The ripples in the pond

I’ve been playing with this for a really long time, trying to figure out how to get into the subject properly. Three things have happened recently that have helped me to navigate my thoughts. Let me tell you about those first.

Story 1: I sold my house. This in itself was a bit of a learning experience, but that’s a story for another time. Suffice it to say, that Auckland at the moment is a seller’s market, and this particular seller ended up with a choice between two offers.

  • Offer A: A couple who run a small property development business. They would cut down the trees on my land to build three homes in their place.
  • Offer B: A small family; mum, dad and toddler who loved the house and garden as-is, and who offered $65k more than the developer couple in option A.

Cue facebook poll thoughts collection, where all but one friend selected Option B. Definitely, certainly, obviously.

Story 2: Jacinda Ardern announced (this was a while ago now!) that Auckland was to go back into a 7-day lockdown because cases of community transmission of the coronavirus had been found in South Auckland. This time, unlike previous lockdown events, the cause was clear. A single person had broken protocol and gone out in public, populated places after being sick and having a COVID-19 test, but before receiving its results. He was positive, he infected several others, and the city – the nation – screamed at him. Commentaries on newspaper articles were filled with vitriol, suggesting that he and his family be fined, imprisoned, and more. The frustration of school-age parents, small businesses, pretty much everyone in the country poured down upon him.

Story 3: Vaccinations are available in New Zealand. More about that later.

So. Who’s ready for the Chapter Twos?

I sold my house to the developers. Why, why? Well, pragmatically, because the family pulled out at literally (and I use that word literally) the last moment. But I was so glad. Why, why? Because of two kinds of next generation: of humans on the planet, and of consequences. I bought my home here in Glen Innes in 2010 because it was where I wanted to live. Surrounded by other people who wanted to live in the same way; with big back yards, lil old Kiwi homes, and big old fruit trees. This, dear reader, is the Auckland of the past. The Auckland of today and of the future is one in which many more people need (no surprises) many more homes, and, if people like me are not willing to sell their big inner-city sections, homes will be made elsewhere. And that, dear reader, is worse. My garden, for all I love it, is a luxury. It is productive, sure, but of luxury foods. And grass. And plums and mandarins and nectarines and boysenberries. Its 718m^2 feeds me – one not particularly hungry person – some of the year, for some of my diet, but mostly it grows grass for looking at and lying down on. What if, instead of a garden of trees and berries, I’d had an enormous house? Or a massive swimming pool? Or a huge big shed or painting studio? Would the luxury have been more apparent then? Would it have been easier to recognise the selfishness that has made me hang onto it for this long? Yes, I think so. The “family values” of having a lovely yard all to yourself are the new ultra-luxury. Forget the marble kitchen or the butler’s pantry, whatever that may be. Gardens are where it’s at. The consequences of me selling to a family who would keep it exactly as it is are these: a) in the short-term, I don’t have to consider anyone cutting down the Grand Old Plum. Well, huzzah. But then comes the first ripple: b) three houses are not built here, they’re built instead where there is still space, outside Auckland in Pukekohe farmland. And then? Another ripple: c) What was food-producing gardening land is now a house, so Auckland loses some food producing ability. Then d) the people living in that new house way out in Puke drive into the city to get to work, e) traffic congestion worsens, f) other motorists sit on the motorway with idling engines and carbon-producing exhaust pipes. Each decision has more consequences than those we see. It breaks my heart to sell this home, to know that my decision is killing a beautiful old tree that is probably older than my parents. To be That Person who sells to the Developers. But how can this be anything other than the right decision? The wider consequences of the alternative, when actually considered properly, are worse for everyone.

The same idea is true of the situation in Papatoetoe recently. The bayers for blood, the townspeople with torches, the frustrated families all demanded punishment, swift and severe. None seemed to (be willing to) understand why the government’s mantra of “Be Kind” could be tolerated anymore, when here in front of them was (finally) a villain to hate and blame. Fair enough, you say. The actions of this person have directly caused the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars. That One Person is to blame. That One Person must be punished. But wait. What’s the next ripple of consequence? The other people in our communities see what happens when you take a COVID test. They stop being tested. They see what happens when you admit to feeling unwell. They cover their symptoms. The consequences of throwing any tiny piece of that huge snowball of frustration on this One Person are utterly disastrous for everyone else in New Zealand. Did this person do something stupid? Yes. Did their actions have direct consequences? Yes. Is punishment fair and justified? Yes. Is punishment the best, the most right, the truly sensible thing to do? Absolutely, whole-heartedly, vehemently: no.

