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investing in social cohesion

Written By: - Date published: 10:15 am, January 28th, 2015 - 19 comments
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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.


19 comments on “investing in social cohesion ”

  1. saveNZ 1

    Totally agree. One of the problems is that everything these days is about money.

    Money does not create a healthy society and in many ways reduces it. The things that people really care about tend to be non monetary, family, friends, experiences.

    Anyone who suffers from serious illness or the death of a loved one, quickly realises how unimportant money and consumerism is and how important quality of life is.

  2. tracey 2


    Every few years I am very fortunate to have been able to travel overseas. Since 2005 in fact. When i do so we watch no, or almost no television and do not read newspapers. The world keeps turning. We keep communicating with those around us, sometimes easier than other times because of language barriers. Occassionally if a TV has an english channel it tends to be news, like CNN or BBc or SKYTV. Last time I travelled Ms Thatcher died and the tv was saturated.

    My point is that the media determine our state of mind for the day and longer by THEIR choice of focus. Television news tends to be a roll call of deaths that day locally and internationally. It makes us believe the world is a terrible fearful place full of death stalking us at every corner. BUT selective death as a whole, people “like us”. It is no accident.

    For my part, and not just cos I am on holiday, being news-free for several weeks every year helps me focus outside and actively seek engagement with those around me.

    Being reminded every day that we can die at any time, and to be scared of that eventuality has a cumulative impact, and not for the good. Even holding this thought subliminally affects everything we do in a day in our relations with others and how we view our own world. It breeds more self preservation thoughts and actions, imo.

    Thanks as always for your thoughful observations.

    • stargazer 2.1

      the thing is that just avoiding social media or MS, as others have also alluded to, doesn’t solve the problem. because there are too many other people engaged with it & influenced by it. which is why i think a passive opting out is not enough. we need to actively invest in creating opportunities for positive interaction. we have to create the spaces where bridges can be built. there are lots of examples i can give, but busy at work right now.

      also, thanks for your comment 🙂

      • tracey 2.1.1

        My comment was less about opting out than the awful influence editors and media owners have over our view of the world and our place in it.

      • gsays 2.1.2

        hi stargazer, first thanx for articulating so well what has been going round in my mind for years now.

        i would not under estimate the power of opting out of the media.
        my threshold is advertising, generally if it carries ads, i am not interested. (tbh honest i am still a sucker for live cricket commentaries and this website but that is another story).

        anyhow.. i believe that by not following newspapers (hardest habit for me to kick), tv news, ad fm, etc your response to current events can come across as fresh.

        sure i accept opting out it isnt the whole answer but is still valuable.

        as for examples i think the youth are where a big impact can be made: cubs/scouts, youthline, big brother/big sister (youth mentoring) etc.

        dame whina cooper,in answer to what is important? it is people, it is people, it is people. (thats how i remember it any way).

  3. TE 3

    When I was a younger, I was told bank tellers were never shown counterfeit money only the real ones, so when a counterfeit note came across their counter they would recognise it instantly. I believe this way of showing legal vs illegal good vs bad, to be apt in all ways of life.
    To often we are bombarded with negative campaigning, using negativity to show who is right and who is wrong, negativity makes for hostility, frustration, anger and misunderstanding, sometimes closely followed by violence and war.
    A writer or a speaker who thinks they are right and the alternative thinking person are wrong and vice versa, all amounts to who has the biggest ego.
    Our children and grandchildren et al will pay dearly for the slack governments who didn’t give a flying fig for money spent the Real things of life.
    Immigration has heightened the Hate in Nz with mutitudes of different thinking and acting peoples.

    • stargazer 3.1

      just to address your last point, immigration may have heightened but that is not the fault of immigrants. it’s the fault of political actors who use immigrants & immigration policy as a way to promote hate and fear of the other. when you say that immigrants think & act differently, you are assuming that all non-immigrants act exactly the same way, that there is one universal culture in this country which everyone scrupulously adheres to. that is clearly not the case. nz culture is a blend of other cultures because of colonial migration & all that came with it. modern immigrants change that blend, but they aren’t inherently bad people. and we might consider the possibility that the changes they bring are actually an improvement.

