What Binds Us Together

Even before we moved to Ireland, one of my constant refrains has been that the Irish seem to be universally friendly and welcoming.  I knew there would come a day when that feeling would be tested.  And earlier this week I met my first Irishman (a woman actually) who was instantly judgmental, critical, condescending, and dismissive.  While I know this is one person among thousands I’ve encountered in the past six months, it nevertheless got me thinking about fitting in, and notions of “belonging”.

Long before the actual move I began thinking about and wondering where I /we fit in.  When does Ireland become home, and the place “we are from”?  When are we of this place?  Now I’m the first to admit that I’m an intellectual carpetbagger when it comes to “big thinking” on subjects like emigration and immigration, so what follows is strictly my gut on this subject.

For me, thoughts of belonging get me thinking about the things that bind people together, or make one group of people strike out from “their people” to join another group.  And, over time, what holds those groups together as their needs and priorities change?  As I’ve watched the economic and cultural infighting and EU identity crisis unfolding over the Greek bailout and the general state of EU harmony (or the lack thereof) I’m reminded that at the end of the American Civil War Abe Lincoln forced his country back together at the point of a gun. Right, wrong, or indifferent, that act of “hitch up your big boy pants and get your shit together” parenting has been enough to keep the U.S. together for quite a while.

God knows Texans have threatened succession often enough.  And, why the rest of America doesn’t tell them, “fine don’t let the door hit you in the ass.” I’ll never know.  California, which by itself has one of the largest economies on the planet and posses incredible cultural economic, and environmental diversity, could likely make it on its own.  Alaska and Hawaii have localized concerns that speak to their needs, and have almost no point of reference for residents of Mississippi or Vermont.  Yet there’s something that holds the U.S. together. The EU is a collection of states with as much (or more) in common fiscally as socially.  In order to call Ireland and the EU “home” I believe I’ve got to understand it, and what unites these people.

Though the Irish hate to hear it, Ireland has far more in common with England and the other U.K. states than it does with Latvia, but there they are all cozy together in one big union created not so equal. Can you honestly tell me that two farmers separated by a hundred meters across a relatively arbitrary border between Northern Ireland and The Republic of Ireland have more in common with people in London and Dublin than they do with each other?

I know I’m using a lot of U.S. examples, but it’s not from any notion of the U.S. “union” being superior to any other.  It’s simply my point of reference.  And I can’t shake the feeling that the concept of unification and union among people can most easily be grasped through the words of the preamble to the U.S. Constitution when it uses the phrase, “a more perfect union” and not the words “ a perfect union”.  They knew these things aren’t perfect, and likely never will be.  These are imperfect relationships that will always need to be tended and prodded in the right direction. For immigrants, perhaps belonging and fitting in is a bit like that.

For now I guess I’ll just boo Monday’s rude encounter off the stage of my life, and continue to watch the way the EU evolves into a more perfect union.  We’ll see if simply working towards that goal is enough to bind people together.

Things to look forward to in upcoming posts:

Taxes in Two Places.

About Glenn Kaufmann

I'm an American freelance writer, photographer, and web publisher. I specialize in writing about travel, food, arts, and culture. I also write dramatic scripts for stage and screen. I'm based in Ireland.
This entry was posted in Dublin Life, Home & A Sense of Place, Immigration & Emigration, Irish History, Irish Life & Society, Modern Life, Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to What Binds Us Together

  1. Dan Price says:

    For me the move did not involve crossing an ocean, in fact I still park my car in the same driveway. But as time passes, (ten years now) Christianity fades and it’s difficult to remember that there ever was a time I wasn’t a Jew. What binds us as Jews? Most Jews would probably say it is a shared story and to an extent they’re right, but it’s more than that. Shared values and perspectives certainly play a part, but that’s still inadaquate. Amoungst ourselves, Jews are one of the most contentious groups of people around, which, paradoxically, I think also helps; no time to be at stranger’s throats, we’re too busy at one another’s. (I love the brief scene at the beginning of “Fiddler on the Roof” about the horse that was “really twelve years old.” Not only could Tevya start a brawl with a single utterance, but he thoroughly enjoyed doing so.) For me the move was about what is true, but I did wrestle with the foolishness of leaving history’s least persecuted people (male WASP) to join history’s most persecuted people. I guess the encouraging thing is that I no longer see myself as an outsider playing at being a Jew, nor am I seen that way by my fellow Jews. So take heart; you may yet grow red hair.

    • Dan, Thanks for sharing a really interesting perspective on fitting in. It’s interesting that you took that slant on things. You made me realize that as I wrote the post over the past few days I’d also begun reading Michael Chabon’s Yiddish Policeman’s Union, which (if you’ve not read it) is an incredible reframing of the idea of a Jewish state (in Sitka Alaska).

      Thanks again for reading the blog, and for taking the time to comment.

  2. L says:

    The reason the Republic of Ireland feels far more of a bond with the EU involves a history lesson, starting with an 800 year long occupation by Britain. Why do we hate to hear we’re similar? Because we’re not, our ideologies are different, our way of governing is different (similar, I’ll grant you but not much dissimilar from most other EU countries either) and our culture, though obviously Anglicised (after 800 years, wouldn’t it be?!), is different…

    As for your rather flippant comment (it can pretty much only be viewed as flippant to us) about “a relatively arbitrary border”? This phrase alone illustrates exactly what you don’t understand (a substantial amount) and is going to put you in the line of fire talking to Irish people you don’t know. That coming from someone not from Ireland or Northern Ireland is BOUND to create immediate annoyance in natives of either side. Don’t even go there. But I’ll get to that in a second…

    As for not seeing the difference between the mind-sets of Northern Irish and Southern Irish across an “abitarary” border, as you put it- well, you’re neither Irish nor are you Northern Irish, so you wouldn’t, would you? It’s a long, complicated history, with a lot of bitterness and certain people from both sides can’t agree, may never agree and yet again many others on both sides agree totally, or agree not to let it be an issue. But, and I don’t mean this is a nasty or bitchy way (I really don’t and I know how this will sound but stay with me) not being from either/or, you’re not ever going to understand that As a result, that opinion (voiced aloud) is asking for rather aggressive reactions from any of us. It’s like an Israeli and a Palestinian- it’s all well and good for anyone else (us, for example) to have a point of view or discuss it, but really it means nothing It’s all totally irrelevant falling out of OUR mouths, because we can’t ever truly understand it in the way they do. It’s something only really understood by those who are born and bred there, who can understand the differences but more cruciall, the emotions (however superficially they may be viewed or understood by outsiders) that back up those native ideologies that have caused such intense rifts.

    Saying you can’t see the difference between the ideologies of Northerners and Southerners and then claiming we’re all similar to each other (or the British) shows that you don’t and fundamentally cannot understand what the differences are/were. Of course you don’t understand it and can’t see it, why would you? I’m sure saying this to most Irish people would result in them getting rather heated with you about it, and you can’t blame us and we we’re not going to try and make you understand why.

    But comparing us is pretty much asking for heated reactions. I don’t think Irish or British would agree, and there’s no point trying to express otherwise. It makes your opinion seem rather foolish to us, and as a result, wholly redundant.

    (Did that sound bitchy? But I know you get what I’m saying). 🙂

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