A City United

I often use this blog to talk about the importance of respecting differences between people, for we are all different, we cannot not be. Yet there is always more that unites us as human beings, common thoughts and feelings we all share.

Many people in the world have experienced terrorism. Terrorism is directly caused by division and forces that enforce that division. I’m British, the British government have been responsible for some of the worst divisional conflicts in the world: Northern Ireland, the formation of Israel-Palestine, Iraq and Syria and the partition of India. All of these conflicts have bred hate, division and terrorism.

This week I’ve been the closest I’ve ever been to an act of terrorism, the explosion at a pop concert in Manchester. I used to live in Manchester, I attended concerts at the city’s arena where the tragic events took place and i support one of the city’s football teams. I was concerned about my friends who still live in Manchester and their families. After the shock and concern there was a feeling of anger, of frustrations about the inability to get anything done about terrorism. However, the news then turned to the aftermath, such as the Manchester taxi drivers who offered people lifts to safety for free, the people who  helped parents find their children. Even the offer of Manchester United fans to dedicate their UEFA cup win to all of Manchester (I’m a Manchester City supporter myself) was a move towards unity. The sense of the majority of a community coming together in a spirit of unity, that the city would not be broken into division and hate.

Of course, not everyone shared that feeling of unity. There were calls by some to further ostracise the Muslim community, to rally the anger into an increased mistrust of Muslims. Such calls create division and are exactly what causes terrorism in the first place. If you are different and bullied for being so, you can find some solace in groups such as ISIS, to give into anger and share it with others with a similar story. Conflict becomes a vicious spiral where recriminations build and thinks deteriorate into more violence and death.

I can almost hear the criticism of these words by some conservatives of the thoughts of a liberal: That reaching out to people is not the way to resolve these problems. It all comes down to why I really don’t get right wing thinking. To me, the idea that there is one way to be, that one size fits all, just simply doesn’t work.

In Manchester, we like there being two big football clubs because you can find the club that suits you as an individual, but we share a love of Manchester football. I really don’t get why people would support United, but I appreciate that their supporters feel the same way about our lot. When I first starting going to Maine Road, I got a buzz from being accepted by the community of fellow City supporters and singing together about our love of the football club. In particular the feeling of inclusion and solidarity of attending away games in the boisterous away end.As a younger man, there were times I did feel a hatred towards Manchester United. Then I was guided through an acceptance that Manchester United weren’t so different from us after all, that we shared much in common. Indeed both clubs proudly sing versions of the same song ‘Oh Manchester is wonderful!’

In Wales, we seek an economy that allows Wales to grow and flourish, for Welsh culture to thrive  and the one size fits all policies of the government in London simply don’t work. At times I have experienced negative feelings towards England and the English for the history of oppression of Wales and the Welsh. Yet I have learnt that it was never intentional, it was simply an effect of the roundabouts of English politics, Yet I love England and the British Isles as neighbours and fell we shoudl eb working together not against each other. I desire for Welsh autonomy does not have a desire for separation as its motivation.

In Christianity, we all go to different churches because we have found the churches we like that help us be closer to God, yet we appreciate that other people find different paths in different religions, with other styles of worship and spirituality. In churches we also find communities to be a part of and that gives us a strength that can be used to work together to help others.

A one size fits all system, forces people to conform to ideas that don’t quite fit. Encouraging  diversity allows people to find a place of strength which enables them to reach out to understand and respect the different ways of others better. One size fits nobody well.

The real tragedy of Manchester this week is that is was predominantly young people going to a concert by an artist, Ariana Grande, that they found they could relate to, who helped them find a sense of themselves and then experience the joy of celebrating the artist with other like-minded young people, just like a football match or a religious service. Yet, many of them lost their lives that night, due to the actions of a man, who hadn’t found his place in the world and people to share with, who was unable to then reach out to understand and help others, a person who could only find solace in a community of division, separating themselves off from the world, so lost that he took on their creed of vengeance on the world that had shut him out.

