Being a wimp

Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring and integrity, they think of you.

H. Jackson Brown, Jr

I stepped into a teaching position at school that was recovering from a horrific bullying incident. Incident doesn’t quite do justice to this life-changing event; life-changing for the instigators and their families who faced court, certainly life-changing for the victim of the attack. A group of boys thought it would be … I don’t know … fun? … to abduct and torture a classmate, a peer, a fellow human being in bush-land near the school. For hours they tortured him, pissed on him, tied him up, made him dig his own grave, psychically assaulted him … He was a vulnerable kid – skinny and small for his age. They were taller, bigger, stronger and had a lot more friends.

I have found myself thinking about this event a lot over the last week or so – particularly in relation to the ridiculous language and downright disgusting behaviour of the so-called leaders of this country.

“You don’t want a wimp running border protection, you want someone who is strong, who is decent and Scott Morrison is both strong and decent.” Prime Minister Tony Abbott (Feb 21, 2014)

It is bad enough that our Prime Minister is using such juvenile, throwaway language better suited to a “jock” in a John Hughes film than serious humanitarian issues; it is incredibly disturbing when we consider the actions of Scott Morrison and the government.

So, what does it mean when Abbott makes such childish comments? If Morrison isn’t a wimp then what exactly is a wimp? Is a wimp someone who shows compassion? Someone who is not prejudiced? Someone who helps the vulnerable? Someone who tells the truth, is honest, is kind, is empathetic …

By Abbott’s standards I would much rather be a wimp.

In Abbott and Morrison’s world, a strong and decent person is one whom persecutes those who most need protection and support and assistance. By these standards, a strong and decent person is someone who is cruel.

What does this mean in the playground? I’m not even sure the word ‘wimp’ is still part of the colourful vocabulary of school-yard bullies but let’s imagine, if you will, that it is. “Don’t be a wimp” translates to don’t defend that kid who needs your help, stick with bullies, hurt him, he deserves it, he is the minority, he is different, he doesn’t deserve friendship / kindness / help …  No one wants to be a wimp because, clearly, it takes integrity, strength of character, compassion to be a wimp. It is difficult to be a wimp.

I wish there were more wimps in the school-yard. If there had been some wimps around on that life-changing day at that school by the bush then maybe a child would not have suffered. Maybe one of those bullies would have had enough wimp in him to stop his friends hurting an innocent, vulnerable kid.

If there were more wimps running this country then maybe Reza Barati would still be alive. Maybe we wouldn’t lock up the vulnerable who have turned to us for help not persecution. Maybe we wouldn’t be creating a country that is intolerant, cruel and selfish but a place that values equality, peace and compassion.

Such a shame: contemplations on feeling ashamed to be an “Aussie”

Come, let us all be friends for once
Let us make life easy on us,
Let us be lovers and loved ones,
The earth shall be left to no one.

Yunus Emre

I am ashamed to be Australian.

I said that to a group of people I barely knew the other night at a dinner party. You know those dinner parties where suddenly the conversations actually become a little meaningful simply because you’ve all run out of that superficial stuff … and there’s been a lot of wine consumed.

Anyway, I announced my shame to the table.

“That is such an Australian thing to say,” replied one.

I was disgusted.

“I don’t think we know how lucky we’ve got it in this country,” she wouldn’t stop (I blame the aforementioned wine) “You know, like, you go overseas and you, like, realise, you know, like you see how much better it is here and you’re all like, I can’t wait to get home and then you do and you just, I dunno, like, you get back and then you’re all like, I hate Australia and stuff again and you take it for granted, or something.”

I really had not meant that I took this place for granted, that the opportunities and safety and lifestyle that Australia offers to many are extraordinary … No. Not that.

I am ashamed that I live in a country where opportunity, safety, the ‘lifestyle’ we go on and on about ad nauseam, is only available for some not all. And all of those there at that dinner party, drinking wine and attempting to forge some meaningful conversations, were part of that some.

The recent politicising of asylum seekers has fuelled my shame of the deep divide and the mountainous contradictions that are Australia.

For, if Australia was a person, it would begin most of it sentences with “I’m not racist, but …”

There are bumper stickers: “If you don’t love it, leave it”

There are the Cronulla Beach Riots.

There was (still is; just with a less obvious name) The White Australia Policy.

There is the untold history and continued mistreatment of and horrific injustices against our Indigenous population.

