The Reverend Harold Good is a native of Derry/Londonderry and has devoted his whole life striving to make this part of our world a better place for everyone.
A Methodist minister he is a former President of the Methodist Church in Ireland. He was also a Director of the Corrymeela Community Centre for Reconciliation in the 1970’s during some of the darkest times of the “troubles” in Northern Ireland. He is also recognised as being one of two independent witnesses who oversaw the decommissioning of arms in 2005. It is impossible to measure the impact that Reverend Good has had in our society through the many small steps and conversations that he has participated in over the decades. Always challenging but working constructively he has been a consistent voice of moderation. This has been recognised in many ways but in 2007 he was awarded the World Methodist Peace Award. Here he sets out what advice he would give to our young people as we work to build a better future for ourselves and our children. His considerable knowledge of the issues that go to the heart of the problems in Northern Ireland added to by experience of the world. He is also involved in Healing Through Remembering which has helped develop thinking for our society to find ways of dealing with its tragic past.
As I write, I am listening to yet another depressing broadcast from “The biggest show in the Country”. Amongst the ‘prophets of doom’ who are ‘phoning to dispense their perceived wisdom are fathers (not mothers!) who are adamant in their assertion that there is no future for young people in Northern Ireland and who would urge their children to take a one-way ticket out of “this place”, as they cynically call it.
As the father of five children and grandfather of twelve grandchildren, all of whom are happily living close by, I want to put a counter-argument with a very personal challenge to a new generation of young people who are growing up in this place, Northern Ireland or the North of Ireland, whichever you choose to call it.
First of all , even from the perspective of ‘self-interest’, I suggest you reflect on what this place has to offer.
It is the burgeoning bus and plane loads of tourists who remind us how privileged we are to live in a place of incredible natural beauty with such easy access to mountains, lakes and beaches and the most scenic of golf courses, or whatever takes your fancy. From your own experience, you must know that we have schools which are rated amongst the best on these islands with well above national average results. And did you know that according to N.I.Statistics and Research Agency we now have the lowest level of unemployment in the United Kingdom ? And have you heard that, compared to other cities and regions of the United Kingdom and other countries, this is reliably reported to be one of the safest places in the world?
Of course it’s not perfect. But as I listen to fathers telling their young people to get out of here, there are reports of the tragic shooting of seventeen young people in a Florida school, the eighteenth such ‘school shooting’ in the USA since the New Year ! If you take an interest in world news, which I hope you do, you will be well aware of hugely uncertain political, economic and security issues across the globe.
I am not suggesting that you should never look beyond this place. As I know from very personal experience, to travel and to study in other places can be very important in the broadening of our experience and outlook. Of course you must feel free to make a life for yourself elsewhere, but when you find somewhere that is perfect in every way please call home and tell us!
However, in suggesting that you should not allow yourself to be driven from this place by fear or the cynicism of others, I would ask you to think about what you migyt have to offer to make this a much better place for everyone. It was John F Kennedy who challenged the young people of his day to ask “not what my country can do for me, but what can I do for my country ?”
I cannot argue against those who remind us that at this moment we are in a political mess. Between “stand-off” and “stand alone” politics we have good reason to be disillusioned with those who have landed us in this situation of stalemate. But do not forget how far we have come from the dark and tragic days and nights of murder and mayhem about which your parents will tell you. In spite of it all, there is no lessening in the number of influential leaders from other places of historic conflict who come to learn from our peace process, incomplete as we know it to be. This is why I make no apology in urging you to consider what you can bring to change things in this the land of your birth.
In considering your options do NOT rule out becoming involved in constructive, progressive and respectful politics. It is not for me to suggest which party, but there are options !
It was a wise man who said, “All it takes for wrong to triumph is for good men (and women) to do nothing.” And it was Mahatma Ghandi who said, “ be the change that you want to see.”
As a boy and as a young man I grew up in this place without realising what a deeply divided community it was ! We were not aware of the underlying issues which were waiting to surface and which erupted into thirty and more years of violence. We were much too focussed on our own interests and issues, some of which in my case were centred on relatively trivial and at times ‘theologically irrelevant’ discussion and debate! How different our recent history might have been had we been more aware and challenged to think and work for a very different society than the one we inherited.
It is because I believe in you and what you have to offer that I write as I do !