What can we do personally to improve life in Northern Ireland?

I don’t know about you, but I am getting fed up with negativity. The news the past while is just a constant diet of despair. I know the news has never exactly been a cheery affair, but it’s getting even harder to escape the unrelenting doom that permeates everything.

But the thing for most people life is not that bad. Globally people have never lived longer, or been richer. Despite what the news tells us the world has never been more peaceful. Locally Northern Ireland is quite a nice place to live for most of us. Houses are cheap, we are basically at full employment, we have lovely parks, countryside and beaches, the people are generally friendly.

Yes I know we have problems and I am sure you are going to mention them all in the comments. I just think we are concentrating too much on the negative. I am not saying we ignore all the bad things in the world or walk around grinning inanely like some kind of cult member. But I do worry that as a society we are descending into a pit of despair of our own making.

The other day I put a poll on Twitter:

Now I know this is not scientifically accurate, but it’s an interesting insight into the pessimism that is out there. The general view seems to be everything is awful, and things are getting worse. We all know there are problems in education, health etc but the thing is I firmly believe we can sort out these issues if we put our minds to it. There are a lot of good, competent people in Northern Ireland but it is like we are under some kind of spell of apathy and inertia.

I think the core of the issue is a lot of people have opted out of civil society. Not just the obvious things like being involved with political parties, but other things like volunteering, churches, sports clubs etc. We seem to be retreating into our own private worlds. When I am out and about I am amazed at the number of people glued to their phones, even in bars. In the bar the other night the table of four beside us were all on their phones. They were there but not present, they were off in twitter and facebook world.

I don’t think the issue is just the phones, more a general issue of disconnect. I think it is no coincidence that the rise of mental health problems mirrors the growth of the web. 500 friends on Facebook is meaningless if you have none in real life. As humans we need connection. The harshest punishment a prison can give is solitary confinement. Loneliness literally kills. You may be familiar with the South African term Ubuntu,  the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity, we are all in this together whether you like it or not.

Also I think it is easy to believe our problems are so large and insurmountable that there is no point in even trying. But maybe instead of waiting for big magic bullets that will solve Brexit, Stormont etc, could an alternative strategy be that we all do our small bit to make society better?

The biggest lie you can believe is that it is impossible for one person to make a difference in the world. When we look back at the history of social change it very often started with one or two committed people. I am not one to believe in conspiracy theories but I do suspect it suits the establishment if we all take the view that things can never change.

Recently I set up a junior parkrun. Not a big thing, in the great scheme of things. But 70 kids have something to do on a Sunday morning, and more importantly, 70 sets of parents have something to escape the tedium of trying to keep their kids amused on a Sunday morning. I could have sat in the house instead and watched Netflix, but it is nice to create something and not just go through life on autopilot. And we never tire of telling you none of the Slugger team or any of the writers get paid. I am not telling you this to get a slap on the back but to explain that giving back is good for you.

Gandhi said, ‘Be the change that you wish to see in the world.’ Now I know that has become a bit of a cliche, but he has a point. We all love a good moan. Spend any time in our comments section and you will realise we really like a good moan. But what could you do to make a difference?:

  • Clean up a local beach or park
  • Try out a new restaurant or cafe
  • Shop local were you can
  • Volunteer at your local parkrun or other sporting events
  • Donate your money or time to local charities
  • Encourage a friend who is trying to get fit or better still join them
  • Go for a weekend break somewhere in NI
  • Instead of just moaning about something, say what can I do to make it better?
  • Call in on elderly neighbours to see if they need anything
  • Visit a local park, get out in nature
  • Call into the Nolan show and say something nice

None of these suggestions are particularly earth-shattering but that is the point. There are lots of small things we can do in our day to day lives that added together they can make a difference.

There is a view that some Nationalists are quite content to see Northern Ireland go to hell in a handcart, thinking this might speed up unification, but this is short-sighted in the extreme. For there to be an all Ireland the people of the south need to actually WANT to have us. We are not making ourselves very attractive if we are seen as just a troublesome lot who will cost them a fortune and wreck their heads. Do people really want to see their own families and neighbours suffer economic hardship and poor public services? Likewise on the Unionist side if they want to maintain the Union Northern Ireland needs to work or the English will only be too keen to get shot of us at the first opportunity.  It does not matter if we are ruled by London or Dublin it is up to us to create the society we want to live in.

I know it is hard to escape our endless culture and identity wars but wouldn’t it be nice if we had a shared goal of making Northern Ireland a happier and more content place to live? Could we at least agree that while we are on this earth we at least try to make it a better place for ourselves and others?