This was also the week of the death of Ian Brady, the Moors murderer. A man from Manchester who also murdered young people. It is also possible to view this troubled man as finding some kind of relief for his personal problems in killing and burying his victims on the Moors. As a society we should not exclude people or leave people behind.

Yes, it is sometimes a challenge to realise that those who make things harder for you or your community or indeed kill innocent children are not acting out of hatred to your kind, but are dealing with their own problems and you are the unfortunate victim. We are all victims sometimes of unfairness. The bully is never truly evil, but someone expressing rage about not finding their place the world, someone to take their own frustrations out on. The difficult part is realising how you are different and then finding ways to live at peace and friendship with those different from you. The task is to prevent people getting so lost and confused in the first place and not attacking them for where they have ended up, having failed to provide an inclusive society. A society that doesn’t divide it’s people but one that returns us to a culture where people are not ignored, where you will be picked up if you fall down. It isn’t always easy, as a species we still have a lot to do.

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I want my country back

This phrase has been heard numerous times over the course of the UK EU referendum. I have wondered what exactly it means to the people who utter it. Most accounts of this phenomena describe it as a  nostalgia for a society from the past, for simpler times and a desire for some of those elements to make a return. This is a sentiment to which anyone over over a certain age can relate to at some point.

For some it is a desire for a monocultural monoethnic conformist world where everyone thinks and behaves the same way. Quite why anyone would want that is beyond me, I grew up in such a world and hated it, I couldn’t wait to get away and explore the world. This view betrays a fear of the different, a fear of our fellow human beings. We are all different, so such a view just seems nasty.

However, often this nostalgia is for positive things. A friend and I of similar age were talking about growing up when we just went off exploring with our friends, climbing trees, building elaborate dam systems in local streams, making complex underground maze systems in barns full of straw bales, generally getting very muddy indeed. As long as we made it to someone’s house in time for tea or not home before it got dark, we were not reprimanded  (well only about getting muddy and we sensed our parents didn’t really mind, that the criticism was for forms sake). This is a world that can be longed for. a world where children are not stuck inside, lacking socialising with their peers, exploring themselves and the world around them. Longed for because it was a healthier childhood.

This EU referendum has highlighted this desire for better things from the past, such as affordable housing, education, secure employment or food. however it seems that instead of looking for the fundamental reasons why, much of British society is now worse, people are instead looking for someone else to blame, in this case immigrants (whoever they are, as we are all immigrants). There was a video on YouTube of a man being shouted at in Bristol to be told to ‘Go back where you came from?’, to which he replied ‘Do you mean Cardiff? [where he was from!]’. I don’t understand why anyone would blame people for things, or specifically people who are in some way different, for the problems. It is systems, governmental policy, not thinking things through, that are the problem.

A hatred of people, creates it’s own destructive downward spiral. Once you start blaming ‘other people’, you disconnect yourself from other people. This is highly dangerous and antagonistic. This is the force that creates terrorist groups such as ISIS, who hate everyone who is not a member of their group. So, people then hate ISIS, which leads to hatred of the people in ISIS, then fuzzy thinking and group-think take hold and suddenly it is all Muslims who are to blame, then all Arabs, then one day you have a referendum on membership of the EU where the debate becomes about immigration. Culminating in today, where a MP (member of the UK parliament) was shot by a gunman because he apparently disagreed with his locally elected MPs views.

For me, the country I want back is one of respect and tolerance. Where you behave as you see fit, without fear that some maniac isn’t going to shoot you, where children will return home at the end of the day.  A world where extremism, such as Nazi Germany was something we read about in history books.

