Ignorance of Welsh

Anwybodaeth – Ignorance

Well, here’s a new word for the day, always an exciting moment for the language learner. We can see ‘gwybod- to know’ hiding away inside anwybodaeth, which in itself is a rather wonderful concept.

As a Welshman, I often have to tolerate ignorance of the language, not just knowledge of the language itself, but ignorance towards it.

I grew up as a non-Welsh speaker, in a part of Wales where speakers of the language were few and far between. The only Welsh speaker I knew personally was my great-uncle and he lived in Surrey, England. At school, we made jokes about the Welsh teachers and this funny little language they tried unsuccessfully to teach us. At high school we even had classmates whose parents took them out of Welsh classes as it was a ‘dead language’. Yet, growing up in Wales most of us held a sense of being supportive and respectful of the language, despite the jokes we made about it.

As we grew older, we slowly began to realise how odd, how unusual it is to be in a country with a minority language, where it is one of many other minority languages such as Hindi, Arabic, Polish, Mandarin or Spanish, but where that minority language is the native language of the country, a language much older than the concept of the nation of Wales. The non-Welsh speaking Welsh, as I once was, have this strange relationship with the language. We put up with the hassle of bilingual information as we feel a sense of guilt about not speaking Welsh, or a sense of anger perhaps that our family lost use of the language in only recent generations, or that our English ancestors played a hand in trying to suppress it. Whilst feeling supportive of the language, we are always aware that the Welsh-Welsh, as we called them, who seemed were much more passionate about the language than we were, I used to often hear ‘oh she’s very Welsh she is’ this being in Wales! Also, we felt a little bit scared of learning the language, for fear we would turn into some rabid nationalist, ever cursing the oppression of the English.

I believe everyone in Wales knows that learning Cymraeg,  the language of Wales is a political act. Really, if it wasn’t such a political act I feel fewer people would be put off learning it. Yet, we all boisterously sing the national anthem ‘Mae hen wlad fy nhadau’ and in particular ‘O bydded i’r hen iaith barhau – Long may the old language continue’

And then I decided to learn Welsh and things changed. The change being that instead of supporting this facet of Welsh life, I became part of it. There is this strange moment in learning a language, where it ceases to be simply an academic exercise and you accept the language fully into you. Even though I am far from fluent and attempting to write this essay in Welsh would require huge amounts of effort and result in hundreds more mistakes, I now feel as though I am a member of the Welsh speaking community. It’s not that I feel any more or less ‘Welsh’, rather that I simply have an extra dimension of Welshness, a new language to be Welsh, or English (which is lots of fun), or indeed anything else  in.

As I am a Welsh speaker, it is obvious to me that it is a living breathing language, that I always now have a choice, to use Welsh or English, or even any other language I become passably proficient in. It’s this choice, that seems to be the root cause of all the language politics. Welsh is still a minority language, and us Welsh people, being a generally polite bunch, don’t like speaking when there are people present who can’t understand what we are saying. I lived in a town with numerous Welsh speakers, and they never uttered a word of Welsh to me, until that is I started speaking to them in Welsh. However, people have come to realise that if we only speak Welsh with other Welsh speakers, then the language will die, it will cease to be a living language. Is it really fair that Welsh should die, just because it has lived peacefully alongside what became the worlds lingua-franca (English) for it’s entire life? where is English’s respect for it’s elders? Really what is so difficult about saying:

‘Mae’n ddrwg gen i, dw i ddim yn siarad cymraeg’ well you might struggle with that, but probably not if you went to school in Wales,  so how about:  ‘Sorry, I don’t speak Welsh’. No-one will bite your ears off for saying this, even at the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol, whenever someone starts a conversation in Welsh with you.

No, it isn’t the most wonderful experience to be somewhere surrounded by people speaking another language, we’ve all been there at some point. Usually we just go ‘well I am in the middle of Africa, i shouldn’t really expect everyone to speak English’, so why don’t people think this in deepest darkest Wales? You do have theluxury of still being able to communicate in English, which isn’t always the case in Africa and you can always learn the language if you want to join in the fun. It’s optional, no-one is actually forcing anyone to speak this language, but it is a living language, so the option to speak,  read signs or whatever in Welsh should always be there for those that do speak.

