The complexity of the conflict in Northern Ireland goes without saying. However, after many years of struggling to understand, my recent visit to Belfast has given me the opportunity to have a much better grip on it. As participants in the Young SIETAR Congress, we immersed ourselves in the local culture and conflict, exploring it from an intercultural lens. From all of the lessons which could be taken away, the one which resonates most with me is the impact of the cycle of fear on each new generation.
Just as the culture and traditions are past down from one generation to the next so is the conflict between the communities. During the Congress we watched a documentary, “Belfast: the Children and the Curse of History” directed by Esther Schapira which tells the stories of conflict that arises when young Catholic children must walk through a Protestant neighborhood to attend school. When the parents and children are interviewed, it is clear that they have lost sight of the origin of the conflict, yet keep it alive through their own social fears and prejudice.
Many of us here on the other side of the pond may see this as a theological conflict, but really it is ideological in its roots and reality. And unfortunately, it is inherited by each new generation. Children learn at an early age that there is conflict and a “us vs them”. Since the Peace Process has begun much of the violence has subsided, but the historical and cultural fear has not. Children who grow up in the Shankhill and Falls are divided by both physical and ideological walls that separates them from the other, reinforcing the message of conflict, division, and even fear.
Today is International Peace Day, a time to reflect on the role we play as Citizens of the World on peace and reconciliation. It is a time to take action within your community or network to strengthen our “ideals of peace”. The idea of ending the various conflicts around the world may seem insurmountable; however, days like today were designed to remind us that it is as simple as what we teach our children, what we say about other people, or a critical reflection of our own fears and prejudice which contribute to the cycle of fear that perpetuates conflict at home, in your community, and throughout the world.
What are you doing for International Peace Day?
For more on International Peace Day, visit Peace One Day, a powerful organization fighting for peace year round.