This modern curse of extremism affects all of us, whoever we are, wherever in the world we might be. Last week another gunman killed around fifty people in a nightclub in Orlando, USA. Once we got over the shock that another fifty lives had been lost to this extremist disease, we realised that this was an attack on the LGBT community. I am not a member of the LGBT community and being a white, male heterosexual I haven’t encountered or really able to empathise with such discrimination. Anyway the attack was in a LGBT nightclub. LGBT nightclubs are safe spaces, places where members of the LGBT community can be themselves, with less fear. If you are not discriminated against you don’t know what it is like. I’m only really getting my head around this myself.

Last year I was in Germany. I was walking down the street and a guy shoulder charged into me and ran off. I turned to my friend (my host in Germany) to ask what had happened. He said “Well if you are going to walk around in a floral shirt, this sort of thing happens”. I was wearing a floral shirt and it was pointed out to me that almost all the German men wore striped shirts. It wasn’t for being Welsh, or foreign that I was charged at, but because my attacker assumed that I was LGBT. This incident didn’t affect me, I continued to enjoy my holiday. However if such things were a regular occurrence, an everyday thing, I would feel more and more excluded and perhaps seek out safe spaces where all the other non-stripey shirted people went.

So it seems that extremism enforces sub-cultures, which is the opposite of this nice simple world everybody really wants. So to get out of extremism perhaps requires strange things to happen.

And then there’s me. I have written about how I used to be an extremely anxious person. Someone who tried to exist in the shadows, not stand out, not say what I really thought. I tried to say and do what I thought people expected me to do, but I couldn’t, I failed at this, it is just easier to be myself. I was behaving as if I was being discriminated against, when I wasn’t at all, so I was really happy to realise that I am able to be myself, to do such things as cry when Wales loses to England at the football as I did today. However I have since learned how much of this awful discrimination there really is. It’s not just race, it’s gender, sexuality, age, nationality and many other things. There is this ‘expectation’ that we are supposed to be able to conform to, but no-one can say what this conformity actually is, or what it is for? Traditional values? like living in mudhuts, scraping a living off the land with no modern tools? Following one interpretation of a contradictory religious text, written thousands of years ago, when most people did live in mudhuts?

It’s quite simple, there is nothing wrong with respecting other people. Jesus taught that we should respect other people, why do so many ‘Christians’ act contrary to Jesus? Respect has to be learned. We do all get angry. Anger wells up for all sorts of reasons: when we hear people whistling when our national anthem is sung or when a gunman shoots a hard working woman with two young children. We all get angry.

Anger does not have to lead to hatred, we should all learn to control our anger. Like as children climbing a tree when the branch starts to break because of our weight, after getting to safety our first instinct was to blame the tree! We learn the folly of anger. When our football team loses, we don’t hate the winners, we learn to walk away knowing that our day will be some another day, when a gunman goes on a gun rampage in Florida, we do not blame the non-LGBT community, we feel sorrow for those with lost loved ones. When a politician is killed, though we do really get angry at politicians a lot of the time, we appreciate that they are a human being too and that the gunman is a flawed human being too, just like the rest of us.

So, lets stop blaming the tree. Lets go back to a world where we listen to each other with respect, where we exclude no-one, where our mothers would scold us if we ignored the new kid, where we don’t have problem with people being different as we are all different.

 

 

 

Football, People and Nationalism

Yesterday was a wonderful day to be Welsh. The national rugby team played well against the All Blacks, though lost in the final twenty minutes when the Kiwis turned things up a gear. Then Wales played our first match in the finals of an international football competition since 1958 and won a thrilling game of football, 2-1 against Slovakia. The Welsh fans sang a rendition of Calon Lan (A pure heart), which brought tears to my eyes. Reports came through of the fans singing and socialising with Slovakian and French fans in Bordeaux. Everything seemed so positive.

However, all this was in a context of the bad side of nationalism, the EU referendum debate and violence surrounding the football match between England and Russia. There seems to be a lack of understanding of what a positive nationalism or patriotism is.

