As I See It: Catherine Drea’s fortnightly column as published in the Waterford News & Star
RECENTLY I have taken to describing myself as an earthling. It fits with how I visualise this tiny planet, hurtling through space at roughly 1,000 miles an hour, in a vast and undiscovered universe. Even more now with the realisation that viruses have no borders it seems logical that we will have to work together to combat future threats and that no country on its own can hold back the tide. At last the understanding that we really are one tiny and vulnerable world might be dawning.
Try imagining yourself as an earthling too. It gives a new perspective on our behaviour as citizens of this planet, because it makes us question our pettiness and wonder about how local actions impact on others. It throws a spotlight too on traditional differences which many people try to maintain. Who has a right to be Irish, who truly belongs, who holds all the cards to the future?
Big transformational leaps happen because smaller steps are constantly being taken by smart individuals and communities. The most hampered in moving into new scenarios are the ones who find themselves in a comfortable majority or in a bubble of sameness that keeps them from putting their heads above the parapet. Insider white male politicians for example.
‘A silent pause for prayer, meditation or intention allows all of us to participate equally’
Recently Councillor Mary Roche brought forward a proposal to Waterford Council to replace the Christian opening prayer with a pause for a silent reflection. So when I got over my shock that our Council still opens with a prayer at all, I was very disappointed that she didn’t get enough support to make this happen.
I know none of this makes sense to “people on the inside”. But to a growing number of us who don’t practice a mainstream Christian religion or who were brought up in another faith or none, a Christian prayer in a decision-making forum relating to our citizenship and the work of local government totally excludes us. A work setting is a place to demonstrate inclusion and create a business environment of diversity and welcome. Our local council is not a place for prayer at all and in my opinion they made the wrong decision to add a silent pause for reflection but still maintain the Christian prayer! Talk about missing the point!
It’s easier for us outsiders to see the problem here. It’s easier because outsiders spend their lives having to “out” themselves in public settings. If I can’t participate or lead the prayer, then I am the only one who has to publicly declare my outsider status which I may want to keep entirely private! A silent pause for prayer, meditation or intention allows all of us to participate equally.
Who are the outsiders in Ireland anyway? Well that’s the question that eventually will define the new shared island of our future. There are a growing number of outsiders which we tend to see as “new communities” but we also have outsiders that have been thriving here for hundreds if not thousands of years. In Waterford this goes back to many of the invaders who over time integrated and became the founders of the city. But we also have the outsiders who have remained as outsiders, Travellers, blow-ins and other minorities. Even women, more than 50% of our population, were until very recently absent, missing, invisible and are still very thin on the ground in politics.
It’s very hard to understand all this if you are an insider and that’s the challenge for you. You have so many protections and too many assumptions. You probably don’t even know what I am talking about! For most of us who are outsiders, we keep a low profile and go quietly about our lives. The only club we want to belong to is the one for Irish citizens and as long there are no issues with being included as that, we can live according to our own beliefs just like everyone else.
Ireland will always be a huge melting pot and kit and kaboodle of ancestral differences. Isn’t that what makes humans so interesting and wonderful! It’s only a matter of time until sweeping changes will unite us into the global community of the earthlings. Work setting prayers and swearing on the bible will be the least of our problems for sure. We only have to look across the border to see the adjustments that will have to be made to find some unity on our own minuscule island.
When I despair of small minded thinking and crave great leadership I think of the day that Nelson Mandela was asked how South Africa was going to heal and move forward as a new country after the horror of apartheid, racism and exclusion. His radiant face didn’t flinch for a moment. “We are going to have to let bygones be bygones,” he said.