We have won the lottery! What do we do next?
In 1982 Pauline and I escorted the Green Valley Children’s choir (32 children and young people) with a production of our musical, ‘Nehemiah’ around the USA. Our itinerary took us to Sun City, Nevada. This is a huge gated community for active retirees, 50 and over, population at that time 40,000. The community is surrounded by a wall and entrance only possible through security gates where armed guards checked every vehicle/person.
We were given a tour of the sporting facilities, golf, mini golf, etc –and shopping mall. In the super market they had a whole aisle of products I had never noticed before. On enquiry I learnt they were various types of adult diapers.
A lunch followed the choir’s performance. To our amazement, the audience was formally dressed including men in white jackets and ties. The Master of Ceremonies, suggested that each table choose a child to sit with them. What ensued was a rush. Some of the audience quarrelled as they competed to pull the child of their choice to their table. The children found the experience perplexing. In the bus, on the way back to the hotel, children told of older people giving them money and a couple said some of their table hosts were emotional to the point of tears.
That was my introduction to a gated community. Around the world, the appeal of gated communities is growing. Currently, as best as I can discover there are 11 million Americans living in gated communities. A prominent appeal of gated communities is safety/security. Obviously the walls and the armed guards make a difference. Many if not most of the gated communities are age-segregated eliminating the intrusion of pesky kids and out-of-control teens. Surprisingly many people choosing gated communities say they do this to enter into a ‘community’. But, the community within a gated estate is highly selective .
There are many articles on this subject. One which caught my attention reads, “are they (gated communities) areas for personal fulfilment or fortresses for wealthy paranoiacs?” “Paranoiacs” in this sentence means individuals with a distorted opinion of their own importance coupled with a suspicion that they will be attacked or exploited.
Winning the Lottery
In one sense New Zealand is a unique, gigantic gated community; the gate being the oceans which surround us and the distance from other countries. Australia is accessible by canoes and motor boats from many points in Asia. No one contemplates such a journey to NZ. The distances are just too great. Our favoured nation sits at the bottom of the world in grand isolation, blessed by a range of climates, most of which are moderate with a small population and the ability to feed and house ourselves forever. Add to this the hydro and thermal resources to produce clean energy from here to eternity.
This is quite different to the commercial gated spaces I have referred to, but gated just the same. I use the image of ‘winning the lottery’ to describe how it is we are here. For most of us the answer is pure luck – good fortune. We didn’t work for it, We didn’t plan for it. It just happened that family life, work life, personal preference has brought us together on these unbelievably blessed islands. In a world population of 7.8 billion people I feel sure that amongst those who know anything about our country, a high proportion of them would like to live here – in New Zealand. I don’t think I am exaggerating. I believe it. But they can’t. We are a gated community and the gates are closed.
Over recent weeks, with the covid 19 virus changing life now and in the future, I have heard many individuals say NZ is the best country in the world in which to live. Friends and relatives in Australia say the same thing. European and Asian friends who have deliberately chosen NZ as their home are clear as to why they did this. Some talk about the probability of another world war. “If this happens”, they say, “The nuclear cloud will not even reach New Zealand.” I know that the Scandinavian countries are rated as the most happy, best organised etc but look at their location on the globe, consider their climate!!! Note that in contrast to NZ they are racially and culturally homogeneous. Those of us who are already live in New Zealand, we are fortunate indeed. In regard to life choices, we have won the lottery and we didn’t even buy a ticket.
What do we do next?
Many people who win real money in real lotteries have difficulty handling their winnings. For some it’s all gone in a couple of years. A few others find ways of using it for positive change for themselves and their families, and a very few, use their wealth for the good of their community. The least that can be said is that a lottery win presents new opportunities. I believe these are before us now.
The question is what are we going to do with our favoured life in grand isolation? Nothing! Surely we can do better than that.
In contrast to the commercial gated communities, we have the whole spectrum of ages, races and cultures. On arrival in NZ migrants always think that ours is a peaceful, happy country. It only takes a few months for them to work out that it is not so. Anger, prejudice and violence are part of the mix in this lucky country. Most kiwis shrug and put up with it. But it need not be. In my opinion most kiwis. old and new, have not realised the uniqueness of our situation.
I believe that those to whom much is given, much is expected. I think that things can happen or can evolve in NZ that could not happen anywhere else. Our country has often been the test-bed for new initiatives in banking and in the tech world. Why not be a test bed for a new way of intercultural relating and community building?
To my mind the recent influx of people from Asia, Latin America, Europe and Russia is a wonderful resource. Some of my friends do not agree. “Let’s go back to time when it was just the Maori, Pacific Islanders and the Brits. That period when any talk of ‘home’ was obviously referring to the British Isles.” But, there can be no going back for us or anyone else on the globe. Our gated community now has within it the peoples of the world. This is especially noticeable where I live in Auckland.
What do we do next? We all know that the world after the virus will be different. How will it be different? No one knows. We have been talking about living in our ‘bubble’. Well why not think of the peoples of NZ as a bubble? Why not work and innovate within our bubble to create something new, something durable, something valuable to the world beyond our shores. I know it’s easier to do nothing, to pull back into our cultural or family clusters. But why not try something different?
Where could we start? How do we start? My gut feeling is the best hope we have is for individuals to start where they are
Up to date, I have had mixed success with this – but I am still trying. I am a minister in a denomination that is dying. We are not dying because the world has grown more wicked but because we have lost the ability to communicate in meaningful ways. Our Sunday services are for the church stalwarts, and they are very few. At the same time as our decline there is a huge amount of pain in the community. The churches stubbornly continue to believe that in their Sunday events they have the answers. Clearly, most in the community do not believe this. In fact church and community continue to talk past themselves.
My passion for building community grows. I am talking about open, welcoming, come as you are, all opinions and point of views welcome, communities. Whatever resources we have lets open them up. There are many reasons for coming together be they educational, social, working, sporting or just relaxing in a welcoming atmosphere. As a minister I am thinking of about church buildings and community centres. Let’s welcome people with no strings attached. Language difference, religious difference, cultural background, racial difference need be no barrier. Forget proving we are right and others are wrong. My experience is that new allegiances, new ways of relating, new families of friends can spring from diversity. I have seen it.
How would this spread beyond our shores. I don’t know. If we commit this kind of community building in our immediate bubble it could be explosive. It might be a kind of virus – a good virus.
How about this as scenario of the future?
The news this morning predicts that the virus will result in huge famines in many locations across the globe. For some time now, there have been predictions that in the future the rich will retreat to enclaves of prosperity (huge gated communities) and forget about the poor outside their walls. This is already happening in cities like Cairo and Manila. The prospect sickens me.
In this country it is as if we have won a wonderful lottery. Now let’s not waste the unique opportunities that isolation and our multicultural mix puts before us. There will be disappointments and false starts. But if we keep our eyes on welcoming, respecting and friendship I believe that sooner or later good results will follow. I say this to others and to myself. Peace!
April 23 2020