Friday, 29 May 2009

Pluralism - A Response

Many thanks to everyone for their perceptive and challenging responses to my original posting regarding national events having 'too much English' or 'too much Welsh'. Just a few thoughts in response.

Perhaps I should explain some of the background to my comments. They flow mainly from the experience, over many years, of drafting local and national events or celebrations. For some, such events will always have too much Welsh: for others, such events will always have too much English. Wales continues, on the polarities of our bilingual conversations, to have such views. Thankfully, they are not held by the majority.

Inevitably, bringing people together for celebrations requires meeting the aspirations of diverse communities or groups that define and express themselves, at such points of contact, through the complex prism of the identities of faith, language, politics or sometimes a sense - wherever they find themselves in the pecking order of our diverse asymmetries of power - of being vulnerable to change, susceptible to injustices or even elimination.

Be assured, I do not question the reality or the legitimacy of any vulnerability. I have my own in loads. Being a first language Welsh speaker I am acutely aware of how vulnerable linguistic minorities can be.

Throughout my working life, I have also been embroiled professionally in the responses of faith communities that are acutely aware of their own decline. It seems to me that churches that have learnt how to evolve core values in newer environments have a great capacity to grow. Faith communities determined to shape themselves as condensed versions of what they used to be seem to struggle.

In the area of equality strands such as sexual orientation or disability, I have also encountered resourceful individuals who have striven bravely - despite the horrific odds stacked against them in terms of prejudice, bullying or a lack of reasonable access to goods and services -to enjoy the diverse and complex entirety of who they wish to be. They continue to need distinctive spaces as inequality continues.

Be assured therefore, my issue is not with legitimate expressions of cultural identity and exchange such as the Urdd Eisteddfod or Hay book festival or the gathering together of gay groups. My issue is with those who find them either 'too Welsh' or 'too English' to the extent that they are not prepared to experience anything that is beyond their cultural 'comfort zone.' Wales still has a dearth of places where discursive contacts with 'the other' are enjoyed.

This year I believe that the Hay festival and the Urdd Eisteddfod made significant progress in making sure that Wales' diverse cultures do not exist in a mutually excluding bubble. I do believe however that more could be done.

In response to Simon, I spring to the defence of pluralism. Earlier this week, while preparing for a questiontime type session for the Urdd around multiculturalism, I returned to my favourite episode of The West Wing. In the Isaac and Ismael episode which was produced after '9:11' there is a discerning conversation around themes of difference, the asymmetry of power, injustice and terrorism. One of the leading characters, Josh Lyman, is asked by a group of young diverse Americans locked in an imaginary White House to provide an answer to terrorism. I marked the Josh Lyman response "Remember pluralism....keep accepting more than one idea.'

My response concerning the philosophy of pluralism is simple. No expression of pluralism -if it is pluralism - will disregard the legitimate concerns of any minority. Pluralism will also discern the diversity of more than one idea and experience within linguistic minorities. That which can do so much harm to linguistic minorities is not the liberal thinking associated with pluralism but the illusion of it. Pluralism will always be comfortable with 'distinctive spaces'. Pluralism abhors monolithic melting pots.

I would also want to push the 'observer status' thing a bit further. National events have a 'moral requirement' which goes beyond their 'own constituency'. Even those who are there to observe have a moral right to feel that what they observe belongs to them. Both English and Welsh - as languages - belong to all the people of Wales.

I'm with Szczeb to the extent that individuals can belong to more than one community. That's obvious. I would also underline again that I am comfortable with distinct 'spaces' in any human experience. What I remain uncomfortable with is with those who actually crave the safe certainties of isolation and I remain of the view that indulging such cravings leads inevitably to stagnation.

Such cultures, like laboratory experiments, will only remain ultimately as in aspic.

Finally, to Stonemason...I may have ripped your comfort zone to shreds. You should see what I have done to mine!

Tuesday, 26 May 2009


Just a few quick thoughts at the end of the day...

When blogging last night after enjoying a whole day at the Urdd Eisteddfod, I didn't expect Betsan Powys from the BBC to note my comments about some national events having too much Welsh and others having too much English on her blog.

It's good to see that internet conversations are thriving. Betsan's comments, and several other conversations at the Urdd Eisteddfod, made me think some more - much more.

Sometimes, I feel that communities - be they of faith, language or of politics - occupy the same spaces but in mutually excluding bubbles. It's one of my great fears for the future - that the excluding bubbles will multiply. They have done so frequently in Wales at a terrible cost to a nation striving for the strengthening of shared narratives. Communities as well as nations are refreshed by the holding of transforming conversations - in whatever language.

I have asked a question all day: do I abandon my identity by sharing a platform or holding a conversation with those who are different in faith, politics or of language?

No, I don't. The sure testing of conversations with others only adds to the legitimacy of a point of view or belief. Languages are for me much better servants of the human experience when they are primarily the means of good conversation. They are the harbengers of the affirmations we strive for.

Cultures that crave the safe certainties of isolation eventually stagnate and die.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Never Right

Today, I thought a great deal about two national events.

One had too much English in it and the other had too much Welsh. There is a wisdom that in the world of bilingualism if you get two sides complaining at the same time, you may just be getting the thing right.

Alternatively, you may be getting both wrong.

Saturday, 16 May 2009


It was great today to see Arsenal and Manchester United draw ensuring that United became this year's champions. At long last, it cannot be said any more that Liverpool have won more championships. I can't wait to get my teeth into next season so that we can go one better. I can only hope that Ronaldo and Tevez stay.

It was also brilliant at the end of the day to see Scarlets beat Ulster by means of a fantastic set of youngsters. Next season should be good.

What a great day.

P.S. I don't really care about the Eurovision thing.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Darren Fletcher is Innocent

Tonight, I will remember the name Resotti more than the fact that Manchester United played brilliantly to beat Arsenal 1:3. Ronaldo was just fantastic.

Sometimes, it's difficult not to think that top sport is run by fools. Surely, when everyone saw that poor Darren Fletcher had got the ball rather than the player, it's OK to have an appeal and go "Oops sorry, I got that one wrong!". Mr Resotti, the Ref, just got it wrong when he gave Fletcher the red card.

Darren Fletcher is innocent! He should be allowed to play in what would have been the most important game of his career.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Cardiff Blues

This morning I played at home. I decided that because I wasn't preaching anywhere that I would go to Saint Catherine's, Pontypridd. Marcus the Vicar spoke of fasting and giving things up. Both of us agreed after the service that we would give up watching Manchester United on Thursdays.

During the afternoon I went with my eldest son to tender our support for Cardiff Blues during the game against Leicester Tigers. For the first time ever in my rugby experience the tie had to go down to penalty kicks. It was entertaining but nerve racking.

I feel desperately sorry for one of my great heroes, Martyn Williams, who missed the decisive kick. I guess he won't be kicking penalties and conversions for the Lions in South Africa. All the Cardiff fans got the blues as did their adoptive brothers and sisters from Scarlets and Ospreys who were there to do the decent Welsh thing.

To top it all, Cardiff City failed to reach the play-offs. All in all, it wasn't a good day for Cardiff.


Manchester United never play on Thursdays!