Zambezi Kiwi

Living in Zimbabwe

Chauvanists and social storms

July 17, 2017

Two storms have blustered their way across the country this week. One of them deserved the title, and the other was little more than a storm in a teacup.

A third, very violent, storm was also raging, but hardly anyone noticed. However, with the help of the teacup storm we’ll get a glimpse of its seriousness in just a few sentences.

The teacup storm, by the way, was a weird and wonderful kaleidoscope of confusion brought to us by the modern feminists. It started earlier this month with someone getting offended by Mike Hosking’s very excellent question “when do we stop celebrating women’s achievements?”

Most of us were relieved to hear a public figure finally point out the patronising nature of such celebrations. It is difficult to feel you are taken seriously as a women when there are all sorts of silly ceremonies honouring you for something you had nothing to do with.

Men don’t have to endure such horrors.

Besides that, singling us ladies out in business or politics is tantamount to saying “hey, great job…for a woman!” It doesn’t so much suggest as shove down our throats the idea that us women can’t quite cut it if we compete against the men.

Modern feminism is amazingly sexist.

The comedy took full flight with Steve Kilgallon’s article on Seven Sharp’s relegation of presenter Toni Street to a “junior role” while the male presenters swirling around her were plonked into the senior roles.

The only problem, of course, is that Kilgallon claims to be a feminist in an article in which he speaks on behalf of a woman.

That makes him a chauvinist according to feminists, meaning he is a chauvinist feminist.

Life gets complicated to the point of comedy when every woman has to be a victim and every man a perpetrator.

Poor Street did eventually respond to all this nonsense, and thank heavens she did, because what she had to say was inspiring. “Good on you for trying, but next time let’s make it about something that actually matters,” she wrote.

And that brings us to the third storm I mentioned earlier, the “something that actually matters” which I would like to address: Family violence.

You see everyone from the Ministry for Women, to those of us sitting in suburbs, quite plainly miss terribly serious issues when we let modern feminists make men problems and women victims. Take, for example, one of the four core principles of the Ministry for Women; keeping women free from violence. Throughout the information page we find references to women as victims, and “gender equality”.

Yet we know, from New Zealand’s very own world-leading, ground-breaking research in the Dunedin Study, that women and men are equally likely to be violent towards one another, and we know that children are the victims of violence from both men and women.

It is the violence that is the problem, not the gender of the perpetrator.

And that is the issue with the teacup storms created by modern feminists. They get us all tied up in knots about nothing, while the real problems – and real victims – rage just outside the front door.

That is bound to keep on happening so long as we insist the problem with the world is located in our sex, instead of in our humanity, in our equal ability as men and women to hurt or be hurt by one another.

It is high time, don’t you think, that we turned our eyes to the real storms, and stopped trying to solve problems that don’t exist.

This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz

 

 

A matter of the mind (altering substances)

July 12, 2017

If there is one social issue that I don’t understand, it is the drug debate. I have tried desperately to take a side, to pick a team, but there is one little problem getting in my way.

It all keeps coming across as a sad little comedy.

I know the issues around recreational drugs are serious. I’ve read, and read, and read. I’ve read definitions, and experts, and arguments and counter-arguments.

But none of them quite get to the heart of the issue. None of them dig right down and ask the fundamental questions about what is going on, the questions I want answered. None of them, for example, seem to wonder at why we feel such a desperate need for drugs – desperate enough to fight for a law change – in the first place.

I’ll come clean. I’m one of the 25 per cent who never have tried cannabis. I have had my chances, thanks to flatmates, friends and neighbours. But I never felt the need. To be brutally honest, I was already happy, already having fun without help, so to waste money on mind-altering drugs seemed pointless.

And that’s what gets me. Why do so many people seem to feel such a pull towards pot? Why do so many seem to really want weed?

It’s this same mentality that shocks so many of our European visitors when it comes to alcohol. We don’t seem to be able to celebrate anything in this country – birthdays, weddings, someone’s life or even the weekend – without getting wasted.

I’ve seen my share of it. In High School my mates were vomiting or lying comatose on couches by 10pm at night as our German exchange students looked on in horror. Every weekend at University was a drinking binge, and I would watched it unfold in all its grotesque glory. The jumping out of second story windows, the sobbing about boys, and the unrelenting, incoherent rants were in equal part hilarious and deeply, desperately tragic.

