tonight i attended a holocaust memorial service in hamilton, hosted by the waikato jewish association. it was nice to be invited and welcomed; even nicer to have several members of the jewish community thank me for coming and talk to me about my political activism in a positive manner. they know my politics, they know where i stand on various issues, but there was genuine warmth in our conversations.
on saturday, i attended a christian wedding at the anglican cathedral in hamilton. it was the wedding of a man whose ordination i attended last year. i sat at the back with my jewish friend, and later we compared notes on the songs we were prepared to sing along with and the one we weren’t, the bits of the service we wouldn’t participate in and how perfectly acceptable that was. at the reception, again some very warm and friendly conversations with people i didn’t know but who took the trouble to come talk to me.
in august every year, we have islam awareness week. in hamilton for the last few years, the waikato interfaith council participates by being part of a panel discussion on a particular theme – last year the theme was “charity begins at home”. so people from a whole range of faith communities talked about charity as they knew it, about giving and compassion. these people came at the invitation of the muslim community and shared in good faith, and again, the room was filled with warmth and mutual respect.
i can tell you many, many stories like this one, in the last year alone. these experiences are not unique to me. they are not unique to hamilton or to nz, they are replicated many times over around the world. these experiences are the norm, and not just in countries that enjoy relative peace. experiences of solidarity and support amongst warring communities can also be found across the planet. they aren’t particularly hard to find, these many instances of kindness and humanity.
so why does it feel like we live in a world that is incredibly hostile? because there is no doubt that it often does feel hostile, much more so than the reality i’ve described here. part of it is that we notice negative messages much more than positive ones. it’s human nature to focus on the negative.
there’s also the tendency for political and media organisations to exploit and focus on negativity, as i talked about in my previous post. the controversial, the shocking, the gruesome, they attract more attention. they get our adrenalin pumping, they engender a need to respond, to engage, to defend and to attack. they appeal to the emotional parts of ourselves, which are often more powerful than the rational, logical parts of ourselves.
there is also the phenomenon of people paid to be commenters on news articles, blogs, twitter. these agents provocateurs if you will, paid to change perceptions and opinions, in a way that often contains a high degree of hostility or that is intended to provoke a hostile reaction. the comparative negativity of the online world is pretty much an accepted phenomenon these days, and the strongest opinions appear to be against social cohesion, social justice, inclusion, understanding and solidarity. so much more of blaming and shaming, judging and condemnation.
all this drumming of up of hatred, it serves a purpose for elites with power. the endless cycle of violence and revenge, seemingly overwhelming, seeks to hide and to silence the reality of human kindness.
to counter that, we need to be investing more in creating the positive experiences i talked about earlier. the government can and should be doing that. there is work being done by various organisations, both governmental and non-governmental, which needs stronger support. i’d begin with the human rights commission, and move on to the many community groups that invest in bringing people together or simply in providing support to those in need.
this is work that can’t be judged by economic indicators, but the money spent here provides widespread and generational benefits. it’s work that is often written off as PC, and is currently undervalued and underpaid, if paid at all. the outcomes aren’t immediate, and often incredibly hard to measure in simple statistical terms. it’s work that can’t be thought of in business terms or done under business or commercial conditions. .
but it seems to me that the only way to reduce violence and the kinds of ugliness we are seeing in so many parts of the world is to invest in social cohesion, with our money and our time. it’s hard to fight for that when we have a government intent on reducing spending in these areas, unwilling to acknowledge problems or even measure them, let alone spend money on solutions. it’s not like we won’t be paying for this lack, it’s just that it’s equally difficult to measure the consequences of failing to invest because the consequences tend to be long-term.