Speaking Listening Understanding, The Impact of Ism’s

The Power of Listening to Hear People’s Stories to See New Possibilities: New Ways to Make the World a Fairer and Kinder Place for Everyone

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Along with many people throughout the world I’m shocked, sickened and saddened by inequality, discrimination, and so many kinds of ism’s: racism, homophobism, sexism, ageism, bodyism, machoism, egoism, and so on. I believe in equality for everyone, and I don’t like anything that discriminates against any person or any group of people.

In trying to understand the atrocities so many people are experiencing throughout the world because of some despicable ‘Ism’, I thought about my life.

The Impact of Ism’s: A Case Study:

Born in the 1960s I grew up in Ireland. I had a simple and idyllic upbringing. I’m one of ten children — five boys and five girls. We were all treated equally, at home, within our community and within our country. Of course, Ireland is a small country and the population when I was growing up was around three million people, the majority of whom were Irish. That has now grown to a population today of five million. This is attributed to international businesses setting up operational plants in Ireland.

So, growing up in Ireland I wasn’t exposed to, or really aware of isms. My experience was that people thought of each other as equal, and treated each other as such. But then there wasn’t much diversity, and maybe had there been, my experience would have been different.

I’ve lived in the UK since 1993, and so I can’t talk from experience of changes brought about by a larger population, and as a result more diversity. Of course, staying connected to family and friends allows me to have a sense of how Ireland has navigated though this.

I believe Irish people are by and large, open, accepting and welcoming, but as with every country in the world I also believe there are exceptions to this. In particular around religion, being a largely Catholic country, there remains strong held beliefs that same sex relationships are wrong. But thankfully I believe that’s among the few and not the many.

Growing up in many ways I was even oblivious to the troubles in Northern Ireland, which ran from 1968 to 1998. In the beginning I was too young to understand, and in later years, I was busy growing up, living and loving my life. I really never gave it much thought.

I think like many, I became conditioned — it was on our TVs daily, but it was almost as though it was happening somewhere else. Living in the south of Ireland, it felt as though we were removed from it. Very few people from the Republic of Ireland actually went across the border from the south to the north.

During those years I only crossed the border twice. The first time was uneventful. I was taking a return flight from Belfast to Spain, and caught a bus which took me across the border.

The second time I was visiting a friend in Drogheda — a town just south of the border. We decided we’d go shopping to Belfast and so drove across. The journey there was uneventful but on the way back we took a wrong turning, got completely lost, and ended up at a barricade in what to us was the middle of nowhere.

This was manned by British soldiers, we were asked to get out of our car, and we were questioned at gunpoint, as to who we were, and what we were doing there. It was unnerving, but being in our 20’s we were quite naive, and though a little bit frightening, I think our naivety served us well, in that we didn’t panic in any way. So after a while we were allowed to continue our journey. We were in fact escorted to the border.

It was only on our return when we shared our story with our friends, that we began to realise the potential danger we had put ourselves in. It’s widely believed in Ireland, both then and now, that there was a shoot-to-kill policy by the British police and army stationed in Northern Ireland throughout the Troubles. Our friends believed that had we said the wrong thing, or given a wrong glance, that we wouldn’t have been in the pub that night sharing our story.

Over the years as I’ve become more politically aware, that belief has crossed my mind from time to time. When it does, I’m thankful for our naivety, because had we had this awareness back then, we may well have behaved differently, resulting in me not being here today, telling this story.

A few years later I dated a guy from Northern Ireland. He always travelled south, I never travelled north. I’m Catholic, he was Protestant. It wouldn’t have been safe for either of us to have been together in Northern Ireland.

However, despite the use of the terms Catholic and Protestant to refer to the two sides, it wasn’t a religious conflict. A key issue was the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. Unionists, who were mostly Protestants, wanted Northern Ireland to remain within the United Kingdom. Irish nationalists, who were mostly Catholics, wanted Northern Ireland to leave the United Kingdom and join a united Ireland.

I still remember his amazement at the freedom we had going out together, when he came to stay, and how different he’d say it was to how he lived his life on a daily basis at home. There were places he couldn’t go, people he couldn’t be with, ways in which he had to behave, so as not to draw any untoward or unwanted attention to himself. I also remember how his mother used to call me: “The wee girl from the free state”. Referring to a freedom of living that I had always taken for granted, and because of that I had never questioned it.

I moved to the UK in 1993 and began working in London. I immediately loved the diversity. I didn’t experience any isms. Perhaps I was oblivious because I was living and loving life, meeting great people and having great experiences.

Then I met my ex-husband Carlos, who is from Ecuador, and I began to notice things. For example, if we were driving through London and there was a checkpoint, every time I was driving we’d be waived through — no stops, no checks. Every time Carlos was driving, we’d be stopped, and asked questions — where we’re going, does he live here, and so on.

