My grandmother used to say that things come in threes. I’m not sure why she thought that but I’m sure it was nothing more than a grand old superstition of her time.

It happened a year or so ago. Three things in one week. All surprised me. All made me think. In one case it was something I saw. Another was something I felt. The third was something I heard.

Early in the week I received a short video. At just over two minutes long you wouldn’t expect it to make the impact that it did. But it did.

The video features a black American man, wearing a black t-shirt. He appears to be making an oral submission to a hearing on education, probably to a State committee of some sort. He appears as a regular guy, and is clearly a polished orator, with a delivery style similar to former President Obama.

The young father begins by introducing his forebears as slaves from Alabama on his mother’s side and slaves from Texas on his father’s.  An opening like that can get your attention. But then he says this. “I am not oppressed and I am not a victim”. At that stage I was watching to the end.

He continues, saying that he travels freely across the country, stays in hotels and eats out at restaurants, all the while being treated with “kindness, dignity and respect”.

The young man tells his children that they are not oppressed or victims either. Although he says, “they are victims of their own ignorance, laziness and poor decision making”.

The purpose of his testimony then becomes clear, when he says, “putting critical race theory into classrooms is taking our nation in the wrong direction”. He goes on to say that “there is nothing more damaging than to tell a baby born today that she has grievances against another baby born today because of what their ancestors may have done two centuries ago.” Sound familiar?

His brief performance was powerful and empowering. It made me think. Not about critical race theory, but about his attitude.

Two days later I received a metaphorical smack on the back of the head. I was told, out loud, in a room full of people, by a person who knows nothing of my background, that I was ‘privileged’. I’m not the first person to receive such a comment and I won’t be the last. But here’s the thing.

It might surprise readers of this column to know that, like many people of that time, I started life in a family that lived on the breadline. That wasn’t unique in the 1960’s and 70’s. There were plenty like us. My dad sometimes worked three jobs and my mum worked two. Not long after they bought their first home, the surrounding land was sold to the government, who in turn built hundreds of state houses around us.

So I spent the first twelve years of my life living in Otangarei in Whangarei. The locals now call it O.T. Look it up. It’s a tough place to live. But we made the most of it. We built friendships with the people around us. Went to school with them. Played sport with them. Dad coached the rugby teams. Mum taught the girls to dance.

We moved away when I was thirteen. A new city and a new school. I knew no-one. Again you make the most of it and you grow and learn as a result. When I failed a subject in School Certificate, my mum told me it was because I didn’t work hard enough. When I didn’t get university entrance accredited, my dad gave me the same message.

But we did work hard. My brother and I did paper rounds and delivered bottled milk to letterboxes. We worked in a warehouse during the holidays and saved enough money to get to university. There I saw people with inferior grades receiving preferential treatment because of their background. It didn’t seem right, but that’s the way it was.

Eventually, our family arrived at a position that was finally comfortable. As the great American golfer, Lee Trevino once said, “the harder you work, the luckier you get.” But easy? No. Privileged? It certainly didn’t feel that way. Still doesn’t.


The young man tells his children that they are not oppressed or victims either. Although he says, “they are victims of their own ignorance, laziness and poor decision making”.


But back to that unusual week, it is the third happening that made me think the most. I was sitting in the domestic lounge at the airport. I’ll admit that I’m not a very sociable traveller and I don’t take too much notice of the people around me. But this couple were different. They attracted, and held, my attention.

Like me, they were waiting for their flight. They were sitting a couple of metres away from me. They sat opposite each other, at a table. They were probably in their late sixties or early seventies. I’m guessing husband and wife. They were smartly dressed, without being overly dapper. Sometimes you can tell people’s character, by the way they carry themselves. He was one of those. She was too. Good people.

But that’s not all. They spoke to each other constantly. Quietly. Respectfully. They were speaking in Te Reo. And it sounded nice. Appropriate. The language fitted the scene and the people speaking. I went to get a cup of tea and bumped into the man at the counter. He also spoke beautiful English.

It made me think. Often we hear the Maori language in a Haka or a protest. So we often hear it shouted rather than spoken. But here it was. Spoken. Almost poetic. Two people exercising their own freedom to speak to each other in the language of their choice. Quietly. Respectfully. Appropriately. That’s how it should be, I thought.

