We Glaswegians are often noted for our sense of humour. I think this comes from the ability we have to laugh off certain horrific truths. In fact, we almost always make ourselves the butt of the joke whether intentionally or otherwise. But under that tendency to make light of those darker aspects of our daily lives lurks a depressing acceptance that things will never change – because that’s how they’ve always been.
These often quite terrible things are funny because they are true. We use our humour to laugh off the powerlessness we feel in the face of our struggles. But In doing so we also accept things are unlikely to change when nothing could be further from the truth.
Recent headlines that Glasgow is no longer Britain’s most violent city should be shared far and wide. We should be screaming it from the rooftops because it’s a massive achievement – particularly in such difficult economic circumstances.
This news is just the latest in a long journey for a city whose face seems to change every other decade. From second city of the empire to disease ridden slum then regeneration success story to post-industrial scrap-heap, Glasgow has been having an identity crisis for the best part of 100 years.
The only continuity in that chaos has sadly been the culture of violence we are all too familiar with and our willingness as citizens to internalise horror stories; retelling them with a perverted sense of pride.
The news we are slowly turning around this culture of violence proves that nothing is ever written in stone.
Violence has, for too long, been accepted by most Glaswegians as a normal – sometimes necessary – part of our everyday lives. It’s something we’ve developed a bit of a false bravado about.
It’s one of those horror stories we laugh off because there seems no other way of dealing with it. Entire generations of young people grow up being spoon-fed exaggerated war stories; myths of how their scheme is the roughest scheme in the history of schemes and how the people living in the scheme 100 yards along the road are unhygienic s****bags.
I know we all have to slip into our scheme characters from time to time, but what if that willingness to play along with the bravado is actually makes things more difficult for all of us?
Step back from that nonsense for two minutes and have a look at how ridiculous it is.
In many cases we have grown men walking around the same housing schemes they themselves grew up in. But instead of encouraging kids to think beyond those narrow horizons that can trap you in a dangerous lifestyle, adults who ought to know better instead fill young people’s heads full of cardboard gangster logic.
The kind of stuff a genuinely tough and self-assured person would never feel the need to say or do.
The myths are designed to make people with low self-esteem feel better about themselves. But these lies about the virtue of violence serve no purpose but to make impressionable young people feel dependent on the wisdom of those with the least moral courage.
Reject it, reject them and most of all: reject the myth that being from a violent community is something to be proud of.
Reject the myth that it’s cool to act tough when really you’re as scared of violence and what other people think of you as everybody else is. Reject the notion that physically fighting over territory that consists of a stretch of derelict land is anything but pointless and stupid.
When you spend a bit of time, as I have, with people who are serving long prison sentences for things they did when they were teenagers, you begin to realise that challenging dangerous attitudes towards violence is much more important – and requires far more courage – than blindly re-enforcing them.
If we can shake off the stigma of being murder capital then what else is possible?
If we are honest about our problems and determined to face them fearlessly then we can stare down any challenge and re-imagine our city…and ourselves while we’re at it.
Maybe it’s time we started telling a new story about ourselves and laughing off how things used to be instead of just accepting them as they are?
This blog first appeared at the Violence Reduction Unit’s site and is reproduced with permission