Loving our enemies is how we can love Waitangi Day

With the approaching National Day of Flagellation, aka Waitangi Day, our media and politicians have gone into overdrive to ensure we are all well-prepared for the actual day with a dousing of cynicism, suspicion and rage.

The appointment of Hinewhare Harawira as a trustee on Te Tii Marae – through an entirely legal, well scrutinized process led by the Māori Land Court in which all sides had ample time to prepare their case for and against – has been reported as a harbinger of doom for the marae by Michael Field. His reporting is remarkable for the omission of any reflection on what it must be like to attempt to manage and repair your family relationships in front of the country.

John Key was quick to offer an opinion that Waitangi would be “a bit rough” this year, playing the part of an exhausted and exasperated father to all Māori people so well that the article was really only missing the words, “he sighed” after each of his statements.

The only real breath of fresh air this week (some cutting and hilarious tweets excepted) has been an outstanding blog by Ellipsister exploring the nonsensical assumption that Waitangi Day is an example of the reverse racism Pākehā suffer under. Very much recommended reading.

With those dark clouds on the horizon, it was with some relief that Pat Spellman and I hosted Laila and Niki Harre in Tauranga Moana as part of their Rethink The System tour. And it was in this hui that Niki outlined a simple and useful concept from James Carse’s book Finite and Infinite Games.

  • Finite games have a definite beginning and ending. They are played with the goal of winning. A finite game is resolved within the context of its rules, with a winner of the contest being declared and receiving a victory. The rules exist to ensure the game is finite. Beginning to participate in a finite game requires conscious thought, and is voluntary; continued participation in a round of the game is involuntary. Even exiting the game early must be provided for by the rules.
  • Infinite games, on the other hand, do not have a knowable beginning or ending. They are played with the goal of continuing play and sometimes with a purpose of bringing more players into the game. An infinite game continues play, for the sake of play. If the game is approaching resolution because of the rules of play, the rules must be changed to allow continued play. The rules exist to ensure the game is infinite. [Thanks Wikipedia for the words]

Paraphrasing, Niki suggested that life is an infinite game, but that our current systems and models for living life are finite games. Consequently, the overwhelming majority of us focus on finite matters like gathering more money, possessions and power over others, rather than infinite matters like love, relationships, our environment, our connection with something greater than ourselves. This is despite the evidence being that an overwhelming majority of us will name infinite values and matters when asked what is important.

My heart rate goes up when I read comments from commentators like John Key about Waitangi Day. I despise their lack of historical knowledge, their blithe ignorance, how they revel in their power to judge Māori living poorly with the outcomes of colonisation. I want to rage and roar and pull down the facade of polite acceptance of injustice. Which is to say that come this time every year, I get a bit focused on the need to change peoples’ minds to have a view a bit like mine on race relations, on the importance of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and of the hopeful possibilities for our society if we’d all just learn from our history. In other words, I am playing the finite game of politics, of left politics, and I am playing it to win.

But Rethink The System reminded me that I can’t do that. I can’t win this finite game. I cannot change the mind of one other person, only they can do that. And the only reason anyone might want to change their mind on anything is because it appeals to them do so. Which is to say that the power of Waitangi to change anyone’s mind is commensurate to the extent to which it reflects those things that are of infinite value. The infinite value of Te Tiriti o Waitangi is that it encourages restoration of relationships and honours the alternate realities of Pākehā and Māori life.

Where I have taken the time to talk with a person, with people, about Waitangi, I inevitably talk about the remarkable geopolitical relationship the treaty attempted to form, the door it opened to all peoples being welcome here in Aotearoa, the value it invested in what people held dear for the survival of their way of life. And when I have taken a deep breath and allowed people to ask me frankly offensive questions and answered them to the best of my knowledge and with sincerity, I have seen minds and views changed. People I have talked to want to be heard. They want to know you have heard their reality and still want a relationship with them.

Anger on Waitangi Day is only the rational response to feeling the pain of the injustice that was done to our ancestors. Whether you express that through haka, through throwing mud, through strongly worded letters; I get it. However, I am also aware that we really only do enraged activist actions for ourselves, to get it out from under our skin. But let’s not fool ourselves that once we’ve got it out there, that others will be persuaded to change. If we want to change the views of those we regard as enemies, we need to communicate with compassion and empathy and be capable of transforming the aggression we receive back into love.

If we as tāngata whenua want to see Waitangi Day upheld around the country as a day of remembrance and restoration of relationships we have to start. The Crown’s representatives won’t start as they’re too caught up in a finite game to hold political power. So we have start by telling the story of Waitangi to our whānau, to our neighbours, and to our communities as a story of restoration of relationships and as a guide for honouring the alternate realities of Pākehā and Māori life, not a story of broken relationships and entrenched, immutable lives apart from each other.