19 Dec 2017

2017: The nature of people

1:51 pm on 19 December 2017

Opinion - Here's a great recipe for spicy tomato chickpeas. Heat oil in a pan. Stir in some onion and garlic. Cook for 4-5 minutes or until soft and slightly browned. Stop to take several deep breaths.

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How did we find ourselves at the end of the year arguing over tinned tomatoes? Photo: 123RF

Mix in cumin, coriander and paprika, and cook for 1-2 minutes. Stop again to hug your crying daughter who is bewildered and frightened. Explain to her again that she's safe now but now Mum needs to finish cooking this economical dinner.

Pour in tomatoes and chickpeas from the cans which have been generously donated to the women's refuge where you arrived last night, trembling.

Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes. Keep your mind on the cooking. Try not to jump every time the door opens.

Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper, and congratulate yourself on being efficient and thrifty at a time when your whole world is upside down.

How did we find ourselves at the end of the year arguing over tinned tomatoes? Jackie Clark, who has done so much to find resources for women's refuges, had said that donations of tomato cans were not what they were looking for, thanks. At times of great stress, comfort food and fast food are best.

Cue indignation from people protesting that a can of tomatoes is the foundation stone of responsible home economics; cue another war of judgement on people in need; never mind that the needs of people fleeing violence might be different to the needs of people trying to get by on meagre amounts of money.

It was one of many moments this year we were invited to imagine what it might be like to live someone else's life.

Metiria Turei had been trying for 14 years to explain how difficult it can be for a beneficiary and nothing had registered, nothing had changed. So she took a calculated risk: to talk frankly about her own experience in order to demonstrate that the rules can be just too rigid and that people can find themselves needing to break them.

Some people heard her argument and considered its validity, some forensically analysed her case for flaws, some went straight to "lock her up", and many chose to look past the unavoidable truth that beneficiaries were being asked to survive on too little.

It was almost biblical: both in the Old Testament fury rained down on Turei and in the New Testament compassion for the poor by which the new Prime Minister - arguably a beneficiary of Metiria's miscalculation - is now asking us to judge her government.

It leaves a question hanging, though: in all the heat and fury, were very many minds moved? Or was this just another World War I battle of rigid preconceptions lined up on either side of the cratered scorched earth?

Surely if anything could evoke empathy and move minds, it was the #MeToo tide of revelations, in the year of reckoning for Harvey Weinstein. How dismaying, how shocking, how enraging, to hear everything that was revealed as the momentum gathered and gathered and just kept on gathering, and women everywhere looked up to say: "yes, that's how it was, that's how it is, how would you like this life, friend?" Some people heard the arguments; some forensically analysed them for flaws; too many chose to look past unavoidable truths.

That the man who sits in the White House, who routinely denies undeniable truths, has the adulation and endorsement of some tens of millions of people at the end of this year - after all its revelations about him and his kind - is a sad truth to have to accept about the nature of people.