In late 2017, I was interviewed by Sarla Donovan for Bay Harbour News about my experiences growing up with cleft lip and palate. This was published on Wednesday 10 Jan 2018 – read the article here:
When: Sunday 03 December 2017 – 5.30pm-8.00pm
Where: Reading Cinemas, The Palms, Christchurch
What: Screening of the film Wonder preceded by Kenny Ardouin’s personal journey.
Who: You, your friends and family – places are limited, so be in quick though and book your tickets to avoid missing out!
Ticket price: $11 (+ eventbrite booking fee) – this is cost price.
Book tickets now: https://www.eventbrite.co.nz/e/an-evening-of-wonder-tickets-38675340986
Questions/queries: Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Listen to the interview about this event on Newstalk ZB – 19 Oct 2017.
As those of you who know me will know, over the past 26 years, like everyone else on the planet, I have faced some challenges. There is no doubt that having been born with cleft lip and palate has played a substantial part in defining who I am today.
Many of you reading this will have stood alongside me as I’ve navigated this journey at its various stages – at times where I was adjusting to the medical realities of the condition, at times where I was facing the challenge of trying to fit in when I was born to stand out, and at times where I was coming to terms with the emotional challenges that this journey has presented.
In 2012, a great book called “Wonder” by R. J. Palacio came out, and follows the story of Auggie Pullman, a 10 year old boy living with Treacher Collins syndrome and a cleft palate. The story follows him as he starts a new school where he faces bullying and betrayal in his quest to fit in and make friends – a story that anyone who has a facial difference will be able to attest to. The story provides hope and encouragement, and resonated well with me – in fact, since the book came out in 2012 I’ve ended all my public engagements and presentations with a direct quote from the book.
Later this year, Wonder is being released as a film, and I have organised a special screening at Reading Cinemas The Palms to share this moment with you.
Earlier in the year, I had one of the privileges of my life to deliver the keynote speech at the UK Cleft Lip and Palate Association conference, where I shared aspects of my journey that I have since realised, I have not shared with those closest to me – partly because it’s difficult to articulate, and partly because I’ve felt that perhaps people wouldn’t understand. On this night, prior to the start of the screening of Wonder, I am going to take a few minutes to share some of my thoughts from my own journey with you.
Politics is exhausting. The lead up to an election is tiring – for the politicians, the volunteers on the campaign trail, for the journos and for the public that have a lot of information thrown at them to digest. Politics polarises people, creating tension in workplaces, deathly dinner stares within families, and awkward silences when that sweet elderly lady you’ve seen every week at the supermarket declares that she is yet another sycophant to a politician you felt had their hey day before you were even old enough to vote. With all of this going on, it’s not hard to see why you might be tempted to “opt out” of politics.
However, here’s the reality – you don’t get to “opt out” of politics – politics directly affects so many areas of our day to day lives, by not voting the only thing that you are opting out of is having your hopes, ambitions and values for New Zealand actually mean anything. For that is what a vote is – it’s a statement on the direction that you want to see New Zealand headed. Every party has different ideas of where they want to see New Zealand and different goals for how they are going to get there, and how they are going to spend your money doing it. You wouldn’t donate $10,000 a year to causes that you don’t believe in, so don’t idly sit back and abstain from voting or you run the risk of a government that you didn’t vote for determining your future and spending your money doing it.
I have heard many people in the lead-up to this election saying “nobody is doing anything for me.” To make that statement is to concede that you are uninformed. There is someone out there who is doing something for you. Think about it – if you get sick, who do you best trust to look after you with adequate state-funded healthcare? If you become unemployed, who will help support you until you can work again? If you have children, who is going to support you to have a work-life balance that is conducive to raising children? If you are approaching retirement age, who is going to ensure you have a healthy, comfortable, affordable retirement? If you breathe air or drink water, who is going to make sure that they are around for generations for come? Think outside your immediate silo at this very moment in time, and look at the bigger picture. If you really feel that nobody is doing anything for you, then you’re not sleeping in a car, not wondering where the next meal is coming from, not being discriminated against, not battling a health condition, not struggling to function in your daily life alongside a chronic depression, so it may pay to stop and be grateful for that. Because for so many of your fellow New Zealanders, these things are a daily reality. Try and take a different perspective and put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Do these issues sound like boring politics that is a point scoring game between the blue team and the red team in Wellington? Or do they sound like real issues that impact on the lives of everyday New Zealanders?
