Written by Gina Williamson, Manager – Strategic Policy, Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment
This compelling question is one we were to explore in Retreat Four of The NZ Leadership Programme – a retreat focused on our people and our future as a nation.
From our ‘home base’ of AUT, this exploration of civil society saw us venture out into Auckland city to engage with a diverse range of people. Through conversations we were privileged and humbled to have, we heard stories of pain, isolation and bewilderment. An uncle who lost a beloved niece to suicide. A man who is homeless observing the closed doors of the local church. But through our conversations we also witnessed passion and hope for a different tomorrow. The young woman encouraging the potential of the young people she engages with day to day. The public servant who works tirelessly to see her people included in formative policy.
This exploration brought into stark view for me the depth and complexity of the social challenges we face as a nation. Through these stories I couldn’t help but notice a common thread weaving through – that of connection and disconnection, of inclusion and exclusion. A thread that weaves through our nation’s indigenous and colonial history, through Te Tiriti, into our current circumstance. A thread that has been weaving through our Leadership New Zealand journey this year. A thread that is also weaving through current conversations in my work place and through many others in the wake of the Christchurch mosque attacks.
On a deep personal level through this exploration, I was confronted by ‘white privilege’. So easily I, and the systems and structures we live and work within, default to the Pakeha way of doing things. As a Pakeha woman, I navigate these systems with ease, and so little do I question how well these systems and structures serve to enable or inhibit others.
What do I do with this challenge? Do I push it down or push it aside – ignore these questions and carry on. Do I jump into solution mode – surely this can be fixed. Do I surrender to paralysis or wallow in shame?
The words and wisdom of our speakers, facilitators and directors came together beautifully over the course of this retreat to offer a way forward that is not to ignore, to fix, or to give up. Beginning with some of the first words shared with us as this retreat began, we were encouraged be willing to walk with a question without needing to immediately dive into solutions. Indeed, we were cautioned, beware of ‘the answer’, but stay open to possibility, to inquiry – ask the deeper questions. Yes, this is uncomfortable. But, we were reminded, to put yourself in space where you feel uncomfortable is to open yourself to learning things you didn’t know before. Your contribution to the way forward is to bring yourself, to speak your truth, and finally, perhaps most powerfully, remember “you don’t honour the other by demeaning yourself.”
I sit in discomfort at my learning edge, exploring my identity and place in our society and my contribution to our future. As I do, I can’t help but sense that our nation is at a similar edge. We need conversation about our current realities of inclusion and exclusion, acknowledging our past, and looking to our future. What will it take for us, for me, to dare to explore this?