My cohort of friends and colleagues born between the years of 1955 and 1965 have all crashed through the half century mark with me and are now heading into their late 50s and early 60s. Our first good school mate passed away of cancer four weeks ago. Our first St Peters Old Boy of my cohort turned 60 two weeks ago.
This got me thinking.
There is no doubt we lived through a golden period of New Zealand history. We also lived through some huge and tumultuous times in a way that built our nationhood.
It is important to reflect what helped shape who we are as we evolve our story of nationhood.
My generation were born into an era where everything was black and white. Where there was virtually full-time employment for everyone. Where in 1972 Norm Kirk campaigned on an out-of-control unemployment rate of 576 New Zealanders – that’s how good it was.
We were shaped by parents and grandparents who had lived through, or had been deeply affected by the massive impact of World War 1, the Great Depression and World War 2. They even prepared for a third world war when all nations piled in to the Korean and Vietnamese conflicts.
As a nation we built over 100,000 houses between 1938-1948 when there was a housing crisis, as there is today. We built those houses without power tools and without today’s modern day gizmos that make things a lot quicker. We also fought a world war in between.
The state funded us into our houses. It could borrow, as it can today, at very low rates over long time periods.
It then provided mortgages to all those who wanted to get onto the property chain and all of our parents of my generation were housed accordingly and given a hand up – not a hand out.
We accepted that the world would open at 7.30am and close 5pm Monday to Friday. We accepted that there was no Saturday/Sunday trading because all communities mucked in and evolved around their rugby club, their rugby league club or their netball club. Sundays we then piled into our tribal related churches.
At school, if you were lucky enough to get 3 subjects of School Certificate (School C), in the fifth form – which is now called Year 11 for some unknown reason – you were destined to at least get a trade. If you went further and got University Entrance (UE) in sixth form, Year 12, you were destined for teaching, government service or better, lawyers, doctors, accountants, etc.
Everyone had a lane to run in and everyone understood how they could get into a queue for a lane they wanted to have a go at. And if you failed, there was always an opportunity waiting for you to fall into.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting this was a nirvana. I am stating though that all Kiwis require consistency, solidity, knowingness and in this world we had all of these things.
A conversation about indigenous rights and the Treaty of Waitangi was deferred for over 130 years of our nationhood. But from 1975-1995 we faced it head on.
We now have a platform of a greater understanding where our grandchildren’s identity is shaped by their knowledge and understanding of waiata and haka.
Their point of difference on a global stage is that their grandparents faced the tough questions and answered them so that they would be proud of watching their grandchildren performing kapa haka as a defining moment in them clearly being able to define themselves as Kiwis on a world stage.
In the 1980s, along come a revolution in large part bought about by technological change and supported by a new narrative raging around the world known as Supply-side or Trickle-down Economics.
The first facsimile machines became available. Snail mail, which on a good day would take three days turn around was replaced with a machine that could do the same within minutes.
We all had to respond to up our game in regard to information coming at us requiring well thought out responses that in a previous two hundred years we could manage and caseload a lot better.
Then along came the big brick mobile phones. All of a sudden we were available 24/7.
The idea of party lines where neighbours, aunties and uncles could listen in to your calls went. The social mores that used to ensure that the 11th Commandment of Thou shall Honour and make your parents, your family and your community proud, fell into disarray.
We were no longer governed by what our neighbours thought of us, or our parents.
We were now governed not by connectivity but by fierce independence where neighbours no longer looked after neighbours. Neighbours in our street would take meals as a matter of good humanity to elderly in our streets.
Or if there was a death, Kiwis used to respond by being gracious and generous in acknowledging that family’s loss by providing a food plate as an offering of love and commitment to a fellow member of your neighbourhood.
Then in 1992, along came the internet and it changed the world as we know it.
So fast has it hit and so hard has it impacted that we are still trying to figure out social mores, ethics and etiquette around not just our children and grandchildren’s use but more importantly how we as humans grow belts and braces around a technology that if unleashed without a proper debate on the ethics of it, we could end up in creating our own Frankenstein.
But guess what, when we reflect on the way we are bringing up our children and grandchildren, we have got to be hopeful because despite short comings, we must be deeply optimistic about their ability and the values we have provided to them to tough out these very difficult questions.
The platform that our parents and grandparents left for us was outstanding and was shaped by significant sacrifice and a sturdy and stoic nature to overcome war, famine, homelessness and hopelessness through the course of the last century. These are only some of the forces that helped shape my generation.