We don’t tend to associate the pursuit of community cohesion and peace with individual ambition but perhaps we should. In the long run, golfing genius Rory McIlroy may do more to overcome sectarianism than many a well-meaning community initiative.
I am off to Northern Ireland this evening and tomorrow am a guest speaker to the Belfast City Council Good Relations Unit, an invitation which is partly the result of the efforts of our growing RSA Ireland chapter. As an outsider, it is daunting to speak on an issue which is so much a part of the lives (and tragic pasts) of the audience. But it is also inspiring to be engaging with issues of community and social change in such a vivid context.
I still haven’t decided exactly what I am going to say, but I think tomorrow may see the re-emergence of a theme which used to be more prominent on this site – cultural theory. As loyal readers (by the way, how was your holiday mum?) may recall, this theory suggests there are four distinct ways of approaching organisational and social change: the egalitarian, which is about bottom-up, solidaristic, values-based change; the individualistic, which is about change driven by the pursuit of individual striving and ambition (for example through markets); the hierarchical, which is about top-down change led by experts and leaders; and the fatalistic which sees change as being unlikely, random and probably unsuccessful.
Cultural theorists advocate what they call ‘clumsy solutions’ which include all the three active modes of change, and recognition that many - if not most - people will be fatalists. Tomorrow I will suggest that most of the thinking, spending and action on overcoming segregation and hostility between the communities in Northern Ireland relates to initiatives which are either egalitarian or hierarchical in mode. What can we do to engage the power of individualism?
This is where the new US Open Golf champion comes in. Among the very many things we will hear about the amazing Mr McIlroy there are two particularly worth noting. The first is the dedication shown by Rory and his father in making him into the golfer he is now. My old friend Mick Fealty (of Slugger O’Toole fame) tells me of meeting up with McIlroy senior and his ten year old prodigy a few years ago. They were our playing a practice round having only just got off the airplane from having ‘a holiday’ in Florida. The US trip had been dedicated to Rory getting to know the course on which he was a few weeks later to play a world junior tournament. In a country where history, tribalism and fatalism seem so ubiquitous, stories of personal striving and success are powerfully needed.
A second relevant fact is that although McIlroy is a Catholic he has apparently gained the ire of some in the nationalist community by his willingness to – literally – drape himself in the flag of Northern Ireland. This is not I am told because he is political but rather the reverse; he isn’t interested in making a point either way.
Successful sportspeople with professional managers are strongly advised to avoid anything which might make them figures of political controversy and which could alienate potential fans. With Wimbledon starting today it is, perhaps, interesting to recall Andy Murray’s flirtation with Scottish nationalism a few years ago. This seems to have been put on the back burner more or less as soon as he became a ‘British’ hero in SW19. Wise move Andy.
Strong visionary leadership, good urban policy and the hard graft of community work are all important to start to overcome the divisions in Northern Ireland, but so are role models whose pursuit of individual ambition leaves no space for politics or tribalism.
I will come back to some of these issues tomorrow, in particular floating my idea for a star studded Good Community Awards Night to make integration as exciting and inspiring in Northern Ireland as are the rich cultures of loyalism republicanism.
But – I hear you all clamouring – how have you managed to link such serious matters to your pledge every day to make up a new rubbish joke for your blog…
The last time I went to Belfast I was having breakfast in the hotel when the man next to me asked the waiter for ‘your most popular fruit juice, a jar of marmalade and glass of Cointreau’
A few minutes later the waiter reappeared wearing a bowler hat, carrying a drum and holding a bag of satsumas.
’What on earth are you doing?’ said the surprised hotel guest
‘Oh’ said the waiter ’I’m part of the orange order’
We shouldn’t underestimate how far our societies have pulled apart. Yet there is hope for renewal, says Anthony Painter. The question is not whether we come together – but how.