You Are Us: Make it real on Palms Together Day

You Are Us: Make it real on Palms Together Day

By Roger O’Halloran

The response from the good people of Christchurch to the slaughter of their people was most heartening.  “You are us” and “This is not us” are simple, powerful statements that slap down the flawed manifesto of the misguided gunman, who unlike them has never developed an empathy that reaches beyond his own culture.  Perhaps there would be value in him being made to watch the resultant outpouring of love.

Jacinda Ardern has led that outpouring and shown us all what authentic leadership looks like.  Some would say Australian leaders have led appropriately since the massacre, but their authenticity is sullied by past performance, demonstrating very little love.  Australia bred a terrorist indoctrinated by a belief in a traditional tribal view of the world that media and many leaders have encouraged for electoral advantage.  They needed to acknowledge it and say “We were wrong when we did this.”

I am not just upset with our leadership.  We are complicit in not saving 50 lives when we take a tax cut rather than insisting that our funds be turned to appropriate education.  I might feel self-satisfied living in a community where people of cultures different to one’s own can be engaged, or I take the opportunity to visit a mosque.  It helps to dispel fear of “the other”, but if I have not sought to bring all Australians along to the beauty of diversity and multiculturalism my authenticity is also sullied. 

It is not that challenging, but ranting on Facebook to those who already agree with us won’t do it.  More hate, even polite abhorrence, will not do it.  Responding to Fraser Anning on Twitter, or with an egg, reinforces the division that is building the despair.  This approach will continue to tear us apart.

Answers at the scene

Where the attack happened points to how we need to mitigate future risk.  Those attending a church or mosque put themselves in a deliberately vulnerable state: in prayer.  It is often a state of removing oneself from the everyday, “on-guard” requirements of the world, to deeply contemplate a connection to God, and to one another.  It can be meditative to the point of trance.

Is our chaotic world abandoning reflective spaces where we can calm the mind?  While Christians and Muslims assist mindfulness through Lent and Ramadan, it does not require a belief in God.  However, there is an irony, as faith in the institutions that support such practice wanes (in Christian Australia in particular) our children become more vulnerable and easily attracted to whatever appears to protect them, or their tribe; even to incoherent manifestos that blame others, and other tribes, for the chaos they are feeling.

Attempting to ban exposure to misguided literature is a poor option, and probably will fail.  A better option is to replace the space for reflection that churches provided in more homogeneous times.  Indeed an opportunity to do so now better exists because our multi-cultural cities provide us with collective wisdom and proximity to “The Other”, whereby we can reflect together and over time be released from any unhealthy attachment to a particular way of being.

Educating for Social Cohesion

The theory is sound, but practical action will take greater imagination because peace will continue to be threatened while we leave anybody harbouring fear of the unknown other.  This SBS Insight program provides some great examples of approaches that encourage social cohesion in schools.  Is an Australia wide school program an option?

Currently in schools significant resources are given to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).  STEM subjects extend the mind magnificently and inspire wonderful human endeavour, but I worry those who see them as the panacea for economic growth would like to turn our schools into STEM factories.  They can prepare our children for work in some areas, but there is much to indicate that robots are rapidly replacing humans in many of those areas of activity.  Anyway schools are not just utilitarian job factories.  As much focus needs to be given to social education if social cohesion is a goal.

A school in Pathein, Myanmar, attended by Buddhist, Muslim and Christian students has a request with Palms for a teacher.  In my meeting with the proud principal I was told that after morning assembly each faith group has their own prayer time, as well as opportunities to reflect together.  As in all human institutions conflict will arise, but on our scoping visit my teacher eyes witnessed teachers and students with an overwhelming positive excitement for learning together.  An Australian teacher could bring home so much wisdom from that experience.

Palms has form

Schools are not the only places where we can celebrate our diversity.  So much of what Palms mission is about is stepping out of “Our Story” to discern “The Story” that allows us all to grow in our humanity together.  The training we provide to assist those going on assignment is mostly for that purpose.  We have some wonderfully simple and successful processes that in the wake of our ongoing trauma since Christchurch can be utilised to offer a new way forward at home.

Some years back I had the good fortune to be invited to the Lakemba Mosque to share Eid al-Fitr, the Islamic religious festival and feast at the end of Ramadan.  The hospitality was such that we have since included an opportunity for participants in Palms Orientation to visit a mosque.  Those who go speak of the intercourse as a great awakening.  Another Orientation session where Aboriginal Australians share their perspective of Australia arouses the same sense of being woke.

Palms Vision is of “People reaching beyond every barrier of culture, religion, nationality, gender, class and individualism, to cooperate in achieving a just, sustainable, interdependent and peaceful world free of poverty.”  In light of Christchurch, believing in Palms vision gives us no choice but to provide opportunity for people of diverse cultures and world views to put their palms together and listen to the other.

Palms Together Day (June 9th) this year will adopt the theme of Social Cohesion.  It asks you to step only a little out of your comfort zone to see The Other disappear, not because they leave, but because you now belong together.  Here are some ideas to make “You Are Us a reality and assist avoid another tragedy in your community or one nearby.    Click this step-by-step guide to assist organise your event. If you register your event we can check in to share ideas and provide any other help you may need.