Pause when history is being made

Pause when history is being made

Pause when history is being made

The BBC rightly judged that their 8am (SG time) world news programme on 22Oct18 could pause while we listened to the Australian Prime Minister give a fulsome and heartfelt apology to the thousands of Australians who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of carers, teachers, priests, professionals and many others over several decades. It is rare indeed to hear a head of government make such an apology. Rarer still to see him at the edge of tears in the process.

The disgrace merited him saying sorry, several times. When a society becomes overwhelmed by a culture of wrong it has first to recognise that wrong, second to right it as far as possible and third to apologise humbly. Scott Morrison certainly determined that he would do the last of these. I assume the first two have already been addressed fairly thoroughly, although cultures take a lot of changing. If anyone was left in doubt about that change happening this apology set them right.

There will be those who are cynical about such a move. After all, it wasn’t the Prime Minister who was guilty of sexual abuse. He was speaking on behalf of a country, as a Prime Minister should do. His words were from all the people not just the elected representatives. But his choked back tears were real as was his intention to set an example for his fellow Australians. Cynicism is not appropriate for this man’s efforts. Cynics should remember that cynicism is the trait of those who know the value of nothing. I value Scott Morrison’s apology.

We do not know, nor will we ever know, what those who were sensitive and were abused actually suffered. We know abuse upsets the victims’ view of sex, distorting it to be something nasty, probably immoral, unaccountably illegal. The pressure this puts on someone who then has strong natural instincts to mate and who falls in love, with all the innocence that implies, is beyond the imagination of all except those who have suffered it. A culture of lying is distressing. A culture of drinking is worrying. A culture of sexual abuse is terrifying in a most literal sense.

Parliaments across the world have become the subject of cynicism. There are good reasons for this. They have become professionalised. The professionalisation of any social group is potentially dangerous. Life is essentially an amateur affair. However well prepared we are for it we will have endless encounters every day that require us to apply our own values, to think through our own decisions. Heaven prevent the day when all those are answered by Google or similar. It would end human expression, sensitivity and compassion.

Our elected representatives must come from the same background as those they represent. They can be more educated, smarter, perhaps even cleverer. But if the gap between them and those they serve is too wide they will be no more representative than an elephant is to a mouse. Like Scott Morrison, they must feel what the people feel, care as the people need to be cared for and understand the amateurism of the voter. Only then will they be able to apologise for past disasters. Only then will they understand what ‘to make amends’ means.

For only thus will they be able to change a culture that has gone wrong, to turn it in a new direction in which personal behaviour and standards dictate the basis for life.

For only thus will a society be able to claim graciousness as it’s defining style.

Go for it Scott Morrison. You can only win.