I would argue it’s the latter, and it isn’t just something that we should be interested in once every three years – although that is our greatest opportunity to put the people in power who we believe are best placed to spend our money to tackle the issues that we feel are the most pressing, and remove any from power who we think are not working towards the New Zealand we want to be living in.
Young people especially, need to vote. There is a lot of apathy, “my one vote won’t make a difference”. Well for a start you get two votes, and they both make a difference. If “couldn’t be arsed to vote” was a party in the 2014 election, it would have been the leading party. That’s right – more people who were eligible to vote didn’t vote than voted for the National party at the 2014 election – i.e. all the people who said “my one vote won’t make a difference” would have made the biggest difference. Don’t let the same be true this Saturday. Not voting is accepting the status quo, and you are so much better than accepting the status quo for the sake of not being bothered. By all means, do your research, and come up with your own conclusion that the status quo is (in your opinion) the best option and then vote to keep the status quo – but don’t just vote for the status quo because you can’t be bothered to investigate the alternatives. Doing independent research is so important – don’t believe the scaremongering you hear. As a journalist who believes in presenting the facts with honesty and integrity, I am saddened to see how many people have accepted and not questioned the National party’s outright lies (which is what they are – any political commentator will agree) that there is a $11 billion hole in Labour’s fiscal plan – this is nonsense and is misleading.
In our country we have a freedom to think for ourselves and vote without fear of consequence. When you have this freedom that others can only dream of, it seems criminal to not avail yourself of the opportunity, or worse, to let yourself be brainwashed by statements presented as fact which are anything but.
As a current affairs presenter, you cover events every week that will get better or worse on the basis of political decisions made by the people we elect into office – it’s naive to think politics doesn’t affect daily life – here are just a few examples of issues I have reported on in the last two years that despite the great work being done by individuals and community groups, are at least to some extent impacted upon by decisions made in the Beehive.
- Sex Education/Rape Culture – 31 Aug 2017
- Drinkable Rivers – 22 Aug 2017
- The Decile Education System – 17 Aug 2017
- Sexual Assault & Teenage Suicide – 8 Jun 2017
- Post Natal Depression – 11 May 2017
- Food Wastage – 27 Apr 2017
- Te Reo Maori – 2 Mar 2017
- Rising Cost of Schooling – 2 Feb 2017
- Depression & Anxiety – 13 Oct 2016
- Workplace Bullying – 15 Sep 2016
- Emissions Trading Scheme – 18 Aug 2016
- March for Moko – 9 Jun 2016
- Water Bottling Resource Consents – 28 Apr 2016
- Misogyny in Advertising – 31 Mar 2016
- Redcliffs School – 17 Mar 2016
- The Gender Pay Gap – 4 Feb 2016
- The Impact of Uninsured Drivers – 21 Jan 2016
- Animal Welfare in the Dairy Industry – 10 Dec 2015
- Flag Referendum – 19 Nov 2015
- End of Life Choice Bill – 29 Oct 2015
- KiwiSaver – 22 Oct 2015
- TPPA – 15 Oct 2015
- Breast Cancer Screening – 8 Oct 2015
- Humanitarian Crises – 10 Sep 2015
It is not difficult to see how many different areas of our lives that we may not immediately think of as political are so delicately intertwined with politics. As you can see, you cannot merely opt out of politics, all you can do by not voting is merely mute your own voice on the issues that affect you and those closest to you.
Take an hour before Saturday, watch a debate, listen to a podcast, read some policies and articles. Discover whose ambitions align with yours, and then get out there and make an informed vote on Saturday.
Not sure who stands for what?
Interviews with Jacinda Ardern, Nikki Kaye, Paula Bennett, Marama Davidson, Duncan Webb, Louise Upston, Ruth Dyson, Russell Norman, Fletcher Tabuteau and Annette King can be found in the podcast library.