I can almost hear the usual critiques wailing ‘but why should children be ‘forced’ to learn Welsh at school’, yet these people generally have no problem with teaching children to read, do sums, learn about science, or history, or Finnish literature,well that’s usually only an option, unless you happen to be in Finland. This is the point, no-one in Finland says ‘why should my child have to learn about Finnish literature, they can read in English! So, really, why should it be any different in Wales?

And then people go on about the money it costs to produce material in two languages. It doesn’t cost that much and I’ll wager there are at least a hundred things the government waste much more money on than supporting a native language. Welsh is valuable anyway, it is not until you can speak more than one language that you realise how restrictive, how bias any individual language is.

This is the thing, you more you learn about Welsh, or really any other subject, the more you encounter ignorant views about it. Why isn’t there more awareness about ignorance. Why do we now seem to live in a world where a view is equally valid from someone with no knowledge of the subject? I rarely hear news about life in say, Laos. If I hear some news from Laos, I may well have an opinion about it, but I wouldn’t dream of thinking that my ill informed view is as important as the opinion of a Laotian about it. Yet why do some people seem to think opinions about Welsh are valid without an understanding of Welsh. Yes, outside opinion is often useful, but decisions should be made with the best available evidence and that surely has to involve the Welsh speaking community.

The thing is, now that Welsh is a part of me, I am now more protective about the language. Any attack on the language feels like an attack on me and all the other Welsh speakers. It is so easy to forget that in becoming a member of something, you can forget , or become ignorant of what it like to be ignorant of it. Nothing is wrong about someone in England making jokes about Welsh, to them it is just this funny little language they may have heard on a summer holiday in Wales. After all that is what is was to me when I was young and ignorant of the language.

We should respect and tolerate ignorance, no-one can know everything but no-one should try and ascribe equal value to views based on ignorance.

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Privileged Ignorance & Harrassment

I am a privileged white male. As such I haven’t ever really suffered from discrimination or harassment. I have never been racially abused or been sexually discriminated against. I have on occasion suffered a little homophobia from men who presumed I was gay.

Yet, in spite of this privilege, I have suffered from anxiety. I have been hyper-sensitive to discrimination that never really came my way, it was all in my own head. Having overcome this anxiety I ran into a new problem, that people were still behaving peculiarly around me, notably women and something seemed to be triggering it. This issue vexed me greatly and had me going around in circles trying to work it out for years, wondering if I had overcome anxiety after all.

I eventually worked out that the reason for the shift in the behaviour by these women, was that they had decided that I was seeking a relationship with them. The thing is, i wasn’t seeking a relationship, well no more than I do with everyone. I mean I wasn’t trying to force a closer or indeed a sexual relationship. Yet once they had ‘decided’ this, their behaviour towards me changed completely. In itself this isn’t a problem, the problem was that it bugged me for not knowing why the behaviour had changed and made me anxious again.

However, most of us are attracted to other people and it is a ego boost, a positive thing when we discover that other people are attracted to us. However the reaction to me seemed something much stronger, much darker and more sinister.

The answer dawned on me one evening in London. I was following a man and a woman down the street, they seemed to be having an argument. This seemed quite a normal occurrence until the man stopped and walked the other way, he seemed almost instantly calm as if he didn’t know the woman. It then dawned on me that perhaps he didn’t know this women, who was striding purposefully on, looking straight ahead, you would at least think about looking around to a friend or partner who had left an argument. I then realised that he may have been simply harassing her, or giving unwanted attention to this woman and quite possibly sexual harrassment.

This may well have been an everyday incident on a city street. However it was new to me and I began wondering how much abuse has been taking place in front of my eyes, yet somehow I had been blissfully ignorant of it.

If you are lucky never to have really been abused, you do not know what it is like, or what it looks like. If you live within a privileged bubble, such events are not on your radar. Being a reasonably educated person, I tend to socialise with other educated people, so this world of discrimination and abuse must happen elsewhere outside this bubble. So safely enconsed in this privileged bubble we don’t even notice such abuses when they may be right in front of us.

