Peace is an active, not passive state.
Reflections after half a week in Ireland
This is our first trip abroad with flights since the pandemic began.
To say that there was pressure and nervousness leading up to this trip is an understatement. There is no shortage of stories about lost luggages, hours of lineups, delayed flights, stranded passengers and so on in the air travel space. My approach was therefore that of acceptance: if things go awry, it's fine. It's out of my hands. Still, it almost became unbearable at the end when, four days before travel, I discovered that all Canadian citizens need a Canadian passport to get back into the country. Well, I became one of those back in March 2022, but had hoped to skip the Canadian passport ordeal until after our trip. I say ordeal, because I know people who started their applications in April and four months later have still not received their passports. Anyhow... This newly-discovered fact meant I had to do a near-miraculous feat: get a passport in 72 hours or else! I felt my life lock into a pre-destined set of events: filling out forms, getting photos taken, finding references and guarantors that are willing to vouch for me, and last but not least, facing the passport office horror show with the potential reality of me waking up at 5am in the morning to beat the lineups... and all of this on top of the usual last-minute travel prep and tying loose ends at work. The privileges of being a Canadian citizen, I suppose!
I don't know what powers carried me, moved mountains for me or aligned stars for me, but: I prevailed. After much work (and a good portion of luck), I got materials ready on Tuesday, lined up on Wednesday, picked up my new passport Friday morning, and left the country 12 hours later.
So, that was my little pre-trip passport drama. And so far our travel experience has been strangely normal, almost like the "before"-times. (Before the COVID-19 pandemic, in case you read this many years since it was written.) It is great to be back in the world again, having my senses immersed in new and unfamiliar environments. I can feel myself getting more grounded every day that passes. I think travel is a type of healing for me.
Observations in Ireland
The first thing I noticed in Ireland were the bilingual signs and announcements. To my severely untrained ear, my imagination transported me back to my first reading of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien famously created languages from scratch and from his own sense of aesthetics, using inspiration from old Norse, Celtic, Finnish, Italian as well as Irish-Gaelic, also known as Irish or Gaeltacht.
The next thing I noticed was that the sounds they enunciate are interestingly different from the way they are written. After a weekend here, I still haven't figured it out. There must be a cheat sheet somewhere but I'm stubbornly wanting to figure out some of it myself just for the sense of accomplishment. Update: I couldn't resist and found one for you here. In hindsight, there's no way I could have figured this out quickly on my own, even with the help of a cheat sheet. Some serious study required.
Driving on the Left
Another thing I noticed as I exited the airport is the driving on the other side of the road thing. As a pedestrian crossing the road, I usually look to my LEFT to observe oncoming traffic. I was trained to look L-R-L, and there's no way I can retrain my brain over a week only, so now I just look L-R-L-R-L-R-L-R for good measure before I cross the road. I'm happy to report that it has worked so far.
On our second day here we went to the Guinness Storehouse and did the tourist experience.
We learned what it takes to make a good Guinness. We learn about the history of its founder, Arthur Guinness. We learn how to pour a Guinness. And, we learn that Guinness is one heck of a good brand.
A company and product like Guinness has real state-shaping and resource-diverting powers. They buy over 2/3 of all of Ireland's barley. They have exclusive rights to water from the Winslow Mountains. Their coverage in the city was so big at one point, they had their own fire brigade and railway. They took good care of their employees, giving pensions, healthcare, and even helping build housing for their workers. Guinness is and continues to be "a city within a city".
There is a whole business/social/geographical case study that can be done on the brand, business and beer Guinness.
The Civil War of 1922, and the “peace” thereafter
It is the centenary anniversary of the Irish Civil War this year. I wouldn't have known, had it not been for the captivating front cover of this special newspaper edition lying on the kitchen table of our friends home, with whom we were staying with.
That morning, I neglected my newsletter-writing duties and indulged instead in Irish history. It was a series of articles that told stories from different angles, which I’m realizing is a much more engaging way for me to learn about a country’s history. Without getting into detail, the following are my observations about how Ireland is trying to commemorate this traumatic event.
An Irish approach to peace
Today's national peace in Ireland isn't without strain. Multiple fractures, both old and recent, religious and political, led up to this landmark event. Most telling of the continued tactfulness of the present, I find, was this humble subtitle of an article by the Irish Times, which tries not to gloss over this inconvenient reality:
State will not communicate preferred narrative or make judgments in Civil War events.
At some point, a civil war will end and opposing sides have to live with one another afterwards. I'm starting to realize that civil wars, apart from being physically violent, are potentially more psychologically and culturally violent in the aftermath, long after battles in the flesh are done. Often, peace is sought through submission of the losing side to the winner's conditions. Individual deviation must be quelled in favour of conformance to the dominant narrative. For the sake of peace time. Yet, I also see this as a recipe for building resentment over time, if I've ever heard one. This kind of demand can be considered violence too, of the psychological type.
While the subtitle may sound like a capitulation by the State to take a position, I don’t see it that way. I'd like to posit their direction as modern (well, actually, post-modern to be precise… I’ll write an explanation later if needed) history and cultural resolution (yes, resolution as in "conflict resolution", not revolution...) in the making. We're talking about an internal disagreement so strong, it caused socio-political fault lines that led to jarring fractures nationally and all the way into people's living rooms. Today, there is a push to remember, commemorate and integrate; for facts and accounts to be presented from either and all sides; for winners to feel a bit less like winners, and losers a bit less like losers. This approach recognizes that there was loss and pain on both sides, and that rights and wrongs were made on both sides. They seem to be writing a future where no grand consolidation of narratives such as "the victorious side rewrites history" happens. I don't know if it's better, or if it works. But I do know it's different, and not as violent as demanding complete submission.
Integration is key to long lasting peace
This reminded me of something I read while doing research on Internal Family Systems, an approach to psychotherapy that theorizes that our sense of self is comprised of multiple parts that all compete to take care of the Self in times of crisis. I am fascinated by how our different parts, though well-meaning, can tend to make us overreact due to prior hurt and subconscious desire for self-preservation. IFS recognizes the efforts of these separate parts and instead of condemning them as unhealthy, looks for ways to soothe and integrate conflicting parts rather than try to excise and remove them through force. IFS approaches trauma treatment from a stance of strong Self: through paths like compassion, curiosity, connectedness and clarity. Which is kind of what I’m observing in Ireland, whether intentional or not. Whether with success or not.
To be clear, I do not know much about psychology. Yet, here I find myself interested in so many things at the same time and it's exactly for this reason, the ability to find lateral connections between domains like city building and psychology, that I care about zettelkasten thinking so much. It has given me a method to the madness of finding clues about my main subject of research: that which contributes to great cities and civilizations. Civilization needs peace in order to thrive. But not all peace is made the same: it can be the absence of violence, or presence of wholeness. Peace from the absence of violence asks us to close our eyes and forget that such things happened and are possible. Peace from the presence of wholeness acknowledges every ugly thing that happened and is possible, and the joint effort of all sides to look at things with compassion and curiosity.
Can a nation be directed on how to grieve and move on? Maybe. Is Ireland doing a good job of it? Maybe.
My takeaway for now is this: as an amalgam of history, culture, and present day utility, a city can help us find ways, both mentally and physically, to live alongside one another even amidst contradicting and conflicting realities. But it requires work.
Peace is an active, not a passive state.
Hope you enjoyed this week’s missive 💌
With much love wherever this finds you,