Billy King shares his monthly thoughts –
What a difference a bit of weather makes; dry, warm and sunny June, well, I ask you, what is Irish weather up to? It’s interesting because you can be walking along, daydreaming away, and absorbing the sunshine and smell of sunshine and dryness and suddenly realise, no, this isn’t some southern European/Mediterranean country, this is good old Airlaan or even Norn Iron. Well, now, isn’t that a strange thing after the last few summers we have had.
I have already shared with you a fair bit about going through a redundancy process recently. As someone involved in conflict issues [as in stirring it up? – Ed] [Many’s the true word….there is a role for that sometime too – Billy] I have been amazed at the extent to which people will go to avoid acknowledging conflict in some circles. Maybe I’m just too familiar with some of the issues but, as you may know, when it comes to your/my own conflict issues then it feels very different.
Much of it is due to the sense of discomfort in acknowledging that people don’t actually get along too well together. We’re all meant to be rowing together when in fact some of us are rowing in opposite directions. And in organisations which are meant to be about caring or concern for other people, that can mean lots of avoidance – while in an uber-capitalist institution they may actually be better in dealing with it because they a) have or get in the expertise, and b) know that protracted conflict is bad for business and the bottom line.
I wouldn’t go so far as saying that in every situation it is better to acknowledge conflict and risk some awkwardness and even unpleasantness for a while to reach a better, and healing, result. I am thinking of one extended family situation where acknowledging a conflict (conflict between others) might have hurt the person more than not doing so, and I was not in a position to help resolve that particular one. But in 95% of cases [That’s very specific – Ed] [All part of the service – Billy] I’d say it is better to acknowledge and see what can be done, either about the issue or the relationship. The other person may not want to know, may not be at the stage where they can deal with it, might want it dealt with in a very specific way, whatever, but if you don’t put that hand through that door, and take a risk, there is little chance of the issue being addressed.
There are of course differences between what it is possible to do for an ‘aggrieved person’ on the one hand and a ‘perceived wrongdoer’ or ‘instigator’ of the action that led to the conflict on the other. The action leading to the conflict may be neutral or even positive to the ‘instigator’ but perceived and felt as very negative for the person feeling aggrieved. Taking these positions apart and understanding them is important. And, as usual, separating the people from the problem is vital. Either side can take the first step but, while the aim may be communication and reconciliation, that first step is very different for the two sides. The ‘instigator’ side may feel justified in its action but regret the pain it has caused (it may, alternatively, want to avoid culpability for its mistakes); it may want ‘reconciliation’ without addressing the root causes of the conflict, or changing its action. The ‘aggrieved’ person, on the other hand, may feel boiling inside about both what has been done and how it has been done.
Realism is necessary. But where strong principles are at stake then the ‘aggrieved’ person may need to resort to further actions of an administrative, political, or nonviolent nature or to bring about justice. There is no avoiding conflict in life because it is part and parcel of living. But becoming a conflict junkie and either stirring it up wherever you go, or feeling permanently involved in conflicts (unless you are a mediator!), is not a good way to live life and probably not good for your health in the long run. We need to decide what is important, what lines we want to draw and where we want to draw them. Few of us can win’em all. Of course emotion enters the field as well as rational judgement, and who can say the emotional should not be part of decision making on this. We need to decide what is so important that we will struggle until we get justice. In a month when the families of the Bloody Sunday dead in 1972 finally got some judgement with justice, that is a salutary lesson.
The recent ‘En-gendering violence’ workshop which INNATE ran will, in due course, join the plethora of material under ‘Workshops’ on the INNATE website but I thought I’d do a little reflecting on gender and violence while the going is good. It’s amazing really, the way we accept that (and I’m guessing here) [what happened to your precise percentages? – Ed] perhaps 90 – 95% of what is commonly referred to as ‘violence’ would be perpetrated by men. If you include structural violence, again men would have a much greater responsibility. If it was any other category of humanity than ‘men’ committing all this violence, there would be a huge outcry but, because this is considered a ‘normal’ state of affairs, it goes unremarked. Like many issues to do wit gender it is ‘hidden in plain sight’.
So what is it with men and violence? Cultural, physiological, psychological? I would tend toward thinking it’s a bit of all three. Clearly, as pacific cultures from both past and present show, any tendency towards this violence can be overcome by appropriate cultural norms so excuses about “it’s in our genes” will not wash or are certainly not much of an excuse. But there is one sure thing, there is no way that male violence can be overcome in our world today without a major cultural shift. There would be many ways to bring this about. But allowing violent video games, the tolerance of society for alcohol-fuelled violence (or certainly for the alcohol abuse which fuels the violence), and unchallenged macho attitudes is not a way forward. And behind all the macho attitudes? Well, I think there are a lot of guys trying to prove they are ‘real’ men when all they are proving is that they are real eejits.
I don’t want to lurch, or launch, into sermon mode here but our whole concept of maleness is going to have to change radically. And that is a big task. But, whatever gender we are, there is a role to play in ensuring that unacceptable male behaviour is challenged, and putting that connection with violence and masculinity under the microscope. ‘Gender’ issues tend to make people think of ‘women’; it would be far more appropriate to say that there are two principal genders and men should be carrying as much ‘gender’ work as women. Please, make sure you have it on your a-gender, then.