  4. nadis 4

    If you want to fell positive keep away from social media and the internet. Every know and then I have a period of non-internet-connectedness, mostly just because it happens. And its always amazing how much more interesting your family and friends are when they aren’t competing with the internet for your attention. Getting rid of my facebook account actually made my relationships with the people I care about better, cos I now talk talk to them – by voice or email – rather than observe them. Plus there are a whole bunch of people I no longer have to interact with. I remember when I first started on FB, one of the reasons was “it would be interesting to reconnect with people from my past who I have lost touch with”. Turns out there was a good reason why I had lost touch with them…….

    The other thing about social media is that everything is a bit extreme in order to get your attention. I am certainly guilty of talking to people on blogs in a way I would never do so in person.

  5. just saying 5

    + 1000 Stargazer.
    I stopped regularly watching the TV news a long time ago. I’m thoroughly sick of the way fear and hatred are manipulated and scapegoated groups offered up for the increasingly stressed and disempowered population to unleash their frustrations on. Of course the internet also provides numerous outlets for this kind of hate-mongering.

    Like you say, the only way forward is building trust and social cohesion. It’s so easy to feel demoralised that we have to work extra hard at supporting each other and building bridges. Even simple things like saying hello and smiling or waving at people in our own neighbourhoods feels harder to do in a wider climate of suspicion and hostility.

    • stargazer 5.1

      when i was running for local government, one of the simplest & most effective ideas i came across was a project whereby the local council partnered with local businesses to pay people to either have their neighbours over for dinner or to have a coffee cart in their street for an afternoon. in terms of effectiveness, this project was shown to have a significant impact in reducing crime as well as improving well-being. i think the amount for a dinner was $80AUD & i’m sure the outcomes would be worth many, many times that. as i said in the comment above, it’s about creating the spaces where bridge-building can occur.

  6. r0b 6

    Excellent post.

    all this drumming of up of hatred, it serves a purpose for elites with power.

    Not just one purpose – lots of them. (Along these lines, and the tools of hate, I’ve been pondering a post on “American Sniper” recently, but I can’t bear to write it.)

  7. McFlock 7

    Really like this post – well crafted, with good ideas that evolve into a spot-on conclusion.

    • mickysavage 7.1

      Stargazer has this really amazing ability to present a incredibly nuanced view on current issues. I really rate her.

  8. stargazer 8

    thanks so much for the lovely comments, i’m blushing!

    re american sniper, yup, also an issue i’m avoiding right now.

  9. Ant 9

    Absolutely correct.
    The need to keep the masses in a state of fearful apprehension is well documented as it fuels the illusion that government will afford protection on every front (ebola, terrorists, “the enemy”, etc).

    One thing the internet is doing though (if you are prepared to search a bit) is providing evidence of many thousands of folk who reject the ‘image’ of eternal conflict, see through the hype and propaganda of broadcasting media and who are coming together online and physically to interact, share and co-create at the level of community.

    By increasing our participation in the many forums available (online and physically) we contribute significantly to a global community of sharers and carers. Who knows where this could lead in ten years time?

  10. Whateva next? 10

    Very good to see this issue focussed on, and capture the reason I will always vote Labour, whose essence is all about combining, cooperating and cohesion.National are about competing……..is all.
    “The whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts” so, for all National totting up of figures, they miss this point everytime.
    Thank you Stargazer.

  11. Gosman 11

    You are asking for more resources to be spent in this area on the basis that there is a defined benefits that result. These benefits I presume are measurable then. What sort of benefits are you meaning? Is it a lower crime rate for example?

  12. tinfoilhat 12

    Thank you so much for your lovely post Anjum.

    I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiments. Peace be with you and your friends and family.

  13. aerobubble 13

    Sustainable systems, like rain forests, are abundant systems. Deserts are the outcome of a loss of abundance. When the rain forsts were cit down they discovered that the rainforest created their own micro climates to make them sustainable, and the land beame adesert.

    Neo-liberalism turns economies into a desert of a few hardy survivors. Neo-liberals argue for no government, that the free market will provide, but they dont tell you that the free market is only possible with some form of government, thus insuring that we desertificate our economies hand them to the few hardy survivors the 1%.

    Id rather have ten hundred great companys than one genius led company.

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