The thing is, I’ve been an anxious person and am highly sensitive, why hadn’t I noticed all this going on before. If I hadn’t noticed it, then surely it must be even harder to spot for more conventional white males whom are more central in the white male privilege bubble.

This revelation opened up this horrid tawdry world of abuse that exists everywhere. In particular, it made me realise the shit that women have to put up with, probably on an almost daily basis. If you are regularly harassed you are going to develop strategies to protect yourself.

Hence, I had stumbled upon the reason why these women were behaving strangely towards me. They were detecting cues and clues for potentially abusive behaviour from me and raised their guard. This was such an amazing relief for me to uncover, there wasn’t anything wrong with me, I really didn’t need to be anxious! There was no reason, or anything about me as a person that was being  guarded against, but simply a manifestation of how awfully too many of my ‘fellow’ white males behave.

The great thing about this, is I can now detect it. So, when I start seeing a lady being uncomfortable with me, I am able to recognise it and back off and fortunately this doesn’t mean  I end up in uncomfortable situations anymore or lose friendships because of it anymore. I am aware of my own privilege, though I view it as a curse, it has clouded from me truths about the world. I am always welcoming people who are not members of this odd group of people called ‘white males’ into my circles and am always amazed now by how happy  people are to accept white males into their circles despite the potential increased risk of abuse.

Working Relationships and Compromise

Often, when we talk about relationships we consider our interrelations with other people and perhaps we usually neglect to think about our intrarelations. Sometimes, we have easy, good relationships because the intrarelationship is almost intuitive and requires no effort, in other relationships the intrarelations are difficult and often are the real cause of a relationship to break down. People fail to recognise their need to help others and instead prioritise their personal ambitions.

So, what are intrarelations? These are the decisions we reach that occur outside of communication. Indeed in long term relationships they are discussed, but this is something we only engage with with those closest to us, or when things are not working out. A large part of these decisions are about what we do as people to achieve a balance in our lives. This balance is between our own inner lives and our social lives.

I don’t believe in altruism, the idea of acting for no personal gain. If we do something for the benefit of others we also gain, from fulfilling our needs to play a role socially and be useful, so helping others helps ourselves and our society.

There are things we really want to do and there are things people want to do with us. Sometimes we are really lucky and what we really want to do will also be what our loved ones also want to do; these are often the very best times in our lives. Often we choose something we quite like doing with a group of friends to something we want to do more by ourselves because doing things together socially has it’s own rewards and adds enjoyment. However, most of the time we have to make decisions about whether to do what we want to do or engage in a social activity. Often we prefer to do something involving other people to something by ourselves, because we are social animals and we thrive from social activities. However over time we start to get increasingly niggly about doing the thing at the top of our list that we never seem to get around to doing and start prioritising it. conversely, after some time doing what we really want we may then desire to something we are not terribly keen on, just to be with a particular person or group or to experience something different. So interrelations are perhaps all those decisions about balancing our individual priorities.

Occasionally there are conflicts, we are all different and have different needs. For example introverts tend to need more time by themselves, whilst extroverts need more social time. So, it is easy to understand how an introvert and an extrovert may have conflicts. Having said that some very strong bonds can form between these two opposites, when each party is prepared to listen and compromise and find a way for both of them to be happy.

So in a relationship there needs to be some way of ascertaining what the others persons feelings are. Usually we ask indirectly and gauge the answer, for example “Do you fancy coming to the pub with me tonight?”. Possible answers are:

1- “Yes, I would love to go out with you tonight” [Highly affirmative]

2- “Yes, why not, but I probably shouldn’t stay too long” [Affirmative, but not the others priority]

3- “No, I have other things to do tonight, do you need me to come?” [Negative, but will do so as a favour]

4- “No, I don’t fancy it tonight” [Highly negative]

Another spectrum! , the answers 2 and 3, in effect ask a further question of the other person’s priority in doing the activity and their need for social activity.

Such a system is open to abuse and manipulation and often this causes friction in a relationship. It is easy for the person wanting to go to the pub to encourage the other to join them, however repeatedly forcing the other will eventually go beyond their desire to compromise. Sometimes people will inflict their own personal priority systems on others, for example an extrovert may feel that the introvert would be better off socialising more, rather than staying at home, but this is wrong and dangerous. However there are times, when a person will be better off for doing something that are not inspired themselves to do, but you need to know each other well to do this.