Those three events may seem unrelated. But we are currently living in a country that is more divided than I have ever known. My recollection includes 1981 when we saw tens of thousands in Queen Street protesting against militant unionism and, a few months later, anti-racism riots over a Springbok rugby tour.

But today we are worse. We have more petitions, more new groups agitating for change, and more angst about our politicians and our media than we have ever had.

The previous government didn’t like the word crisis. But they presided over crises aplenty. Crises that haven’t gone away with their departure from office. Health and education are a couple that come to mind. Economic management in an inflationary environment is a biggie that isn’t going away quickly. Crime captures our attention daily.

Every week I am asked to sign yet another petition about something that we perceive to be wrong. This current state of our country is not normal.

The early eighties aside, we have traditionally been a people who are proud of our one-ness. Many of us saw injustices in other countries and stood up against it. I think we have a good sense of what’s right and what’s wrong.

One people.

International tourists to our country will tell you that New Zealand’s scenery is amazing. But it is the people that really make their journey worthwhile. Yet, recently we’ve seen stories of those same tourists departing with a different view, as result of the lawlessness they have experienced. You see, we actually have plenty of reasons to be brought together. Instead we are, currently, torn apart.

For many of the critical issues, there is no right or wrong. No good or bad.

There will always be extreme views on each side of an issue or an argument. But the great majority of us – probably ninety percent or more – will sit somewhere in the middle. The great majority of us are neither privileged nor victims. The great majority of us, would put the past behind us, in favour of a better future.

And yet, a wedge is being driven between us by those with a view that theirs is the only way. These groups exist in disagreements about health, education, crime, immigration, race, transport, employment, and almost every other area of tension we face. We even have names for these people. They are variously referred to as activists, extremists or militants and sometimes collectively as the grievance industry.

You can’t help but wonder if the gap between the haves and the have nots, the immigrants and the locals, the criminals and the law abiders, would be narrower, if it weren’t for these armies of justice warriors that sit in the middle, keeping the tension alive and the positions apart.


… a wedge is being driven between us by those with a view that theirs is the only way. You can’t help but wonder if the gap between us would be narrower, if it weren’t for these armies of justice warriors that sit in the middle, keeping the tension alive and the positions apart.


In New Zealand and elsewhere, there is an industry comprising groups of people who are keeping racism and inequality alive. The climate change forums are made up of similarly motivated people. If the problem is solved their jobs and their purpose evaporates.

These people, and the organisations they represent, have made it their business to access governments around the world and perform their social engineering feats. They have access to money and media. Their voices are heard, no matter whether they are wrong or right.

In New Zealand today, some of those activists have made it all the way to parliament. Many of these people are fighting battles on problems that wouldn’t exist, if they weren’t there. But their presence makes the grievance business more visible than ever and more difficult to stop.

Meanwhile, the rest of us, those who are not particularly privileged or victimised, those of us who wish to make the planet better without ruining the lives of those who live on it, or those who prefer an education curriculum comprising the core principles of English, Mathematics and Science together with an accurate history of the world, get on with our lives while the extremists run riot.

The rest of us can just get on like we always have. One people. Like the young man speaking at the State education hearings. It’s about attitude.

Can we be a bi-lingual nation? Of course. And besides, we already are. Like the couple at the airport, people should be able to choose the language they speak and the language they listen to.

Can we be one people once more? Of course. The vast majority of our families have faced extreme hardship in the last three generations. Does that mean we need to separate out those who have travelled that journey better or worse than others? Of course not.

Do we have some people who have had a more privileged start in life than others? Yes. Every society does. Do we have some people who have really had a rotten start in life and are genuine victims who need our help? Yes. Every society does. Are those people the majority? No.

But that’s just the way it is. It’s not anyone’s fault. And if history had a role to play in such inequities, it just makes it all the more important for that history to be accurately replayed to today’s learners.

As someone once said, “if you don’t learn from history, you’ll become history”.

I would like to see us take a few steps back. Back to those days not so long ago. When the grievance business didn’t separate us.

When we were one people.

This article first appeared on ZB Plus on 8th February 2024.