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Man trying to build bridges

Harvard professor addresses violence and terror

— The individual difference people see between each other may be more imagined than real, but is a precursor to justify violence and conflict between cultures, races and other groups. This was an issue addressed by Dr. Hugh O’Doherty at a forum Friday.

“We need to create in-groups and out-groups,” O’Doherty said. “I’m me because I’m not you. The implications are profound.”

He explained that through his childhood experience in Northern Ireland, the terror created from being Irish and Catholic in a Protestant and British dominated land was immense. He said just by saying his name, he felt a sense of fear because people would identify with his religion and ethnicity, and it would expose his vulnerability to the widespread violence among the people.



He said each opposing group’s attachment to identity must be loosened to bring about their survival and peace. He said having a willingness to accept or understand a different perspective causes a person to question his or her own identity and existence that is formed through his or her upbringing, education and associations.

O’Doherty said that as a child, he and his family sang a song inside their home that affirmed their Catholic life and denounced the Protestants. As a natural part of his upbringing, it reinforced the differences between two groups that needed mending. He said the people in Northern Ireland have ceased violence for the past seven years, mostly because opposing parties avoid each other.



“At the moment of touch there is an explosion,” he said. The static relationships between the Protestants and Catholics makes it impossible to continue the process of peace.

O’Doherty hopes through his efforts, small changes can be made in Northern Ireland. He works with future leaders of Ireland to instill ideas that will establish a dialogue between the opposing parties.

“Accepting responsibility for the way things are there are all kinds of repercussion,” he said. He said by realizing being oppressed isn’t because of another group, a person can begin to take responsibility for the way things are. O’Doherty said when people blame another for their troubles, they do not accomplish anything or take action.

“Change means what used to be wasn’t glorious,” he said. But taking responsibility is emotionally hard to do, he said.

O’Doherty said he had neighbors that were murdered and mutilated and, although he himself couldn’t feel right about perpetuating violence, said it was one way people reacted to their family members and countrymen being victims to violent attacks that occurred on a daily basis. He said being subject to the violence of another group and unacknowledged because of religion and ethnicity leads a group of people to act out, often in violence, to address their feelings.

Creating a new reality and relationship between opposing groups will require people to express their emotions and feelings. O’Doherty said this process of storytelling has to take place before any resolutions can be made.

He said when he met a British man, he resembled everything he had learned to hate. After the man told a story about his brutal schooling, he identified with the man and had the choice to understand his perspective or continue to hate him.

O’Doherty said the moments of understanding experienced between members of opposing groups need fostering for the development of positive relationships and the process of peace to begin.

“There’s a human need for acknowledgment,” he said.


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