Essentially, a good strong relationship, is where both parties have a healthy balance between their social and private desires.

It is possible to explore wider types of relationships from the standpoint of achieving this balance. When community relationships are explored, as the social net becomes wider, the intra-relationship is at risk of not being maintained by social convention.

Markets

In Wales, as in much of Europe, we used to do most of our everyday trading locally, I was lucky to grow up in such a community. We would know personally our local ‘butcher, baker and candlestick maker’, we would meet and form friendships within our communities as we wandered the market doing our shopping. Traders, would learn what our preferences were, indeed such relationships were good for trade. However this gentle manipulation was appreciated, for example often the butchers recommended cuts, would mean we enjoyed our meat more. The relationship was maintained as the trader wouldn’t want to rip-off or off load bad meat onto a customer, who they would then lose future trade with. Hence mutually supportive relations were established between customers and traders. Often people lament that such economic relationships don’t happen anymore. Indeed, so many of us no longer even have a local butcher, baker or local market. Instead we travel, often long distances,  to large multi-national supermarkets, where we have practically no relationship with the seller of our goods. The effect of this change is that shopping becomes more of a chore and we lose out on social interaction within our communities.

In place of this social interaction we have the phenomenon of marketing. Rarely nowadays, do retailers provide for the needs of their customers. Vast amounts of research and study of numbers have been done, simply to find ways of maximising profits. These ways of maximising profits have little to do with satisfying peoples needs and wants, but generally work to increase profits, essentially by manipulation and finding artificial ways of making people feel satisfied with their shopping. Having worked for a supermarket myself, I appreciate how easy it is to become institutionalised and  of serving the commercial needs at the expense of the staff and customers, it is so easy to allow the compromises of the job to become a new normal and accepted.

Romantic Relationships

A desire most people have is to find a partner, someone to share most of their life with. This usually isn’t easy, indeed we invest a lot of time in wishing for such successful fulfilling partnerships. However, like in marketing, a plethora of research has been done and people have found ways to manipulate generalities to increase their success in finding partnerships where the relationship can be exploited to maximise an individuals priorities at the expense of doing things for the other person. However where manipulation doesn’t occur and true compromises are reached is often the recipe for a successful relationship.

It isn’t hard to find people who are game players, who have worked out how to have relationships that satisfy their personal ambitions, to use general rules at the expense of establishing truly mutually beneficial relationships or fulfill their need to support someone else. It isn’t hard either to find doormats either, who only want to make their partner happy at the expense of their personal needs. True fulfilling relationships perhaps does only come from achieving a good balance.

Disc Jockeys

In this age of on demand digital media, the demise of the traditional radio Disc jockey (DJ) has been predicted. There is the idea that we don’t need someone to sit in a studio playing records for us, when we can do it ourselves and choose the music we like. Yet, arguably now is a golden era of the DJ. A good DJ will not merely play records they like, though this   is what they do, they create programmes. Radio programmes are an attempt to collate things we are interested in in interesting ways, they enhance our listening to music. A good DJ achieves this in a number of ways. Firstly curation, a good DJ will spend a lot of time discovering music for themselves and their listeners and becoming highly skilled at this. Indeed searching for music on the internet, or even developing a decent algorithm for  selecting an internet stream isn’t easy, so having a professional helps. The music is then blended together, so pieces of music flow and provide interest and a story through the order in which they are selected. Finally a good DJ will chat with the listener, creating warm feelings and making the whole process of listening a lot more personal. A good DJ does their job for other people, and may even play a piece they don’t like, but feel that their listeners will find it interesting in it’s context. A DJ listens and makes compromises with their audience. Really, the good DJ fulfills their personal needs and their social needs.

In contrast, there continues to be a plethora of commercial radio, which is truly awful. Many radio stations simply use the model of playing the most popular pieces of music of the day and the aim of the game is not to provide good programming, but manipulate their audience in to staying tuned in for the next set of advertisements. It is often so soulless.

Politics

It is perhaps in the arena of party politics, where the this disconnect demonstrating the failure of modern relationships to achieve healthy balances occurs.

