Flourishing democracy: Australia and a 2024 of beauty

Jan 7, 2024
Large group of people forming Australia map and national flag in social media and communication

In Australia, despite the relentless misery conveyed in daily media, we have so much beauty to appreciate, and so much freedom to create more beauty.

Our meditation group has a theme this year, focused on beauty.

Appreciating and creating beauty is a wonderful theme, yes?

At first glance, it seems quite counter-cultural, given the relentless misery conveyed in daily media.

But in Australia we have so much beauty to appreciate, and so much freedom to create more beauty.

Near New Year, I was asked to help a couple to prayerfully celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary.

We reflected on how important in our relationships is a sustained intention to heal, never to harm one another.

And therefore, how each marriage is, in a way, a political act.

A healthy marriage speaks of a place beyond merely transactional, conflictual relationships, where people can give and forgive in a generous spirit.

Relationships which are harmonious have their own beauty, and create a lovely atmosphere for others.

They give hope. They cultivate trust.

Such relationships support and are themselves helped by living in a functioning democracy.

Our inner democracy of the ‘golden rule’ flourishes best when there are supportive democratic structures which encourage compassionate living.

Shyly this dear couple conveyed to family and friends their memories of that wedding day in rural Myanmar.

After the renewal of their vows, a young couple did the same – their daughter and her husband, recently married, but asking for a blessing.

Then we had a feast and took a photo. All of this was so very beautiful.

I first met the older members of this family in the refugee camp near Mae Sot on the Thai/Myanmar border.

That was after the first military coup against the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in the late 1980s. I have visited Myanmar in the later better times, before the coup d’etat after she won the November 2020 Myanmar General Election. Since Aung San Suu Kyi’s arrest on 1 November 2021, a consortium of us have tried to offer support in advocacy and relief for those deprived, for now, of their democracy.

The rural village where my older friends were married has been destroyed by the current military regime. Many remaining have died.

Those here in Australia live with this sadness, but their response is so beautiful, and so instructive.

As a matter of dignity, they have wanted to ensure that the label of ‘refugees’ did not and does not define them as helpless victims.

Listening to leaders over the years, it has mattered so much that their children and grandchildren do not see them as endlessly dependent. That is, notwithstanding the complexities they faced of acquiring another language in a context of trauma, somehow accessing an education/employment pathway that then provides them with the dignity of work and housing.

No easy matter!

My family and Church helped to sponsor the first of these refugees in the early 1990s. On New Year’s Eve, I was meeting the children and grandchildren of those first families to arrive in Melbourne’s western suburbs.

The quiet pride with which the stories were told to me by the elders was incredibly beautiful. One a teacher; another an occupational therapist; community workers; tradespeople, priests… all contributors to the Commonwealth of Australia.

The home of our hosts was vividly a place full of love and the fruits of their hard work.

It has helped immensely that this particular cohort of Australia’s refugee communities has had opportunities for family reunions better than some other refugee groups. The ache of seeking refuge after being forced to flee one’s home is eased if loved ones can soon come as well.

Late in the afternoon, our conversation in a quiet corner became very deep. It was about how to sustain democratic freedom and social cohesion when this is under attack, and when there are those who do not seem to comprehend the threats.

That we were having this conversation was also very beautiful.

I was reminded that there are many who have made their home in Australia who really know what it is like to live in a democracy, and to then lose their freedom.

During January it would be good to have more such conversations amongst our families and friends. The Minister for Home Affairs has provided helpful leadership and resources on this.

I heard the UN Commissioner on Human Rights say this week that in 2024 there will be 70 elections in various countries, affecting 4 billion people.

Imagine if all those elected embodied the Declaration on Human Rights in their spirit and in their every action.

That would be truly beautiful.

Australia can show what this looks like.

But there is much work to be done, as we know, perhaps beginning with January conversations together.

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