Waitangi Day marks the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. Regrettably, this is not always a day of coming together.
Controversy will likely churn forever around which is the correct interpretation of the Treaty, but that is for another thought-piece, and one not written by yours truly.
I do want to talk about partnership, however, and why supporting free speech requires us to partner even with those we vehemently disagree with, in order to preserve this right, but also demands that we radically listen to each other, if we want a way out of today’s polarised political landscape.
My start in TV production was with a company that had multiple contracts with the newly minted Māori Television.
I, a non-Māori, was hired to oversee a rugby league show (likely because I hail from legendary rugby league town, Otahuhu), and my position quickly extended into writing, directing, and producing on a range of different shows.
As an Otahuhu boy I was no stranger to multiculturalism. While I knew very little of the rural Māori experience it seemed like every second home in Otahuhu was either Māori or of a mixed whanau.
But I certainly knew nothing about Māori politics, even into my early twenties.
Looking back, if I saw Maori activists on TV, my general thoughts would have been “We live in an awesome place? What’s the beef? Chill out, man?”
So, while not overtly anti their activism, I just could not see the problem. I vaguely knew of historic injustice, but my own family, on both sides, had been victims of terrible injustices back in Europe.
That was then, this is now.
But working at this production company changed that, and I can pinpoint my awakening down to the day. A pair of DV tapes were tossed onto my desk and I was told to find a catchy grab of then Māori party co-leader Tariana Turia to use at the start of a new show. Something zappy. Provocative, even. But no longer than 10 or 20 seconds please!
And so, for two whole hours I sat and watched a head and shoulders interview of Tariana Turia.
A few things happened over those two hours. First, I started to really like her. And then, with my heart open, so to speak, I started to truly hear her, and while I cannot pretend I agreed with everything she said, I started to understand why she did.
This long form interview gave me context, and with my ear more attuned, I thereafter continued to absorb multiple Māori positions and developed a far more sympathetic and engaged view.
I am saddened by those online who frame the government’s minimal use of te reo Maori as an existential threat to their own identities - a “takeover” as some put it. We can debate how and why proficiency in spoken Maori language dramatically diminished, but no answer will diminish the tragedy of a dying language.
Equally maddening are those who dismiss any critics of contemporary Left identarianism as sexist, racist or transphobic. To quote the late, great Christopher Hitchens, from his 2004 Atlantic essay on Edmund Burke (Reactionary Prophet) …
“It is a frequent vice of radical polemic to assert, and even to believe, that once you have found the lowest motive for an antagonist, you have identified the correct one.”
Ultimately, the culture wars will prove futile because we live in a multicultural democracy.
We only really have the choice of partnership – and by that, I mean a recognition that every one of us is a dissenting voice at some level, and yet we must all believe compromise to be possible, even in the face of seemingly impossible social questions.
This takes radical listening, a privilege free speech gives us, that demands we silence the censor in all of our hearts – that pernicious voice within us that is addicted to conflict, and that will fight tooth and nail to prevent our minds from being changed.
Happy Waitangi Day.