There are the shock jocks.

There is the “she’ll be right” attitude.

There is the “no worries” and “fair dinkum”

There is Australia Day.

There is the myth of mateship and the ANZAC-spirit and the fair go.

And now there is a government who will not allow any refugee who arrives by boat to ever settle in this country. Ever.

Australia is a spoilt-brat. It is an obnoxious, selfish child who stamps it foot and demands everyone else do the work so it can continue lying on the beach and working on its tan (so long as it doesn’t get too dark, Australia doesn’t like that). It’s time for Australia to grow up and realise that the world doesn’t owe it anything.

I am ashamed that I live in a country where the Prime Minister’s popularity can go up when he announces inhumane, racist, asylum seeker ‘solutions’. I am ashamed to live in a country where the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader are currently fighting for votes through creating more horrific policies that play with vulnerable people’s lives. I am ashamed to live in a country where this is a way to get votes. I am ashamed to live in a country that is xenophobic and so very lacking in compassion, where the comments you read on these new asylum seeker policies include;

We are seeing an islamic [sic] invasion into Australia one boat at a time. We must make it as difficult and unpleasant as possible for the detainees otherwise we shall see hundreds and thousands of Muslims coming to Australia and ultimately wrecking this country with their radical islamic [sic] agendas. Islam is not the relgion [sic] of peace ………..but the false relgion [sic] of death and suffering.

Stephanie McCathie, NSW (comments on SBS – Dateline page)

If these people had half a brain they’d realise Australia is not set up to handle the plauges [sic] of illegal boat people flooding our shores. It’s 100% there [sic] fault and blame lays [sic] solely at there [sic] feet not Australia’s. Their [sic] getting there [sic] reward , for there [sic] sly and under handed entery [sic] into or turf [sic]. No pitty [sic] coming from me.

true blue ozzie, Queensland (comments on SBS – Dateline page)

My husband (along with lots of others) works in PNG He does not have airconditioning, and thanks to the Labor govt he now pays double tax (something they introduced if you work overseas), If [sic] you think we are happy about supporting you illegal maggots who come here and demand this and demand that, and then tell us your offended. The majority of Australians would be quite happy for you to go back home. Our boys are over in your countries fighing [sic], and you flee and come here expecting what!!!!!!!!

 Sandy, far-north Queensland (comments on SBS – World News page)

None of these boat people were invited to come to Australia. In fact, they are invading our Country and I could care less about their situation [sic]. They are not refugees [sic], they throw away their passports so we don’t even know who they are. Let’s hope for a change in Government so we can, once again, protect our boarders [sic]. We have many struggling Aussies and they should be getting our billions of tax dollars, not these parasites.

 Elizabeth Smith, Baulkham Hills (comments on SBS – World News page)

I could post these all day but it is depressing and I’m getting a little tired of having to add [sic] to every sentence they write.

Ill-educated, ill-informed and ill-mannered. Maggots? Parasites? It seems many Australians have a terrifying sense of entitlement simply because by some twist of fate they were fortunate enough to have been born here: “we grew here, you flew here” they cry. What the hell is wrong with these people? You did nothing particularly special nor clever to be born, you had no say in it, the least you can do is offer your compassion to others who also had no choice in being born but , through some twist of fate, ended up in a country where they are prosecuted or tortured or hungry or live in a constant state of fear.

We cannot imagine that. We’ve never had to deal with that. We are from the ‘lucky country’. Of course, not every Australian is so lacking in empathy but it can sometimes feel that way when you look at the Newspoll results.

But is this shame I feel simply limited to the fact that I happen to be an Australian?

Would I feel less shame if I was from somewhere else?

In Canada they treat asylum seekers like prisoners.  

In France, the government continues to restrict the rights of asylum seekers and migrants.

In Greece, Golden Dawn are proving very popular with the locals.

In America … well with Guantánamo Bay and Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning and the George Zimmerman case and the Iraq War and … well … yeah

The list goes on and on.

Maybe I am simply ashamed to be human? Ashamed to be from Planet Earth.

Next time I am at dinner party and the conversation moves from that superficial stuff, and if I have indulged in enough wine, I will announce that: I am ashamed to be from Earth.

“Oh, that’s like such an Earthling thing to say,” one of my new acquaintances will reply.