Once I got into the workforce things weren’t much better. There were just the complications about what to do with kids when planning a bender, and how to deal with your boss after they had seen you wasted. That, and handling the hang-over, of course.

And that brings me back to my question again. What makes mind-altering substances such a necessity in this country? Is it social anxiety? Curiosity? Depression? Boredom? Existential crises? The question, I freely admit, has pounded all the more urgently in my head because I read The Herald’s haunting series on youth suicide in New Zealand this week.

And yes, I know what you are thinking. I have had all these conversations before: How could I understand the debate if I haven’t tried drugs? After all, it’s just a bit of fun! And by the way, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it..

But I could say the same right back.

Is it really that hard to conceive of enjoying life without some sort of mind-altering substance frequently at hand? If so, doesn’t that tell us enough about the real problem?

That’s what I mean about cannabis. Whether or not we get to do drugs seems so ludicrously irrelevant a question to ask when we haven’t stopped to wonder why we might want to.

What, when we live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, with every opportunity spread out before us (relatively speaking), makes us feel like we must have marijuana?

After all, when you really get to thinking about it the happiest people in the world surely aren’t the ones free to do drugs, but those who don’t feel the need to in the first place.

This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz

Back to basics

July 1, 2017

Sometimes the way forward is to go back. Particularly, it seems, with our education system. This week the government announced a technology revamp for schools, a small detail in the tsunami of change that sector is undergoing.

But, nonetheless, it is a detail that shows just how complicated our national conversation on education has become.  The truth, however, is that it really doesn’t need to be this hard.

I learned that by experience. I loved school right from the get-go. But it didn’t love me. In Primary School my teacher took mum and dad aside to have “that” talk. You know, the “your child is the dumb kid” talk.

“Narelle is not gifted,” was the gist of it. “School just isn’t for her”.

My weekly spelling test score came in at two out of 20, and I remember being astonished one week to find I had spelled the word “so” incorrectly. Despite all this, my baffled teacher acknowledged, my reading comprehension was fine.

Then we went to Africa. And the small, missionary-run school I washed up at would probably qualify as third-world by our standards. We worked in classrooms where the ceiling fan ran on generator-operated electricity, we walked on cool cement floors, and we gazed out of wooden-shuttered windows set into bare brick walls.

But we had everything we needed for a world-class education right there.

We had excellent, dedicated, hard-working teachers with plenty of time to help out the stragglers. They invented a catch-up curriculum just for me. Every day I sat alone at the other end of the classroom working while my peers carried on with the usual content.

I still distinctly remember that sunny African afternoon sitting in Science class when we got our test scores back. I was ready for my usual disappointment – a fail mark most likely.

Instead, “98 percent” was scrawled on the top of the page in red. I was absolutely speechless.

That moment altered the course of my life. By the time my feet hit Kiwi shores again I was in the top band for every subject. I left High School with a scholarship in English (thanks also to the magnificent Ms Bigge, who urged every inch of excellence out of us). I walked out of the University of Canterbury as a member of an honours society.

And then, best of all, I got a job doing what I had always loved doing: writing.

Quite obviously, if it were up to me none of that would have happened. It took some very dedicated, passionate teachers with time on their hands to produce those results.

And that is my point. It was the time with teachers, not the technology, that made a difference. It always will be the teachers, because nothing can replace the power of a person who cares.

But in order to show how much they care, to know a child and meet their needs, teachers need time. Our teachers are drowning in an ocean of administration, endless sheafs of health and safety paperwork, and untold hours on assessments. Their energy is drained in after-hours work instead of in the classroom with kids. Technology revamps are all well and good, but they won’t make a difference unless they really are about giving teachers more time to do what they love doing; to teach.

So far the word “time” has only been whispered around the edges of this reform, and that doesn’t give me high hopes.

That is why I say we need to go back if we really want to move forward. Right back, to the very basics of learning; to a teacher, a child, and time. We need to remind ourselves that everything else is just a support for those three things, not a silver bullet to bypass them.

This article was first publised on Stuff.co.nz

Step off the sidelines

June 17, 2017

The euthanasia debate is back on and if there is one thing we can’t afford to do, it is to sit on the sidelines.

What I mean by that, of course, is wriggling out of the debate by saying “oh, I’m not sure what I would do personally, but I guess if others wanna do it it’s up to them”.

I have heard that line probably more than any other in the discussions I’ve had about euthanasia. Many of us feel a bit icky about the idea, and yet think that we have no right to interfere if others want to be euthanased.

