…Rethinking Social Exclusion
In 2016, Bridget Williams, suggested that I write a memoir. I started to explore how to do that, and came upon a book by literary critic Sven Birkets, ‘The Art of Time in Memoir’, who advised that “there is no faster way to smother the core meaning of life, its elusive threads and connections, than with the heavy blanket of narrated event”. I took his advice, avoided writing a chronology, and instead explored a number of themes; race relations, law and order, neo-liberalism, social equality, Māori development, and crime and punishment.
As the work had progressed, I visualised my life as independent strands of thought, activity and experience which during the course of a lifetime travel a life of their own, finally entwining one with the other, to form in later years a uniquely patterned cable; flawed and fractured though it may be, represents my ‘true self’.
There were two overarching themes which permeated my thinking. First, the whakatauki (or proverb), ‘Kia Whakatōmuri te Haere Whakamua’,
Walk backwards into the future with your eyes fixed on the past.’ It speaks to Māori perspectives of time, where the past, the present and the future are viewed as intertwined, and life is a continuous cosmic process. Life does not begin at birth, or even conception. It is an outcropping of more solid ancestral formations.
To understand one’s true self, one needs to understand the lives not only of our whānau and their influence on our social formation, but the lives of our tipuna.
Second, if life is a continuous cosmic process, there must be some overarching connector through which we share our humanity with others; something that tells us that although we are free to express our individuality, free to be unique, underneath all of that, we remain inextricably connected – we belong to each other.
It is impossible to consider that idea, without reference to the tragic events of the 15th March. The cold-blooded slaughter of 50 Muslim men, women and children, has turned the minds of New Zealanders towards the evils of hate and racism as we became aware, through the public testimony of Islamic leaders and victims, of two things. First, that the people of Islam in New Zealand have over many generations, been the subject of racism and hate. Second, they are overwhelmed by the generosity, love and compassion shown by New Zealanders of every race, colour and creed.
New Zealanders will never be the same again. We are having the sort of public conversation that we have diligently avoided in the past. We are acknowledging that there is a darker side to our Paradise, and that in order to mature as a nation, we must cast light on our collective character.
The driver was wearing a kufi, an Islamic skull cap. It was a shared journey – I spelt out the name of the street, which he entered into his GPS system, and we got there. We had a stilted conversation along the way; his English was better than my Arabic. As I alighted, I bowed towards him, and said “Bless you my brother” At that, his smile lit up the universe, he wrapped his arms around me, and we embraced.
I was reminded that, in the traditional Māori world, the values of Whanaungatanga and Manaakitanga, of relationships and caring about and for others, make clear our obligations to one another in building and maintaining relationships, both within and beyond our whānau. The spiritual world is ever present, and the spirits of our ancestor’s guide and affirm that process.
It is through those conversations that we will mature as a nation, rejoicing in our strengths, acknowledging our shortcomings, and moving forward to a higher level of consciousness. Today then, I want to focus on the importance of relationships in my life, in all our lives, and in the criminal justice system
This is an excerpt from a presentation given by Dr Kim Workman KNZM QSO to ‘Wairarapa Word’, at Aratoi, the Wairarapa Museum of Art and History, Masterton, on Sunday 7th April 2019.
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