The job of a politician is simply to make good decisions. In a democracy, the politicians are elected, so should demonstrate to the electorate that they are good decision makers by making it clear what they base their decision making on.

A politician is also someone whom is interested in politics, so will have personal goals they wish to achieve in helping create the kind of thriving society they want to see. However, they are entering into a relationship with their electors, so compromises are required, to find solutions that work for the community.

Really it doesn’t matter if a politician is of the left or the right-wing as long as they make good decisions and achieve a good balance with their own ideals and the good of the society they serve, for then good decisions are made.

However as the political sphere becomes ever more centralised, the direct relationship with the electors is lost and the role stops being about serving the community. In consequence being a politician becomes more about personal achievements at the expense of social achievements.

Being a member of political party and having done some canvassing for elections (Plaid Cymru), I have become interested in the welfare of the party, rather than the society it aims to serve. These days, party politics is notorious for rules for saying and doing what works to help the party gain votes and win elections, often at the expense of losing sight of improving the economy and society. I was with a candidate who was asked a question on the street and they gave a very grod ‘politicians’ answer of not saying anything. I knew he had good answers, but was concerned about saying something that would be misinterpreted by a potential opponent at the end of a long tiring canvassing session (Remember you have been saying very similar things to lots of people for several hours, so your brain starts turning to cardboard by the end!).

The famous example being Tony Blair’s government, where the government became a slave to focus groups and engineering policy to win elections, rather than doing the right thing. Winning elections became more important than improving the economy. Blair was good at compromising, he was a master at it, he was a failure in my eyes because he didn’t really make any progress his own convictions to improve  society, I don’t even know if he had any, he seemed merely to want to win the game.

I recently read ‘The Greasy Poll’ by Mike Parker who stood for my party in the Ceredigion UK general election of 2015. In this diary of an election from the candidates view, a world was revealed of his words (that there are racists in Ceredigion) being taken out of context by the press (‘he said that all incomers are Nazis!’), which seemed to have led to him failing to win the seat. It seemed to him that ordinary people can’t succeed in politics because they can’t be themselves, for if they are, they are crucified. Perhaps only a slick politician who is very careful to say nothing that could be misinterpreted is successful.

However now we are in the Brexit/Trump era, where people have got fed up with politicians not being honest with their views and opinions, that mavericks such as Trump and Farage get the votes, by appealing to this discontent but just using a different set of words to do it. Instead of the glib “We are going to make things better, don’t listen to the other lot as they want to make things worse!”, this new breed say “The other politicians don’t say anything, so listen to my populist rhetoric of finding scapegoats for our problems instead” What a politician says has become far more important than what they do. It seems we live in a world where a soundbite that resonates is more important than a deed that actually helps improve something. Where are the politicians who have sound personal ambitions and the ability to make decisions that work for the whole of society?

Take the current leaders of the two largest political parties in the UK. On one side we have Jeremy Corbyn, a socialist campaigner, who has thus far failed to convince the population as a whole that he is able to listen and find a workable compromise with those who are socialists. On the other side we have Teresa May, a right-wing authoritarian, who only seems to serve her ideological ambitions and in real terms has yet to do anything to genuinely serve society. She is able to say that she cares, even when she does nothing at all to act on these cares.

It seems that you have to play the game to be proficient at succeeding in the party political game, to rise to senior position where you can actually achieve something, yet by that point they are so distorted by the game to be unable to do anything positive at all. So perhaps all politicians have a broken relationship with the the people in their society. Such politicians do not help society, nor make progress in advancing their individual cause, they only win the game of of politics. In the same way as the ladies man may rack up lots of partners, but never achieve a deep meaningful relationship. An executive business person, may achieve success for their company. career, but not any real tangible benefit to society, or any real achievement, outside of the corporate game.  A popular DJ, may rack up millions of listeners listening to them in the background, whereas the good DJ can seriously touch peoples lives and change people’s thinking with their selection of music.

I wrote last time about what is an achievement. I do just believe that making a real difference to society, or forming a mutually beneficial relationship is an achievement. Whereas winning an artificial game is much no achievement at all, in any game someone has to win and someone has to lose, the winner has not really achieved anything. Perhaps interrelationships are passing fun, but intrarelations are where true success can be achieved.