There are some times in life where you do something, or see something that leaves an impression upon you, one which you know will stay with you forever. I have had a fascinating few days so far in Berlin, Germany.
I have always been fascinated by history, I think it is so important to understand the past in order to understand the present and to shape the future, and naturally I have read and studied a lot about Berlin, but seeing it for myself definitely gives a new perspective.
Towards the end of World War II, Berlin was largely destroyed – 80% of buildings were destroyed, and the other 20% badly damaged. The evidence of this war is still here today, as evidenced by the predominantly newer buildings, as well as the pre-war ones with off-colour masonry replacing war-damaged masonry, as well as thousands upon thousands of filled-in bullet holes.
There is historical significance around every corner of this city – be it the platz (square) outside the university where book burnings occurred under a sickeningly accurate quote from 1820 “He who burns books will later go on to burn people”, or this car park here.
This innocuous looking car park is where Hitler committed suicide by shooting himself and taking cyanide (as he had what was later believed to be Parkinson’s disease, and was not convinced his gun firing would be accurate). No, he didn’t kill himself in the blue Toyota Yaris, rather in the Führer bunker which to this day lies 3 metres beneath this car park, inaccessible to everyone. Why? The German government fear that if they made it a free museum, it would bring people to the city and they would spend money here, and Germany does not want to be profiteering from the holocaust.
There is however one prominent and impressive memorial and museum – the “Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe”.
This is located right next to Germany’s parliament building and tells the honest and sobering story of the atrocities committed by Nazi-led Germany – graphically detailing the murder of 11 million people from 1933-1945. As horrific, and difficult it is to visit this museum and experience this memorial, I found it to be incredibly worthwhile. I think it demonstrates that Germany acknowledges and takes responsibility for its past, and that it has learned from it – the fact they used the word “murder” in the name shows acceptance of what it is and that there is no justification for what happened. You get the sense that a neo-Nazi uprising is incredibly unlikely here – they are telling a cautionary tale to the rest of the world and urging no one else to make such a terrible decision.
This quote in the museum is particularly telling – we like to think that we would never see an event like the holocaust again, but the fact it happened once, doesn’t put it out of the realms of possibility to happen again.
Last week in Amsterdam, I visited the Anne Frank house where she wrote her famous diary, and being in the spot where she hid for two years before being arrested and sent to a concentration camp, was surreal and very moving – “may her would haves, be our opportunities”.
Anne Frank’s story was one of a countless number of people’s stories. Today I visited the Sachsenhausen concentration camp about an hour outside of Berlin, and it is an experience that will stick with me forever. It is one thing to read a book or see a documentary, it is quite another to stand on the spot where history took place and contemplate what happened there at a time that is still within living memory for our grandparents’ generation. It is not fun, but it is important and incredibly worthwhile – for all of us who are European, this forms such an important part of our history, and I would strongly suggest you go – the reason it is there is not for war buffs and historians, it’s there to provide education and to try to ensure something like the holocaust never happens again.
It was a strange feeling, taking the train through the woods to get there – the same train that over 200,000 people would take to be taken to the camp. The camp isn’t in the middle of nowhere either, it is in a little German village, with houses lining the street right up to the camp – nice houses, well maintained with immaculate gardens – these immaculate houses of 2017 were originally built by the camp prisoners to house the SS.
Standing at the gates here, so many others stood in front of – that is, if they weren’t shot, beaten or tortured to death first. The words on the gates read “Arbeit Macht Frei” which is German for “work sets you free” – a cynical joke as work led to your death, and only in death would you be free.
Walking around the grounds, you get a sense of just how big this operation was – 200,000 Jews, gay men, communists, “asocials”, foreigners or whatever other “crime” someone had been accused of would end up here. 40,000 were murdered in the place I was standing, and thousands upon thousands more would die through the labour and terrible conditions being imposed upon them. Out of respect, I did not wish to photograph or post the killing trench or the crematorium ovens which were used, but the imagery of bodies everywhere should not require a photo of the actual equipment used.
