Persuasion and the art of listening

My father sent me an interesting article by Zaria Gorvett of the BBC discussing the ways in which society is becoming more polarised, and pointing out that talking to like-minded friends about a subject actually tends to make people more polarised on that subject and less open to new information.  It’s interesting, because this occurs even when people are deliberately having these conversations to try to add nuance to their opinions – and because apparently it turns out that the more information people acquire, the more polarised they tend to be.

(I wonder if this last bit is because the more information you have, the more confident you are that you have the full and true picture, for which there can be only one possible explanation?)

I went to three presentations in the last three days and while the subject matter was wildly different, I found myself noticing some common threads between the presentations and this article.  This post is my attempt to tease some of this out and make sense of it.  (A quick disclaimer: these are my notes on the presentations I went to – the things that stayed with me may not have been the key messages that the presenters were trying to get across, and it’s entirely possible that I’m not representing them entirely accurately!  If you are one of the presenters and are reading this, and I have managed to misquote or mischaracterise what you said, please comment, and I will fix it forthwith!)

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I didn’t read Amnesty’s report on Nauru last week.  I knew it was bad, and I signed yet another petition, but I didn’t read the report because some things, once seen, can’t be unseen.  My imagination is vivid and I am prone to nightmares – I don’t need more fuel.

I haven’t read the full Nauru files, either.  In fact, I spent yesterday consciously avoiding reading anything about them at all.  I know they will hurt to read.  I know they will detail endless abuses, ignored and even encouraged by a system in which there is no transparency, only secrecy, with deterrence and stopping people drowning at sea being held up as the cardinal virtues, the only solution, the moral response before which all other moral imperatives must bow.

I didn’t read them because I have read so much already, and written so much already, and the only thing that ever seems to change is that I lose more of my faith in humanity.  I have signed petitions and I have written letters, and it doesn’t matter, because the Government isn’t listening, and the opposition is afraid to look weak.  (The Greens may care, but they have no leverage, and I don’t think that One Nation is my natural ally in this particular battle.)  I did, finally, read this report, but I could not bring myself to click on all the links.

I didn’t want to know the details.

Of course, I – like most Australians – can make that choice.  I can choose not to read these articles and files – to prioritise my own mental health over knowing absolutely everything that I can know over how my country is abusing vulnerable people.  And, incidentally, there is nothing wrong with making that choice.  I think there is a point where reading too much horror is so overwhelming that it actively saps the energy we could be using to act to counter the horror. I can choose, for that matter, to ignore the whole situation.

The people on Nauru – men, women and children – don’t have this choice.  The violence, the abuse, the fear, is a constant for them at all times, and they have no hope for a future in which they will be able to escape this abuse.  Their choices are to remain and endure, or to return to the countries they fled, in fear of their lives.  (And let’s not pretend that these people are not genuine asylum seekers. Though, frankly, at this point, it doesn’t matter whether they are or not – nothing can justify abusing people and denying them medical care, let alone the indefinite detention of children in unsafe circumstances.)

Honestly, I’m no expert on any of this.  I don’t know, really, what a sustainable immigration program looks like, or how much we can afford to spend resettling people in Australia.  I do know that we are paying a huge amount of money to imprison people on Nauru or to resettle them in Cambodia, while refusing New Zealand’s offer to re-settle people there (because God forbid that we actually allow the people we have been systematically abusing to settle somewhere that they might be safe from harm).  I am fairly sure we could process asylum seekers more cheaply and more humanely in Australia, and I am not the only one who believes this.

I freely admit that I don’t know the best long-term strategy.

But the situation on Nauru and Manus Island and Christmas Island is one we have created ourselves as a country.  We are turning scared, desperate people into scared, desperate, traumatised people, and sometimes into scared, desperate, dead people.  This is absolutely immoral.

To me, the only moral response now is to close the camps and bring everyone in them to Australia.  We have deliberately damaged people, and we owe them restitution, regardless of their status.  No exceptions.

