Very few of us have the magnanimity, the selflessness or humanity needed to break the cycle of hatred and bias perpetuated by tribal, racial or religious legacies.
Fewer still have the vision and fortitude to dedicate their lives to breaking that destructive cycle and freeing divided societies from the self-perpetuating burden of their own intolerance.
One of the greatest modern examples of that exceptionalism — Nelson Mandela — is approaching the end of his long, fruitful life but his great achievement, the relatively peaceful ending of apartheid in South Africa, will live on. We celebrate him far more readily than we try to emulate his behaviour and make his message of tolerance real.
The consequences of an emotionally toxic bequest, hatred — or as often as not fear — learnt on a parent’s knee can be seen all around the world. It can be seen in America today in the latest in a long line of jury decisions that seem to have more to do with race than justice — the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of black teenager Trayvon Martin.
It can be seen on a far grander scale in places like Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan, and more or less on any line dividing conflicting cultures or religions.
Tragically it can still be seen on this small island despite the lessons given by centuries of conflict and pointless assertions. The pictures of young teenagers, many little more than children, rioting in Belfast over recent days is as disturbing as it is disheartening.
The old venom, the old sense of grievance and displacement, is being rejuvenated and sustained by invisible puppet masters in both communities.
Another generation of perfectly decent, energetic and probably fair-minded young Irish/British people is being alienated from each other by those determined to champion the integrity of their own eternal cause and the hatred it depends on to endure.
The Orange Order blame the Parades Commission, the authorities blame Loyalist protestors, and those opposed to parades going through their area believe that their position is entirely reasonable and not at all a factor in the riots of recent nights.
The sad fact is that all of these groups seem responsible in some way or another for a return to the destruction of property and, far more importantly, probably making it impossible for another generation of Belfast people to live in harmony with each other.
That this continues despite scores of initiatives in cultural, business, sporting and community forums points to the real darkness at the very heart of this tragic waste of potential and energy.
Of course economic circumstances play a part too, but communities right across these islands face similar challenges, but they do not express their frustrations by rioting.
It is ironic too the institutions supposedly at the root of this conflict — the churches — no longer have the influence needed to break the cycle. There must be a lesson too in the fact that hundreds of other parades passed off peacefully in the last week.
It is terribly disappointing though that so many years after the Belfast Peace Agreement it takes little more than a roll on the tribal war drums for all the old hatreds to reassert themselves and for the riots to begin. Surely it’s time all of that tragic social failure expressed through violence was consigned to history?
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