Saturday, November 06, 2010

"Home-grown" versus "book-learnt"

For all of the opinions and perspectives within the Ulster-Scots world, and about the Ulster-Scots world, they tend to fall into two brackets. These are:

1. From people who grew up within, and are still part of, a local Ulster-Scots community* (home-grown).

2. From people whose only concepts of Ulster-Scots have come from things they've read (book-learnt).

You can usually work out which category somebody falls into within about 5 minutes of conversation with them. The paradox is that people in category 1 have knowledge, empathy and a lifetime of personal experience - but they tend to be quiet folk. People in category 2 usually know next to nothing - but have plenty to say. Of course there are vultures within each category, and good folk within each category. Everybody has something to learn... but not everybody has something useful to offer.

There are plenty of examples of Ulster-Scots being analysed, dissected and exploited by the "experts" of category 2, but precious few examples of the "experts" who have grown up within category 1** - or even of "experts" who recognise the deep importance of spending time with the people of category 1. I suppose living in libraries or staying stuck behind a keyboard is far handier than actually working alongside the "great unwashed". Ulster-Scots is not just fodder for media studies, it is a deep well for respectful folklife studies, and, if properly handled, has the potential to help our society. How? By restoring the true cultural triple-blend of Ulster-English, Ulster-Irish and Ulster-Scots - rather than the political two tribes enmity of British v Irish.

Knowledge is not the same as empathy. Theory is not as valuable as experience. Qualifications are not more important than understanding. So, give me home-grown every time. Book-learnt is a very poor substitute.

(with thanks to Fiona, who through the title of this post planted a seed with me many months ago)

* to be even more specific, I tend to add both "rural" and "working class" to category one. And, depending upon the specific subject matter, I'd probably even narrow it further to specific geographical areas within particular counties. That may not be very PC in today's Northern Ireland - a place where ideas are often skewed so that every geographical area is included regardless of merit or relevance, and where the silent issue of class may well be just as much of a social divide as the endlessly-picked-over "sectarianism" - but I suspect that many of you will agree with me. Feel free to post a comment and let's get some debate going.

** community-rooted "experts" is definitely the ideal answer.


Charlie Reynolds said...

Tae maak ony heidwye ye hae tae git tha Native taakers on boord. Wi'thoot them its loast caase.