It’s their choice, after all, isn’t it? And who are we to get in between another human being and what they want?

Aside from the fact that it defeats the point of a democratic society, there is another problem to deal with.

We interfere with individual freedom all the time. And we do it because we believe that individual freedom has to be balanced against a thing called the “social good”, which means “what is best for the rest of us”.

We do not give individuals the freedom to take anything they see and happen to like. We call that stealing and it is a crime. We do not give individuals the freedom to have sex with whoever they would like, whenever they would like. We call that rape, or incest, or abuse depending on the situation. And they are crimes.

And at present we do not give anyone the right to kill, or help to kill, someone. We call that murder. And it is a crime.

Any change to murder laws, and you and I ought to be on high alert. We ought to be looking very carefully at what is changing, and why.

We ought to be looking at what has happened overseas, we ought to especially be looking at the risks involved, but most of all we ought to be looking at who loses out with such laws. After all, for every social change we make there are people who benefit and people who are harmed.

In this case, harm means murder. And that is very serious because once we are dead, we cannot come back.

So if euthanasia laws do result in some people being harmed, saying that we personally feel a bit unsure but we’re happy to let others do what they please is a little like saying we’re not sure about slavery laws, but we’re happy to let others do as they please.

It is unethical, because our silence creates victims.

On the other hand, if your reading makes you certain such laws are what is best for our society, why would you want to stay silent? Surely, we should all speak up for what is good, right and best for all of us.

It is no secret I believe that euthanasia laws absolutely will create victims. That is to say, based on the evidence from overseas, safeguards like consent, age restrictions and illness restrictions will gradually be eroded. And of course, a law without safeguards is by definition not safe.

That matters to me because I have a vested interest in the future. I have a little boy whom these laws will affect in one way or another. And that is the point. We are all connected, and our actions do impact other people, as much as we like to imagine that they don’t.

So we can all keep pretending ethics are personal opinion, but the fact remains that the victims of bad laws are real.

That alone should be enough to convince us that the sidelines are not an option in a debate about death.

This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz

 

 

 

 

Journalists doing PR?

June 16, 2017

I find this astonishing.

All of this week The Spinoff – a popular, online news and entertainment site, is dedicating its book reviews to former Green MP Holly Walkers book on being a working mum.

By all accounts, she had a miserable time, but I’m not interested in the debate over working mums here.

What got my eye was one little line from her excerpt.

A press gallery journalist, herself a working mother with young children, had seen my tweet and thoughtfully passed on that, to parents with children in daycare who would like nothing more than to be out walking with them on a sunny Friday afternoon, an MP posting a tweet like this was not a good look.

…A journalist thoughtfully passed on PR advice, to an MP?

And not just any journalist. A press gallery journalist. A journalist whose first duty is to the public, and not to a member of Parliament.

Maybe, just maybe, the journalist is giving PR advice to politicians on all sides of the political spectrum. But if she is, then she can’t pretend she’s there for us.

Because she is helping politicians sell themselves to us.

That’s a problem. No matter who the journalist is and no matter which political party they are selling.

I hear the cynic saying “yeah, but we all know journalists and politicians are in bed with each other”.

It doesn’t really matter, the point is that they shouldn’t be. The point is that we the public should not be ok with that. The point is that we ought to speak up and demand better, fairer journalism.

Otherwise, we have only ourselves to blame when the public become so disillusioned with politics and the media that they stop trusting them and start looking elsewhere for reliable information or representatives- which is what happened in the United States, Britain and Europe recently. 

Do we want such divisive politics here? 

Do we want an electorate so desperate?

 

Drowning in debt?

June 13, 2017

I’m starting to wonder if the word we are worrying about things in the wrong order.

Thanks to President Donald Trump, we all seem to have the jitters about voters, and their tendency to elect politicians on the basis of a shallow promises or personality, rather than a detailed analysis of policy.

What we are much less worried about is our children, and what they are being taught at school. But it seems to me that if we worry about the kids most, we might not have to worry about the voters.

Let me give you an example. Financial literacy. Try to say it without yawning. Then take a look at how many children come out of school knowing about balancing a budget, financial management, savings or investments. According to Dr Pushpa Wood of the Financial Health Check, most kids don’t kreally have a clue.

