And… ACTION.

Australia is on fire.

I don’t mean in the Alicia Keys sense. We are literally burning here, with massive fires, such as one only hours from where we live, which killed 4 people, and others in South Australia where people have also died. To put that into context, we have a good warning system, and people in fire-prone areas are used to preparing for and defending their properties against fire. For people to die… it’s unusual. It’s terrifying and tragic. And it’s only the beginning of summer–the start of the bushfire season. Our summer is predicted to be horrendously hot, coming off the rest of 2015, the hottest year on record.

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So You go Back in Time to Kill Baby Hitler. Now What?

Recently, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush was asked if, given the opportunity, he would travel back in time to kill Hitler as a baby. He answered that of course he would, although he admitted that he didn’t know if or how that would change the course of World War II and history.

The whole time-travel-to-kill-Hitler concept has become a bit of an internet meme, and because of this, seems to have a sense of the absurd about it. It’s as if you can’t say that you would do anything else, with the gift of time travel, without mentioning that first.

This has a couple of major problems, and it bothers me that people treat it with such disregard. Of course, I’m also aware of the absurdity of writing a blog post about the issues of time travel, but it highlights a number of greater concerns.

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To the Victor Belong the Spoils. And the Flag.

Today I thought I’d offer a throwback to 2013, since the post in question is relevant, given recent events. It’s interesting that this debate has been going on for years, but is only now getting such huge press.

I also think, while it’s important to question what flags we want to represent us, and what flags we allow to be flown, that we still ask the deeper questions about what motivates people to want to fly such symbols. Simply taking down the flag does not remove the sentiments behind it. Removing the Confederate flag from state buildings is a small step. Just because we can no longer see that flag, doesn’t mean the issues of entrenched and institutionalised racism and prejudice, which have been associated with it, simply disappear. And we should be wary, as this post points out, of assuming that we are all guiltless of the same, when it comes to what our own flags represent.

path: ethic.

‘Do you think the Confederate flag is a symbol of hate?’ the Handsome Sidekick asked me as I was slouched on the couch, reading.

I thought about that for a moment.

‘Well… it was the flag of the South, during the Civil War, right? So I guess there is that aspect, with the slavery. I can see how people would be upset about it being flown.  But… flags, you know? I mean, who decides which flag should be flown?’

Who decides?

It turns out, as we did a bit of reading about the Confederate flag and the evolution of the present American flag, that there were a lot more flags and banners around, at the time, than we realised. It raised the question of which flags are considered acceptable, and what a powerful symbol they are.

I can’t imagine anyone flying a flag emblazoned with a swastika without wanting…

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In The Beginning…

Like many countries which were originally colonies, Australia has been reluctant to admit past transgressions against the original inhabitants of our country. In 2008, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised to the Stolen Generation – those Indigenous Australians who, as children, had been taken from their families to live in foster homes. Some of these children never saw their families again.  In doing this, Rudd at least expressed some understanding of the hurt and damage such a policy caused, and admitted that it had been wrong.

Tony Abbott, current Prime Minister, has decided that his legacy to Indigenous Australia will be to include in Australian’s Constitution a recognition of the Aboriginal people as original inhabitants of Australia. It will also recognise that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have a deep connection with the land and waters.*

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The Recurring Rove.

Sunday again, and wow, the last day of November. Christmas will be upon us before we know it. Thank goodness I found the advent calendars yesterday. I confess I didn’t win NaNoWriMo this year but I was still busy writing, so in that sense, it’s a win. The other win is some amazing gardening weather, so I’m heading out shortly to pick up some raspberry canes from an acquaintance. I’m so excited about growing my own raspberries!

Of course, the following links have nothing to do with raspberries, but I hope you enjoy them anyway.

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Fair Go, Mate!

This week’s path: ethic is by guest blogger, Michael Lloyd. Michael is a retired farmer, an Anglican deacon and is currently completing his Bachelor of Arts at the University of Western Australia.

