Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 29 July 2014

If you ask me we would all be better off keeping quiet

Oh to be simple and single-minded! To embrace the Queen and the Jubilee whole-heartedly with a mini Union Jack in one hand and a sausage roll in the other, waving and cheering for a woman I’ve never met but whom I love just because she is the head of a country and everyone else is doing it and the telly and radio have organised loads of events for it so why not?

Sometimes, just sometimes, I wish I could stop questioning and just join in.

Doesn’t have to be on that side. I could be equally simple and single-minded and take the opposite view. I could embrace opposition to the Queen and the Jubilee whole-heartedly, with a pint in one hand and a copy of the Daily Mirror in the other, waving and jeering against a woman I’ve never met but whom I despise because she is at the head of a system that has kept this country in an attitude of feudal servitude for centuries and is probably the root of all the problems we have today from unemployment to the price of petrol via crime, prostitution and littering.

But the single-minded approach eludes me. I feel claustrophobic in the company of people who are so absolutely certain about things that they feel the need to wave something in the air to demonstrate their certainty, whether it’s a flag, a gun, or just their excited hands. So what’s the alternative to one end or the other? A well-known contributor to this paper wrote on his Facebook page last week about the Jubilee weekend. He said he didn’t know whether “to flee or stand and mock”.

Are those the only choices available if you don’t go down the Entirely For or Entirely Against routes?

What about a really challenging approach? And this is an approach that might be worth considering for all the contentious events in our yearly calendar, from Orange marches to republican commemorations to TV talent shows and out-dated singing contests.

How about taking a vow that you won’t open your mouth unless you know for sure that what you’re going to say will actually contribute to the wellbeing of those around you?

How about living and letting live? Just shutting up the opinion gremlin that sits on your shoulder and tells you you have to let everyone know every single thought you have on every single subject?

At a visceral level, I personally find all things to do with Orange marches and bonfires and the Twelfth completely repellent. Probably because I was brought up in a Catholic nationalist way. Possibly because I disagree intellectually with celebrating something so divisive.

But every time I drive past the pallets stacking up on the side of Belfast’s Milltown Road for the huge bonfire there and my sphincter contracts with a mix of fear and loathing, that’s a victory for bigotry and ignorance. The people who support the Twelfth aren’t some alien monsters, but I create them that way in my head. I get very right that they are very wrong. What gets lost in the process is freedom.

What keeps us trapped here isn’t history, it’s our preference for being right about our own view, over the freedom to accept that everyone’s view is as valid to them as ours is to us.

To flee or to stand and mock? How about just letting it be?

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