A positive nationalism is an understanding of who you are as an individual and of the culture you grew up in, an identity within which to find a place to root yourself, a comradeship with people you share something in common with, people who you can let your hair down with, forget your own troubles and celebrate life together. As human beings we all have so much in common, yet we are all different. so it is good to share what we have in common and respect where we have different ideas. It is always interesting to explore different ideas, to delve into exactly what the fundamental difference is, but respect that difference.

I am a proud Welshman, first and foremost, i have a common feeling with the people and environment of Wales. Nonetheless I am also proud of people everywhere, struggling to make the world a better place to live. I am British, I have friends from England, Scotland and Ireland and appreciate how a wider British culture influences who I am. Furthermore I have particular feelings for the people of countries I have visited, part of their culture has also entered my life. I have nothing against countries I don’t know, they are simply places I have yet to visit, those cultures haven’t entered my life. It is possible to share and celebrate life with people from every culture all over the world, it just means a little bit more when you with people from the same home as you.

I believe that nationalism goes wrong when it is used as a negative force, particularly when it is used to back a political argument.

In the EU referendum there is a valid theoretical argument for leaving the EU. The problem is with the official leave campaign. I went to a panel debate about the EU referendum this week, what frightened me was that it clearly stood out that many advocates of the leave argument harbour a bigotry to immigrants, underneath and underpinning the argument is a bigotry towards people who are not local. It’s crazy as we are all immigrants, the number of people who have families that have lived in the same town for hundreds of years is tiny and so what. Even for those people, some of their ancestors will have come from further afield. I really don’t understand how people can allow hatred to influence their judgement, to appeal to negative perceptions of immigration, effectively to stoke racism to garner support. The UK has it’s problems but the cause isn’t immigration.

I am a football fan, it’s a wonderful game and the camaraderie between fans is a wonderful experience. So what is the difference between supporters of Wales and supporters of England. Perhaps the only real difference is size.

There are some deranged people who like to get drunk and pick fights with people. Football hooliganism is a problem because it allows these people to come together and find another lot of similarly deranged people to fight with. These have always been a minority of people associated with football. However with insularity and a herd mentality encourages people to get drawn into the provocation.

As a Welshman and Manchester City supporter and someone who has travelled around the world, there have been many occasions when I’ve gone to a bar to watch a match and been the only or one of a handful of fellow supporters. So, I have learned to be aware of being a minority and find ways of sharing love of football with people who support the other team. It is always special to be back in Wales, to really let go and be completely passionate about Wales. we even have a word for this ‘hiraeth’ (a kind of longing for home) .I love travelling, but there is no warmer feeling when you cross over the bridge back home to Wales.

However there are people from larger countries, such as England and Russia, where there is always enough fellow supporters to never be a minority, which gives people a wall to hide behind and why build walls, it allows national feeling to be closed, rather than open to other people and cultures. It is not good to always be in a majority or always in a minority, it can distort your thoughts, to separate someone from the self, to take on ideas from the collective without the opportunity to think them through properly.

What I don’t quite get about this misunderstanding of patriotism leading to a negative nationalism is that it seems to equate from an identification with states, rather than people. This leads then leads to a hatred of people in favour of support of a state, it seems so paradoxical. I don’t like the government and don’t feel a real connection with the UK state as such, I feel a connection instead to the people. I also dislike other states which seem to be making the world a worse place. For example, I take issues with the Russian state for invading another country (Ukraine)  it just seems bizarre in the connected twenty first century world for such military action to take place. However I realise that the Russian people are not the Russian state, i bear no ill will towards the Russian people. We all should try to influence our own states to be better, but as individuals we only have a very small influence, removing the current UK regime has long been a problem. No individual can be blamed for the actions of their state (well unless they happen to be it’s leader). Some  politicians will sometimes try to appeal to this perverted nationalism of support for the state, rather than our fellow man, this is wrong and plain weird.