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Australians have always seen themselves as an egalitarian mob. From the time Europeans arrived in 1788 to establish a penal colony, they saw a classless society as desirable – none of the old English class system for us! We expected from, and gave to, everyone the benefit of doubt – a Fair go, Mate! And from this evolved the ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’, whereby anyone who considered themselves a ‘bit above their neighbours’ was ‘taken down a peg or two’ – the tall poppy cut down! It seemed the attitude was that if you had done exceptionally well in an undertaking, you had probably cheated at best or broken the law at worst.

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Guilty As Charged.

When I was a young child, my parents used to listen to the radio a lot, and it was our national radio station, the ABC, which was predominantly broadcasters doing interviews and a whole lot of news. Not that that’s a bad thing—I still listen to this station nowadays, although less often since there is usually too much child-related noise around for me to hear properly. The point is, when I was a child, I heard a lot of news, and I would just absorb bits and pieces, while I was playing. This had the advantage of making me more worldly… although now that I think about it, it may have been a bit of a disadvantage, considering my social ineptitude.

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So Why Didn’t They Do Something?

I spoke with my dad on the phone the other day. He was studying for an exam (he’s doing an Arts degree at uni), and was telling me about some of the texts they’d covered in the unit, specifically about Primo Levi’s ‘The Grey Zone’.

‘I wanted to ask you about German attitudes to the concentration camps,’ he said. ‘When you were there, it was almost ten years after Levi had published that book. What were the attitudes of the German people you spoke with, about the war and the camps?’

‘They were very well educated about it,’ I said. ‘The children learnt about it in school–they covered it several times, in fact–and there wasn’t one person I spoke with, who didn’t think it was a terrible occurrence. There was very much an attitude of ‘never again.’ They absolutely wanted to mark this as a dark part of their history.’

‘A lot of the students in the course thought that the Germans must have known what was going on–that they must have known,’ Dad said. ‘And why didn’t they do something about it?’

‘Well, some of them probably had an idea,’ I said. ‘But you know, most of them didn’t. And the official line was that the Jews were being ‘repatriated’, and it was wartime. You didn’t ask too many questions. As a teenager, I always thought that I’d be one of those people to hide people in my attic. You know? I thought, oh, I would have been brave, and gone against the regime, but really, I probably wouldn’t have. I would have kept my head down, looked after my family, tried to stay alive.’

Most of the German people really didn’t know the atrocities of the Holocaust, and when they discovered them, were horrified and appalled that this could happen, least of all that it could happen in their own backyards. And although many did during the war what I imagine I would have done, others formed resistance groups, and even conspired to assassinate Hitler. These were people who, despite knowing the risks to themselves and their families and friends, tried to stop the tide of fascism.

It’s very easy to look back at the past and criticise people for their inaction, but it strikes me how we fail to consider not only the historical context of that past, but also how little perspective we have of the present.

Consider wartime Europe in the 1940s. Propaganda was everywhere; each side felt justified in its aggression. Anti-Semitism was a prevalent sentiment long before it was used to justify the ghettos, and the idea of the German race as physically and mentally superior was used to justify the removal to camps of homosexuals and people with disabilities. Does this excuse a whole population? Of course not. However, it certainly illustrates just how well the Nazi propaganda machine played on the fears and prejudices of the German people, just as the propaganda machines in every other country did the same for their populations.

We would do well to ask, to which kind of information did the average person have access? Did most people have the opportunity to read or listen to independent media? What kinds of details about the war were available to people on street? This was the 1940s. There was no television. There was radio, and there were newspapers. The media was tightly controlled. Those who really wanted to ask questions as to what was going on, may have been able to access information other than that which was state-sanctioned, but it was dangerous and difficult to do so.

