Is New Zealand becoming a retribution country?

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(Image from RNZ)

Jason Heale
Auckland, May 28, 2022

A toxic thread has been running through our news lately. Have you noticed?

A Chief Executive deliberately makes disparaging remarks about Nadia Lim. There are calls for his resignation. The share price of his company plummets.

He responds with a two-line non-apology.

Supermarkets cut or freeze their prices. It is not enough; commentators calling such moves more hype than hope.

Two MPs dispute accounts of a stand-off in a Parliamentary cafe. A Cabinet Minister calls an Opposition member a “useless Maori.”

An atmosphere, not only of division but of retribution seems to be stalking our country. Of paying others back. Of calling enemies out. Of exacting revenge.

Many of us are not listening; some at the highest levels. Reports surfaced this week of the Human Rights Commissioner trying to get a meeting with the Prime Minister to air his concerns about the traffic light system creating a more divided society. He was made to wait 110 days before the meeting occurred. His take? “My sense is that ‘othering’ is accelerating.”

Jason Heale

Ripe for revenge

Once you turn someone into a some-what; they are depersonalised and ripe for revenge.

There are many factors causing this remaking of our land of the long white cloud into a Retribution Nation. Inflation is surging; there is fear about our economic future. Supply chains are broken. Violent crime seems to be rising. People are frightened. Post-Covid, we are still dealing with the ramifications of lockdowns and mandates.

How to respond? It is not just about us simply trying to be nicer. There are certain active things that we can do in order to come together as a society.

This may seem impossible, given how divided we are told we are, but it has been done before.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa showed us the power of open, honest, accountable, and forgiving conversations. In 2019, Maxim Institute brought Professor Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela from that Commission to our country.

Power of encounter

Her message was important then, it is even more urgent now. Professor Gobodo-Madikizela tells of the power of the process of encountering those who have harmed, hurt, and shamed us.

She reminds us of a commitment to “staying open in the encounter with the other’s story and being witness to each other’s stories—stories of pain and stories of shame and guilt.”

We must make a place for such exchanges if we are to come together as a nation.

We must demand it from our political and business leaders. And we must practice it ourselves.

Let us not focus on the retribution, let us not focus on trying to forget and move on, we have to listen, because listening, as Professor Gobodo-Madikizela notes, is “an important starting point seeking demanding an ethical response from listeners.”

So, the next time someone comes to you to complain, debate, or argue, don’t do anything except listen. Really listen. Ask if they think they have been heard. Then, in a calm measured manner, make your points. Pause again. Listen again.

For best results, repeat.

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