Friday 9 April 2010

Why being an outsider matters

I grew up in Catholic Ireland.  In fact, when I was growing up, Ireland was considered so Catholic that it was assumed there were no other religions in Ireland, or Southern Ireland to be exact.  It just goes to show, majority rules!

But there were other religions - every other religion - all hidden away in the crevices of society.  In my case, my mother is a Protestant and my father is a Catholic.  That single dynamic has influenced the very core of my personality... for my brothers it appears less important.  Perhaps it was because I was the eldest... But whatever the reason, it left me with a profound awareness of the need for tolerance and compassion.

I heard the comments directed at Protestants in Ireland, the assumptions, the ignorance, the insults... and each one hurt me as acutely as if they had been directed at me personally.  How could others demonise, minimalise and marginalise others, with no basis in truth, just because of ignorance and fear? 

As I've travelled and lived, I've come to realise how deeply blessed I was by this experience.  Others, who 'fit in', who have never had to consider any reality beyond the mainstream cliches of their culture, seem to fear any one who is different: in my limited experience, they seem to treat them with suspicion and derision. 

Please note, I'm not saying that those on 'the margins' are wholly accepting or wholly good... simply that being an outsider can force us to look at a wider perspective, to search for bridges of understanding, to seek ways to come together rather than fall apart. 

This was my experience, and how it impacted me.  Others may have found that it built up walls rather than crumbled them...  And yet, I suspect, that all of us have some experience of being on the outside, of 'looking in', of feeling left out... in those moments we become acutely aware of the power of inclusion, of the social and personal need to feel accepted for who we are.  In my idealistic and naive way, I wish we could make more use of that experience to be more open, to peak over the wall and wonder who the person on the other side of that wall is, to be more accepting of our differences rather than fearing them.

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