I've had some stirrings going on in me for some time that I've been dwelling on more and more with each podcast I release. I've noticed some threads that are tying these conversations together in me in ways in didn't necessarily intend, but am finding relevant and challenging as I continue to look to bring a bit of heaven Down to Earth in the spaces I occupy.
Some of you will know that I used to work for Pathway Trust and that my experience their removed may of my prejudices and opened my eyes to what life is like for those who aren't like me. So we began this whole Down to Earth Conversations journey talking to Carey Ewing from Pathway. And we talked about how the prison system not only doesn't work, but is fiscally irresponsible. Our tendency as a society is to assess everything morally and then, having taken the moral high ground, to lock people up (especially if they're poor or Māori) in a place that makes them more likely to re-offend. In doing this we abdicate our societal responsibility for that person and make them 'not our problem'. It's about right and wrong. Black and white (or brown and white in this case). It is about difference.
We talked in that conversation and several others since then about looking at things holistically, about treating people as human. Episode 2's Ben Scott recently had his barber shop broken into and things stolen. On his birthday no less. But taking a step back he was able to say "what’s going on in your life that you have to do this to get by?" offering the offender money and a hug if he brought the stuff back. The act of criminality is nearly always the result of what else is going on for someone and the systems that do or do not support them.
In episode 3 Emma Chilvers challenged us about the way we label people. Especially the people we see as different to us. She challenged us to step beyond labels and see the beauty in the difference. Listening well to their stories, as Frank Ritchie then challenged us. Hearing what is going on for people. Why are they like they are? What are they going through?
This acceptance, and even celebration, of difference, when combined with listening begins to break down the 'them and us' boundaries that Juliagrace and I discussed. Everybody struggles with something. Everyone has things that shape and change them. And pretending that that is not us just continues to create spaces where we judge others for their struggles while pretending ours don't exist. When we are honest with ourselves about our struggles we see that they are part of what shapes us, for better or for worse. When we listen to the stories of others we find out what shapes them, for better or for worse.
I love that Jared Yeoward, in episode 6, sees his photography as story telling. He captures moments of emotion, of beauty, of story, and allows those stories to live on. What are the snapshots of stories that live on for us? For those around us? For those we sit back and judge?
Jeremy Faumuinā brought us back to this holistic way of engaging. "You get the kid, you get their whānau." We talked about how truancy isn't about that one kid choosing a 'bad' behaviour, but about a set of circumstances mostly outside of that kid's control that have fed into their development that shaped that behaviour. Many of these issues are systemic issues that discriminate against certain parts of society. And yet it's so easy to sit back and judge based on our belief that it's a matter of choice. We also touched on how we engage with those different to us. In Jeremy's case, the LGBT+ community within Haeata school. And that regardless of theological viewpoints, nothing removes the need to treat people as people and to love them.
And last episode Jeremy Baker talked about the way he interacts with patients with kindness, and how those most judged by society are often the ones most open to empathy. The ones most ready for someone to care for them. Yet those who 'have it together' are often not as ready to engage.
Kindness. Treating people as people. Not judging based on difference. Engaging with those who are different in a way that celebrates that differences and goes in to any interaction with a heart to listen. To learn. Not taking the moral high ground. Being humble. Open. Kind.
These thoughts all came together for me a bit this morning when listening to Peter Thorburn being interviewed on the When Lambs are Silent podcast. Peter is formerly one of Aotearoa's most prolific meth cooks, but since coming out of prison in 2005 has gone on to study at graduate and postgraduate level in health care, counselling and addiction. He now trains many organisations working with addicts and others. The premise of the episode was asking "what if we treated addictions as a health issue, not a criminal issue?" It brought together so many of these threads for me as he talked from his own experience, armed with facts and figures regarding how we as a society are hard on 'minor' drug offences, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to lock up our young adults, placing them in situations that enhance their addictions, inhibiting their future job prospects that might support rehabilitation, while the 'white collar criminals behind the drug trade generally get off scot free. He talked about addiction being predominantly a response to trauma, and yet rather than support change by helping them to address the trauma, or by investing in systems that might make real change for people, we look at the end behaviour and lock them up. Perpetuating the issue. Continuing cycles of brokenness.
I found the conversation very challenging but also very enlightening.
But it again rammed home this idea that WE MUST STOP JUDGING PEOPLE WITHOUT LISTENING TO THEIR STORIES. That everything is tied together. That behaviours don't come from nowhere. That societal systems (that we support through direct action or inaction) often perpetuate the issue rather than solve it. That difference can be something that divides or unites depending on how we approach it. That kindness, compassion, and a heart to learn are always more beneficial that the dehumanising ways we as a society operate in many cases.
And that attitudes and systems that rob people of their humanity are exactly what Jesus prayed against when he prayed "may your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."
So what are we going to do about it?
What am I going to do about it?