Stan Grant, the wonderful Indigenous Australian author, broadcaster and commentator recently delivered the Colin Simpson Memorial Lecture and the subject of his speech was ‘How do we live an ethical life in the face of cultural devastation?’
Grant’s address focussed on the atrocities and murders committed in the 1820’s battle between his Wiradjuri people and the new settlers. This battle led to the devastation and wiping out of half of his people.
He talks about the greatness of leadership shown by Windradyne, his people’s leader at that time. Windradyne fought for years for his people, defied the settlers and in the end, with his people devastated, his land taken, his culture facing destruction, he made a courageous choice. Grant describes Windradyne’s true courage, which was knowing when to face up to a new reality and protect and defend what his people had left.
Grant and all indigenous people still experience ongoing conflict, cultural devastation and challenges in Australia today, as they try to reconcile the loss of one tradition and the inevitable acceptance of another.
Given back in May, Grant’s address now appears prophetic.
I wonder whether he had even contemplated the global challenges and upheaval that we would all bear witness to a few short months later?
Like many people I have been contemplating, reflecting and trying to reconcile the shocks witnessed throughout the world. As hate crimes, extremism and the displacement of people tragically continues in parts of the ‘Eastern’ world, volatility is rising in the ‘West’.
With decisions like Brexit, the United States (US) election results and the rise of populist parties like One Nation in Australia, the politics of fear and division, and the sinister forces of ignorance and arrogance have gained momentum to engage the increasingly disenchanted yet influential section of our communities.
While so many parts of the world and it’s peoples are suffering, dying and losing their homes, land, culture and sense of belonging, many of our leaders have responded with proposals to build ‘walls’, to shut ‘the others’ out. These leaders espouse that the secret to making their nations ‘great again’ lies in looking after number one.
I grieve for the apparent loss of ethics and values that I had hoped united humanity. But, like Grant, I find myself asking the same question – how do we continue to live an ethical life in the face of global upheaval?
As Grant so rightly points out, these are critical times that we are living in and we need to ask ourselves some fundamental questions.
The one positive I take from recent world events is that we no longer need to waste time speculating about whether there are dark forces at play around us. Recent results in countries like the United Kingdom, the US and Australia (with impending elections across Europe also threatening the rise of populist, far right parties) have brought the darkness into the light. We can now see clearly what we are dealing with. The challenge for us now, is how do we respond?
Are we ready, willing and prepared to take up a place at the centre of our respective nation’s social, political and economic life? Not as acquiescent assimilationists, but as agents of change determined to engage and lead from a position of strength and strong values?
Facing up to ethical challenges amidst global upheaval will require courage.
More than ever, we need to re-engage with those that have felt unheard and unrepresented. We need to protect the vulnerable and marginalised and to hold up those that have committed to lead this work.
We need to redefine leadership and take on more of these roles ourselves, for the sake of our families, community and country.
At this time, when we reflect on the year that was, with all it’s turbulence, triumphs and traumas, I hope we can re-affirm and commit to embracing our power to create ripples of change – in our own lives, our organisations and in our communities.
The challenge for me, for us, is to see 2017 as the year filled with opportunities to inform, educate and unite our communities. We need to reach out to everyone, especially the disenfranchised.
This can only be done if we are prepared to live a life bigger and beyond ourselves.
Let’s reach out without judgement and continue to live lives in harmony with our humanitarian essence. This should be the new global movement that I’d love to see us all working towards.
Like Windradyne, let us have the courage to face up to our new reality, to uphold humanitarian values and protect and defend those who need our help more than ever.