Them and us and me

The Cast Stone

The days of being told what to think, what to feel, what to experience are gone

The days of being told what to think, what to feel, what to experience are gone

The Cast Stone
Michael Gallagher

Irish society is throwing off the shackles with great gusto. At long last, people are beginning to express themselves and live the way they see fit. I like this, but we have a long way to go, and it will take at least another generation before we have the collective will to create a society where more than a semblance of equality exists.
I don’t perceive myself as being old, yet I have lived through hugely intriguing times where society has moved from ‘them and us’ stagnation to the ‘me’ society. I know the former was an absolute mind-wrecking way to live and the latter is better, but it’s not perfect by any means.
So, what do I mean when I say the society I grew up in was defined by ‘them and us’? It’s simple really. People were either in our gang or they weren’t. They were either Catholics like us or they weren’t. They were either republicans/nationalists like us or they weren’t. They were either GAA people or they weren’t. They were either Fíanna Fáil supporters or they weren’t. Society was broken down into ‘them and us’ everywhere one looked, and in my view, the centrepoint it revolved around was religion.
We were told how to think, told how to feel, told when to be happy, told when to be sad, told who we could fancy and who we could love.
We were told what was right. We were told what was wrong. We were told one church was good and another was bad. We were told, we were told, we were told. How annoying that was.
Thankfully, things have changed and changed dramatically. Now, being told how to think by a religious representative of some kind would be laughable to me, and that’s the way it should be. I don’t need someone telling me what’s right and what’s wrong. I don’t need people standing in downtown Castlebar shouting into a microphone about God, about their perceived learned views on sexuality or about the fires of some flame-ridden hell that exists in their minds.
I couldn’t care less what they think or what they believe. If they want to live a life bound by the writings of the Bible or some other religious manuscript, that’s absolutely fine with me, but thankfully someone shouting about it on a street corner is nothing but entertainment these days.
That’s the way it should be. We should look to live within the laws of our nation, but apart from that, we can think and do whatever we like. The days of being told what to think, what to feel, what to experience are gone, and good riddance to them.
However, I’m not sure what I describe as the ‘me’ society is the answer to all our woes either. In my view, many of us now concentrate on ourselves and the lives we live to the detriment of our communities. We work, we earn, we come home and we close ourselves off to the outside world. The number of volunteers in community and sporting organisations is falling rapidly, despite the growth in our population. The number of people getting involved in political parties or pressure groups is dwindling – when new thinking is so badly needed.
Take a look at Oireachtas TV some time. It’s like an audition for an elderly Ireland’s Got Talent. Old men shouting about Daz washing powder and electric cars. There are a few women to be seen sometimes, and the odd younger person flits across the screen on occasion, but they’re too rare.
Of course, some of the members of the Dáil and Seanad are still dynamic in spite of their age, but why in this era of free-thinking have we not elected a younger, more diverse parliament? Until we do so, we will have a certain ‘them and us’ attitude persisting at the top echelons of Irish society. Those in power will tell us how to think, tell us how to turn off the lights and turn down the heat, tell us not to ask for a living wage, tell us the thousands of homeless really don’t exist.
Thankfully, Irish society has come a long way in a few decades. In many aspects of our lives we can think for ourselves and make decisions in our own best interests, but until that change reaches the floor of our parliament we will still be somewhat mired in the past where we were told what to think and how to be.