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Common Denominators

Aine Fox • The Other View

Being taught how to calculate fractions as a child was a matter of retrieving and storing the knowledge to make the calculation possible. Around the classroom many like myself were chewing on our pencils hoping the answer would miraculously appear on the page. When entering this difficult stage the words echoed past us 'find the common denominator.' Usually the discovery of the common number lead to a sigh of relief. The common denominator enabled the adding, subtraction, division and multiplication of numbers.

Sometime later in my life, I concluded that when learning of human ‘factions’ the same rules apply; retrieve and store the information in an attempt to make sense of the scenario. But numerical calculation it is not; numbers are rigid and predetermined - humans are characteristically neither in most cases.

When dealing with a situation that occurs where people, just like the fractions, will not come together into a coherent whole, it is in this instance that we require our common denominators! Unfortunately the only common denominator that seems to prevail from a lot of conflicting scenarios is that one faction is right and the other is wrong.

The reasons for incompatibility and inability to combine into a common framework are based on the divisions that have been created and sustained by particular factions within each side of the multiple faced dice that is the political landscape of the North. On each side of the argument there emerges reasoning, based upon nothing but predetermined notions of one's rightful place.

The emphasis is often placed on which factions have the right answer to our perceived constitutional, cultural and individual questions, which eliminates what we ultimately need to be searching for - what we have in common.

The basis of a lot of relationships, marriages, alliances is the principle of common ground which if worked on can be successful despite differences. Idealism maybe even naivety leads one to believe that it is therefore possible to work with a similar notion on a wider scale and build a community jointly focusing on the issues that are of concern to all.

Despite changes in our institutional structures supposedly to implement an ethos of equality, there remains distinct inequalities in many working class areas in the North of Ireland. Regardless of religious and political affiliations or identity - education, health, and housing inequalities compounded by the privatisation of the said services will broadly impact on the community at both ends of this conflict situation. Basic conflict resolution theory would suggest a ‘win-win situation’. But even if that were true no doubt one faction would be condemning ‘concessions’ to the other. A mentality exists ’if we can’t have it no one should have it.’

Our community as a whole needs to stop, take a breath and look around. The thousands of premature graves dug in this part of the country from both sides of the ‘divide’, and those who suffered and continue to do so are mainly those who have grown up through deprivation, low income or no income. These are the people who benefit least from capitalism and its neo liberal market tendencies that we see introduced more frequently without any opposition. Recently in the South we have seen mobilisation of the Left on practical issues i.e. water charges and bin taxes. A united front against these issues may eliminate future hardships to be faced by those who it affects most.

Would it be possible to mobilise jointly against similar policies that impact the lives of workers and those unemployed in our community? In areas of this country men, women and children refuse to accept the legitimacy of other's rights and individual preferences. They will attack each others homes, they will intimidate each other's children, and they will even kill. What is it that drives a person to highlight a difference so much that they then kill for it? That question I personally may never know the answer to. We need to as one community combine and focus on what unites us not what divides us.

Those that represent us (supposedly) in positions of power are going to continue to construct and implement policies and legislation, which will favour creating monetary gain - not focusing on what’s best for the people - the workers. While the right wing policies are being swept through, (transparency non existent in some cases), the remainder of us will still be hooked on concentrating on how much we hate the ‘Prods/Taigs’ that live down the road.


It may prevail that the capitalist hungry power structures will succeed; they have facilitated to an extent the separation of our community, segregation of our housing, segregation of our children’s education. Lets not forget the privatisation either.

Lets not forget that we all ultimately share similar goals in life. We have a lot more in common that what one may imagine.

It is a nice utopian picture that we can place all that divides us to one side and continue life in brightly painted colours. But, practically, if we can engage on the elements of our life around us that impact us jointly, it may be possible to build a situation of trust where we can bridge our other divisions also. Ultimately such divisions end lives not just impacts upon them.






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The man who lets a leader prescribe his course is a wreck being towed to the scrap heap.
- Ayn Rand

Index: Current Articles

4 October 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Revealing Secrets


At Last We Know the Human Cost of Gerry Adams

Paul Bew


The Boys of the Old Brigade Are Not Happy
Brian Mór


Segregation in Oldham
Mark Hayes


Common Denominators

Aine Fox


SF - Stormont First
Anthony McIntyre


Dispatches from the U.S. Anti-War Movement
Julie Brown


Preventing the Bush Turkey Shoot
Steve McWilliams


29 September 2002


Landlordism and the Housing Question
Liam O Ruairc


No Rest Days

Anthony McIntyre


The Meeting
Davy Carlin


It Shall All Come Tumbling Down
Sam Bahour




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