Learning to be kind again… even to those we oppose

March 28, 2023
5 mins read

The media engineered a circus last weekend and the end result is that no one benefited, writes GARY STEEL.

Our two kids are what some might call “high maintenance”. In other words, they’re just kids. Because one is four years older than the other, the 8-year-old has taught the 4-year-old all her most irritating tricks. She could write the book called How To Annoy The Heck Out Of Mum And Dad 101.

Their speciality is whining incessantly for things they want at wildly inappropriate times, and when they don’t get what they want having hissy-fits and nuclear meltdowns.

For far too long, we tried to use reason. We took the trouble to explain why they couldn’t have what they were demanding. Stuck in our adult mindset, we stupidly thought that they would somehow understand the logic of our argument and appreciate the fact that we’d taken the trouble to calmly explain why we had taken that position. Idiotic books of advice on child-rearing lulled us into thinking that this was the way to go.


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Eventually, like a bolt from the blue, the answer came to us. Sanity must prevail. Depending on the exact situation, three options were available to us. The most obvious one was to simply say a stern “No!” to the wanting machines, and to refuse to engage in further dialogue. The second option was no reaction at all: to merely ignore the hectoring demands. The third option was to divert their attention elsewhere. Children are easily distracted, so this option was useful on those occasions where diversionary tactics could be effectively employed. Sometimes, both tactics could be used in tandem.

Essentially, however, simply saying “No!” meant that the conversation was over, and we no longer had to spend time and expend energy explaining stuff that was pointless anyway. Sometimes, it even prevented the nuclear meltdown. Effectively, it starved their incessant demands at the source.

I like to think of it as starving the childish whining of oxygen before it can really build up a head of steam.

I can’t help feeling that if these techniques had been employed during last week’s visit by a British so-called “anti-trans” campaigner (whose name I won’t mention, lest I give her more oxygen), then everybody would have been happier with the result. Obviously, this visitor to our shores is essentially still a child; one whose body has grown up but whose perspective on the world or empathy for others has never bloomed, but instead shrunk into a misshapen, mean-spirited need to spread its misplaced anger. This wasn’t someone of consequence or great intellectual or academic standing. This was a person who had discovered a weird, distorted power – the power of the pulpit – and a message that would give rise to great notoriety.

Had we ignored this person, it’s very likely that she would have drawn tiny crowds of feral and disaffected individuals, and that her hateful message would have reached few, because tiny crowds simply don’t justify TV news coverage. In effect, by ignoring her she would have been starved of oxygen.

Instead, one of the most shameful episodes in modern New Zealand history took place, and the real culprit was the way the media drummed up a frenzy of hatred towards this activist. The focus simply must be boomeranged back to mass media, because it saw an opportunity to boost ratings, and went crazy with it. Had the media focused on real news instead of some nutjob with a pulpit, then I’m guessing that her audiences here in NZ would have been sparsely attended and utterly inconsequential. She DEPENDS on the outrage that wall-to-wall media coverage generates, and in this case, NZ media fell for it, and ultimately, were complicit in what happened, and NZ culture was the victim.

It’s a horrible forewarning, given that the election of our next government is due to take place in only a matter of months. You’d think that news media would automatically have the best interests of the populace in first place, but their coverage of the brief trip to NZ by this “anti-trans activist” and their successful attempt at building up hysteria and hate from both her supporters and the “rainbow” community makes me fearful that news media in NZ is simply not up to the job.

The end result of their “publicity” was yet another issue that is now going to cause a huge rift between different segments of our community, with two warring sides and no one giving an inch, and any attempt to have an open discussion about the issues it raises stomped into the post-Gabrielle mud, along with some metaphorical nasty forestry slash.

On the day of the grown-up child’s public speech in Auckland, predictably, opposing factions turned up, and equally predictably, they turned on each other. Representatives of the so-called “rainbow” community decided that it was their right to make sure she couldn’t be heard, or make her speech, and that she should be shut down. The police failed miserably in their duty of care during this volatile event.

Last night, former government science advisor Sir Peter Gluckman came out with a plea for New Zealanders to return to a rather quaint, even anachronistic set of behaviours and values. He suggested that we learn (again!) how to have civil conversations about scorching hot topics without blowing things out of proportion. He has a point, and I agree, but sadly, it feels as though the horse has already bolted, and that we won’t get this one back into the stable in a hurry.

People are so used to drawing a line in the sand and taking a very rigid, set stand on topics, and the depersonalisation of social media has emboldened those who would never have the courage or social skills to sit around in real time with real people discussing the details of real issues.

We find ourselves in such a politicized world that it’s hard for older folk to even connect with this kind of action. Those like myself who grew up in the ‘70s and experienced the early stirrings of environmentalism and feminism and gay rights and indigenous rights now find ourselves confused by the factionalism, and the unwillingness to see from anyone’s perspective other than their own. This deeply entrenched factionalism makes learning or understanding about the way other people think about a topic impossible.

All my favourite people in the world are those who – despite often having very different opinions and beliefs – I can converse with, and maybe even learn something from. It feels as though we’ve reached a point where different factions have become so very entrenched in their views, and so sure that they’re right in those views, that a kind of social totalitarianism is the only possible outcome.

I hate to come over all Jacinda-like, but we need to learn to be kinder to each other, to seek to understand, even if we don’t agree. Every generation is going to have slightly different values and opinions and a different way of sifting through history and interpreting what happens, and what has happened. That doesn’t make one right and another wrong. It’s called perspective. It’s journalism 101, actually. At journalism school, one of the first things we learnt was that if numerous people saw a bad traffic accident but one was standing over here, and another over there, that it was likely those people would have a different perspective on what had happened. They would see it in a different way. There’s fact and then there’s interpretation of fact, and we have to add to that the way that history itself is written and rewritten and reinterpreted for each successive generation, and the different attitudes (entrenched or otherwise) this fosters.

I don’t want to talk about gender and trans this or CIF that. There are obviously conversations to be had about those topics, but what happened last weekend wasn’t about that. It was about media manipulation of a trumped-up non-event that turned really ugly. The “rainbow” community seemed emboldened by their successful shutdown, but as Leonard Cohen might have said, “It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.”






Steel has been penning his pungent prose for 40 years for publications too numerous to mention, most of them consigned to the annals of history. He is Witchdoctor's Editor-In-Chief/Music and Film Editor. He has strong opinions and remains unrepentant. Steel's full bio can be found here

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