Finally, vaccination. Again, this comes down to the layers of decision making. Here’s my thinking. In my mind a truly good decision has as its foundation, layer upon layer of reason, logic, morality, and virtue. Perhaps that sounds a little too highfaluting? I shall endeavour to falute more moderately (or, skip these and move on to the next section …)

  1. Legality of the choice: I reckon a good decision is based on a whole lot more than the legality of its actions. If someone does something ONLY because it’s not illegal, this is not enough to make it “good”, it just means it’s not illegal. It’s not illegal to drink bleach, for example. Or lick your toilet. Gross, but you get the idea.
  2. Ability to carry out the choice: I am capable of drinking beach. I am able to exercise, to follow through on, to carry out my right. I am also being foolish, short-sighted, and ultimately selfish as my harmful choices will lead to tax-payer-funded mental and physical care. Exercising your (perceived) rights and freedoms doesn’t protect you from being foolishness and shortsightedness. Or being a dick. Or making bad choices. Or from creating unwanted consequences for yourself and others. This point is also very much more constrained than most of the populace would like to admit, but as I’ve said elsewhere your rights are not about you.
  3. The absolute and irrevocable binding of free choice to its consequences. Any argument based on freedom alone is missing some critical pieces. If your ONLY reason for choosing a course of action is because you believe yourself free to choose it, it cannot be a good decision. There must be the ability to choose it, AND there must be the inherent good outcomes from that action. The ability to make a choice in no way affects the goodness, badness, or anything else about that choice. This is really the crux of this post.

Let’s make it easier to think about.

  1. What do you want to DO? (or, what is the action that you want to take, the thing that you will do, the verb that will be used to describe you); and
  2. What do you want to HAPPEN? (or, following your action, what is the desired outcome? What situation do you want to eventuate?)

Here’s the real problem. New Zealand needs everyone (by which I mean, as many as medically possible) to be vaccinated now (by which I mean, as soon as practically possible). And while I know many of my friends-and-relations are frustrated by the resistance and hesitancy of some of our population, others of my friends-and-relations are those hesitant people (this is a good article). And, since most of the people reading this will probably be in the former group, this next bit is for you.

It’s important for us to remember what we want to happen, rather than what we want to do. Perhaps you feel as the writer of this delicate prose does. Perhaps you want to rant and rave and scream. Those are things that you want to DO. And I get it! But, pause now, o righteous keyboard warrior, and think about what you want to HAPPEN. Has a screaming, swearing person calling you stupid and selfish and moronic ever allayed your fears? Convinced you of the logic and goodness of their point of view? Made it easy for you to agree with them? Yeah, me neither. I don’t want to make a bad situation worse by driving people into corners for a death-and-glory standoff. I want to lower the barriers to changed minds, not force defensive barricades ever higher.

For those on the other side, I’d really like you to think about that next ripple in the pond. To think about the goodness of your choices, what you’ll actually be using your freedom for. The freedom to refuse a vaccination doesn’t make it a good choice. The consequences are what determine that, so consider those:

  • I’ve heard numbers bandied around that COVID has “just” a 1% mortality rate. Take a moment now to look at your Facebook friends list. How many people on that? Think about how many other people you know. Facebook tells me I know about 400 … but, let’s face it, I know more than that! 1% of that means choosing a world in which four of my friends will die of a preventable disease.
  • The death rate in the UK in February was 1200 per day, which is about 100 per day for us in NZ. This is roughly the Christchurch shooting every 12 hours, Pike River mining disaster every 6 hours, Mt Erebus every three days, the Christchurch earthquake every 40 hours. A Christchurch earthquake at dinner on Monday, then another at lunch on Wednesday, and another before breakfast on Friday. Think about the mental health effects of that. This is the consequence, the real one.

I know getting a vaccination has risks, is scary, and is your choice to make, but please, pretty please, think about what you’re actually choosing. Think about what you want to happen, not what you want to do. If you want lockdowns to end, get a vaccination. You can go right now – today – to a drop in centre. Worried about queues? Check the wait times or make a booking so you don’t have to wait. Want to go with your family, but they’re not sure? Go today anyway. Show them it’s possible. Be the brave one. Take them tomorrow.

I really want us all to think about the situation we want to create. The HAPPEN bit instead of the DO bit. Wouldn’t we be more united, more in accord, more in agreement about that? And, having established that accord first, wouldn’t it then be easier to see the goodness and badness, rightness and wrongness of the different actions we are free to take? It’s not about freedoms or rights of choice – it never was, really – it’s about what we use those rights and freedoms for that make them good or otherwise.

You hate lockdowns? Wow, me too! See, we have so much in common 🙂 What shall we do about it? Get a vaccination! Wear your mask! Wash your hands! Tell your friends! Stay in your bubble! Let’s do those things – and only those things – that lead to what we all really want to happen. Come on, Kiwis, we’ve got this.

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

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