I think it is also important to remember, that Germany was a victim of the Nazi regime too. Sure, they were responsible for the holocaust, they were responsible for WWII, but let’s not forget that there were many German citizens who were the victims of genocide, in addition to countless others from the rest of the world.
For me, as a European, it was important to see this site, to make sense of my own history, and the history of my family and friends – who hail from all over Europe.
I feel that Germany has learned from this and would be unlikely to let history repeat itself (of course, the end of WWII essentially started the Cold War which saw Germany and Berlin divided by the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain – oppression in the east, and freedom in the west – right up until 1989, so this is all very fresh in Germany’s memory).
Although the British Empire has never committed genocide on a scale such as the holocaust, they too have done some terrible things over the years, yet are not so open to talking about it and acknowledging mistakes like Germany has. The United States also have committed atrocities for which they still don’t take responsibility. Acknowledging this, is the first step to stop it happening again.
As you walk out of “Station Z” – the extermination part of the camp as Sachsenhausen, there is this quote on the wall from a survivor of the camp:
We must remember this. Think about yourself – if this was the 1940s, would you have ended up here? I would have done; as someone who had been born with a disability, the Nazi regime would have wanted me eliminated from the gene pool – you can think of many examples of either yourself or people you know who would have faced the same fate if they were born in a different era.
The question I posed to myself today as I appreciated the freedom that I had to walk away from the gates, “Could this happen again?” and sadly I think the answer is yes, it could. Humanity as a whole has not learned yet – some of the American President’s current policies are scarily similar to some of Hitler’s early policies. The crisis in Syria, concentration camps in North Korea, the killing fields in Cambodia show that we still haven’t learned the lessons of the past.
For me, today has been a pretty challenging, informative day that will stick with me for the rest of my days. This isn’t about whether you’re interested in history or not, this is about understanding the world you live in.
I thought I would end this with a fitting quote from 20th century Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana;
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Friday 26 May 2017 saw the United Kingdom launch it’s first ever Face Equality Day, the result of lots of very hard work and campaigning by UK organisation Changing Faces which coincided with the 25 year anniversary of their launch.
As someone who has grown up with cleft lip and palate and faced the sometimes harsh realities of wearing my condition on my face, I am so pleased to see such widespread, and mainstream support for Face Equality Day. After having had years of feeling like the general public often just don’t understand, it is heartwarming to see that our story is finally being told to, comprehended and understood by the general public. Like Changing Faces, here in New Zealand, I, and the teams before me and since at Cleft New Zealand, have worked very passionately to challenge the perception of people with facial differences. #FaceEquality trended on Twitter in the UK – to the best of my knowledge, that is the first time in history that our cause has ever gained such widespread momentum and support on social media.
The day also saw Changing Faces release a research publication titled “Disfigurement in the UK” – available for download freely and in its entirety here: https://www.changingfaces.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/DITUK.pdf – it is well worth reading. People affected by a facial condition will find themselves nodding along in agreement with so many of the findings, while for people who have not experienced life with a facial difference, you are likely to be surprised by some of the findings.
I wanted to highlight a few points from the report, and provide my own commentary.
Disfigurement in the UK tells a depressing story but one that must be told. It highlights the way in which British society – which many would argue is more equal and more fair than ever before – needs to urgently address the way in which it treats people who look different, for whom there is extreme inequality and unfairness. It shows that disfigurement has been left behind in the equality stakes; disfigurement prejudice is still far higher than prejudice based on ethnicity or gender.
I am so pleased to see research evidence (further detailed in the report) to finally support this. This is something that I have felt to be true for years. Whilst I definitely agree that our societies both in NZ and the UK are more equal than ever before, disfigurement and disability is falling way behind in the equality movement. I have often said “people with differences and disabilities are the largest and most under-represented minority”. There is a lot of excellent, very important work going into reducing prejudice based on ethnicity and gender (work which I have vocally and wholeheartedly supported over the years – reading this post might help you to understand why), and awareness of gender inequality and racial inequality as well as a movement to change this has been steadily growing for years. We haven’t seen the same support for people who are discriminated against, often just as harshly, if not more so, for looking different. Of course, like with gender inequality, many people are not knowingly discriminating, but I would love to see more research into unconscious bias as my gut instinct is that this is as prevalent for people with facial differences as it is for women – a group who we know are significantly disadvantaged by factors of unconscious bias.