I’d become really angry within myself, and I’d voice that by asking, why when I’m driving are we never stopped, but when my husband is driving, we always are. Carlos would quietly say to me: “just leave it Carmel”. He was extremely polite and respectful in answering all the questions, and we’d be allowed to continue our journey. I would say to him, you shouldn’t let them treat you like that, they shouldn’t treat you differently to how they treat me.

He would calmly respond, that’s just how it is Carmel, to them we are different, our appearance allows them to know that, they may not know immediately you’re Irish, maybe they think you’re British, but with me they immediately know I’m not British, and so immediately they treat me differently. I would be angry on his behalf, he would just be accepting of that was how it was. There were ways in which he had to behave, so as not to draw any untoward or unwanted attention to himself.

So, I suppose I can say I have some experiences in my life that allow me to begin to understand the atrocities so many people are experiencing throughout the world because of some despicable ism. But it is just the very beginning of an understanding. There is so much more for me to learn.

I believe because of my upbringing, the values, and beliefs that have grown with me throughout my life, that I’ve never practised isms, I certainly hope I haven’t in any way. But nowadays I question if by something not existing within me, in my heart, my mind, or at the core of my very being, has that made me obvilous to it, until I experienced it myself, and is that OK? The conclusion I’m coming to, is that it’s not OK, and that I need to be a lot more aware of the atrocities people are experiencing through the practice of isms.

Book Wisdom

Manifesto for a Moral Revolution: Practices to Build a Better World by Jacqueline Novogratz provides a benevolent tonic for those looking to rise above the troubled waters of the age and embrace the ‘beautiful struggle’ of rebuilding a broken world. When we look at the world’s problems, it’s easy to be discouraged, and maybe even conclude that positive change is futile. Positive change isn’t just possible, it’s happening all around us. Novogratz introduces the quiet warriors for a better world, and shows how each of us can be part of the moral revolution.

Sage Wisdom

Novogratz shows the power of listening to everyone who can help you to see new possibilities.

Words of Wisdom

Whether or not we’ve witnessed, experienced or suffered a despicable ism in our lives, the last few months have been a time to reflect and assess. We’ve wondered how our lives will change in the coming months and years — what will change around us and how do we want to change our lives. We’ve come to realise when we don’t make connections, we don’t build communities. To build strong communities we have to have a really good conversation with each other, to build a sense of calm, a sense of reassurance that we can take the right action to move the road together.

Ask questions such as:

What would you like to see more of?

What are challenges or struggles you’ve faced?

To help understand each other.

Then listen and allow the answers and feedback you receive to allow you to know what you can do to help, what you can do to make a difference in the world in ridding it of despicable isms.


People are talking, they’re speaking up, and speaking out, and sharing their stories. Conversations are taking place. I’m determined to listen and to learn. Because I believe things happen through talking, through conversations, without which nothing happens. Through better conversation we listen to connect and to understand each other, as opposed to listening to reply.

I believe this because of the Northern Ireland peace process. In 1993, the Joint Declaration on Peace was issued on behalf of the Irish and British governments. In 1994 talks between the leaders of opposing parties in Northern Ireland led to a series of joint statements on how the violence might be brought to an end. These talks had been going on since the late 1980s. The Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998. At the beginning I was sceptical, after thirty years of war, thirty years of injuries, violence, murders, bombings, massacres, thirty years of so many atrocities. I wasn’t sure if the peace process would last. 

But there is one ism I subscribe to, and that’s optimism. I wanted to believe it would last and thankfully it has.

Today’s featured book is: Manifesto for a Moral Revolution: Practices to Build a Better World by Jacqueline Novogratz.

WorkLife Book Wisdom Stories:

The intention of the stories I share is to inspire you through people’s stories of their WorkLife experiences. Through these stories, you will learn about people’s dreams and ambitions, along with the challenges, obstacles, failures and successes they encountered along the road of their WorkLife journey. And how they used the power of book wisdom to help them find the inspiration and guidance to navigate their path to live their WorkLife with passion, purpose and pride.

My hope is that these book wisdom stories will help you throughout the chapters of your WorkLife Story.

I believe stories are a powerful mechanism for teaching, a powerful medium to learn through, and a powerful way to communicate who you are and what you stand for.

Published by Carmel O' Reilly

Carmel O’ Reilly: WorkLife Learning Practitioner & Writer Author of WorkLife Book Club, Your WorkLife Your Way and The School of WorkLife book series. Created to help you manage your WorkLife Learning. Blogger & Podcaster: Telling people’s powerful stories about WorkLife challenges & successes Founder of www.schoolofworklife.com My guiding statement is to help people pursue their WorkLives with greater clarity, passion, purpose and pride by creating continuous WorkLife learning programmes that are accessible to everyone.