Maybe if more of us were ashamed, from whichever nationality fate has us born into, there would be more of a call to change and we would be working towards policies that make us proud of our citizenship and place in the world … Proud to be a human-being.

An Open Letter to the Prime Minister

Dear Prime Minister,

Please do not step down.

I’m not sure if you read the newspapers any more; I wouldn’t if I were in your position. Recently I stopped reading The Age on-line because they seemed more interested in Kim Kardashian and My Kitchen Rules than, well, news. Today, however, I had the displeasure of reading The Age’s editorial. This piece along with other editorials and opinion pieces from the Australian media might have you feeling as if the whole nation is against you. They are not.

I’m not.

I know many, many people who are not.

I don’t know who they actually poll in the Nielsen Poll but it is never me.

I don’t know who Andrew Holden thinks he is writing for in today’s editorial but it is not me.

So, please do not step down.

I am no political expert. I merely have an interest in politics; I was overly excited to enrol to vote, I read widely about Australian politics, I often write to my local member of parliament and I like to be up to date on policy. That’s it though. I am no expert, nor do I pretend to be, so who am I to tell you what to do?  But then again, what right has Andrew Holden or Mike Carlton or Alan Stokes to tell you what to do either?

As someone who takes her right to vote very seriously I am asking you to please not step down or aside or out. As childish as this may sound (and I sincerely hope it does not) if you step down it means they have won. Who are they? The shock-jocks and misogynists and the right-wingers and even the mainstream media. They have all won. From where I am if you step down it looks as if you have been bullied and harassed until there is no other option but to stand aside for a patronising, condescending man whom we had all lost faith in long ago. The bullies should not win. We all know that you, Ms Gillard, are stronger than that.

There are not enough role-models in Australian politics. Now, I am not saying that I agree with you or support you on everything. I do not agree with your stance on asylum seekers or gay marriage rights to name but two areas. I do agree with your Carbon Tax but wish it had been handled better. I don’t usually even vote ALP and I certainly do not vote for the Liberal Party. Those points aside, you are a role-model to so many women, including myself. Your role as Prime Minister means more than you could ever imagine. For young women to see a woman leading a nation means we can, indeed, do anything and that we are, indeed, equal; for young men it helps instil a respect for women, and highlights the fact that we are all equal and should be treated as such.

I spoke with my 11-year-old niece the other day. She is very bright and has just won a scholarship to a great school. When I asked her about the way you have been treated she said; “Yeah, well, it’s like that for girls”. She went on to say she’d like to be Prime Minister one day but she believed that you, Ms Gillard, were getting treated poorly because “girls have to put up with more of that stuff”. What a terrible indictment on our society. We have girls believing they just have to put up with poor treatment, with misogyny, with disrespect, with bullying because that’s the way it is – deal with it.

In my eyes, stepping down is a way of “dealing with it”.

It is the way women are supposed to “deal with it”: don’t make a scene, be graceful, be humble …

Ms Gillard, you nor any human being should have to “deal with it”. If only the media, the Liberal Party, some of your own backbenchers and all those others who hound you, if only they knew the damage they were causing in the hearts and minds of young women across the nation; young women who could potentially be incredible leaders for this country. But maybe that’s their goal – to humiliate, embarrass and scare women away from important leadership roles and keep us in our traditional places.

I do not believe these wild exclamations that this has nothing to do with gender; it has a lot to do with gender. I have never witnessed the same level of disrespect for a Prime Minister as I have seen thrown at you. Your leadership of this nation has been treated like the scandals that fill gossip magazines – the leadership “battle”, your glasses, your empty fruit-bowl, menu-gate, your martial status

Prime Minister, you are not the reason for a lack of, as Holden writes, “policy-driven democratic debate”. Of course that debate occurs. The mainstream media just chooses to write, talk and focus about this so-called “leadership battle” as if it were the latest Hollywood break-up. We are not being given the news we want or the news we deserve. We are being fed rubbish to distract us from what is really happening in this country.

Please do not step down; please show my niece, her friends, young people across the country and future generations that bullies cannot win. You have already shown us that women need not “put up” with the outdated, misogynistic attitudes you face daily.  Please show us that Australian politics can be decent, can lead the way, can be full of good policy and without character-assassination, especially that which is based on gender. Please do not step down– for if you do I fear my niece, her friends, young women of future generations may never feel they have the opportunity to be a leader.

Yours truly,

Katy Warner