In the years since, our world has become much, much smaller. We live in a global age, where that which happens on the other side of the world is instantly reported in news and social media. Sadly, the Holocaust was not the last tragedy or genocide in our recent history. Since then we’ve had any number of examples of human cruelty. Consider just a few which have happened in my lifetime–conflicts which have occurred in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo. These are recent enough for me to remember nightly reports on the news. That’s the mainstream news, not just small independent groups. We saw it whenever we turned on the television. Everyone knew.

We knew.

So why didn’t we do something?

Why didn’t we call our politicians immediately and tell them that action needed to be taken to prevent this? Why didn’t we insist that peacekeepers weren’t doing enough?

The treatment of asylum seekers by my own government appals me. The fact that the average life expectancy for Indigenous Australians is ten years lower than for Australians of European descent is inexcusable. Mining companies are using questionable techniques to extract gas from beneath the ground, and polluting earth and water, and getting away with it. I read and see and hear disturbing news, everyday, and how often do I act on it? What do I do?

Sometimes I write a blog post. Sometimes I retweet an article. Sometimes I write to a politician. Most of the time, I sigh, shake my head, and then focus back on what I need to make for tea, or how I’m going to fit the purchase of new shoes and school supplies into the weekly budget, or whether the baby’s recent illness is of enough concern to take him to the doctor, or whether we are going to all have clean underwear tomorrow. Those are the immediate, relevant, important things, for me right now. We do what we can for those around us, and then, when we have energy left over, we do extra for others. We focus first on ourselves and our families and our friends, then on those outside our circle. It sounds harsh and uncaring, but that is survival. And in times of war or conflict, surviving is all the more difficult. Knowing this also makes us truly realise the bravery of those who have made the decision to stand against an imposing and threatening regime.

We might well look back at all the times when people have stood by and done nothing, and lament inaction or ignorance. But we certainly are not in a position to judge them for it, unless we are willing to stand up and push for change in our own imperfect world.

A friend reminded me that this past Monday was both the 69th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, and International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is so important to mark these anniversaries, as a reminder that we need to think outside our own circles, and be brave. When we see wrongdoing, we need to speak out, even when it’s uncomfortable, even when it makes us unpopular, even when it’s dangerous. Only then, will we be able to look back at the past, and admit that we really did all we could, and that we affected change. We can say proudly, that we did something.

Taking the Middle Ground in the Culture Wars.

It’s summer holidays here in Australia, and while my little cherubs alternate between frolicking in the sunshine and telling me how bored they are, a review of the nation’s school curriculum is taking place.

About five years ago, it was decided that we needed a national curriculum to ensure that all students in Australia were being introduced to the same core knowledge across several subjects. Now, the cynic in me would say that apparently we seem to need a new curriculum every few years, regardless of whether the current one is still working. The pragmatist in me would suggest that teachers will take what the curriculum says they should teach, and look at what they’ve always taught, and take into account what they know works and what new information has come to hand in their subject area, and combine the lot into something they can do without having to reinvent the wheel, while complying with the guidelines so that their students will pass the exams.

But I digress.

The curriculum was discussed, changes were made, and some of the new courses have already been implemented by some states. I should note here that this new national curriculum was introduced by the former government (Labor). That’s important, because since then we have a new government, and last week, the Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne, announced that due to criticism of this new curriculum, there would be a review of it. You may remember the name Christopher Pyne, because I wrote about him a month or so ago, when I was trying to convince myself to be more open-minded about what he was saying. (I’m still having problems with that).

But it’s not Christopher Pyne who has been in the news this week as much as one of those whom he asked to review the curriculum, Kevin Donnelly. When Donnelly spoke to the media a few days ago about the sorts of changes he might suggest making to the curriculum, he argued that the curriculum as it stands, is too secular, and went on to say:

I would argue that the great religions of the world, whether it’s Islam, whether it’s Christianity, whether it’s Hinduism, Buddhism, they should be taught over the compulsory years of school.

Please know that I’m not being at all sarcastic when I say that I really like what Donnelly has to say here. Religion is a strong influence on culture the world over. We should expose our children to the thinking behind Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam. Introducing these religious ideas also promotes cross-cultural understanding; it highlights the way humans have developed myths to explain the world around them, and how we have created values to help us to live together in that world.

