I have been working on a couple of projects over the last few months that aren’t quite ready to see the light of day yet – but one of them involves producing a series of images for the Methodist Church. Here is one that didn’t make the final selection:
It feels apt to reflect on it in the light of the events of the last few days here in the UK. The riots across parts of London and the rest of the country have been shocking to see – for those of you reading this in other parts of the world this is what has been going on here on our little island.
I’m unsettled by this image. I’ve never really understood national pride, why be proud of something that is just a total accident of birth? I’m not really sure what it means to be British, or indeed why national identities should matter at all, let alone why I should be proud of it. In the last few days and weeks as I’ve watched the riots on TV, and closer to home, talked to asylum seekers at risk of being deported (and treated shockingly by the Border Agency) my feeling is of shame at my country rather than pride. I feel it when I walk easily through passport control back into Britain whilst others queue up for the immigration officials; It’s wrong that the accident of my place of birth gives me the right to walk unimpeded over a manmade boundary whilst others are excluded.
And now this incoherent chaos as people destroy their own neighbourhoods, a simmering rage suddenly erupting. A tragedy for the communities involved.
In my work as an art therapist I have been alongside seriously damaged young people, some of them have done terrible things. But there always seems to be hope when an individual is able to step back and reflect on their actions, notice their feelings – become aware of who they are and the impact they have on the world. There have only been a couple of occaisions when I came across people who were so damaged by their experiences that they seemed incapable of such reflection (or I wasn’t able to help them to do it). Meeting such people is terrifying, not least because it gives me an insight into that part of my own soul that wants to rage and burn, unimpeded by consequence. When individuals are unable, or unwilling to understand the consequences of their actions, and particularly the negative impact they can have on others, then we see the results in the riots on our streets. Add to that the power of the group as it grows through social networks and the like, then the mob becomes an untameable organism with a life of its own.
But there is another group in the news at the moment who seem incapable of reflecting on the consequences of their actions. Those who gambled on the financial future of people and nations on the testosterone fuelled trading floors across the world. Like the teenager smashing the shop window to steal a HD TV they sought only for themselves without regard for how it affected others and now we seem set to spiral into a second financial crisis. I wonder who’s behaviour is more destructive, I also wonder why we send out the police for the one and let the other carry on with impunity.
So, sadness today. My heart going out to the people and communities whose lives have been so affected.
No pride in my country.
Hope that when, lying in their bed in the dark, staring at the ceiling those responsible on the streets or the trading floors have the capacity to comprehend the consequences of their actions, and then find the spaces and relationships they need to be able to work through what that means for them. Hope too because, whilst we see the worst of humanity here, we are also beginning to see the best as communities pull together to say ‘no’ and as people gather to repair the damage done.
Human beings are wonderful and terrifying creatures. We are capable of total destruction and infinite beauty. I live in faith and hope that the beauty will always find a way.
Peace be with you.
3 thoughts on “This little island”
Doesn’t a sense of national identity give us a sense of belonging? It embodies the fact that we are not all the same. Without national identity we would be forced into a one size fits all suit and our voice would be lost as we are forced to abide by the same cultural rules as 7billion other people.
I’d make a distinction between national identity and cultural identity. Cultural identities transcend national borders (and in fact those borders can do violence to that cultural identity – look at how the British carved up parts of the world into different nations without respect to cultural identity for example, and the pain and conflict that continues to rage because of that). Cultural diversity should be celebrated (God help us if we were all the same) – and you’re right that it gives us a sense of home and of belonging. National identity draws an arbitrary line in the dirt (and its usually the rich and powerful drawing the line) and seperates us from them. Why be proud that I was born on one side of the line than the other?
It is easier to unite behind a national identity than a cultural identity as there is more definition. Throughout history people have come together to preserve their national identity against outside threats. They do this so that their cultural identity can be maintained, which i agree is different to national identity. However, it is the symbolism and uniting power of national identity that is the driving force behind the preservation of the deeper, more complex and less easily defined ‘cultural identity’. Each needs the other to survive.