Into the Arena
Updated: Jul 16, 2021
It's been a whirlwind four weeks. What began as an idea over a coffee with a friend 6 years ago, in the last month has ballooned into a real thing - a movement even. The Centrepoint Restoration Project started as an idea for redemption, for restoration, and a vision that the cohort of children of Centrepoint could have their stories heard, and their experiences validated and acknowledged. Now, suddenly, it is being heard and grabbed hold of by that cohort of children. Not all of them, but many. And many people who have never been connected, or known to others, are climbing out of their silent places to make contact, and reconnect with one another, and to offer their ideas about moving forward. The TVNZ documentary which aired for the first time on 30 May 2021 - whether welcomed or dreaded - has opened the door to a conversation about honesty, healing, accountability, and shame which has never really happened before.
Rachel (aka Ella), Kate and I - just three women trying to get on with their lives after a pretty shitty start - have shot into the headlines. Our faces are suddenly everywhere. People are quoting us. It's a bit bewildering and surreal.
We are not the first to speak out about what happened at Centrepoint, and we are certainly not the bravest. People have gone before us. There have been others who have stood up in the past to tell their stories about their experiences at Centrepoint and we must not forget them. They were not always supported, believed or honoured for their bravery. They often regretted speaking out, and some were shamed, vilified and ostracised. As a result, former Centrepoint children and teens are left with disillusionment and suspicion as a result of the past efforts that did not produced the hoped for results, and fear now that this will be just another media storm, which New Zealand quickly forgets, but which we have to live with.
But it is a different time now, and for some reason we are in a tipping point, where lethargy and inertia cede to momentum, and action becomes possible. Malcolm Gladwell wrote about this concept in his 2000 book "The Tipping Point". In this book he outlines the factors which come together to create change; those that we can control, and most that we have no control over at all. I believe that many of the factors that need to be aligned to bring change in this space are currently in play. We are sitting in our own tipping point right now.
As a result of the activities of the last four weeks - both in the media, and in the private conversations we are having with each other - the narrative is changing. We are being contacted by people from the community who say, "Please, we want to be part of this." Others who have nothing to do with Centrepoint are contacting us to say, "Yes, please now! This is the right time, and you are giving me hope that the struggle I have in another space may be relieved." It has been overwhelming, yet it has also been awe-inspiring. We have been supported by our peers who are saying "Yes, wahine toa, keep going, we are behind you!" Experts who know about the complex ins-and-outs of drawing factions together into a complicated, but ultimately, worthwhile conversation, are coming to us to offer us their expertise. We are being told about people who are making gains in their personal lives as a result of our honesty - these people have been inspired to talk to a sibling or a parent about a hard topic, which has never been possible before. Perhaps it was successful, perhaps it was not - certainly it was hard - but regardless of the outcome, these people have practiced telling their hard, hard truth, with an integrity which is self-honouring, in their own context, because they are encouraged by others who have done the same mahi. I have been inspired by this very thing before in my life. I have stood on the shoulders of others and now we have had a chance to lend our shoulders to some of our peers.
We have invited the first generation of Centrepoint - our parents and the other adults who lived there when we were children - to respond to the call to restorative action which the documentary introduces. We invite collaboration in a restorative process with those bystanders who should have protected us, and who are now willing to do the relational and emotional work. For these people we have offered compassion, and have sought to understand the factors that enabled them to make such poor choices, that had such dire consequences for us. For those who are capable of responding with authenticity and integrity, we have penned an Open Letter, to ask for restorative action, and the names of those who are willing to participate continue to be added. Yet, for those who were clear perpetrators, and continue to excuse or deny their harmful choices, blame others for their actions, or justify an ongoing attitude that criminal actions back then do not need redressing in some way, we have made it clear that we have no tolerance. I outlined the thinking behind our call for restorative action in my interview with Jim Mora on Radio New Zealand on 30 May 2021.
Brene Brown has spoken and written extensively on the topic of 'daring greatly' - the idea that the biggest, and most hopeful things in life take commitment and bravery and risk, and come with them the possibility of defeat and failure. She quotes Theodore Roosevelt frequently, who described the arena and the fighter who expends himself in the fight, and the critic in the stand, who invests nothing, stands to lose nothing, and yet has a lot to say about the fight.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” Theodore Roosevelt
We are in the arena, and there are many critics in the stand. People are bravely stepping out of their seats and making their way down through the benches into the arena, and they are bringing their thoughts, their ideas, their concerns, and their trust to this initiative. They are starting to say what they want. They are putting on their gloves, and working out what they need to do to fight along side us. We do not have the answers. We have only ideas and our ideas are no more important than anyone else's. We are not here saying we will produce a package that others can opt in to, or opt out of. This is not our job alone. The job of working out what is needed is next, and this job is one which we must all own, and we must all invest in. We all must enter the arena and be a part of making it our own.
I am not interested in the opinions of people who sit in the stands, and who are not willing to come down, and get dirty and sweaty and afraid with me in the arena.
If you wish to be part of what happens next, I invite you to step out of the stands and come down with us to fight. You can find more information about how you can respond, either through signing the Open Letter here, or through choosing different ways to interact with the project, here.