Overcoming and Bridging Divide's

Image Credit:  Handshake  via  Flickr   cc

Image Credit: Handshake via Flickr cc

     So last Thursday, I had a rough time of it at work. A customer came in with a laptop that had been purchased two years ago and didn’t seem to know how to operate it – pretty much asking us for a free tutorial on the spot. An external mouse that was purchased back then was unopened, and when we opened it to use with the device, we discovered that the batteries were leaking; the person further wanted a printer and expressed shock and horror at the idea that it – and all other printers – had to be installed with software from a CD or from the manufacturer’s website. Then there was the issue of the price and why it was more expensive relative to another store. This went on and on for like 2-3 hours, but I managed to go on my lunch break as a manager continued dealing with the customer.

     At lunch, I couldn’t get that rough experience out of my head – doing all I could to maintain my patience with a person who on one level was not technically savvy, but on another level seemed unable or unwilling to grasp what we were saying.

     So it was a ray of sunshine to spend some of my break time reading a fascinating and heart-warming story concerning a young man named Ronan Foley from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, who has faced adversity in the form of autism and learning disabilities, but was noticed for having stellar swimming abilities by a PE coach. Since that time, he became a member of the Clyde Valley Beavers Swimming Club, which provides an outlet for kids with disabilities like Ronan to engage in social activities and gain confidence in and amongst themselves while overcoming obstacles and enjoying the swimming that they love.

     After going through several processes, Ronan was selected to represent Scotland West at the Special Olympics National Summer Games in August 2017. This was good news indeed, but it costs £500 to send participants to the event, and Ronan – like so many others – needed to raise that money in order to make his Special Olympics dreams come true.

     In stepped members of the County Flute Band, who within 24 hours of Ronan and his mother Katie receiving notice of Ronan’s selection, turned up at their house to offer to sponsor Ronan and raise money on his behalf for the Games. This was good enough in and of itself, but even more so because the Flute Band is associated with the Protestant Orange Order and practices at the Orange Halls in the town, while Ronan is Catholic and a supporter of Celtic FC – whose archrivals are the (mainly) Protestant-backed Rangers.

     For this reason, Ronan’s mother Katie said that they were “absolutely delighted and overwhelmed” with the sponsorship offer from the Flute Band – noting that £500 is a substantial amount of money – and added that Ronan’s religion and choice of football (soccer) team did not matter to the members of the band, who presented her with £100 after their usual band practice.

     A dinner dance with entertainment will be held by the band in order to raise the bulk of the money, and for their part, they said doing this was a “no-brainer” because they all know Ronan as a fellow neighbor in the council estate – a “good laddie [who] gets on with everyone.” Band spokesman Jim Scott further noted that at the end of the day, it was about helping a local boy in the community, and in this spirit, the band wished to have Ronan at the Orange Halls for the presentation of more money while he wore his Celtic shirt and they wore their uniforms in support of a good cause in the hope he “comes back from the Games with medals” and they can say had a helpful role in it.

     For her part, Katie has said that she will write a letter to the leaders of the Orange Order to thank them – saying that it is “only right and proper that the Orange Order know what their members here have done” to help her son.

     Indeed, reading this story just took away the nasty thoughts I was having regarding that customer at the store, and made me feel positive about humanity and humanity’s ability to overcome certain hurdles. For Ronan, it was about the obstacle of overcoming his disabilities to find himself in a position to participate in a high level of athletic competition, thanks to his hard work and perseverance combined with the support he has had from his family, friends, teachers, coaches, and the wider community.

     This leads to the greater significance of the story: that an band associated with the Orange Order would sponsor a Catholic and Celtic supporter in his journey to the Special Olympics and provide much-need financial assistance – including for athletic supplies, gear and apparel, travel costs, hotel fees, and a host of other expenditures that will be required for him all the way.

     It shows how far people have come on both sides of the divide as sectarianism has lessened and barriers between communities have been broken down. The picture of Ronan together with the Flute Band members sends a powerful message that regardless of your religion or where you come from, at the end of the day, we are all human beings and therefore worthy of support from fellow humans. Above all, the bad baggage and legacies of the past need not get in the way of being a good neighbor.

     We need more positive and uplifting stories such as this to hold up as a model for communities with diverse populations to work together for good causes that can provide the path to greater understanding and cohesion over the long-term. This is true throughout the United Kingdom, but especially in parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland, where religious, ethnic, and cultural divisions are deeply-rooted and need to be overcome in order for everyone to move forward together in peace (with good-natured banter) and prosperity.

     Indeed, if the United Kingdom is to survive, such old divides must be bridged so that the Union may have more allies on its side, and so that the UK - already a great country - can be greater still by living up to its ideals of being a multicultural and inclusive society.

     For now, I tip my cap to Ronan Foley by wishing him all the best success at the Special Olympics and his future endeavors, as well as to the County Flute Band for stepping up to the plate. Here’s to Ronan making his community – all of his community – proud and happy.