Lighthouses and Ostriches


There are a small group of people in my neighbourhood who have recently decided to stand up and do something about an issue that is having a huge effect on our community: in this case it’s to do with the destruction of our local coastline. In finding the courage to speak out, they have opened themselves up to abusive phone calls, nasty letters and bullying by those who feel their “rights” may be infringed in some way.

Those protesting are the “againsters”-  people who react aggressively and forcefully to protect and justify their behaviours, even if it’s blatantly obvious that those behaviours are damaging and impactful on the environment and on other people. They are “against” any changes to the way things are. No compromise. No discussion. Just plain NO.

They are supported by the bystanders, the ostriches-the “she’ll be right mate/ ignore it and it will go away” mob- those who prefer to live in Comfort Land where everything has a fairytale ending….(insert fairy sprinkles here :) )

In our society people love to gang up and ridicule those who have the courage to stand up for something. Those who choose not simply to put up with things. Those who are willing to speak up, to blow the whistle, to fight for things, to stand for something. We have a host of derogatory names for them- dobbers, whingers, troublemakers, greenies, lefties, loonies, whistleblowers, idealists…(yeah, I am being polite here!)

I recently read a book that had a profound impact on me (‘Wilful Blindness’ by Margaret Heffernan.) One of the things that was discussed was how the need to fit in and be accepted allows us to overcome our moral judgements. How a fear of standing out from the crowd, a need to be accepted, overrides our moral beliefs about speaking up, even when faced with the blinding obvious. Even when we know what’s happening around us is wrong.…

I know of a man in a small country town. He is a violent, abusive, nasty drunk who beats and terrorises his wife and children. The local police know him well. This is common knowledge yet… he has lots of friends, he is popular at the town pub, everyone is pleasant to him around town and (get this!) he gets to be Father Christmas in the town Christmas celebrations. The local kids sit on his knee and he hands them out presents. Everyone conveniently “overlooks” the fact that he is a violent and dangerous man who should be the last choice to hold this position in a community. (After all, how different from the spirit of Christmas could you possibly get??)

Because “everyone” thinks he is a “nice bloke,” no one has the guts to be the first to stand up and call him on it. People follow the lead of “everybody else” and nobody does a damn thing. And so, the message all around is that his behaviour is okay. No one wants to be the first to stand (ie: create a scene/ cause a ruckus/ make a fuss/ stir things up.)

So, they do nothing.

It’s much easier not to, so they don’t.

And, as one, a whole community combines to perpetuate something that is unacceptable.

We can be awake or we can be the metaphorical ostrich (and sometimes that’s okay-after all, we can’t stand up for everything or we would become totally overwhelmed and burn ourselves out- trust me-tried that one-doesn’t work!)

We do however, have a choice in not joining in with those whose sole purpose seems to be in cutting down the lighthouses who choose to take a stand.

Sometimes you will agree with their cause and sometimes you will not.

The very least we can do is to defend their right to stand for something…