Anyway the UK EU referendum has left everyone confused, myself included. I know many people who have switched from one side to other several times, there is no clear answer. If the polls are accurate, the UK as a whole is split 50:50. I hear a commentator say yesterday that due to the ever shifting sands of public opinion, the result may well be arbitrary. The difficulty with an arbitrary decisions based on peoples feelings on the day, is that the result could well be influenced by peoples national feeling as a result of what happens in the European football championship. Wales will play our friends and neighbours, England on Thursday, one week before the vote it will be a passionate affair, though hopefully will not influence the European Union question.

 

 

Tribes

Human beings have always been tribal by nature. People exist as part of tribes that offer support and a sense of belonging. There has always been a balance between competition and cooperation between tribes. This phenomena exists in other animals, whilst there is some aggression between tribes, there is a respect, because  those in the neighbouring tribe are often cousins. For example males who go off to mate in a nearby tribe to avoid in-breeding. In modern society, we are still tribal, the system has developed so that often we are a member of many different tribes, from the family unit to ones that cross international boundaries.

I love team sports. Principally I love football and rugby. I enjoy being part of the team, when I play in a team I give everything I can to the team. I also support professional teams. Supporting professional teams provides two services to me as an individual. There is the tribal sense of belonging and desire for the team to do well. There is also the interest and awe of observing professionals demonstrate skills and tactics, beyond my own skill level.

Watching professional sport is also akin to attending music concerts. Again there is the sense of belonging to the tribe of people who venerate particular musicians and the shared joy of listening with like minded souls. The ability to be positive about a particular style without an overly critical response. Arguably this could also apply to religion, career paths or genres of books and films I particularly like.

People sometimes find it strange that I support three football clubs. I grew up in rural Wales, lacking professional football teams. There was no football tribe that I already belonged to, so I ended up supporting three different tribes. I am lucky in that all three of my teams play in blue and white. The three clubs are different sizes and play at different levels of the football pyramid, so each offers a different interest. In rugby, I am more conventional, i support my home town team and my national team. Being Welsh this is mandatory, unless you really dislike the sport. In this sense I was already part of the tribe before I understood the game of rugby.

Whilst fierce rivalries exist between my teams and others. The huge passions evoked during a match are quickly put aside to join the bigger tribe of people who appreciate rugby/ football.

What is perhaps interesting sociologically is that in football I chose the teams to support. I didn’t actively choose through some analysis of the game or the relevant merits of each team, the teams I chose happened somewhat passively, accidentally. However, I have written in this blog about my status as an outsider, yet I strongly identify with these team tribes. Perhaps because I used to have an unfulfilled need to feel a sense of belonging. It is also interesting in that the football teams I support, historically are the big underachievers, the sleeping giants, often overshadowed by bigger more successful local rivals. So, whilst I didn’t actively choose the football teams I support, something in my personality drew me to them, this sense of the outsider and the joy of being welcomed into a big tribe of outsiders.

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The Manchester City tribal home. “We all live in a sky blue stadium!”

The biggest football team I support, the one I have been the most passionate about is Manchester City. In recent years, something very odd has occurred. They became a rich and successful club, actually winning things like the FA cup and  English Premier league titles. To be honest, I find this a little strange and unworldly, yet am wonderfully pleased by the success. I remember being at a game and the bloke next to me was getting very stressed and vocal about the teams performance against a rival team for the Premier league title. A fellow fan quipped “Don’t worry mate, we’re still in the play-offs!” a reference to the clubs recent past struggling to get back into the higher divisions. To me finishing second for Manchester City still feels like a big achievement.

Supporting football and rugby teams, historically has been about community, specifically working class communities. Life was tough, though there was a sense of solidarity. The achievements of the communities representatives in the sporting arena, when the team won, would provide a sense of joy and pride that would fill the week with positivity until the next game. The success or failure of the team/tribe provides a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs quite separate from the individuals life. In everyone’s struggle to be positive and happy, it is sometimes very useful to have something outside the self to provide extended uplifts or short bursts of sorrow to help keep ones own moods in perspective.