Sitting in the staff room every February, shiny-faced or not so shiny-faced new teachers would arrive from New Zealand, ready to take on the new challenge of working in the Cook Islands and living in Rarotonga.
I was one of those contractors in 2011, and as time went on and the exit each year of teachers also welcomed a new lot, there was almost this invisible line of three to four months when certain phrases would drop out like, back in New Zealand, or, we never did that in our country, or sometimes it was you guys really need to do something about whatever it seemed to be that was causing this new teacher frustration, as they struggled with our speed or lack of change.
My response was always, have a good look around you, have a look at our resources and if they don’t scream things don’t change very quickly, then you have come to the wrong place.
Because there is a pace by which change happens in the Cook Islands, and as we grapple with change be it, the decriminalisation of homosexuality, pay parity, land or reform of any kind, or the pushback to change, it is disturbing at times, the things that people say, that they say about their neighbour or their relative or even of people they don’t know at all when they disagree and disconnect with people of differing opinions or ideas.
Tikitikitangata, and Momorima are two patterns that appear on any piece of work or carving in the Cook Islands and they speak of our ability to hold each other and to link hands, or to stand back to back, because in doing so we have remained strong and vibrant and ready to fight another day.
Why then do we allow ourselves to let the hand of our fellow Cook Islander go so as we can stand in a corner of our Vaka and say no we disagree, when all that ever does is weaken us and disable our ability to empathise or understand or work together.
Let us disagree, and disagree strongly, but never should we let go of each other in the process and see each other as enemies, for in doing so we let go of understanding, we let go of empathy, we let go of love and we actually let go of the tolerance each side so loudly demands of the other.
I can stand and hold your hand and disagree with you, but I will not let go of your hand because in doing so I stop that feeling of you next to me, your pulse and heartbeat, warmth and presence, your being, because the only thing left after letting go is the dehumanising, vitriolic throwing of insults and intolerance that our world seems to be full of like never before.
If we are to be tolerant, let us be tolerant of embracing each other, let us be tolerant of holding other’s opinion in the same regard as we do our own, and if we are to truly be heard, then let us truly be listeners of each other first. I am compelled by my faith to do so, and if we are to be intolerant of anything then let that be intolerance, let that be division, and let that be anything that can polarise us and cause us to let go of each other’s hand and separate ourselves from each other, because of what we believe or do not believe. That doesn’t mean we can’t disagree – more that we can hold each other in regard even when we do.
Yes, there are times when maybe we do not hold that hand as strongly as we did before, when we are hurt or when we are offended, but again and as we are compelled in the Lord’s Prayer, forgive as we are forgiven.
Because when we remember our own faults we tend to forget those in others that offend us.
Simple it may seem, but at times so difficult in our hearts to put into practice.
Can we look for opportunity to understand and not just be understood? Can we look for opportunity to pull each other closer rather than push each other away and can we not let go of each other when there is always the opportunity to stand with each other instead, for love is not measured by the love we have for those we like and are connected to.
Rather, it is measured by how we treat those that have nothing to offer us, who disagree with us and whose picture will not appear in our social media posts.