John Menadue. Insiders and Outsiders.

Oct 7, 2014

You might be interested in this repost. John Menadue.


As social beings, we usually like to be part of the group, an insider. We are cautious about being outsiders, on the periphery. Yet being outsiders has some real advantages.

Growing up in country towns in South Australia, I felt what it was like to be an outsider. As the son of a Methodist manse, I often felt an outsider in the socially conservative country towns of South Australia where we lived. I was able to join the group however through sport. As a university scholarship holder I also felt different to those in the mainstream. I felt I had to work harder so that I wouldn’t lose my scholarship.

At the age of 41, working for Malcolm Fraser, I felt very much an outsider. But by that time I found I didn’t really care. I vividly recall a lengthy evening discussion at the Lodge in the early days of the new Liberal Government with Malcolm Fraser and senior members of his private office. The evening was informal and quite friendly, but I had a strong sense that I didn’t belong. But I didn’t feel perturbed as perhaps I would have earlier in my life. Belonging, being an insider, was no longer so important. It was transforming, that if push came to shove I knew that I could survive as an outsider, not comfortably but I could manage.

As a board member of Qantas and Telstra, I felt the strong pressure to be one of the ‘club’ with my eye fixed on re-appointment. That caused problems and disagreements with the boards of both organisations. But I felt content to be an outsider and as far as possible be my own self.

I remember many years later at a social gathering I was asked by James Strong ‘how many boards are you on’. It was not a subject which I had ever asked myself but it suggested to me the importance placed on being an insider, being in the directors’ ‘club’.

I have never felt an insider within the Catholic Church of which I have been a member for over 30 years. In all that time only one Catholic has ever asked me what it was like growing up in the Methodist Church. I am not one of the Irish tribe. But I am content. I often rationalise to myself that being an outsider gives one a perspective that insiders do not have. Popes and the Catholic hierarchy have lived almost their entire lives within institutions of the Catholic Church. This cultural grip is a particular problem for Catholic clergy. Invariably they are brought up in a Catholic home, attend a Catholic school, join a Catholic seminary and then are ordained as celibate priests to serve for the next 50 years. It is hard to break free of the cultural grip of that upbringing. Some do but many don’t.

The Polish have a proverb that the visitor sees in ten minutes what the host does not see in ten years. The Chinese have a proverb that the mountain is seen best from the plain.

There are advantages in being an outsider, even if uncomfortable from time to time.

John Menadue

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