But ask a kid about capitalism’s many apparent failings and you will get a barrage of brilliant information because analysing that stuff is part of the Social Studies curriculum.

Our priorities are a problem. You only need to look at our $36 billion credit card spend last year -almost two thirds of which incurred interest – to see that.

The problem looks much worse once you put skin on it. Once you talk, like I have, to a man who was on the verge of suicide because of his debts. Or the couple whose marriage was about to fall apart because of money mismanagement. Or the family struggling to feed their kids because they hadn’t been taught to tweak some very basic things. All of them, thankfully, were rescued by a budgeting agency.

Yes, mums and dads ought to be passing on good money habits. But even then, isn’t it in the national interest to raise citizens who have healthy money habits, just as much as it is in all of our interest for them to have healthy physical habits?

Just imagine a country where citizens saved for their retirements, invested responsibly so that they had capital available if, say, they lost their job suddenly, and ensured they had a budget that took into account all the ups and downs of life. So much more of the tax take could be thrown at other problems.

And yes, for those of you wondering, there are lots of little programmes trying to claw their way into a few weeks of curriculum to give kids the gift of practical knowledge, but often that teachers feel about as excited by the words “financial literacy” as you and I do.

Besides that, teachers might find the topic of money management extremely uncomfortable, especially if they’ve never been taught themselves. So why should they pick it up if it is only an optional bit of curriculum?

And that brings us back to what we worry about.

Theory is great, but it is not going to help the child sitting in school today learn how to manage a mortgage tomorrow. Nor will it help that child to start thinking about long-term savings, investments or, for that matter, having a “giving” budget so that they can donate to worthy causes. For the kids who don’t see healthy money habits at home, it means there is almost no chance of ever learning these things.

And, of course, if we don’t worry about kids learning all these things at school, why should we expect voters to care about details like the nation’s debt levels, or whether a government can balance a budget, or how to go about investing in national infrastructure?

If all of these things are left completely beyond our comprehension, there really is only the shallow to vote on. We really are stuck with deciding the future of our nation on political promises or power of personality.

 This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz

The real heros

May 20, 2017

I don’t know how farmers do it.

Survive, I mean. They have 500 cows and 120 hectares to keep an eye on, but I can’t even keep one child and a few square metres of house safe.

In fact, with Worksafe’s ever-elongating fingers on the search for some new crime, I’m not sure how mothering is an allowed activity under New Zealand law anymore, let alone farming.

This hit me as I was dashing from my toddler’s bedroom – where I had just changed a nappy full of yellow “waste product” – to the kitchen, where I was in the tormented throes of attempting my first Feijoa chutney.

I was too late for the chutney. The time it had taken to dispose of the waste product meant the food product was mildly burned. As I was stirring it and wondering how I could convince my future guests it was intentional, I remembered that I hadn’t cleaned my hands.

At that point little man squawked, and I saw that he had climbed up my step ladder and was listing perilously to one side in an admirable, but fearless, attempt to reach the light switch. He got it, and the kitchen went dark, but not too dark for me to see him look sideways at me and grin. “No,” he said sternly, telling himself off before I could get the chance.

I put him over near the actual toys, not the light switch toys, but he insisted on coming back into the kitchen and clinging desperately to my legs while the chutney boiled and bubbled inches from his innocent blonde head.

I remembered, again, that I hadn’t washed my hands and plonked little man on the counter next to me while I finally scrubbed them.

But, of course, by this stage I was acutely aware that the imaginary Worksafe officer in my mind was shaking his head disapprovingly, and had been for quite a while.

“Hands washed after dealing with faecal matter? No. Hands cleaned before dealing with food product? No. All reasonable precautions taken to prevent injury when dealing with heights? No. All reasonable precautions taken to prevent injuries around mercilessly hot, lava-like substances? No.”

I sighed, as my imaginary Worksafe officer told me that he would have to remove the toddler from my care and close down my mothering business because, quite simply, I was breaking too many laws.

Little man, thankfully, was still on the bench when I emerged from my conversation with the officer inside my head.

Just to soothe my fears, I decided to look up mothering on Worksafe’s website when little man went to sleep. I knew there were guidelines for farmers, but surely not for mothering, I thought.

I was wrong. So I perused the offending document, and discovered that faecal matter was indeed a risk for pregnant or new mothers. Not only that, my own child was a risk because he exposed me to it.

My guilt, I confess, was beginning to turn to confusion as I tried to work out who the real victim in our household was. Little man, or me?

