A post-Christmas message: big hearts, big minds

Here’s a post-Christmas thought: think big. We’ve largely lost the habit.

You can see that in the way we do most things as a nation.

Roads are a good example. Transit New Zealand is cheese-paring costs from the death road, state highway 2. In Wellington its new feeder road into that think-small oddity, the three-lane Terrace tunnel, will grind across the surface through multiple traffic lights instead of in a trench out of sight and largely out of hearing — and still leave its off-road slicing Cuba street inhumanly in half.

Here are some other ways we thought about ourselves this year:

* We made half a million calls to the emergency 111 service (are we so cavalier or cowed?). A handful went wrong. We made that a national disaster.

* A handful of children slipped through the state’s overstretched safety net, the Child, Youth and Family service (CYF). The 50,000 or so rescues went unremarked. We reckoned the few failures a national disaster.

* A woman claimed she had been raped by a taxi driver and the capital’s newspaper front-paged it as lead story. The claim was baseless. The newspaper was trading on fear, manufacturing disaster.

Fear cramps the mind. So does being a victim.

We privatise life’s bounty, claim it as our due and thus our property, whatever the provenance. We socialise our setbacks and deficiencies, real or imagined.

“They” should fix it. “They” have let us down. “They” have done us in.

Sociologists and psychologists often legitimise such attitudes. Maori are victims of a “holocaust” and therefore not responsible. Middle class kids of divorced couples are “traumatised” and therefore not responsible.

There is something in the explanations and explanations can help lay the foundation for a bigger-hearted attitude. But explanations made into excuses makes victims. And victims are cripples. Victims think small.

Why do we mostly think small?

Is it because our country is small? Well, turn that round. If it is true that “I think, therefore I am”, maybe the corollary is” “I think small, therefore I am small.”

Some in this small place think big.

The 1980s-90s America’s Cup challengers did. Of course, you can’t beat America the superpower. Wrong.

The rugby union thought big. Of course, you can’t beat Japan and South Africa, with Australia working against you. Wrong. And note that the Prime Minister passed up a day’s hobnobbing with the world’s great in Korea to back the rugby union in Dublin with some big-thinking risk-taking of her own, for which she has had little recognition back home in this small-thinking place.

The excellent Sir Kenneth Keith thought big and so did the Foreign Ministry. A judge from little New Zealand can’t win a place on the International Court of Justice against large odds. Wrong.

Peter Jackson thought big. Of course, you can’t be Hollywood in Wellington. Wrong.

But here’s a bigger point. Small movie makers can be big, too. The World’s Fastest Indian, a very fine New Zealand film, is small-budget but not small-minded.

Do we mostly think small because we are mostly small-minded? And small-hearted?

Try a lesson from history. Jesus Christ had a small band against huge odds but he had a big-hearted message: do to others as you want them to do to you — the golden rule. His message powered a religious movement that is still going 20 centuries later.

Leave aside the trappings hung around Christ by theologians and priests who claimed to know the secrets of the mystery of meaning. In a post-christian society the spiritual and mystical dimensions of Christmas are a private affair.

The real value of Christmas is not the wonder of the nativity and the mystery of the holy trinity and the sublime music at midnight. They are special to some but, in the wrong hands, have also served bigots, terrorisers, torturers and killers through 20 centuries. We can see the mirror-image in today’s muslim fanatics.

The real point of Christmas is the golden rule, big-hearted and big-minded.

Think of the mountainous workloads of those in the 111 centres and marvel that they deal with hundreds of thousands of vexatious and trivial calls and somehow get almost all the real emergencies dealt with.

Think of CYF’s social workers’ daunting caseloads and marvel that so few children slip through the cracks.

Think of the myriad hard-working, underpaid immigrant taxi-drivers and value their positive contribution.

If we stop turning private disappointments into public disasters, more might want to join the police and the police union might whinge less. Social workers might go to work with a mission instead of feeling under siege.

The golden rule does not say the world is the best of all possible places. It recognises error and evil.

But it suggests that to be big-hearted and big-minded is to finesse error and evil.

That is the biggest think big. Sure thinking big is big roads and big international appointments and big movies. But it is also doing small things with a big heart and a big mind.