You and I were taught to hate – by Brian John Spencer

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(You can follow Brian John Spencer on Twitter by clicking here)

It was Mary McAlease who said, “There is a sediment of sectarianism in all of us if we come from Northern Ireland”; and as Eamonn put it last summer: I challenge you to deny it.

To put it flatly: it’s just part of the human constitution in Northern Ireland – whether it’s sectarianism of the benign, not-so-benign or utterly vicious kind. The moderate BT9 type hates the rival rugby team, while the local loyalist hates “them there taig” and the republican hates “the huns.”

And we’ve all heard it.

However, mistrust, suspicion, prejudice, intolerance, bigotry and sectional thinking are not unique to the people Northern Ireland. It’s an irreducible part of the human condition, and has been for hundreds of thousands of years.


As Andrew Marr said in Part 1 of the BBC’s documentary, History of the World:

“By the time we arrived in Europe, we were already deeply tribal. Living and cooperating together in groups much larger than families, which was very important to our success as hunters. But it had another side: tribal loyalties meant we had an ingrained hostility towards outsiders. Anyone who looked a little differently; spoke differently, dressed differently or perhaps smelt differently.”

Mistrust, suspicion and prejudice are typeset into man’s genetic code. It was a survival instinct that ensured the survival of the fittest and evolution of man to the point where we stand today.

Unfortunately we still bear the “tribal-think” trait to this very day.

There is a little more to it though. We don’t leave our mother’s womb filled with hatred: we are given the potential hate. As we grow old we imbibe at our mother’s knee and from the wider family our views and perceptions on the world. We coalesce around our tribe’s group think.

It is these views – if exclusively tribal – that can start people on the road to benign/not-so-benign hatred.

As Nelson Mandela said:

“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate.”

However, what is critical to note: where parents sketch out a child’s views on this world, it’s the schooling system that emblazons a person’s views on the world.

It’s at school where young men and women are truly shaped. It’s at school where we get our cultural viewpoint. In his celebrated work Culture and Anarchy, novelist and poet Matthew Arnold uttered the most accepted definition of culture.

“(Culture is) the best which has been thought and said in the world.”

And this is important: where the protestant classes learn the best that has been thought and said in protestant thought, the catholic classes learn the best that been thought and said in catholic thought.

First Minister Peter Robinson


If you ask me, I’d refute Peter Robinson and say the schooling system in Northern Ireland is an example of not-so-benign apartheid. It’s utterly separatist and at the core of our prince’s ills.

The people of Northern Ireland know it too. That’s why by an overwhelming majority, 70% of parents in Northern Ireland want some form of integrated education system.

We the people of Northern Ireland now stand at an uncomfortable stage in the peace journey; as tensions rise among loyalists and republicans it feels like we could hit a tipping point at any moment.

I’m not going to go into a long list of what is going to happen and what needs to happen bar what we need at an elemental level.

As I said earlier, we humans have the potential to hate. To finish the Mandela quote from above:

“If (our children) can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes to the human heart more naturally than its opposite.”

We owe it to our children to education them to the best of their ability, and that means in a way that is not tribal. In a way that is not separatist. If we all drink and learn from the same fountain, not only will we enjoy mutual interest and respect but we will also share a common group think that would eliminate the fatal group think that has divided and torn Northern Ireland apart for decades.

So schools… that is why we hate.


(You can follow Brian John Spencer on Twitter by clicking here)

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About Author

Brian is a blogger, political cartoonist and digital media strategist commenting on politics, the economy and developments that affect the legal profession. Brian also has a passion for youth unemployment and regularly provides career guidance and writes on the deficiencies of second and third level education. Brian writes for the Huffington Post (, has his own blog ( and blogs for the Guardian (


  1. As someone who raised 2 lads to manhood I can place my hand on heart stating my boys know nothing of sectarianism. One even supports Celtic bejasus!…. and that comment clearly shows I am, still, a flawed individual.

    I’ve been blessed recently with the birth of a grand daughter, and I must admit this grounding of my own maturity (age advancement) combined with a reflection of my own personal evolution has me considering her future, and what role I can play to ensure that it is as risk free of emotional or physical trauma.

    In her home, in her little cot on her first day after arrival, with her family adoring her, I discussed with my oldest lad & his partner this little miracle that had been bestowed on us. As she slept I stated “Look at her, no religion, free of political ideology, free of hate or prejudice. Think on that because we here create most drama in our lives”. Then my own words impacted in my heart as I recounted countless heartaches through bad decision making or ignorance.

    In solidarity with the post by Brian I recite a poem I wrote some time ago:

    I and You?

    I am me.
    I was born to be me.
    My social, economic and experience made me.

    You are you.
    You where born to be you.
    Your social, economic and experience made you.

    We are not the same.
    We are poles apart on a majority of matters:
    Thought, word and actions differ.
    That does not make ‘I’ correct and ‘you’ wrong’.
    It is simply how things are.

    Embrace difference.
    Accept difference.
    Do not rationale the difference.

    I am me.
    You are you.
    We are not here to hurt one another,
    Embrace our difference or depart from each other,

    Let us not brood to apportion blame, self worthiness or morals.

    Accept that we are flawed diamonds.
    Accept that in this life we give, give again and give all over again,
    Such Is destiny:
    to give in our respective ways.

    Blessed are those who can give without remembering,
    Blessed are those that take without forgetting.

    To complete the balance is not to be found in
    ‘I’ or ‘You’

    Copyright Glenn B C/O

  2. What chance is there for our children to learn from a first minister who refused to go into government until Sinn Fein accepted the policing and legal structures.
    Now, three months into the loyalist flegs dispute, because he is still not welcome in east Belfast, he is trying to poison people’s minds about both police and legal organisations.
    Because of the present HET inquiries into the actions of the Mount Vernon and the possibility he may have to visit some erstwhile friends in jail, he is no longer, if he ever was, acting as first minister for our wee province, but acting as a loyalist paramilitary spokesman.

    • Sherdy,

      In a part you’re correct – the initial cessations, conditional peace and GFA had no input from the DUP. At that time they where the people shouting the loudest and throwing tantrums.

      The Hume-Adams negotiations where the start of risk, followed by a double standard HMG, followed by the UUP, then we had the cessations with much credit to all armed groups.

      There was the ‘wobble’ of ’96 then the risk takers went hammer and tongs again until SF, PUP, UDP, UUP, SDLP & other parties put in place the Agreement overseen by the brilliant George and Mo supported by the Irish & British PMs. The DUP played no positive role.

      I’d suggest that most protesting over flags are the supporters of the DUPs then anti-agreement stance while some are young adults who never experienced conflict but have been weaned on illogical bullshit that they are somehow better than their fellow British or Irish citizens.

      The difficulty is the minority background support being given to them from varying sources and the why, what, for rationale to that support. I think lumping blame on HET recommendations is too easy and lets ‘sinister manipulators’ off the hook.

      Anyone with a bit of understanding to law, the judicial process & common sense regarding re-offending risk can see why some characters have recently been retained on remand.

      The resolution to this is to be found in quiet conversations with listening ears then helping hands, quickly followed up by cross party co-operation and again hands that help.

      If that doesn’t work then yeah, we’re in a situation where this about ‘hate’ .. petty, vindictive, irrational hate of the GFA, the Political system and quite simply, ‘them uns there’.

  3. johnhowcroft on

    agree fully that hatred is a learned-concept, passed down intergenerationally through processes of indigenous learning, (the bouncing on our grannies knee syndrome)
    we must derail that process of indigeonous learning, before we lurch again from periods of peace interspersed with periods of war

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