Disfigurement in the UK speaks to a nation that needs to change. Not to any particular sector or agency or company, but to the wider society where it remains at best tolerated and at worst accepted that people who look different should be treated unfairly or unequally. To correct these injustices will take commitment and action at the highest level of government, but also requires action from every one of us in British society to recognise how we are all bystanders to this inequality, and to commit to ending it.
This comment speaks to New Zealand too. We need your (the general public’s) support on this one – standing up to oppression is incredibly tiresome. We are great advocates for ourselves, but we cannot change everyone’s attitudes by ourselves. The sooner that the public stands loudly and proudly with us and demands an end to this form of discrimination and inequality, the better off our entire society will be.
School is a hard time for all children. This chart highlights the inaction of schools with regard to dealing with bullying, and I think is a sad indictment, and I fear that New Zealand’s chart would look even worse, given that our bullying statistics are markedly worse than that of the UK. There are two alarming issues here – firstly that people are not feeling empowered to report instances of bullying, and secondly that when bullying is reported, it is largely going unresolved. Sadly, we tell our young people with facial differences to anticipate that bullying may well occur, and although we do our utmost to empower them with the tools to deal with it, we need to make a more concerted effort as a nation to stop it from happening in the first place.
Beyond the stage of the job interview, and once into a new role, things don’t appear to get much better. 62.9% said that their appearance had been mentioned by work colleagues, and 26.2% – more than a quarter – have experienced discrimination from colleagues at the same rank or level of employment. Almost a fifth (17.8%) report experiencing discrimination or unfairness from their manager.
Workplace bullying is rife in New Zealand – in fact, it is identified as the largest occupational hazard in our workplaces, and studies have found that we consistently perform worse than both the UK and Australia. I consider myself very fortunate that to date in my career, I do not feel that I have experienced discrimination from my colleagues or managers as a result of looking different – in fact, I feel that I work with people who just see me for who I am. That being said, my condition has definitely influenced where I have chosen to work – I have picked a career where I feel I will face less discrimination, and even within that setting, I feel that I have to work much harder to make a positive first impression in new situations, anyone who finds themselves in a minority situation will know that you have to do something more than equal before you perceive that you will be treated as equal.
More than four-fifths (81.3%) of respondents have experienced staring, comments or unpleasantness from a stranger. Experiencing such unpleasantness which counts as harassment in law, can have a serious impact on someone’s confidence in social situations. We asked respondents if they had ever decided not to visit a specific venue because of how people might react to their appearance. More than half (53.9%) had avoided a nightclub visit, 46.5% a pub, 41.3% a gym, 30.6% a café or restaurant, 28.1% a shop, and 20.7% had avoided a theatre trip. More than a third (36.1%) have experienced unpleasant comments from people in parks and open spaces.
I am pleased to say this has decreased for me in recent years, but I put that down to the fact that my appearance has changed significantly with surgery and orthodontic work, as well as the people with whom I choose to spend my time (if I choose to spend my time with you, I hope you smile as you read this – I think you’re a good person), rather than a marked change in societal attitudes. Looking back now, I know that I had a lot of anxiety about going to clubs and pubs and so I didn’t do this when I should have. I worried I might experience an upsetting verbal or physical altercation, so I avoided the situation entirely. I feel that I missed out by doing that. The introduction of self service checkouts in my late teens were a godsend where I could go to a machine without fearing that glance from a checkout operator that lasted a little bit too long, or going red from embarrassment thinking that I did not deserve to be in the presence of people who I felt were better-looking than me (I’m pleased to say now that I will happily walk up to the checkout operator, and even chat with them if I’m feeling in the mood)! One Saturday in my teens I was walking to work when a glass bottle was thrown at me, shattering at my feet from a passing car as the occupant (unknown to me) was shouting “what the f**k happened to your face?”