That was when I began to wonder who the real victims were on our farms. Cows, or farmers? And how does a farmers toilet train 500 “ladies” while extracting a food product at the same time?

Come to think of it, how does he survive the endless distractions that must be caused when 500 little calves get added into the mix? That’s not even mentioning the electric fences and moving machinery.

And the red tape! If I couldn’t follow all the guidelines for my one child, how could a farmer follow all the guidelines for 500 cows, which would no doubt be 500 times worse?

Truly, I thought, farmers are the real heroes.

This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz

Happy Mother’s Day!

May 14, 2017

Being a mum is hard work. Not all hard work, I should say. There are the smiles and the giggles and the little cuddles while you are dancing to jazz on a weekday morning.

But in between those moments there are the bits of porridge to scrape off the walls and out of your bathrobe, the meltdowns over nicely cooked family meals you had been planning all day, the buckets of soaking clothes stained with carrot plucked early from the garden and the sleepless nights managing a fever.

That’s why, commercialised though it may be, I love Mother’s Day. It is not just the chance for breakfast in bed. It’s not just the card with lovely words, or the lunch we might get taken out to. It’s the time the celebration gives us to step back and remember that what we do more than just wash clothes, clean faces and deal with poo-splosions.

We are shaping lives. And in the day-to-day grind it is difficult to remember that we are doing something so important.

Nevertheless, amidst all the ordinary daily tasks a mum does, something quite extraordinary is happening, according to psychologists. In fact, they reckon that just by saying “nearly there, just wait” to a screeching child impatient for their dinner, us mums are changing the future.

We know that because the latest research on the mum-bub bond takes us further into the universe of human relationships than we have ever gone before.

For instance, Washington University School of Medicine researchers found that attentive, caring mums were linked to physical changes in a child’s brain, (a larger hippocampus for those wanting a bit more detail), specifically, the area of the brain associated with learning, memory and dealing with stress.

Epigenetics, the study of how environment might impact on the expression of our genes, has now found that healthy, happy mother-child relationships play a role in the prevention of disease. Childhood trauma, however, is linked to an increased risk of autoimmune disease.

Behaviourally, researchers at the University of Minnesota found that mums who meet their babies needs and gave them plenty of love were more likely to have kids with healthy adult relationships.

All of this builds on the foundation first laid in 1960s when attachment theory became a thing, and psychologists started started realising the child-parent relationship mattered rather a lot.

Fortunately, when the researchers talk about healthy relationships between mum and bubs, they don’t mean anything particularly special. They simply mean mums who notice their children are cold and put on an extra layer, smell the nappy and change it, keep little tummies full and who give cuddles to a crying child.

We don’t have to be perfect, we don’t have to provide endless developmental games and we don’t have even have to be full of energy. We just have to love in that ordinary, every-day way that most mums love.

And somehow, out of that ordinary, imperfect, exhausted love comes something powerful enough to shape little lives far into the future.

So to all of us; the solo mums and the foster mums, the adoptive mums and the traditional mums, yes it is hard work.

Yes, there are a lot of angry moments, scary moments, and exhausted moments and financially tight moments.

Yes, it feels like there’s always something we’re not doing well enough.

But the truth of the matter is what all the books say. In the end your kisses, your cuddles and your love matter most.

Happy Mother’s Day.

This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz

 

Modern marriage and entertainment

May 3, 2017

I can still remember hunting down vows for my wedding day. I wanted the most ancient thing I could find, the most olden-day words that modern day people would still understand.

I wanted something that rebelled against modern matrimony, something starkly opposed and highly controversial. Fortunately, my husband was happy to go with the flow on that one, and we found the perfect words hidden in the dusty internet pages of the 1559 Anglican Book of Common Prayer.

And now, with Married at First Sight having just waltzed through the arrivals lounge and into New Zealand, our reasons for going old school have been confirmed.

The very popular overseas show sees experts match up couples who meet at the alter, and who then have a month to decide whether or not to stick life out together.

It’s not the show I’m worried about, by the way, because it doesn’t trivialise marriage as a couple of church leaders proclaimed this week. Quite the opposite, in fact. Television is little more than a mirror reflecting back at us, with dreadful accuracy, who we really are. And that means we trivialised marriage first. The show is nothing more than a very serious, accurate likeness staring us back in the eye.

