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Canberra Today 16°/19° | Thursday, January 20, 2022 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Convincing people is tricky – be nice, be kind

From left, Pope Pius, who had gay marriage down as a “really bad idea”, UK prime minister Neville Chamberlain and his paperhanger’s promise and Hillary Clinton upsetting the deplorables.

“You change the world one heart at a time. I rarely trust a person shouting into a microphone at a big rally – they’re sometimes just selling you their own career,” writes ANTONIO DI DIO.

HUMANITY sits on a funny old precipice sometimes. It’s whenever the kind and the good deal with their leaders rationally and reasonably, and the other party isn’t quite into those tactics. 

The League of Nations brokers a deal or two with people laughing at them, Nifty Chamberlain returns with a paperhanger’s promise of “Peace in Our Time”, or Bill Clinton and Maddie Albright get cast-iron commitments from Yasser Arafat and think they’ve won something. 

I’ve negotiated with Federal and State health ministers and bureaucrats an awful lot in recent years and learned a great deal, some of it painful, all of it hard work. Sometimes you behave honourably and so do they. Sometimes they try to but can’t – and you must try again.

I started out years ago feeling frustrated and annoyed at the people on my own side who were rude and hostile to leaders we sought to influence on behalf of people. 

Aside from my phobia of rudeness in general, it seemed that hostility, verbal or written, was a sure way to get absolutely nothing done, as it instantly failed to convince anyone of the merit of your point of view. 

Ask Hillary Clinton how many hearts and minds she changed when referring to a group of people with deplorable views as, er… “deplorable”. Not a one, but she did ensure that all of them would never vote for her till The Trump corporation sponsors National Humility Day. As Arthur Fonzarelli might have said: “Nice try, Mrs C”. 

Perhaps the gay marriage plebiscite might have involved a better debate if that debate had been loving and respectful. And a debate. All I remember at the time were groups of people denigrating each other and the country feeling bombarded by angry people on TV. 

The exact opposite happened to me years ago. My mum and dad, the loveliest of people, were set against gay marriage because beautiful Pope Pius (1876-1958) had told them in about 1939 that the concept was on the Vatican whiteboard under “really bad idea”. 

I explained to them, slowly and over days, about people they knew and loved well who were gay, and deserved to be happy, and they were unsurprisingly fine with it. 

“What about Papa Pio?”, I asked. “Well he was a lovely man”, they said, “but maybe a bit naïve” (Naïve! This from my papa, who did not believe that women could actually be gay till I took him to Camperdown Park at the end of my street one Sunday morning, whereupon he stood stunned before all the couples and said: “It’s so nice they all found somebody. If God won’t bless them, I will.” If you ever wonder where divinity lurks it’s not in the sky, but in the song of a kookaburra or the dreams of our fathers). 

You change the world one heart at a time. I rarely trust a person shouting into a microphone at a big rally – they’re sometimes just selling you their own career. And they sure haven’t changed anybody’s mind – preaching to their choir is no different to what Pope Pius used to do, only not in Latin.

So then I began years of talking with collaboration and gentleness and as a representative of the Good Guys, which I hope I am, with our leaders. Very hit and miss, it must be said. The wins are rewarding, the losses fester, because a little part of you says: “If these guys have been in power for nine and 21 years respectively, is it now time for a more hostile approach? Has diplomacy failed? Do we need Churchill to replace Chamberlain? Am I Chamberlain? Ouch!” 

Well, here’s the thing: you can’t have a uniform approach. Readers of “CityNews” know that a variety of approaches are needed to successfully present a position. Some use precise and exhaustive data to throw bombs, others the single-person single-issue to illustrate a wider context. Some cajole, others berate. Much as I hate the bolshie/angry approach to addressing politicians, it’s effective if a small percentage of people use it in concert with others using more gentle strategies. And everyone is unified.

The whole thing gets harder when governments get more arrogant, distant, and feel “born to rule” like a German George on a London throne or a green Green in Civic Square. They get contemptuous. But it’s hard to hate them.

For me, it’s been extra difficult because our last four ACT Health Ministers have all been lovely people, and every last ACT Health bureaucrat I’ve met has been, too. Decent, quality people. 

Yet I get so frustrated about the very poor outcomes in so many parts of our health system. Is it possible that they use charm? That they are victims of the system they created? 

What has any of this got to do with kindness? And negotiating with the government? Everything. That mighty poet of lerve, Richard Lovelace (1618-1658, not making this up) once wrote that he had to leave his dear love and the “nunnerie of her breast” for the honours of war and battle. He concluded that: 

Yet this inconstancy is such

That you too shall adore 

I could not love thee dear so much 

As I love honour more. 

He demonstrated here, in excruciating couplets, that if you are going to battle for better streets or lighting or public spaces or live music or art or health or education or a million issues in your community you must believe in it yourself. And you must do it for others. Let not your loved ones suffer in missing you. Thank your opponents graciously. And remember that if you win a battle on behalf of a group of people, especially if it is with the government, thank them. Be kind. 

Our local government has been around longer than 92.4 per cent (yeah, made that one up) of last night’s Moosehead patrons. It needs to refresh and perform and be held accountable and I hope it, and the Opposition, both perform very well. 

We must show them all their broken promises and failures, as their duty to their people is part of a vital social contract. But we can do it with decency, and as one human to another. The viciousness directed at the Feds from Rudd and Gillard to Morrison today contributes nothing to debate and improving our world, and indeed serves simply to harden people against each other. 

In the case of some of our professional activists, that seems to be exactly their goal. Their jobs disappear if problems ever get solved. Be good to your opponents. Even if you lose, you’re still in the debate. And of course, be good to each other at this special time. It’s a time of love independent of creed. My best wishes to you all.

Antonio Di Dio is a busy GP in Canberra, serves on the AMA board and council, and is a perpetual advocate who longs to live three doors down from Kogarah Oval, specifically 1956-66 inclusive, although turning up to the Raiders every year has its moments.


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