Time for some deep breaths

Once upon a time there was a small country at the bottom of the world. It was the envy of those living in lots of bigger countries.

A world leader in adopting the vote for women, in calling out and holding to account the morally bankrupt perversities of nuclear weapons and mutually assured destruction, its people were among the most trustworthy, welcoming and generous on the planet.

While Aotearoa New Zealand might not have been the most progressive of nations in some respects, in others it provided a shining example of how best to care for those in your community and to fight for the underdog.

That caring spirit is still there — somewhere. But as the Covid-19 pandemic keeps bringing day-after-day and week-after-week of bad and worrying news, it is not as readily apparent on the surface.

Instead, it seems you have to dig a long way down. Our community-mindedness and inclusivity has become well buried and lies suffocating under layers of misinformation and disinformation, intolerance, social media vitriol, zealotry and Trumpist lies.

Let’s not kid ourselves. New Zealand was never actually paradise, though for millions of less-fortunate people around the globe it was a bastion of freedom and acceptance compared with what their homelands offered.

Bewilderingly, for what has been overwhelmingly a kind country, there are plenty of petty rivalries and jealousies between islands, regions and towns and cities. There has been appalling discrimination of Maori, women, people of different sexual orientations and gender identities.

The 1981 Springbok tour polarised and angered New Zealanders in a way nothing before had. And until recent weeks perhaps we could have added “or since” to that previous sentence.

But the “vaccination or no-vaccination” argument, and the more irrational “vaccinated versus anti-vaccinated” skirmish, seems to rapidly be tearing families, communities and the country in two.

There is fault on both sides. Let’s try to be devil’s advocate for a minute — those for the vaccine, the majority of people, could be seen by some as pious, bullying and easily led. Those against are being called out for being selfish, stupid and conspiracy theorists.

None of this helps. Neither does the fact those who are genuinely still weighing up the pros and cons of the vaccine are being ignorantly lumped into the “anti-vax” brigade by the vaccinated.

What exactly is fuelling this row and the worrying and growing resentment on all sides? It’s fear and panic, basically, whether we want to admit it or not.

We’ve been through plenty of natural disasters, even terrorist attacks, but never a global pandemic which has already killed nearly five million people.

Vaccination is inarguably the key to protection. But is creating two classes of people — as this Government seems to be doing — the right way to go about things?

Covid-19 is a deadly disease, but do the ends justify the means?

Admittedly, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her Government have the health of the wider population in mind. As Delta spreads, they are in a terrible position, where every decision they might take seems a poor one.

But might it be worse for the country in the long term to be creating a large group of disaffected and increasingly marginalised people? To coin a phrase, a “team of 500,000” or so?

It doesn’t take a mind-reader to see that waiting for certain district health boards or Maori to reach the exalted 90% threshold of fully vaccinated people is going to cause yet more division and racism.

Media chaplain and Newstalk ZB’s Sunday on Six co-host Fr Frank Ritchie has some good advice: “One of the biggest challenges we will face over the coming months, amidst all the tension and tiredness, is not behaving and speaking in ways that we will regret out the other side of this.”

Well said. We think it’s well past time for everyone to take some deep breaths, step back and think of someone else’s view for a change.

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