But then he went on to say that parliaments in Australia all begin with the Lord’s Prayer. That’s not really a very interesting fact, and how is it relevant to whether schools should teach religion? Should we model our education system on the parliamentary one? Based on the way some of our politicians behave, I think not. He also noted that the preamble of our Constitution is ‘about God’ and if we ‘look at Federation, for example–1901–90% of Australians described themselves as Christian. So you can’t airbrush that from history. It has to be recognised.’

Well, the preamble mentions God. Once, directly, at the very beginning, and then rather vaguely in the third sentence where it mentions ‘Lords Spiritual and Temporal’, but I just read through it and I can’t agree that it’s ‘about God’. I think it’s about how a Commonwealth nation should form a government.

Donnelly’s reference to 90% of Australians identifying as Christians in 1901 is also irrelevant. Back in 1901, the vast majority also completely ignored the claim of Indigenous Australians had on the land they were settling. The vast majority believed in capital punishment. We shouldn’t be basing our curriculum on what people believed 113 years ago. What matters is what people believe now.

Donnelly argues that our heritage goes back to ‘Judaeo-Christian traditions’. Sure, if you ignore the heritage which includes 50 000 years of Indigenous history before Europeans even discovered this country. If you ignore the heritage of the Chinese immigrants who came to Australian in the gold rush of the mid 19th century. If you ignore the heritage of the large numbers of Greek and Italian immigrants in the 1920s. If you ignore the heritage of the Vietnamese refugees who fled here in the 1970s.

We are a very different nation than we were at Federation, and our education system should reflect that. Our society, and our schools, already do. It’s not about airbrushing out part of history. It’s simply who we are: a much richer, more interesting and hopefully more tolerant nation. What Kevin Donnelly says about religion is fine to begin with, and seems to encourage further learning about the varied cultural backgrounds represented in our society. But when he goes on to talk about the Lord’s Prayer, percentages of Christians and Judaeo-Christian traditions, it appears he is focussing on a very narrow definition of ‘religion’.

Donnelly sees our secular curriculum as a negative, whereas I believe it’s very much a positive. Instead of religion in terms of Donnelly’s interpretation, what would be wrong with our children learning philosophy as a subject which is taught throughout the compulsory years of schooling? Philosophy could involve the teaching of ethics, reasoning, logic, argument, and could address religion, and the question of faith. This would avoid a focus on any particular religion, and would allow all students to participate, without students or parents being concerned about proselytism.

I want the school my children attend to offer a broad education, to introduce a variety of ideas and to reflect the incredible diversity which exists in both the classroom and the wider society in which we live. We may have Judaeo-Christian roots. But we also have roots in Indigenous Australian religion, in Greek Orthodoxy, in Shinto, in paganism, and in atheism. Why limit ourselves by trying to focus on just teaching religion, when we could do so much more, by understanding where religions come from, by thinking about why gods are worshipped and where myths originate?

If we are going to overhaul the curriculum, let us embrace the secular nature of our schools, and leave the teaching of religion in homes, places of worship, or in religious schools. Let us create a public school system which encourages our children to be sceptical, to question, to engage on issues about ethics, politics, traditions and vested interests.

Imagine: a new generation of young people, who have been discussing religion, and culture, and history, from the age of five, until they graduate from high school. Imagine if they were invited to challenge their own beliefs, and those of others, in an environment which fostered respect and understanding? The empowerment, the self-realisation, which would come from this?

Now that is the kind of future in which I would like my children to live.

Two Sides of the Same Coin.

Over Christmas, I caught up with a friend I’d not seen for five years. When we last saw each other, it didn’t end well. We had heated words, and she didn’t talk to me for months. Because it was just after Second Offspring was born, and I was struggling, I blamed her. I blamed her for not being a grown up, for breaking promises, for not helping me when she said she would. I told her to grow up, and she left.