We can afford this – we’re talking something in the realm of 1,500 people, less than 0.01% of the Australian population.  Even if we put them all straight onto unemployment and provide them with access to psychological and medical help and case managers, it’s still going to cost less per person than we are spending on Nauru.  We don’t even have to worry about what message we are sending to people smugglers – this isn’t a long-term policy change (much as I might like it to be!), this is making restitution to a specific group of people because we stuffed up.  We aren’t going to do the same for everyone who comes here.

Going forward, we need to come up with a better strategy for helping asylum seekers.  There is so much war now, in Syria, and South Sudan, and elsewhere, that the flow of refugees is not going to stop any time soon.  Australia needs to join with countries throughout the world to figure out a compassionate and practical response to this situation.  It’s a global problem, and it needs a global solution.

But Nauru?  That’s local.  We did that ourselves, and it’s our responsibility to fix it.


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The times, they are a-changing

Just a quick, happy post today, because I’m feeling more optimistic about Australia and our treatment of refugees than I have in some years.  And while I suspect what I’m going to write will be not news to most of my readers, I want to put this on record, for next time I feel that there are no mainstream politicians who are willing to show compassion on this subject.

Yesterday, the Labor Premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews, wrote an open letter to Malcolm Turnbull offering to take in the 267 asylum seekers who the High Court has ruled can be returned to Nauru.

Annastacia Palaszczuk, the Labor Premier of Queensland, has said that Queensland is ready and able to house these asylum seekers, and she will be ringing Malcolm Turnbull tomorrow to tell him that it’s time to put politics aside and think closely about these young children.

The Labor Chief Minister for the Australian Capital Territory, Andrew Barr, was then ask by Twitter followers whether he had seen the letter from Daniel Andrews, and whether he would take the same pledge, and replied ‘Yes and Yes‘.  He will release a statement tomorrow.

Jay Weatherill, the South Australian Premier, also a Labor Party member has written a letter offering South Australia as an alternative home for the 267 asylum seekers.

Thank you, State Labor Party leaders.

(I trust this is giving Bill Shorten something to think about.)

But here’s where I truly start feeling optimistic, because it’s not just Labor.

While Liberal state leaders are a little more cagey about these specific children, Mike Baird called Daniel Andrews a good man, and while he said he was more focused on resettling the Syrian refugees, he also said that if the PM had any additional requests, New South Wales was prepared to help.

And Will Hodgman, who is the Liberal Premier of Tasmania, while also avoiding the #letthemstay campaign, has said that Tasmania will welcome an increased refugee intake, and will push for this to happen as soon as possible.

Not precisely a statement of support, but both of these statements sound a lot like they are really itching for permission to offer help, so good on them…

Not a peep out of Colin Barnett (Lib, WA) or Adam Giles (Country Liberal, NT), but this is already amazing and wonderful and beyond anything I thought would happen.   I love the Greens and the cross-benchers to bits, and the Greens in particular have been consistent in their efforts to keep kids off Nauru and bring some transparency to conditions there, but the reality is, we need a major party, a party that has a realistic chance of Government at the next election, to take up the cause of not torturing refugees.

In other words, Labor, this is your opportunity to win back those votes you are losing on your left flank.

Make the most of it.

As for me, I’m going to enjoy getting to write some thank you letters for a change.

Lunchtime is letter time…

Some excellent speakers at yesterday’s rally, and I will try to write about it at some point.

But in the meantime, it’s lunchtime, which means it’s time to ring and write to the politician of your choice!  I rang my local member, and spoke to a lovely woman who told me that he is already against returning children to Nauru (onya, Kelvin!), but because I find phone calls terribly intimidating, I’m writing to the PM, Shorten and the various Immigration types…

As usual, these letters are very imperfect, but if they help you find a place to start, then they have done their job.  I do want to write at some point about the adult asylum seekers – we do focus on children, because they are an easier sell – but frankly, I don’t think anyone belongs in a detention centre on Nauru for years on end, regardless of age or gender.  If someone is a refugee, they deserve to be resettled somewhere safe.  If someone is not a refugee, then maybe they need to go home.  And if someone is a criminal, well, that’s why we have a legal system.  But holding someone indefinitely and without trial is never OK.

