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Posts Tagged ‘society’

The Guys Next Door

Judgments prevent us from seeing the good that lies beyond appearances.  ~Wayne W. Dyer

I’ve always thought of myself as open-minded, especially when it comes to matters of race. As someone who is of mixed race (half-Japanese, half-Caucasian), I am the product of two people who come from very different countries and backgrounds yet managed to create a life together.

The high school I attended in California was predominately Latino and African-American; in fact, Asians and Caucasians were the minority there. I went to college in San Francisco, a city that prides itself on its political correctness and my classmates represented all races and cultures. The point is I grew up in a diverse community. So it was a surprise when I recently had to face my own racist views.

My boyfriend lives in an apartment block in Dublin and his neighbors are from Pakistan. There are four guys, all in their mid-20s, all living in a one-bedroom apartment. My partner’s bedroom wall is on the other side of their sitting room, and about 3-4 times a week we are awoken by loud shouting emanating from their side of the wall. It usually starts around 2 a.m. and goes for an hour or two or three. We can’t understand what they are saying as they speak in their native language and it’s hard to tell if they are angry or jubilant. We both sleep with ear plugs but it still keeps us from getting a decent night’s sleep.

When I first asked my partner about the guys next door, he just said they were four Pakistani guys and that he’d never spoken to them but that he was quite suspicious of them. They go in and out all hours of the night and they have a constant stream of guests who seem to crash there for long periods of time. This is incredibly difficult to admit – especially publicly – but in my mind I created several scenarios of what they were up to and why. Were they part of some underground extreme Muslim sect infiltrating Dublin? Did their late-night arguments stem from disagreements over who was the leader of the group? Maybe one of the guys was getting too “westernized” and there was dissension among the ranks.

How can a 30-something, well-traveled, educated woman come to such narrow conclusions about people she’s never even spoken to? I’m struggling with an answer to that question. I remember how hurt and angry I felt when a kid at school once called me a “chink” and asked me if I knew how to use a fork and knife, because he knew I was part Japanese. But at least that kid put his racism right in my face – it was out there for all to see. It would seem subtle forms of racism are what pose a real threat to the forward movement and progress of humanity as a whole.

With the Pakistani neighbours I’m basing my views on what I’ve picked up from the media; most of what I see in the news about Pakistan or any Middle Eastern country is negative. If the media reports are to be believed, young Arab males are all busy plotting uprisings of some form or another and are all Islamic extremists who want to take over the world. Even the recent spate of “Arab Spring” related stories and images are tinged with pessimism.

If the point is to breed hysteria, it’s worked. And if racism is based on ignorance and fear, I’ve got both covered. When I see a group of Middle Eastern men on a flight, the first emotion I feel is fear. The second is guilt. I feel both when I think of confronting those guys next door.

I actually had an encounter with one of the guys in the elevator a few of weeks back. He spoke first.

“Hi, I’ve seen you around. I’m Aziz,” he said, warmly. He had a kind and gentle smile. We talked for a few minutes. I mentioned the noise – albeit in a somewhat joking manner so that my true annoyance would not become obvious – and he was very apologetic and said he’d mention it to his mates. He said they all worked odd hours and therefore stayed up very late. He mentioned that sometimes they just get carried away in conversation but that he was very sorry it disturbed us.

I left the discussion feeling relieved and stupid. I felt ashamed for letting myself get carried away with all that nonsense before, and surprised at becoming the kind of person I always stood up to in the past – an ignorant, narrow-minded twit. But that relief and change of heart was short-lived; when I heard them shouting loudly the day after our talk, the fear came back. A couple of weeks and several more sleepless nights later, it’s still here. I so want to go next door and have a neighbourly chat with them, but both my boyfriend and I wonder if it’s such a good idea. He tells me to just leave it as he has to live next door to them and doesn’t want any drama. I still wonder if there’s something sinister going on over there and my imagination is running wild with possibilities.

This is not something I’m proud of. If they were white or Asian, would I hesitate to go speak with them? I guess it would depend on how intimidating they looked or behaved. These neighbour guys are not at all physically intimidating, they are average height and weight and dress in nondescript clothing and they don’t really stand out at all. It’s not unusual for a group of 20-somethings to enjoy their freedom and take advantage of being away from their parents for possibly the first time in their lives – they’re probably just having fun and being lads. Maybe they’re just inconsiderate, noisy neighbours and nothing else. Why is it so hard for me to see past their ethnicity and believe this?

