The Sweet Moment

Sometimes you read a book or two and they leave a profound sway in your thinking.  The following two publications are two such books, well worth consideration.  Well written, authoritative but importantly very easy to read.  Nonetheless, put them in the further perspective of your ‘other’ thinking and a story evolves.

  1. Hartcher, Peter; The Sweet Spot – how Australia made its own luck – and could now throw it all away, 2011, Black Inc.
  2. Megalogenis, George; The Australian Moment – how we were made for these times, 2012, Penguin Group (Australia)

On page 248 of his book, Hartcher writes; “Australians created the sweet spot for themselves.  The country needs to know that, circa 2010-11, it offers the best living conditions available on the planet.  Not because it started out that way, and not because of a mining boom, but through building, through reform and through intelligent, public-spirited leadership.  And yes, through a little luck”.

Similarly, Megalogenis states on page 345 of his book; “The Australian Moment was thirty-five years in the making, starting with the Whitlam government’s tariff cut and the formal recognition of China in the early ‘70s; the Fraser government’s termination of the White Australia policy with the entry of the Vietnamese refugees in the second half of the ‘70s; the Hawke-Keating government economic reforms between 1983 and 1996; and the Howard government’s consolidation of those reforms, and the super-charging of the immigration program after 2001.  We tested and perfected our pragmatic version of deregulation a generation before the rest of the world awoke to the dangers of placing too much faith in the zeroes that globalisation can temporarily add to national income.  For the first time in history, we didn’t want to be anyone or anywhere else”.

Having read these wonderful tomes I was flying back from Adelaide yesterday and listened to a podcast of Richard Fidler’s chat with Paul Keating, last year at the Brisbane Powerhouse.  Again I recommend strongly that you listen to that, Keating is most entertaining.

Toward the end of the chat with Fidler, Keating fielded a few questions and one was along the lines of, inter alia: “what and how are we to be doing, to be at the cutting edge of Australia in the new world”?  Keating’s answer was along the lines, again inter alia: “First thing is to recognise what we have and what we have been given – when they were giving Continents out not many people got one.  (raucous laughter)  There are 20 million of us and we’ve been given a Continent of our own.  And this is why our stewardship of the Continent, the sheer scale of the inheritance is such that we should conduct ourselves as a nation always with an eye to our International responsibilities and as members of the society of nations in this part of the world”.

This is why we read and take in all we can in our life – sometimes we fail to see what is all around us and we are, as Australians, supremely lucky.

In my reflection I was reminded of a number of articles written by Evan Hadkins back in September 2008 which stayed with me.  He talked about one aspect of our psychological growth which was the movement from dependence to independence to interdependence.

Hadkins discussed how we all started life dependent: either on our mother or on someone else to provide for our basic needs.  Gradually we learned to go places we wanted to go, to identify what we wanted and how to set about getting it, to shape our environment to suit our preferences.  In some ways the story of growing up is moving from dependence to independence.

Hadkins went on to explain that part of the story of our aging is becoming more of ourselves — developing our own voice, our own way of seeing, and a distinct way of acting in the world (our style).  He used the analogy that to be dependent on our parents’ approval when young is natural (though children often put up startling resistance to their parents’ evaluations) but in adulthood that would be very restricting.

He goes on to state that independence is more than rebellion.  It can be part of independence to voice disagreement and demonstrate our difference, but this is far from the whole story.  The rebellious are often dependent on those they rebel against.  To automatically disagree with the other person means that the other can control what we will say — and this is not independence.

So in Hadkin’s view people with a firm sense of who they are, and what they may be able to contribute; are people who are easier to work with.  Independence is the ground from which ‘interdependence’ may grow.