“I have been threatened with a knife because of ‘my face’.”
This is not my quote. But it definitely could be. When I was in my late teens, me and my family stopped for lunch in the town of Waimate, New Zealand on a holiday. Before getting back in the car, I wandered away from my family to use the public toilet down the street. As I came out of the toilet, I was accosted by two teenage women and a teenage boy. One of the women had a knife and “offered” to cut off my nose. Fortunately my father (unaware of what was ensuing at the time) called me over at that point from the car, and the teenagers wandered away.
The psychological impact of living with a disfigurement cannot be overestimated. As every section of this report shows, it can have a devastating impact on almost all aspects of a person’s life. We asked respondents on a scale of 1 to 10 how much impact they felt their condition had on their life, and whilst the average was 5.5 – in the middle of the range – 42% of respondents said it had a severe or very severe impact.
Psychological implications of being born with cleft lip and palate I feel are largely overlooked in New Zealand. With the exception of Auckland, a psychologist does not even form part of the cleft lip and palate team – something which I feel is a significant oversight. International best practice outlines the importance of having psychology input on a team and something that I have lobbied for since I started in the General Manager position at Cleft NZ in 2012. We need to continue lobbying Ministry of Health for increased psychological support across many areas of healthcare.
The Good News
Raising these issues with quantifiable evidence is a huge step forward, and although the report may be a sobering read, it is a platform for discussion that will lead to change. For the vast majority of the general public, discrimination based on appearance is something that they don’t have to think about. It does not mean that they do not care about it though, and I believe that this publication and its recommendations by Changing Faces (along with lots of fantastic other research going on at the moment such as that done the Cleft Collective, Centre for Appearance Research and the University of Auckland here in New Zealand) will improve quality of life for people affected by a facial difference both now and into the future.
For years, I have passionately encouraged members of the cleft lip and palate community in New Zealand, and around the world “Don’t let the world change your smile, let your smile change the world“, and I believe that is something that with strength can be and always has been very achievable by each and every one of us. Today, thanks to the hard work of Changing Faces and all of its many supporters and supporting organisations, we have made that reality so much easier for so many more people.
As many of you know, I have an upcoming trip where I am scheduled to visit the United Kingdom, continental Europe, the United States and Canada. This trip was booked in September last year, long before Donald Trump was elected President of the United States.
Following his election, like many around the world, I have observed closely his actions with every expectation that despite his campaign, once in office, he would respect the sentiment of the American people and uphold a level of international co-operation and not attempt to revoke even the most basic of human rights.
Sadly, since he took office, we have seen executive orders signed that serve to detrimentally impact people in the USA and further afield. Last week, I successfully procured my authority to travel to and enter the United States, however within hours of obtaining that, Donald Trump issued this executive order which prohibits certain people from entering the USA on nothing other than the basis of their nationality. Such discrimination has been illegal in the United States since 1965.
In a quote from the Executive Order, Trump states “In order to protect Americans, the United States must ensure that those admitted to this
country do not bear hostile attitudes toward it and its founding principles. The United States
cannot, and should not, admit those who do not support the Constitution, or those who would
place violent ideologies over American law. In addition, the United States should not admit
those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred (including “honor” killings, other forms of
violence against women, or the persecution of those who practice religions different from their
own) or those who would oppress Americans of any race, gender, or sexual orientation.”
I believe the very premise of this Executive Order does not support the American Constitution, engages in an act of bigotry, promotes feelings of hate, and despite his statements to the contrary, persecutes those who practice a religion different from that of Trump, and most certainly oppresses people on the basis of race given that is the criteria on which people find themselves denied entry to the USA. Of course I respect the USA’s right (and obligation) to protect its people and border by ensuring that those who visit are of good character, but that is not what this policy achieves – the vast majority of people turned away under this policy will be upstanding citizens of the world.
Despite significant opposition from a large portion of the American population, condemnation of the policy from other countries, American officials and judges, the White House insists that the policy stands, at least for the time-being.