Just look at the three “one in threes” if you’re not convinced that we messed up first. In 2011 an article states that one in three people confess to having had an affair in New Zealand. One in three marriages end in divorce (read past the headline from Statistics NZ on that one).  According to the website “It’s not OK” one in three women have experienced abuse from a partner (and this will include many married women).

With statistics like that, who could possibly take marriage seriously? No wonder we ended up with a television show that experiments with vows like one might experiment with making white sauce. We already do it with each other.

And that brings us back to 1959. The subjects of Good Queen Bess were scattered across the realm nervously awaiting their wedding proclamation in church each Sunday, for three Sundays in a row, after which anyone give a reason for why the marriage ought not to go ahead.

If they made it past that test (hopefully with their fingernails intact), England’s young lovebirds were then forced to endure the same question (does ANYONE object?) at the start of their marriage ceremony.

After a rather arduous philosophical treatise on the origins, purpose and ends of marriage, you would think a little romance would enter the ceremony.

But instead, vows mentioning death all sorts of serious stuff had to be uttered, and then everybody repeated lines about God having mercy.

In fact, mercy is mentioned as many times as love.

It might seem a bit pessimistic, but I reckon these old codgers knew a thing or two. They knew that marriage was as much about love as it was sheer, bloody-minded hard work, and that was why it would take mercy.

They knew young couples needed sobering up and reminding of this as they soared the dizzying heights of new love. They knew that old couples sitting in the audience needed reminding of this as they took a break from the stresses and pressures of daily life.

They knew that repeating the same old lines in the same old ceremony might seem a little uncreative and boring, but they also knew that the moment we stopped, we would forget what it takes to make marriage work.

And I think we’re proving them right.

This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz

 

 

 

Letting speech blossom

April 11, 2017

News broke this week that a bunch of prominent New Zealanders were standing up for free speech.

Their open letter comes after comments made by the Human Rights Commissioner, Dame Susan Devoy. She suggested hate speech laws needed toughening up, as did the Police Commissioner.

Perhaps she’s thinking Canada sets a good model. They decided to make it an offence to communicate any material “that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt.” That law only lasted 15 years before it had to be chucked out because, in the words of one MP, “a small number of people [are] determining what Canadians can and can’t say.”

Despite the warning, Canada still considers hate speech a crime for which you could be thrown in prison for two years.

Over in the United States there is a pretty big debate about “fighting words”, which we call hate speech, but they still defend it – just. Even Westoro Baptist Church still has the right to hold horrible signs at the funerals of soldiers, or at gay pride parades, so long as they are not actually encouraging others to kill or harm.

The United States does, however, have a problem with Universities producing “speech codes” that, time and again, have been thrown out by its Supreme Court for breaching the right to free speech. So even if the laws of a country keep our right to speech safe, its institutions might not.

That, along with what is happening in Canada, teaches us something very important about hate speech laws, and free speech too.

You see, we all agree that inciting people to murder, or genocide, or defaming someone ought to be illegal because they pose imminent danger to a specific person or group of people. That is why there are laws against these things in New Zealand, Canada and the United States.

Hate speech is different. It is based on offense, and that, as Canada shows us, is a very subjective, and difficult to control without harming free speech.

This is because there isn’t a sentence on earth you could utter that wouldn’t offend someone. I could look into my husband’s eyes at the park and tell him I love him, and a passerby might feel offended at my public statement of affection.

In other words, when you try to apply these laws, all sorts of people get swept up in them who were simply trying to express or argue a point of view. In the end you find the laws are just being used by different groups in society to try to control each other.

That is why creating laws around hate speech is dangerous. Where do they stop if they are based on offense caused, rather than actual and imminent harm? They don’t, which is why Canada’s hate speech laws might soon include a clause making it illegal to promote “hatred towards a gender identity or expression,” rather than, as previously, to incite genocide.

That’s a concern, of course, because it means pointing out things like the alarmingly high suicide rate amongst those who choose to transition genders, and suggesting we ought to do a lot more research before funding transgender operations, might constitute hate speech. At the very least, such a law will make academics and citizens very nervous when it comes to talking about such findings. That leaves us with a society in which a truth that could save lives being suppressed.

That, if nothing else, should convince us that free speech is worth protecting – even if we do have to put up with the odd horrible person saying awful things.

And as the prominent Kiwis say, free speech needs protecting in our laws as much as it does in our institutions if we are to keep fear and intolerance at bay.

This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz