. Also that to engage with all
in the community may be a struggle, as there is so much new blood, so many
different lifestyles, so many different perspectives on life, community, work
How do we encourage and engage with those new people. Do we?
Some time back, while still studying I introduced a word
into a workshop on defining community that once it was out of my mouth I felt
it was like a snake in the room. The
word was tolerance. Tolerance is a word
that has been going around in my head a long time. In speaking it out that night it was a
revelation to me. Not the discussion, or
reactions or perspectives on the word but my own reflections on the word. It offered an opportunity to reflect on my
own community and the tolerance shown to new comers or blow ins.
This notion of speaking out is a concept I learned many
years ago, the value of speaking your mind in a safe place and even the hearing
of the words allows us to rephrase it, reshape it or clear it out of our
system. So tolerance. not really a nice phrase. consider – I show tolerance to my children, or I tolerate them, I tolerate my neighbours, I tolerate my friends. Tolerance is a word often used by politicians or religious leaders etc to reflect an attitude to others opinions or beliefes. But at the back of it in my opinion is a view that I/we are right, but we acknowledge your right to another view.
I have had a big problem with new comers to my small traditional
fishing community. I have stereotypes
that pop into my head; labelling people as yuppies, SUV drivers, smart dressers,
posh talkers, new money or “mortgaged to the hilt”. I realise now that my images are determined
by the experience of living where I do.
I don’t have issues with emigrants, refugees or asylum seekers for example. They will never have access to my
village. The property prices are too
high, the rent to exorbitant. My
connection with these will be secondary, through media, through services,
through work as a community worker.
I come in contact with my new neighbours at the school, in
the shop or church, walking on the road or at parties where we are invited by
mutual friends or at our kids birthdays.
But the opportunities are rare and sometimes awkward. For example the evening we christened our
nephew over seven years ago. Another
child was being christened at the same time.
He was of a new family, developers and business people originally from
Dublin. We were at opposite sides of the
church, or side was full, loud with children and casually dressed. There’s was a small crowd, no children save
the baby and as memory serves (though perhaps a value laden reflection!) all
well groomed, men in collar, and if not tie, at least jackets. But it was the priest that poured oil on the
flames. From the moment he started to
speak the stereotypes abounded. They
were aimed at our family however, how he had christened so many (as if we bred
like rabbits) or how the village could be called Dohertyland there were so many
Perhaps the worst feeling towards the newcomers is that they
are not locals. The locals that I grew
up with but who hadn’t land to build on or who weren’t lucky enough to inherit
as I was are now living in Waterford city or elsewhere, generally because they
can’t afford a site or a house in their own village. The market has ruled, and it has ruled in
favour of the well off. This will be the
reality for my children in years to come.
Where will they live, where will my grandchildren (if any) be raised?
The reality is however, that locals have refused to sell to
locals. They have opted for the big
money, they have held onto land in the hope of a big earner. The new arrivals are not to blame, but it is
easier to blame them than look at the reality of the housing market, government
policy, how developers operate or the changes that are impacting on farmers.
Another reality is that there have always been new people
coming into the village. My great, great
grand father Bill Malone rowed to the village during the famine (1847) in his
boat in the hope of finding food. My
fathers side came to Waterford as sail makers during the ship building period sometime
during the early 18th Century. People
have married in also, including my wife, brother in law, sister in law. So what is my problem.
Whats the difference now to the past, whats the difference
to my wife and those building from outside.
I guess my wife is invited in, the other invites themselves. Or is it that my wife has an
introduction. She is with a local, she
fits in to an instant family, has sisters in law to talk to, visit or socialise
with. A thought for me is that what has
changed in Ireland particularly in my generation is the opportunities for new
comers to integrate. In the past people
who moved here, most usually worked here also, as farm labourers or as fishermen. The kids went to school, they all went to
church together, the pub was the central point.
Transport was poor, people had to get on with each other there was no
Essentially one of the biggest problems is that the changes
that affected the country through the modernisation period we have experienced
are having a significant impact on the ability of people to enter into
community. Not all children attend the
local school, church attendance is low, despite the downturn people still work
long hours outside the village (or abroad) and we now socialise more in our own
homes than in the local pub.
The net effect of all that is that it is easier to sneer or
ignore the new comers rather than as locals seeing ways to welcome them
in. It’s not that it would be too
easy. We are surrounded by messages
about keeping to ourselves. But in
essence humans are social beings, we want to be part of, we want to get along,
it’s important for us to be included.
What is a community if it is not united in some ways, comfortable with
each other, mindful of our neighbours needs and at least open to understanding
each other and respecting each other.
As a community worker I feel I should be looking at ways of
welcoming people, providing opportunities to hear each other, to get to know
each other to begin a process of building trust. In essence its about breaking down barriers,
starting with my own, my immediate family and beyond. I don’t underestimate this however.
I think there is a strong tendency in all of us to yearn for
a gilded past, whether Tonnies Gemeinschaft,
or a rural idyll, or Thomas Hardys “Tess
of the D’Urbervilles” an innocent thrown to the mercy of the industrial
age. I have a strong urge towards both.
Yet if I am to have any clarity around what this community
can be, how it will look in 100 years time, what direction it needs to go in,
it will be a vision clarified, planned and driven by a mixture of old and new