JOHN HANLON, NZ songwriting legend and astute commentator, has some surprising words for our Prime Minister.
For as long as I can remember I’ve been an idealist. I wear that label with pride, despite occasionally being derided for it over the years.
I’ve noticed that since your now famous ‘kindness’ speech you’ve been subjected to a deluge of similar derisions by those who, for some unfathomable reason, view such ideals in a nation’s leader as naivety at best and weakness by any measure.
It would be easy for me to encourage you by saying that, in my view, those without ideals are empty, soulless people or red-necked talkback radio hosts (often one and the same) and hence should be ignored accordingly.
However, the harsh truth is that people without ideals are in the ascendancy. They dominate at every level of society, government and business. They personify a win-at-all-costs approach to life and have replaced the word we with me. To them it is case of ‘how much can I take’ rather than ‘how best can I contribute?’ They consider themselves realists and are quick to accuse anyone who takes issue with them of being out of touch with the real world.
On the subject of the ‘real world’: I recall one night late in my office many years ago taking issue with a good friend’s surprising lack of support for my involvement in a ‘save the whale’ initiative. In response he leapt to his feet went to the window and swept his arm across the panorama of city lights and said, ‘I just don’t like to see you hitting your head against a brick wall when half the people out there don’t give a shit about their children let alone fish in the sea.’ I knew what he meant. He was right and he was wrong. As history shows the whales were saved. Sadly the children haven’t been. Not yet.
So here you are so very publicly on a quest to establish a kinder, fairer, more humane society, battling a wall of prejudice and isms in a world where people defend their positions with religious fervour. They divide into right and left camps and hurl insults at each other with hackneyed rhetoric and entrenched attitudes dependant upon whom they voted for and what they imagine they have to lose.
This has most lately been manifested in the Capital Gains debate. Those who argue most vehemently against it are those who have the most to lose. I’d imagine that will be less than 5 per cent of the population, none of whom will be driven into poverty by CGT.
That said, I’d argue that there is a vast difference between passive capital gain and active capital gain. In other words someone who starts a business and creates a line of commerce for tax paying suppliers and employees should not be subjected to the same level of CGT as, say, someone who buys a tract of land, sits on it for ten years, makes no improvements and sells at a large profit. A lower tax for active capital gain would be fairer in my view but let’s not forget I’m an idealist.
I could go on dissecting the dearth of ideals globally. Examples are rife and there for anyone to see. The larger problem is getting anyone to care.
I mourn for the children. They have too few people to look up to. Who in this world can they admire? Who are the heroes? Sadly, in the absence of good role models many choose bad ones: Gang leaders, drug dealers, tax-dodging billionaires, toilet-mouthed rap artists and anyone called Kardashian. I guess it’s understandable that power and celebrity become aspirations for those who have neither.
Looking higher, and I use that word loosely, they can see only that the leaders of many nations are corrupt if not financially then ethically. Often both. Many are blatantly dishonest as well. So much so that surveys show voters have come to accept their leaders will lie. It’s just par for the course. And many elections are won by promises made but never kept.
As well, too often leaders don’t lead they simply follow in the sense that they find out what people want and then promise it to them. This has given rise to what are now euphemistically called populist parties, which, sadly, represent how so many people actually feel.
And this leads me finally to the point of this little ramble:
Life is not a popularity contest. Doing the right thing is not always doing the popular thing. However, politics is very much a popularity contest. That’s the dilemma. And it will be your constant conflict. That two self-serving idiots can outvote any well-informed and selfless person means there is always the danger of our becoming a mean-spirited ‘idiotcracy’. I’d argue the USA has devolved into that now.
However, no thinking person can deny that right now, perhaps more than ever, we are in desperate need of kindness, compassion, and consideration and respect for each other and the planet. We need more ‘we’ and less ‘me’.
Our very future relies on making such ideals popular. To have them be seen not as pipe dreams but as achievable necessities.
And because I’m a self-confessed idealist, and even though I know it will be long hard road, I believe it’s possible for a little country like ours to show the way to a better world. We’ve done it before, not just with votes for women but …
When New Zealand anchored a ship at Mururoa atoll in an attempt to put an end to the French nuclear testing in the Pacific, accusations of naivety and idealism resounded globally. They were soon silenced. The testing ceased. Our nation had spoken and we were heard. You could say our ideal became a reality. And I was never prouder to be a Kiwi.
So when people accuse you of being an idealist, remember Mururoa, remember the whales — and never ever forget the children.
- This opinion piece was originally published here.