Such a discriminatory policy is at insurmountable odds with my personal beliefs, values and inclusive way of life, and therefore I am unable to avail myself of my right to visit the USA when people from other nations who share the same peaceful beliefs and values as myself are refused entry to the USA on the basis of nationality. I refuse to spend my money in a country whose government believe that this is acceptable practice.
Therefore, in a decision that I have not taken lightly, I have provisionally cancelled my plans to visit the United States in 2017. I would like to be clear that I am not cancelling due to any perceived risk to my safety in the USA – at no time, have I felt that there is an imminent risk to my safety, and I still fully intend to visit all other countries on my trip. Of course, should Donald Trump/others in the government reverse this decision and review his stance on blanket immigration policy in the near future, then I too will also reverse my decision – after all, I do want to visit the USA! However, should that not occur, I will not visit the United States, and the time that I was due in the USA, I will spend extending my visit to Canada – a country that understands its role in the 21st century in a global community.
I do not expect my decision to carry any influence or have any capability to alter Donald Trump’s perspective, but for me as a principled individual – like so many of us around the world (including the USA); it is important to me that I make a stand as an individual to demonstrate my opinion that this is not okay, and is a sad case of history repeating itself. Perhaps if enough people take a similar stand, the message will become even harder to ignore.
I hope to be able to review this decision in light of more sensible legislation from the President of the United States in the near future.
Over this last week, and indeed year, we have had reason to question our faith in humanity, and question the decision making and moral compass of our fellow human beings. On Wednesday November 9th, something that we never thought would come to pass was realised, the election of Donald Trump as the next President of the United States – a man whose campaign was littered with policies and statements that were racist, misogynistic, abusive, discriminated against disabilities, advocating of war crimes and demonstrated a general intolerance of anyone who was not similar in every way to the Donald. Should we be shocked at Donald Trump for holding such views? Probably not – he represents a way of thinking that used to fly back in the day, and Donald is a hangover, an embarrassing reminder of the norm of a bygone era that we are proud to have moved away from (or so we thought).
However, should we be shocked that the people of the United States (of which 51% are women) elected a man who jokes about touching women’s genitals without consent, mocks people with disabilities, and suggests that if he shoots a person in the ghetto that he won’t lose a single vote? Yes, that is surprising.
The old, angry white man is a thing – it’s fortunately dying out, but it’s still a thing. The casually racist, homophobic, “get women back in the kitchen” type of man does exist, but fortunately not in numbers large enough to single-handedly elect the next leader of the free for white men world. For this to happen, for Donald Trump to become leader of the free world, other people had to vote for him too, including the very people to whom he demonstrated contempt and disrespect during the campaign. Women voted for Trump, the working classes, the middle class, people of different cultures, religions. Why? Because Trump was an anti-establishment candidate. People have grown tired of the status quo, and want change for changes sake. He has campaigned on the promise of change, and change is exactly what America (and the rest of the world) is going to get, for better or for worse. He also was a beneficiary of the outdated electoral college system which effectively gives someone from Wisconsin 4 votes for every Californian’s single vote (to name one example). This system definitely needs to change – if we truly believe in equality and democracy, then we owe it to everyone to fix this. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, by a 1,000,000 margin out of the 100,000,000 who voted or a 1% win over Trump. This shows a country that is deeply divided, with almost half the country voting for Trump, and slightly more voting for Clinton, but neither being the clear victor.
Let’s give Trump the benefit of the doubt for a moment – let’s make an assumption that he is going to take this new responsibility seriously, and genuinely do his utmost to be an inclusive and rational President who calls for peace and calm (something which we have no assurance will happen, and evidence to the contrary). Despite assuming this, we still have a United States that is deeply divided – an “us” and “them”.
There’s all of “us” – the people who wanted Hillary Clinton and/or anyone who wasn’t Donald Trump to win. We wanted someone who values diversity of gender, culture, sexual orientation, spirituality; someone who respects and understands how diversity enriches our society. We want someone who values socialism and working collaboratively with other people for the greater good rather than for individual capitalist gain – we’re the people who like things like state healthcare, welfare and education. Then there’s “them” – who we can have a tendency to see as essentially everybody else. It can be hard to accept that so many people do not appear to share the values that we feel are not only morally right, but also common sense, and we can have a tendency to tar everyone with the same brush and see people who voted for Brexit and for Trump as bigots, and feel that our sentiments of love and inclusion for humankind are a minority view (which I actually don’t think they are)..