Hadkins then took me to “interdependence” through “independence” which he believed was important.  Unless people can challenge their tradition and develop their own style then the tradition becomes stale.  We are stuck simply repeating the past, a past that becomes less and less relevant to how we live.  In this way, simply repeating the past leads to the death of the tradition.  Without innovation, without people developing their own style, any art form is doomed to sterility.  And any individual’s life will simply be a repetition of their life at a particular age.  Hadkins argues that we get stuck with nothing but the ‘good old days’.  He didn’t see anything wrong with reminiscing, but he did think it was a problem if we feel that nothing has happened in our lives ever since.  Independence is needed to renew our traditions and keep ourselves fresh.

Hadkins notes that interdependence adds another element.  Independence is focused on the individual.  The independent person may work with others but this is mainly for their own enjoyment and benefit.  Interdependence goes beyond this.

Firstly, interdependence recognises the limitations of independence.  Interdependence sees that independence is not separate to dependence but is a way of responding to it.  Independence is not doing away with our need for hugs but refining how we ask for and give them.  The way we walk is dependent on gravity; the way we talk is how we use our language — not being without it.  While independence sees the individual as distinct, interdependence sees how this distinct individual relates to the world around: how their style chooses from and modifies the options available.

Secondly, Hadkins notes that interdependence seeks goals and projects bigger than the individual.  Many of the crises confronting us at the moment (ecological catastrophe and social inequity) are about more than individuals.  They are about how individuals relate to each other and groups.  This includes rules of trade, laws and resources used in transport (petrol rather than electricity, electricity generated by coal rather than winds or waves) and how groups (parliaments, companies) make decisions.

To make a better world means collaboration — interdependence.  It means finding how individuals can contribute and work together for the good of all.  This can sound utopian but as Hadkins thinks this is our everyday experience.

Hadkins finishes in explaining that to develop interdependence it means embracing our dependence, valuing our independence and moving to the place where we work together.  That is the place where we know that we depend on and contribute to each other and that is important.  Appreciating our own and others independence, where our own and others strengths and limitations are valued and become part of a bigger story.

Isn’t this exactly what has happened to Australia in the two hundred years of white settlement?  Poignantly, on page 17 of Hartcher’s ‘The Sweet Spot’ he paints an amazing word picture with respect to a crowd at a test cricket match:

“As the annual ritual was being played out on the field in Sydney in 2007, a line formed outside the Members’ Stand.  There was nothing unusual about that.  It’s a standard part of the ritual.  But there was something very telling about the toilet queue on this particular day.  The line included, among other citizens, the country’s prime minister, John Howard.  It also included the leader of the opposition and future prime minister Kevin Rudd.  The Catholic archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, was also biding for time.  Three holders of high office took their places and waited patiently with the other patrons.  None made any attempt to claim special privilege, pull rank or send a security detail to clear a path.  And none of the ordinary mortals in the line felt any obligation to step aside for their leaders.  In Australia, there was nothing unusual about that either”.

Spending time reading Hartcher and Megalogenis’ books enables us to reflect on where we are as a Nation and from whence we have come – a most exhilarating mirror into who we are.

The move from dependence on the Mother Country; creating our own style beautifully and now to become interdependent as Keating put it “we should conduct ourselves as a nation always with an eye to our International responsibilities and as members of the society of nations in this part of the world”

Then we have the sobering ending to both books:

  • Hartcher      concludes; “The purpose of a thriving economy is to allow people to live fuller lives.  In his magisterial history of democracy, John Keane came to an abrupt conclusion about the essential value of  democracy: ‘Its purpose is to stop people getting screwed’.  Australia today should provide hope to others that it is entirely possible to deliver a people prosperity that allows them to live full lives, and, at the same time, the freedoms that reduce their chances of getting screwed”.
  • Megalogenis concludes; “The present day only feels uncertain because both sides of politics have been coasting intellectually for at least ten years.   The social reforms of the 1970s and the economic reforms of the 1980s and 1990s were sufficient to get us through the GFC.  But without a new generation of  leadership that can tap Australia’s willingness to continue change, the Great Escape will be a commitment on a successful past, not the confirmation of Australian greatness”

We have a big job ahead of us, grow the economy and continue our stewardship of our Continent; may our current leadership reflect on what we have and what we have been given!


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