Same, same, but different

Where would we be without those great chats we have while sitting at the hairdressers, getting trimmed, pampered or having our noggins encased in foil? I love those chats, and I had a great one with my hairdresser Emma yesterday.

We got talking about politics, racism, fear as a tool of government – you know, the light and breezy stuff of life.

Though we didn’t solve the world’s problems – I was only there for a cut, so we didn’t have long enough, we did chat for quite a while after the cut was done. The central topic, that I found super  interesting to talk about was that great phrase ‘Australian values’.

What does that mean, when we say things like, ‘well, I’m not racist, I think anyone should be able to come here, as long as they embrace Australian values (or Australia’s ways)’?

As I have a great relationship with Emma, I asked her to tell me her ideas on what Australia’s values are. It is a question I think I’m going to employ more in general conversation, to take things to a more thoughtful place.

Emma and I chatted a bit about social conformity, religious freedom, how sometimes we misunderstand religious practices because they’re unfamiliar to us, how we both grew up with Greeks and Italians running the local fish and chip shops, how that’s changed as immigration has changed, our own experiences, how schools are more multicultural now, we covered a lot of ground.

Let’s be clear on one thing – the point of this post is not to have a dig at Emma’s point of view. In fact, I found it really encouraging to chat to her, and to hear her happily admit that she’s got plenty of blanks to fill in around these issues, (as 90% of us do).

It was great to reflect why we think the way we do, how much hearsay plays a part in our supposedly firmly held convictions, and do so in a very relaxed way. No voices were raised, nobody was protecting their patch. We were just chatting. Talk about old school!

Lately it seems, we hear a lot of sound bites that are designed to be easily regurgitated – Team Australia, how some are leaners and some are lifters, the repeated insistence that refugees are ‘illegals’ (not true FYI), vast generalisations about particular religions and terrorism, and it all turns into a wall of frightening, overwhelming noise at times. So much so, a lot of people aren’t watching the news anymore. I get it, I don’t watch it much either. I need to though.

When it comes to the slogans, I wonder how much we think about what those things mean, to us, and to a broader section of ‘our fellow Australians’.

I know that I have some very engaged, politically thoughtful readers, and I am so glad to call some of them friends too, as they sharpen my sometimes lazy view of things and make me actually consider what lies behind the slogans our pollies trot out. Please feel free to comment and contribute your thoughts!

By the way, there are no solutions coming in this post, just some reflections.

I think most Aussies want a peaceful life. They still see this as the ‘lucky country’, where most of us are safe, housed, and feel secure on a daily basis. Of course, it isn’t that way for many Australians, which is something that needs more light shone on it.

Generally, Aussies want to do their thing, their way, and they want Big Brother to keep his nose out of it.

When it comes to people being different, I think there’s a level of acceptance, and appreciation, for how differences can make us a better, stronger, more robust society – as long as people are only a bit different.

That’s where I think some inflammatory comments about ‘hot topics’ like head scarves and burqas come from, comments like – just take it off, that’s not ‘our way’, you can’t wear a motorbike helmet indoors, it is a sign of oppression, and so on. I think a lot of those comments stem from two things – fear of the unknown, and a lack of understanding of this particular religious observance.

We mostly say things like, we don’t mind where you come from, as long as you embrace Australia’s values. I’m beginning to see that the subtext of that comment can be, as long as you look so much like me, that I don’t feel any discomfort in your presence, I’m happy. And I don’t know that people realise that subtext, as they’re making those kinds of statements.

We fear what we don’t know. We fear what we don’t understand. We also fear the repercussions of even taking about such things…. because we don’t want to be labelled racists, xenophobes, or worst of all ‘unAustralian’.

There’s nothing unique about where we are as a nation, in a state of flux about who we are, and what our values are. Such change happens in all societies through the centuries…. so it begs the question, when will we realise that in all our desire to keep ‘moving forward’ (an overused phrase if ever there was one), there’s a great deal of benefit in reflection, in looking back?

We can easily see how some old prejudices (even those enshrined in legislation) have become redundant, and in some cases are now seen as points of national shame. By taking some time to examine the basis of our convictions (and fears), we might just realise that in some cases, we are simply uninformed or operating from a place of fear.

I say it’s time to let go of our fears and talk about the things we don’t understand. And the best people to talk to about perceived points of difference, are the very people who embody those differences. You may just find out that those who seem too different, that you couldn’t possibly have anything in common with, are actually quite same, same.

That sameness doesn’t have to look the way you look, or believe the way you believe, but I think beyond ‘Australian values’, most people, the world over, truly want the same things from life – security, fairness, opportunity, freedom.

Have you got a story to share about how you went beyond differences and discovered commonalities with people who aren’t ‘like you’?

I’d love to hear about it, and I’m sure we all have stories to contribute.

Let’s talk about ‘Australian values’.

Let’s do that respectfully, with no argy-bargy.

Make yourself a cuppa, this could take a while.