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Niceness means nothing

There’s a lot of talk about “respect” and “civility” at the moment. In case you were unaware, Australia’s federal parliament is trying to decide whether literally every Australian should get to vote on same-sex marriage. In Australian political discourse this kind of vote is called a plebiscite.

There’s something particularly emotive about the plebiscite. It feels like a public opinion poll on whether LGBTI people have a legitimate place in society, so it’s no wonder everyone is keen to appear polite and reasonable. The stakes are too high to be accused of foul play.

Earlier today I had a bit of at Twitter conversation with Josh Taylor from Crikey, about Dr David and Ros Phillips from FamilyVoice, who I know from the annual Australasian Religious Press Association (ARPA) conferences.

It’s true, they are unfailingly polite. They’re softly spoken, sweet and kind. Your heart warms to see them together because their love for each other is obvious. And yet they would eagerly throw me under the metaphorical bus in the continuation of their social agenda.

BuzzFeed reporter Lane Sainty experienced this too when she attended the launch of Dr David van Gend’s book, Stealing From A Child: The Injustice Of ‘Marriage Equality’. Her piece recounting the experience, published today, is well worth a read.

When introducing the enabling legislation for the plebiscite, the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull said holding a plebiscite “respects [the Australian people’s] intelligence, their civility, their capacity to express and make a decision and above all, it respects the fact that each and every one of them can have a say.”

It’s as if regardless of what you say it is inherently worthy of respect so long as you are polite about it. Further, so long as you heed the pleasantries of regular face-to-face interaction, your actions appear to be irrelevant.

There’s no inherent connection between politeness and goodness, or that a civil discussion is really being conducted in good faith. It seems self-evident to me, but I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard “but they’re so nice!” used to excuse appalling behaviour elsewhere.

Niceness means nothing. What good is niceness if that person won’t stick up for vulnerable people when they really need it? Worse, what good is niceness if that person is going to actively work against your wellbeing?

It makes me think of the Parable of the Two Sons, in which a father asks his two sons to work in his vineyard that day. The first says no, but later thinks better of it and goes. The second says yes, but never gets around to it. Which one actually did what his father wanted? I think about this parable often.

Not that we should go out of our way to be abrasive or rude, but respectful dialogue and sweet words don’t necessarily produce outcomes. In fact, insincere platitudes mask apathetic and obstructive behaviour. I’m seeing a lot of this from our parliamentarians in this debate, and I’ve had enough.

Overlooking someone’s civility to point that out might not be nice, but it is necessary.

Death of Public Figures

Margaret Thatcher

Wikimedia Commons

Today, Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Baroness of Kesteven and co-inventor of soft-serve icecream died, age 87—and people got opinions.

I’m 25, which means I was a toddler when she was ousted as Conservative Party leader in 1990. I’m not going to give a critique of her leadership or politics; I’m completely unqualified! Sure, I’m leery of the conservative side of politics (is anyone surprised?) but it’s impossible not to be impressed by her.

Celebrity culture is a strange thing. The public feels like it owns the identity of a famous individual, and therefore has the right to pick over their every utterance and action. It’s true that celebrities are active in the public sphere and need to expect a certain level of public scrutiny. It is, after all, part of the job. But I start to get uncomfortable when people’s identities become commodified, leading others to believe they own part of those identities. I think this accounts for the strange grieveing process we go through upon the death of a public figure; we think we have a stake in that person’s life, and so are entitled to act the ways we do.

Margaret Thatcher had a profound influence over many people’s lives, so I’m not surprised there is so much chatter surrounding her death (not to mention, this post makes me a contributior!) Perhaps there are folk who really are entitled to make comment so soon after her passing. Then again, perhaps not.

It just gives me something to think about. If my favourite politician or actor or YouTuber (!) died tomorrow, what would my reaction be? And what does that mean in terms of the way I treat public figures when they are alive?

As always, your thoughts in the comments are welcome.

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