Ironically enough, that question is the other thing keeping me up at night.

Clare Kleinedler is an American freelance journalist living in Ireland. She writes the blogs An American in Ireland and The Hollywood Craic.

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Yesterday, bored and stuck in traffic on a no. 47 bus, I started reading the advertisements. There were only two – one an ad for building your confidence and becoming successful through the wonder that is Scientology and the other for a cash-for-gold operation (‘Beat the Recession!’).

Now, how’s that for a picnic?

Image copyright: Natalie Dee

Before this nasty recession, there were ads for tracker mortgages (remember those?) and buying a property in the sun, not only on the buses but everywhere we looked. Don’t get me wrong – I can see that these ads were just as cynical. They asked you to part with your money for a ‘better’ life; they promised happiness. These current ones promise happiness too – but they have a much harder task. They offer success and money in exchange for your mind and your memories. I exaggerate, but not much.

We are a nation floored by disappointment. Despite the ugly trappings and the blatant opportunism of the boom years, we had the possibilities and opportunities back then to create a good life for ourselves, however we defined that. We took institutions, companies, newspapers and money for the arts for granted. They would be there and we would live our lives around them, using them to give ourselves a foot up to achieve what we wanted in life. The loss we are now experiencing has something to do with money and not having a lot of it. But the overall feeling, I think, is disappointment.

The word disappointment has a certain innocuous tone to it, kind of like ‘unfortunate’.  It appears to gloss over catastrophic events, life-changing events.

But ‘disappointment’ is really a heavyweight bruiser. Even the phrase ‘I’m not mad, just disappointed’ is about disappointment being milder than anger, in terms of immediate consequences, but also deeper and, boy, does it linger.  Disappointment can knock the wind out of you and leave you like a flat, flabby balloon.

Disappointment involves the loss of something you took for granted or something that contributed to your happiness. It could be hearing that the job you really wanted went to someone else; that the person you thought you knew is actually someone else. It could be having your fiancé walk out on you a month before the wedding; it could be the death of someone close to you. It could be that you expected to have a pension fund waiting for you when you retire and now you don’t. Disappointment happens when the world you had built up in your mind, where your expectations are fulfilled and life ticks along within your control, has been undermined or shattered. Disappointment comes down on you like a sledge hammer, along with its minions – sadness, grief, anger, even despair.

I have recently been subsumed in thoughts about disappointment, due to a personal experience of having an achievement I’d been aiming for almost handed to me and then taken away (the recession again).  It’s a bitter pill and its effects take ages to fade. But you’ve got to have perspective.

So, what better way to gain perspective than to whip out that old faithful – Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a theory in psychology which is often displayed as a pyramid. Working from the bottom to the top of the pyramid, Maslow explains human needs, from the basic and essential to the need to reach our full potential in terms of intellect and talent. On the lowest and widest level of Maslow’s pyramid are our physiological needs – food, shelter, water, sex, sleep, etc. Just above that is our need to be safe and secure − employment, health, property, resources, morality, the family. Then there is our need for love and belonging –friendship, family, intimacy. The top two levels are esteem (confidence, achievement, respect) and self-actualisation (creativity, problem solving, etc.) respectively.

While my personal disappointment has to do with the top part of the pyramid (if it was a food pyramid, my disappointment would be buns with icing and cherries on top), the disappointment in households and families around the country is linked to loss at the more essential and basic levels.

An interviewee on Prime Time the other night, a teacher in the West of Ireland where the exit turnstile is constantly turning, admitted that she felt ‘let down’. Rural communities are diminishing. Families who always assumed they would be together, working and living in close proximity, are now watching loved ones emigrate.

You’d think at this point I’d turn this piece around and start looking on the bright side. Sorry to disappoint, but sometimes it’s good to tell it like it is and to chart this part of our history for what it is.

Elizabeth Brennan works in book publishing as a commissioning editor. She likes books. She also likes writing (mostly fiction). She was pretty much the only person in the National Library on Valentine’s night.

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