There can be a somewhat peculiar attitude of older generations towards younger ones in the North of Ireland. This can perhaps be summarised as a line of thought that conveys a message approximating, ‘Because I am older, my outlook is more valid than yours.’ Generally speaking, it is likely that older people had a more pronounced experience of the Troubles. It is probable that people from an older generation experienced more bloodshed and had far greater levels of political violence dominating the news. Although much younger people such as Lyra McKee can rightly be considered victims of the conflict even though her unfortunate death happened many years after the GFA.
I wonder if the same logic is applied to geographical location. Can a similarly aged Belfast native claim a greater level of visceral awareness than a lesser affected (in terms of fatalities) Fermanagh person? I am also interested to know if there is a cut-off age for being able to say, ‘I lived through the Troubles?’ As someone who was ten years old when the Omagh bomb happened I would sense I am still considered too young to have really experienced the horrors of the conflict, yet someone roughly ten or more years older might be said to have lived through it.
In most cases, relative to older people, my generation had a different experience. However, it is not an experience that should be easily dismissed just because there is a reasonably high chance it was less horrific. It would be helpful to take heed of Hungarian-Canadian psychologist Gabor Maté’s expert views on trauma I.e., ‘Trauma is not what happens to you, it is what happens inside you’. For example, a psychopath lacking in empathy may feel indifferent to enormous suffering whereas a more empathetic person can become traumatised by comparatively little. Gabor has also extensively spoken about intergenerational trauma which is likely to affect young people in the occupied six counties.
I can fortunately say I have never lost a loved one due to the conflict and I can appreciate my experience is vastly different to someone who has. Notwithstanding, it can often feel like my generation’s experience is overlooked. Frequently being stopped by British soldiers en route to my Grandad’s house near the ‘border’ is something etched into my consciousness and not something any child should have to go through. The excellent documentarian and journalist John Pilger was horrified that young school children in Palestine drew pictures of weapons, helicopters, and various other military paraphernalia. Similarly, myself alongside my peers drew things such as balaclavas and machine guns at an early age which we considered completely normal.
Personally, I would not feel entitled to exude an attitude that my outlook gives greater consideration to the political sensitivities in our society compared with people born post GFA. The sad fact of partition is that we can be fooled into thinking the abnormal is normal. Nothing is normal about this gerrymandered statelet. Perhaps, people who lived through unimaginable suffering feel my generation had it pretty good. Comparatively speaking, I feel we did; however, this is more of an indictment of just how much of a failure the statelet has been rather than an accurate reflection of reality.
Compared to decades of violence, the last twenty-four years have been much better. Ultimately though, a healthier comparison is travelling to or living in a ‘normal’ country. By normal I mean, one where the political discourse is dominated by the left or right and the primary focus is on the economy. This is maybe the most poisonous aspect of carving up a country. Irrespective of being socialist or capitalist or somewhere in between, this should be the primary consideration of governance. Instead, we have been left with an intractable situation that ensures the constitutional question dominates everything. While other countries criticise the left or the right, I just look on with envy that we do not really have a left/right system.
This mindset of others having not lived through the troubles is not entirely inaccurate. Although it might be conveniently paying lip service to this notion that the Troubles appeared in a vacuum and all our problems magically vanished with the signing of the GFA. It can become slightly frustrating that these sorts of statements can be used dismissively towards younger generations as a means of invalidating their viewpoint.
‘NI’ remains a deeply divided and dysfunctional society – and yet this is as good as it has ever been. This will remain the case for some time and will be for many decades after we put the constitutional question to bed. Eventually it is hoped our differences will subside in a new Ireland. In the meantime, it will be more conducive to progress if we value all experiences no matter how acutely felt the disaster of this society.