I’ve been a proud New Zealander for the past 24 years and have taken my citizenship seriously by contributing when and where I can through teaching, mentoring, sponsoring, and speaking positively about the country throughout the world. So it was a nice surprise this week to see my words being quoted by the Governor-General of New Zealand (he represents the Queen) Lt Gen The Rt Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae, GNZM, QSO (great title!) in his Waitangi Day address. The national holiday observes the treaty between the government and the indigenous people of New Zealand, the Maori, which addresses the injustices that marauding colonial powers typically inflicted. The Treaty is a living document and is the basis for one of the most advanced recognitions of indigenous rights in terms of land, resources, and economy.
The context of Sir Jerry’s remarks were his preceding statement “We have continued to develop our own distinctive national character. Whether it is in sport, business, agriculture, the arts, science and the creative industries, or in international fora such as peacekeeping, New Zealanders have repeatedly shown their talent, tenacity, flair and commitment.”
He continued: “That legacy of the new way of doing things was well put by New Zealander and Saatchi & Saatchi worldwide chief executive Kevin Roberts a few years ago when he said: “We were the last to be discovered and the first to see the light. This makes us one of the great experimental cultures. We try things first. Whether it’s votes for women, the welfare state or the market economy, powered flight, nuclear physics, anti-nuclearism, biculturalism. First-isms. The New in New Zealand is our reason to exist.”"
Bravo Sir Jerry. There are a bunch of First-isms that the country continues to either grapple with or ignore. These include world-firsts in youth suicide and child abuse together with world-ranking status in imprisonment laced with institutional racism. There are government departments and think tanks dedicated to addressing these issues but to my mind the needle hasn’t moved on the problem. I have no doubt that the complexities of these issues are faced by dedicated people every day, however I believe the root cause of the malaise is in the failure by successive government to articulate a clear, compelling and inclusive purpose for the country.
We do pretty well on many counts but generally most of New Zealand likes to puddle along. Crazy, rogue individuals do brilliant things like starting a new creative industry or inventing a new algorithm or have an idea for exporting pavlovas, but overall contentedness and complacency seem to be cultural imperatives. I am a strong believer in the emotional power of language to overcome rational obstacles. My “one team one dream” purpose for New Zealand is “winning the world from the edge” and if this was powerfully articulated by our political leaders there would be more action and execution and less assessing and deciding.
Guv Sir Jerry, please feel free to quote me again.