I tried to keep in touch via email, but for a long time, it was one-way communication. Then slowly, we started to talk on the phone, and then she had to move back to her home country for a time and was lonely because her husband was still here, and so we talked more often. We rebuilt a relationship, of sorts. But we didn’t talk of the argument, and under the surface, I knew I hadn’t really forgiven her. It had been simmering, just a very slow bubbling deep under the surface, for the past five years, and however much I tried to get over it, I never seemed be able to let it go. Talking about it with the Handsome Sidekick just dredged up all the bitterness and frustration I’d felt remained.

Still, when she asked if she could come and visit at Christmastime, I agreed. She’d not met two of the children, and First and Second Offspring had been still in nappies when she’d seen them last. As the day of her arrival approached, I found myself anxious and irritable. Putting the whole thing behind me seemed to be easier said than done.

But then she arrived, and it wasn’t that painful. In fact, it was fine. We still have things in common, she loved the children, and we genuinely had a nice time. By the time she left, I realised that I was finally OK with what had happened between us, and that even though our relationship is not going to be ever like it was before (due to many other changes in our lives, and not just our fight), we were still going to have a relationship. The reason for this is that I’ve forgiven her.

I realised that I had forgiveness all wrong. I expected her to tell me that she was sorry for what had happened. I had wanted to explain all the ways in which it had hurt me, and how difficult it had made life for me, for several months, and I had wanted her to really comprehend that, and understand just how significant it was. But she’s not going to say she’s sorry. Although she didn’t want to admit it, she was finding life difficult at that time, and she doesn’t want to revisit it. Brushing over that period in her past is her way of coping.

And if she had apologised, would this mean I’d suddenly feel able to forgive her? Well, no. That’s what I got wrong. Forgiveness is something separate. Forgiveness is what I do for myself. By forgiving her, I no longer carry the burden. I am not irritated and bothered anymore. It’s not about whether she says sorry, it’s about whether I want to be angry and hurt. And I’ve chosen not to be.

This resonated with me when I read that, on Christmas Eve, the Queen had posthumously pardoned Alan Turing, with immediate effect. Of course, the UK government had previously apologised for the way he had been treated, back in 2009. But it’s been so long since he died, and his treatment was so harsh and abborrhent, the pardon and apology themselves seem like token gestures, piecemeal. Is that just because governments and monarchs are removed from the rest of us? That we view all they say through a lens of distrust? When they say sorry, we wonder if they really mean it, or whether it is simply politics.

For years, our former prime minister, John Howard, refused to say he was sorry for the treatment of Indigenous Australians by the Australian government, in particular the practice of taking children from Indigenous communities and placing them with Caucasian families (often referred to as ‘The Stolen Generation‘). He said that he deeply regretted what had happened, but that he would not say sorry. The logic was that it was not his government, and not under his leadership, when the wrongs had occurred. But by continuing the refusal to take responsibility for these actions (and ignoring that Australian Indigenous population were and still are suffering prejudice and maltreatment) he was accused of perpetuating the injustice.

Then another PM–Kevin Rudd–was elected, and he said sorry.

It’s not that this suddenly fixed everything. And it doesn’t mean that forgiveness always follows. It doesn’t undo all the wrong that happened before, and it doesn’t expunge blame. But it helps. If you say sorry, you are asking for forgiveness. Whether the other decides to forgive is up to him or her, and not something you can control.

The other day, my friend left, and we hugged. I’d forgiven her–perhaps she’d done the same? In the great scheme of history, our dispute is nothing. It’s the tiniest of ripples, which will go unnoticed and means little to anyone other than us. Compared with the kinds of misdeeds wrought on whole populations, whole nations, what is this argument, other than heightened emotions and hurt feelings? But it helped me to understand that connection between apology and forgiveness: how significant is the former; how liberating can be the latter. Going into the new year, I think this is something I want to carry close to me.