Shifting Sands

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I believe that grit is an undervalued element of life. Grit can mean the difference between standing strong or simply standing by. It can be the difference between pushing through or being pushed over. Grit even sounds like its a gritty word as it forms on the back of your tongue, rolls across the roof of your mouth before the decisive and abrupt end to the textured word.

We disguise or misrepresent the importance of grit by associating it with the annoyance in your shoe after a visit to the beach or the unwelcome crunch in your salad sandwich. This association of grit as dirty or annoying has led us to dismiss the true power of grit when we sense it in others. We say things like “here we go again” or “when will they be satisfied?” It is often accompanied with an eye-roll or a disapproving shake of the head. But, we need to rethink grit and its value in our society.

I don’t know where grit comes from, but I like to think that it has two key elements; courage and integrity. The origins of the words courage and integrity refer to whole of heart, innocence and blameless. To me, grit speaks to a dedication to justice.

In recent times, we have witnessed great social shifts in Australia. From our Government’s hardline approach to refugee and asylum seekers, discussion of privatising universities, which would impact the cost of and access to tertiary education, and dramatic budget cuts to the social services including organisations delivering programs to our most vulnerable and those most in need of support. This constant bombardment of regressive rhetoric and action creates a sense of ‘what can I really do’. This is creeping into the minds of the most steadfast human rights defenders, not to mention the everyday person who cares about issues, wants to be engaged but doesn’t feel like their voice matters. As these social shifts happen across Australia, cracks form and things we value fall through. Hopelessness grows, empathy diminishes and frustration peaks.

One such social shift which has fuelled this frustration has been the planned closure of over 100 remote Aboriginal communities, which will impact thousands of Australians; men, women and children. It will signal, in many cases, a disconnection from traditional lands and traditional ways of life for a large number of Aboriginal people in Western Australia.

“One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”

– Martin Luther King Jr

On Friday April 10, people from across Australia came together and in one voice denounced the planned closures of these remote communities. They disrupted streets, bystanders and public transport to exercise a democratic right to protest. Flinders Street in Melbourne became the meeting ground of up to 5,000 people who are passionate about equality, care about community and who possess grit. They were met with disapproving head shaking, the rhetoric of ‘here we go again’, the slander of being labeled ‘bleeding hearts’ and ‘lefties’. The newspaper headlines read ‘Selfish Rabble Shut City’ and the Lord Major called it ‘self-indulgent’.

But as the disapproving cries rang out from mainstream media, it was swiftly drowned out by those who possess the fundamental belief that we are our brothers keepers, we are our sisters keepers – the belief that one community being impacted by laws that undermine universal human rights, does not just impact that community, it impacts all of our communities.

When we stand by while people and communities suffer in our own backyard we allow gaps to appear in the fabric of our society and the things we treasure to fall through.When we allow the value of one person’s life to be measured over another person’s life, our society ultimately pays the price. When we dismiss grit as an annoyance, we dismiss the courage and integrity of those willing to show grit.

The message here, beyond the importance of possessing true grit, is that if you find yourself being labeled the rabble, think about who had been labeled the rabble before, and draw strength from their dedication to justice in the face of unjust laws, draw strength from the friction created through grit.

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