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A practical post

Vox had an interesting article about the meme that the media ignored the Beirut bombings in favour of Paris.  Essentially, the article points out that, actually, the media writes quite a lot about bombings in Beirut, and Kenya, and Turkey, and Tunisia, and Bangkok, and elsewhere.

It’s just that nobody reads these articles.

As a case study of sorts, here’s what my Saturday looked like.  I woke up when my German penfriend sent me a text saying ‘Terrible things happening in Paris’, and when I opened Facebook (which I realise is not actually a news aggregation service, but does work quite well as one in most circumstances) to see what was going on, all I could see was posts about how everyone was ignoring Beirut.  Which was interesting, but, actually, I really wanted to know what was going on in Paris!  It wasn’t that Beirut didn’t deserve attention, it was that for me, I know and love Paris, my family has friends there and I have friends from there.  So to me, what happened in Beirut is awful, but what happened in Paris is personal. Reading about it hurt.

Would I have gone conscientiously in search of articles about Beirut without the comments on Facebook appearing?  Probably not.  I am actually rubbish at keeping up with the news outside of certain highly specific areas, which is why I use Facebook as my personal news aggregator.  And I do not deny that this is a failing on my part.  Because I can’t follow everything, I tend to follow things that are local and that I might be able to have some effect on, and things happening in countries where I have friends – so yes, Europe, the Americas, and also Tunisia and, in the past, Mozambique.

But I do wish, a little, that I could have just grieved for Paris without having to feel guilty about all the other things I wasn’t grieving for.  It’s an odd thing, and I don’t know how to express it without feeling that I am belittling someone else’s pain.

I’m not sure what the answer is.  I think we are more affected by things we have a personal connection to, and I think that’s OK, so long as we don’t forget that our personal connections aren’t the whole world.

Anyway.  In the spirit of inclusiveness AND of practicality, I was going to make a list of places where terrible things have happened recently that you may or may not know about, along with some charities that are trying to address them.  But of course, most charities do not address events specifically, and also, a lot of terrible things have happened in a lot of places recently, and it’s difficult to know where to start – or where to stop.  (Vox, in particular, linked to quite a few good ones in that first article above.)

And, frankly, there are enough articles out there about terrible things that humans are doing to each other.  I think we need more articles about humans trying to help each other.

So here are some charities that are doing interesting and inspiring work in a variety of places who need it.  I apologise that I don’t have any exciting African charities on this list – I will try to find and add some in the next few days, but most of the ones I could see were fairly generic.

Feel free to add your favourites in the comments.

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Bothering politicians about Abyan and Nauru

What are lunch breaks for if not to ring the Prime Minister’s office and mumble in a somewhat tongue-tied fashion about the need to bring Abyan back to Australia for treatment?

Well, one thing they are for is letter-writing!  As is my usual habit, a copy of the email I just sent to the PM is below the cut.  It is not perfect, and yours doesn’t have to be perfect, either.

The important thing, if this is something you care about, is to write *something*.  Keep it polite, and probably try to be briefer than me because I always write way too much, which may not be the best way to get read.  But the more people who write, or who ring, or who tweet, however incoherently, the louder the message. And feel free to borrow any phrasing that appeals to you from what I’ve written.  That’s the other purpose of putting this letter here.

I’ll write to Peter Dutton, Bill Shorten and Richard Marles (Shadow Minister for Immigration) after work, and if their letters are significantly different, I’ll post them below.

Edited to add: My friend P wrote a really excellent letter to both Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton, very different to mine, and considerably better worded, in my opinion!.  She has given me permission to post it below as another handy example.  I am also adding a link to a very thoughtful article by Julian Burnside on how to write to MPs.  He mentions several things that would never have occurred to me, and is collecting replies – and non-replies – from MPs.  Definitely a strategy to consider.

Handy contact details:

Malcolm Turnbull – (02) 6277 7700; ; @TurnbullMalcolm
Peter Dutton – (02) 6277 7860 or (07) 3205 9977; ; @PeterDutton_MP
Bill Shorten – (02) 6277 4022 or (03) 9326 1300;; @billshortenmp
Richard Marles – (03) 5221 3033; @RichardMarlesMP

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