A final comment. Men probably shy away from gender issues because they see them as being a “women’s” issue, in a sense either nothing to do with them or in some way a vague threat. Part of the task which is necessary is to show men that dealing with gender issues is actually in their interest for a variety of reasons. In other words, it is not just a matter of creating ‘justice’ for ‘their’ womenfolk but that men have things to gain. “Precisely what?” might come the riposte, what have men conceivably to gain? Some of the things include happier and more contented women in their lives, which is likely to make for happier lives for themselves as well, responsibility sharing (men not carrying burdens of decision making, and, boy [what an appropriate expression for once! – Ed], could we do with getting away from that), and, arguably, better decision making and certainly more comprehensive decision making, as well as maximising the potential in society. If men can be persuaded that it is in their interests to change, and see society change, then who knows what might be possible in this area.
Interesting times in the politics of both the Republic and UK. The UK has its first coalition government in the modern era (since the end of the Second World War), and the Republic briefly had the Labour Party leading the polls for the first time ever (more recently Fine Gael is back on top, Labour second and Fianna Fail third). The coming about of the coalition government in the UK was particularly interesting given that two-thirds of Lib Dem supporters would have naturally preferred an alliance with Labour rather than the Tories, and I’m not sure whether it is true that Labour threw away the possibilities or the Conservatives were more desperate for power. But if the Lib Dems settle for the ‘alternative vote’ system in single member constituencies rather than a more advanced proportional representation system it will make little difference to election results which are seriously skewed, in the UK/Westminster system, towards the biggest parties.
Of course in Norn Iron the alliance with the Tories was a non-vote-winner for the Unionist Party, among other things losing its one sitting MP, Sylvia Hermon, who wasn’t inclined in that direction. But even a staunch unionist should have realised that, effectively, voting for the Tories in Northern Ireland is like turkeys voting to have the slaughter man in at Easter. It’s going to be tough times all around and particularly in the North where there is a huge reliance on the British exchequer – if the budget deficit in the Republic is up to 14% then the ‘true’ figure for the North could be over 30%. Not good in an era of cuts. Meanwhile the community and voluntary sector in the Republic faces ongoing decimation as previously agreed government funding comes to an end.
In the Republic there was some debate about Labour coming top in a poll, as it was only one, but it is clear Eamon Gilmore remains most popular choice as Taoiseach, though Fine Gael seems to have recovered somewhat after the recent Kenny-Bruton sparring match for leader, with the title holder winning the bout. One thing is sure; the electorate is not going to swiftly let Fianna Fail off the hook for having so woefully mismanaged the economy; and official reports point to internal factors and policies rather than externalities (worldwide recession) as the origin of most of the Republic’s financial woes. Woe to us, indeed.
Personally I’m a political animal but not a party-political animal, and in the context of duh Nort I have voted for a number of different parties ‘on different sides’ who looked like they deserved support for the moves they had (or even had not) been making. However maybe I’m too much of an oul radical to tie my rope to one particular brand – because I know I’d be disappointed. For example, the Greens in the Republic can point to some small changes they have been responsible for in coalition with FF but on the overall issues – and the economic policies which led to the biggest bust-down in recent history – well, they have no visibility and they now have almost no visibility in the polls (down to 2%).
I suppose party politics is a necessary evil in the sense that it is part of what democracy is about. But only part. Civil society pressure on those politicians is somewhere I would find it more relevant to be. The North has a more developed social and community service than the Republic but when you consider aspects of it you think – surely we could design a society which functions better than this? Take the example of vulnerable elderly people dependent on a home help coming in to bring their lunch, prepare their tea, and talk to them. Well, how long would you allocate for this, thinking of people who probably can’t get out by themselves and depend for human contact on such a service. What would be adequate? OK, let’s say one hour a day. And what do they get – quarter of an hour, the time allowed for a home help to serve their lunch, leave their tea ready, talk to them, and get to the next call. Fifteen minutes. It’s pathetic but it’s the reality. Surely we can design a society which cares for its older people – who, apart from any other considerations, have in their own way and in their own time cared for us – in a way which affords them dignity. What they receive is actually reducing people to assembly line type processing, the only thing which dignifies it being the effort of the people (women) working as home helps to humanise it.
We could do so much better, North and South, and the elderly are just one example of a vulnerable group. I believe history will judge us harshly in how we have cared for people in need of care and attention. It may not be as damning a judgement as that meted out regarding child care institutions in the Republic in the past, but it will be damning nevertheless. Despite recession, despite all sorts of things, we could have harnessed the resources of society to care for people properly – and we didn’t. But it is never too late to try, and to try to succeed we need a lot of imagination.
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So there we go, here’s to the summer holliers, and whether you’re here, there, or yonder I wish you all the very best at getting your (green) batteries recharged. But I hate to say it, it’ll be September when I see you again, and that’s the time of year I hate with a vengeance as schools restart and schedules ratchet up again. Aaaarghhhh. So make the best of the summer, cos summer destined not to take a decent break and that leaves them exhausted. Before I sign off, I was going to tell you of the appropriateness of the name of a church treasurer whose letter was misdelivered to a place of employment of mine; Bill Moneypenny, d’ye get it, ‘Bill’ ‘Money’ ‘penny’, what a name for a treasurer, it sounds like a bit made up to me. Anyway, have a great time whatever you’re up to, and see you unfortunately soon, Billy.
PS I haven’t quoted Christy Moore’s definition of summer holidays from that great old song Lisdoonvarna for a few years so I’ll end with that [I knew it, you’re surely great at recycling, all the old ones get repeated – Ed]
“When summer come around each year
They come here and we go there.
is Billy King? A long, long time ago, in a more
innocent age (just talking about myself you understand),
there were magazines called 'Dawn' and 'Dawn Train'
and I had a back page column in these. Now the Headitor
has asked me to come out from under the carpet to write
a Cyberspace Column 'something people won't be able
to put down' (I hope you're not carrying your monitor
around with you).
Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman
pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little
about horses even if someone with a similar name is
found astride them on gable ends around certain parts
of Norn Iron).