Of course, some of them will be bigoted, and it can be hard to change these people’s minds, but I would suggest that most of the people who voted for Brexit and for Trump are actually fairly ordinary people such as you and I who didn’t think through the fact that they were endorsing bigotry when they voted Brexit/Trump. However, unlike you and I, they have succumbed to fear from the constant rhetoric that people who are different to us pose a constant threat to our well-being and our way of life. People who had a higher level of education did not vote in a way that suggested they have succumbed to this fear, for education encourages one to think for oneself and to challenge what we see and hear. Similarly, younger generations voted for inclusiveness and diversity, as this is how we have been raised and live our lives – we see our similarities, and we celebrate, not fear, our differences. That’s not to say that all those in the older generations don’t see it too – after all, our parents generation raised us this way so they should share in the credit too. This also gives me a lot of hope, that after a generation of politics, we will begin seeing leaders come through that are more representative of how younger people voted as we become older, raise responsible offspring and take office. Let’s not get disheartened by the state of affairs globally and in doing so, lose our passion for people and desire for leadership that reflects that. From a New Zealand perspective, should we not begin to see that leadership come through at the next election in 2017, with greater emphasis on achieving equality (not only for gender, but across the board), increasing healthcare, and reducing the things that create hardship and division such as poverty, then, I will give serious consideration to running for elected office myself in 2020.
Which brings me to my main point. Love. Let’s not lose faith in humanity, let’s demonstrate our love for humanity. The vast majority of people are good people – there are always a few people who have selfish motives, but I believe these are far outnumbered by the people on our planet who have an innate desire to love one another and co-operate with one another. Yet some of these people have been sucked in by propaganda and genuinely fear the world is out to do them harm, and they have naively sought to protect themselves by voting for Brexit or voting for Trump (a move which coincidentally will do little to protect them from what they fear). It would be easy to lump these people in with those who demonstrate genuine hate for other people, but would be wrong to do so – fear and hate are two distinctly different emotions. It’s sad that we’ve reached a point in our history where people feel such fear from their fellow man and woman that they vote for a government that seeks to close borders, and seek to establish monocultural nations – it’s happening in Britain and the States, it had an influence on Australia’s general election this year, with France and Germany seeing far-right politicians poised to be serious contenders for office in 2017.
Let’s fix that. Let’s take stock of what’s happened, understand why it’s happened, but then we need to dust ourselves down, and continue to demonstrate our unfaltering love for one another. We’ve already seen this week in New Zealand how acts of love trump acts of hate following the devastating earthquake in the early minutes of Monday morning. People innately began to co-operate with one another, and were quick to admonish and express their disgust at those who lacked compassion by looting people’s homes. One family had many of their possessions stolen and their house ransacked whilst they evacuated it during a tsunami threat. The community responded with love – people generously replacing items that had been taken and perfect strangers donated their own money to the family. These acts of love and kindness far outweighed the initial act of hate, and demonstrate that love is all around, particularly when the going gets tough. To quote Selena Gomez, we need to kill em with kindness. Show people who are fearful that they are misguided, by just being yourself – a loving, inclusive, welcoming human being. As for those with genuine hate, again demonstrate love. They will most likely still not like you, in fact, they will probably still despise you, but there will be little escaping the fact that they are in the minority, and that they are in the wrong and at odds with most of humanity, and with a bit of luck, the angry white man will be an endangered species very quickly.
Perhaps once that happens and that they realise most people don’t actually agree with their values, and that they have no mandate to dole out hate, rather that people voted for the same candidate as them for a vastly different reason (propaganda-induced fear), perhaps then, we will finally be ready to convincingly elect the most suitably qualified man or woman for the job who seeks to unify and pacify one race – the human race. Love will trump Trump.
Lots of love,