Time to Stop Moping
As I wrote in my post on Burns night, last week I was away with a group of ministers and Christian community workers on a residential consultation concerning the nature of working in loyalist communities, such as our own in Ballybeen. The quality of the inputs was tremendous. Hats off to Derek Poole and the folks at the LINC Resource Centre for pulling it together, and to the various contributers. There was enough material to keep me blogging for months...
But one of the themes that we kept coming back to was the tendency within loyalist communities, and the pressure in community work in general, to focus on the negatives.
A while back there was collective rejoicing in our own community programme, Dundonald Family and Community Initiative... Why? Because one of the electoral wards that we serve had just broken through on the Noble Indices into the list of the 10% most deprived communities in Northern Ireland. Why the rejoicing? Because such a statistic potentially unlocked charitable and government funding, and that has borne fruit in the whole estate being granted "Area at Risk" Status, by the Department of Social Development, an investment programme aimed at addressing areas that potentially may be facing significant social and economic downturns.
But there is a degree to which this is one manifestation of what one participant at the consultation referred to as "the race to the bottom" that many community organisations in Northern Ireland are engaged in.
Another manifestation of this is the what David Stevens of Corrymeela refers to as the sport of "competitive victimhood." Protestant/Unionist/Loyalist communities have, over recent years, looked longingly at Catholic/Nationalist/Republican communities, seeing their ability to work together and garner both sympathy and finance, believing one of the key factors being their identity as "victims." This has led to the competition for what Phil Orr calls the label of MOPE... Most Oppressed People Ever; seeing ourselves as pariahs or perpetual scapegoats. Poor us. There are very genuine endemic problems in our communities, including lack of confidence, leadership, aspiration, entrepreneurial spirit and other factors (more of that later), but we should not wear these things like badges for the sake of a few (thousand) pounds of economic investment.
Such a race for last place is ultimately and definitively self-defeating. And those of us working in such environments, need to challenge funders and statutory authorities who, in their desire to help the most needy against a background of diminishing resources, seem to punish communities who have been successful in addressing local social issues... We need to stop focussing on the negatives and highlight the very real positives in such communities... Mapping assets rather than simply analysing needs. Focussing on hopes for the future rather than either high points or hurts of the past.
I am far from saying that such communities should seek to pull themselves up by their bootstraps... But we do need to stop moping...