Danielle van Dalen
Note: This article was written before the conclusion of the general election on September 23, 2017 in New Zealand
Kiwi children know that good sportsmanship in team sports looks like healthy competition followed by the competing teams shaking hands and acknowledging that it was a “good game.”
At the end of another election, I hope that we are about to see the political equivalent of the competing teams meeting in the middle of the field shaking hands with civility.
I am writing this the day before the polls close and we find out how New Zealand has voted. Over the past few weeks, we have heard numerous comments that this election will be a tight race, but after the votes are counted there will be political “winners” and a “losers.” Many New Zealanders will have voted for people who will not make it into parliament. Whether we respond to that win or loss with civility or incivility is important.
Over the past year we have seen multiple examples of incivility in politics around the world, the most prominent of which have surrounded the latest US presidential election. Donald Trump supporters chanted “Lock her up!” about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, while following the election protestors claimed that Trump is “not MY President.” The result has been an increasingly divided nation whose political process is feeling the effects.
New Zealand’s response to Saturday’s election must be different – whatever the results. While New Zealand is not currently as divided as the US, we need to respond in civility to ensure that our political process we don’t head in the same direction.
This does not mean that we need to all miraculously agree come Sunday morning. Differences of opinion are good and healthy in a functioning democracy.
As Jeremy Waldron said in Maxim Institute’s annual Sir John Graham Lecture earlier this year, “civility is about the way we deal with our disagreements, not about the way we avoid them.”
Responding in civility, however, does require supporting the new leaders of our country and the office they will hold. It also requires a willingness to investigate the work they are doing and holding them to account for the direction they are leading us.
In practice, then, civility means accepting the laws of our government – whether we voted for them or not. It means participating in the political process – by writing to our MPs, speaking up when we disagree with policies, and humbly accepting the result. Responding in civility also means simply listening to the ideas and beliefs of those we disagree with in our communities and neighbourhoods before forming our response. It means willingly engaging with different opinions without brushing them off.
I do not know what the political playing field will look like when you read this, but I hope the response of New Zealanders will not depend on the election result.
Rather, I hope our response is the equivalent of coming to the centre of the sports field, shaking hands with the opposition, and saying “good game.”
I hope our response is one filled with the kind of civility and good sportsmanship our children practice each week.
Danielle van Dalen is a Researcher at the Maxim Institute based in Auckland.