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May 16, 2011 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

Aotearoa: Peaceful or Privileged?

Almost daily, I’m getting prompts in my inbox to sign e-petitions. Stop corrective rape, take down Qaddafi, save the bees; I could spend all day passionately signing them—but I don’t get it.

Would the antichrist really drop everything and beg for mercy at the sight of one? Do e-petitions influence the environmental, economic, social and political dynamics that result in large-scale crises?

Actually, there is a bigger underlying question for me, which relates to the circumstances in which we Kiwis object to violence and oppression elsewhere. Is Aotearoa actually peaceful, or simply privileged?

We often refer to ourselves as a ‘young country’. We mean historically young, but the connotations—and I’m not sure we can use the term so readily anymore after the Christchurch quakes—are that we are also sheltered and naïve. Protected by Mother Nature’s oceanic moat, we share no borders, and much of our population feels ignorant of large-scale violence and hardship. We are peaceful incidentally—or is ‘privileged’ a better term?

In March 26’s Dominion Post, Malcolm Burgess’ ‘Resetting the Moral Compass’ summarised a nationwide sentiment. Burgess stated that “disaster has a flip-side—it can make us feel good”, because it allows us to witness and practice human resilience and compassion, to experience the satisfaction that comes from the opportunity to “help others”. Amidst recent catastrophe, there have been many heartwarming stories of outreach. However, must we wait for large scale disaster—or e-petition requests—to satisfy our harboured desires to assist others?

Two turns of the page and a Westpac advertisement stated: “On average, New Zealanders spend $16.1 million a day on impulse purchases like chips and chocolate bars”. I find Burgess’ article and the Westpac advertisement an interesting juxtaposition. The statistic seems to indicate that as a nation, we underestimate the significance of our daily consumer decisions; thus the opportunity Aotearoa represents as a peaceful country within a global network.

The ‘quick fix’ purchase is an incredibly loaded notion. One such purchase can carry with it the stress of modern living—exhaustion, isolation and need for comfort; as well as the guilt of contributing to human rights breaches, resource competition, poor personal health and environmental damage. This can be so overwhelming that the purchase becomes trivial: we may be helpless to change large-scale realities, but we can create a moment of joy for ourselves. However, we know that a ‘quick fix’ purchase often does not solve a moment of unrest, but avoids it. Somewhere people and environments need to provide for our demands. What if choosing to maintain our own peace of mind using our own efforts and social networks, rather than poor consumer choices was as valuable and empowering to ourselves and others as helping a quake victim, or signing a petition?

Is peace simply non-violence and goodwill in crisis—or could it be a powerful resource? Something substantial that individuals can actively cultivate and send through personal, local, national and global networks, through attitude and everyday choices? We consolidated our notions of peace to create our anti-nuclear stance in the ’70s and ’80s, for the 1981 Springboks protest, for Whina Cooper’s 1975 hikoi—and at Parihaka in 1878. How can we build and use peace in Aotearoa as a powerful global influence now?

Aotearoa: let’s talk about peace. If we think we are merely privileged, let us as individuals experience the satisfaction that comes from understanding what it means to be peaceful instead, why it matters, and how it is achieved.
If we understand Aotearoa as being peaceful, we can make a dramatic impact—without having to wait for one to hit us first.


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  1. Joy Davidson says:

    You are such a healthy asset to beautiful Aotearoa Renee …. I uphold your thoughts and visions. Art has such power and influence, let it take you on this wonderful journey. I’ll share a line from Lynn’s latest piece of writing for Victoria University, her reflective remark on art: ‘it calls out, it calls up and at times …. calls to account’. Quite pertinent I feel! All the best xx

  2. Joy Davidson says:

    oops …. commented on the wrong subject matter, silly me. The comment related to the Malawi Project! I love your writing and stand for rightness anyway and give this piece a big tick.

  3. Dave Elborn says:

    First, let me say your article is very well written Renee.
    I think to a degree you are right about on-line petitions. The key to them being successful though is finding a point of difference. For example Steven from Canada wrote when signing the petition on my website “There are lots of petitions out there for good causes but this is by far the best petition I have ever signed”. People from over 60 countries have now signed the petition on my website, and this without any marketing.
    I like your comment about “mother nature’s oceanic moat”. The reason I am saying this is because I don’t believe N.Z needs a defence force. Costa Rica with a similar population to N.Z does not have any military forces. They of course are surrounded by neighbours and therefore in theory much more vulnerable.
    The word peace is a poor choice from a marketing perspective because the defination is vague and means different things to different people. For example to some people it could mean giving into the bad guys. Peace man,anyone for tree hugging? On the other hand a statement like “A new procedure other than war needs to be developed to resolve differences between nations” is easily understood, succinct and I think a statement most people on the planet would agree with.
    I have travelled to over 40 countries (including recently spending a month in Afghanistan) and I believe the overwhelming majority of people in the world are against war and would like to see it eliminated forever.
    For more about this go to my website click on “stay up to date” and read newsletter number 3 entitled “why the International peace (and anti-war) movement have not been successful”. Also, the page entitled “Is war human nature?”
    Good Luck,
    Dave Elborn.

  4. Steve says:

    Well I never! Is peace the non-existence of strife? Meaning that when the fighting stops and you can hear the wind in the trees… that’s peace? We’ve only been there a few times in Aotearoa. We should be embarrassed about the ‘peace’ times we’ve had in our country – they relate to violence against Maori, violence against dissent, violence from the wealthy foisted on the poor. In all honesty, we’ve never had the kind of ‘peace’ that, say Japan, or France, or Uganda could call Peace.

    I think that when you are privileged (like us smug devils), “peace” is an outreach activity. We can’t really teach peace – we don’t understand it or take it for granted. What we can do is to go to places where peace matters – and assist with whatever skills we bring to the table.

    That’s an admirable thing to do Renee – that’s why I support your quest to assist in Malawi. Enjoyed your argument. It’s good to read passion instead of information!

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