Sovereign - Just a word? Or can it be a state of mind?
Whenever I say this word out loud it always feels heavy upon my lips, as if the word itself carries some indefinable mass. What we can define though, is our current understanding of the word itself.
- a monarch; a king, queen, or other supreme ruler.
- a person who has supreme power or authority.
- supreme; preeminent; indisputable: a sovereign right.
- greatest in degree; utmost or extreme.
- being above all others in character, importance, excellence, etc.
- efficacious; potent: a sovereign remedy.
Now that we are on the same page of literary definition I would like to share the impact of this word from my position as a Irish person. If you have any understanding of Irish history maybe you can already see some of the complexities this term brings up for me, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.
I have been raised in the Republic of Ireland, a democratic nation of people, but this was not always the case and it was not that long ago that bloody conflict existed on our island home. A conflict that thankfully moved away from violence just over two decades ago with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
Still, as a youth growing up in a country which had not even reached its first decade as a member of the European Union, I was exposed to a lot of conflicting perspectives. Words like nationalist and unionist were so fundamentally ingrained in my perceptions with conflict and violence that it was difficult for me to climb past those aspects and objectively explore the merits of each point of view.
I remember feeling conflicted when the matter of Irish sovereignty was even mentioned. It usually came up in a rather impassioned circumstance which charged the atmosphere with no small amount of fear. The English monarchy had long held their sovereignty over Ireland, which led to a lot of hardship and death... not easily forgotten by an oppressed people.
Some saw Ireland's decision to become a member of a unified European community as a voluntary surrender of Ireland's sovereignty, a freedom that had been hard fought for and cost the lives and liberty of many of our citizens. Lives and liberties lost to my own ancestors. Part of me felt the pull of that history upon me - setting my back straight and mind off along a path of nationalist rebel songs, freedom marches and glorious defiance in the tales of Ireland's 'great heroes'. Yet for all of the rousing rhetoric I could never forget the harm caused by divisiveness when it couples with aggression. Bombings in the news reports, hate preached from the pulpits, bodies in the streets.
A word which, for me, went beyond any of its commonly understood definitions and became embroiled with fear, hate, and pain. It wasn't until my current work began, diving back in to the ancient lore of my island, that I began to extract some truer meaning of the term.
For me, truth can be defined as that place where fact meets personal experience. So it was with sovereignty for me. From the ancient lore we can say as a fact that the people of the land held the island itself with a certain reverence. A king among the people needed to ensure their 'right relationship' with truth, justice and hospitality so that the sovereignty of the land would be upheld, and its wealth and abundance flow. To symbolize this bond a king was wedded to a Goddess to represent that sovereign union.
Through the exploration of this lore I came to realise that Sovereignty is not about dominance, control or oppression. Sovereignty can be about relationship, unity, personal representation of a supreme ideal, an indisputable right, and a power and authority, not over any other, but over myself.
I don't claim to have an answer, for whenever I explore these thoughts I invariably generate more questions, but I will always strive for that place where fact merges with experience, and truth is born or shown. My truth is that I am the sovereign of my own life. I am the person who has supreme power or authority over my existence and the responsibilities that go with the choices I make. My thoughts, my words, my deeds.
Personal sovereignty is not about exclusion or separation. It's about a healthy union when that which is true, just and hospitable is made core to the foundation of any relationship, even our relationship with ourselves.
As it can be with a person, so can it be with a nation, or a union of nations, as are they not just a collection of people? Each of us a sovereign of ourselves. Each of us is a king, queen, or supreme ruler of our own existence. No person or even nation need sacrifice that sovereignty for the sake of a union if that union is based on truth, justice and hospitality.
Whenever I say this word out loud it always feels heavy upon my lips, as if the word itself carries some indefinable mass, and now... that always makes me smile.