Thought for the day — The virus of sectarianism: reducing its spread

Close up woman hands holding rapid covid -19 test with a positive result. Self express coronavirus testing at home.

Thought for the day — The virus of sectarianism: reducing its spread
by Michael WARDLOW
17 June 2022

After two and a half  years I have finally succumbed. Despite being careful, having all the recommended injections, wearing masks and singing happy birthday while washing my hands —  I saw that pink line on my lateral flow test yesterday morning.

I hadn’t expected it, as I had no typical symptoms, but I generally test twice a week — just in case.

But the test doesn’t lie — I am infected. The health network has been great — I’ve had a lovely staff member from contact tracing on the phone, talking me through what I have to do next and helping me understand the current vagaries of self isolation.

I have had to take action in cancelling upcoming meetings and getting in touch with colleagues who I have been in contact with over the past few days.

All my precautions, including the rigour with which I approached social contact, and mask wearing failed in the end to protect me from the virus. It helped a little when the contact tracer told me that this virus is the most transmissible one yet but I am still left with the question — could I have done more to prevent infection?

I have often used the metaphor of a virus for the sectarian attitudes which prevail in this place I call home, and this recent experience with a real virus has only served to reinforce the appropriateness of that parallel.

The other virus, sectarianism, lives amongst us. We do our best to protect ourselves from catching it. We do the training on unconscious bias, we learn how to repress our natural instincts, curb our words, regulate our vocabulary and challenge our own potential to stereotype “the other”.  All these tools serve to help us learn to moderate our behaviours in certain circumstances but they rarely, if ever, change our attitudes. Attitudinal change involves active choice, self examination, persistence and application if we are to see any progress.

It is my belief that sectarianism is a virus that we all carry all of our lives. For the most part we are asymptomatic. We are able to sustain behaviours that are supportive of developing a shared future. We don’t get involved in conversations where we might be tempted to pass on sectarian views actively or passively. We have learned to be bilingual.

There is no medical intervention which can inhibit or prevent this virus. Like Covid-19, in its worst manifestation, it can kill or curtail our normal lives, through careless words, or discriminatory remarks or actions.

Or through the complicity of the bystander — when we fail to challenge the virus when we experience its presence in our company. “Sure they’re not one of us” or “what else would you expect from someone who is a….” Fill in the blanks.

So, like with covid, prevention is better than cure to address the virus of sectarianism. How are you working to reduce its spread amongst us?

Originally broadcast at BBC Radio Ulster on 17 June 2022. Transcript provided by Michael Wardlow.

Photo 208761603 / Covid Test Positive © Oksana Krasiuk |

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