Is our deepest yearning to be ‘Us’, together, on our islands of Australia? A reflection on the Voice referendum and life, after a conversation this week at a swimming pool.
On Monday, changing after swimming, a bloke struck up a conversation.
“I am voting ‘No’ at the Referendum”, he said. He then went into some diatribe full of various resentments.
I don’t generally invite conversations after my ‘aqua therapy’!
I just said to him softly, “but the Uluru Statement from the Heart is such a beautiful invitation … ‘We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future’…”
I have memorised that last line because of its poetic generosity.
That’s all I said.. I expected a lot of angry language back and began looking to leave as quickly as possible.
To my surprise this soggy middle aged man of European appearance then said.. “Maybe I haven’t studied this enough.. maybe I should read that Statement from Uluru..”
Recognising that, unexpectedly, I was not of the same negative view about the Referendum, he changed his tune.
Without over interpretation, it was clear that what he wanted was belonging and a popular opinion might have seemed a vehicle for that..
I felt sad for him but also frustrated that such unreflective negativity was seemingly becoming so mainstream.
How many are like him?
People who are seeking belonging in a public culture that amplifies conflicting voices and expects you to choose sides. How many others?
And what of that resentful diatribe with its tone of life’s build- up of disappointments?
Kerry Howells, an expert in these matters, says resentment is known as the ‘emotion of justice’ because it is usually accompanied by the sense that we need to hold on to our resentment in order to take a stance on some behaviour that we find unjust.
This can be problematic both personally and more widely.
The practice of gratitude can help prevent us sliding into a disappointed life full of our various resentments. Across faith traditions there is this awareness that practicing
gratitude, in the opportunities of daily life, is very good for the soul. In my tradition, the structuring of prayer is that we begin with our thanksgivings before proceeding to our requests and yearnings. An influence of positive psychology in our schools has been to encourage youngsters to remember three reasons for gratitude at the end of each day.
Given the opportunity to think about it, none of us want to feel like the famous actor who said in her 80’s, “I have had a wonderful life. I just wish I’d appreciated it more at the time.”
Aside from the personal cost of wasting our days resenting this and that, there is the wider risk of becoming enthralled by those who seek political power in this context .
History shows us how dangerous this is. Politicians who feed off habitual resentments and seek to give them legitimacy for their own purposes are very, very dangerous.
When trust is in short supply, it’s easy to sow seeds of doubt.. There’s Us and there’s a Them.. “It’s not going to work as they are saying”.. “They are going to ask more than they are saying now”. “It’s going to make your life even worse than it is now.”
The bloke at the swimming pool had picked up a bucket of this. It came after telling me he was voting ‘No’.
What to do now, insofar as these reflections seem of significance?
I often think of our Australia as like a big therapy centre, full of people in need of healing. Clearly, First Nations people, given the history. But many others too, because of the damage done by wars and violence.
Then too, there is the continuing effect of the pandemic. A person of insight passed on what was said to her.
“Don’t ask me to bounce back anymore …Just listen to me.”
I think that is our most important task in this period before the Referendum.
To listen carefully to one another.. Not just to what is said initially but to what is underneath.
It is a faith statement I know, but we are made for communion. Our deepest yearning is to be ‘Us’ together on our islands of Australia.
We are a nation of people from many cultures, traditions and religions. We are a microcosm of the global family who are on our beautiful planet now and in the vastness of this astonishing universe.
We can be a sign of hope to others elsewhere as to how the human family can actually flourish together, unified in our diversity.
Belonging together.. better than ever. That is the possibility now given to us by the Referendum.
Isn’t it wonderful, a reason for gratitude, that we actually have this opportunity?