Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Perhaps the best anthem at protests is ‘You Say it Best When You Say Nothing At All’?

One of the better known ‘natural laws’ out there was presented to the world by no less a man than Isaac Newton, the 17th century English math­ema­tician this became his third law: “For every action (force) in nature, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

It’s as much a law of society as it is of nature and surely there is no logical argument against it.

And so it was about 10 days ago when two coaches carrying asylum seekers brought new residents to Tent City at Columb Barracks in Mullingar. This newspaper carried the story last week, so there’s nothing new there. We know that one bus made it through before a group of protestors could form to block it, but they did delay the second coach from entering the barracks by several hours.

It was a most unpleasant, even frightening, scene, with many gardaí present (some in plain clothes, blending in with the crowd, as they do) and they handled it very well, to be honest. The gardaí were the thin blue line at a scene and at a time which never boiled over. Part of that may be down to the gardaí, part of it may be down to the fact that the protestors were intent on peaceful protest anyway and never presented a danger to anyone. And they certainly had a right to protest.

At one stage, some of the newly-arrived asylum seekers came down to the front gate and they were able to witness the protest for themselves, separated by it by the gate and that ‘thin blue line’. It wasn’t a good thing to do and really, they should not have been allowed to get so close to the protest.

Hence Newton’s third law; some of the protestors made gestures which were, let’s say, unwise. All they did was infuriate a group of protestors who needed no incitement, and their reaction was vocal and abusive. Through the locked gates and over the head of the gardaí, the gestures and insults flew – in fairness – in both directions.

‘It’s all too easy to shout something at someone and then, if and when they shout something back, taking offence; ignoring the action and highlighting the reaction…’

So, the blame, there then, is on the asylum seekers for making those gestures, thus provoking a reaction. Of course, the other way of looking at it is that the asylum seekers were, themselves, reacting to an earlier barrage of insult and abuse. Perhaps they were provoked into a response they would ordinarily not resort to.

The third way of looking at the situaton to any protest is that abuse and gesture-making, by anyone at any time, can have serious physical, emotional and psychlogical effects. It’s all too easy to shout something at someone and then, if and when they shout something back, taking offence; ignoring the action and highlighting the reaction.

Nobody in Columb Barracks on the day the asylum seekers arrived deserved to be abused – nobody, on either side of the gates, was there to be abused and none of them came to be abusive. It just happened. That, however, does not make it all right.

As St Matthew wrote, “on the day of judgement people will give account for every careless word they speak”. And nobody has to accept that, the fact is it was written.

The finest command of language is often shown by saying nothing. The trouble is that once you say it, you can’t unsay it. And, as Pope St John Paul I said, the harsh word casts a long shadow.

Let’s be kind. Quietly, kind.

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