I have always enjoyed sport. When I was young I played cricket, rugby league and basketball with varying degrees of success but with considerable enjoyment. The teams I played in were not champion teams and we probably lost more often than we won. But that was character building as well. I also competed in athletics and won the district championship for my age group a couple of times and held the mile record at the high school I attended. I don’t think I was a particularly gifted athlete but I was prepared to put the work in. I suspect that in schoolboy athletics even those with moderate talent could prosper in the distance events if they applied themselves and trained hard.
One year, I had put in my usual preparation for the athletics carnival only to be struck down with flu a fortnight before the event. I began to feel a little better a few days before the carnival and opted to run in my favoured events. The first event I was scheduled to run was the 220 yards (pre metric conversion) which on previous form I should have won. I tried my hardest but could only manage fourth or fifth and collapsed and had to be carried off the track to my great embarrassment. I was unable to compete further that day.
I was probably a more gifted student than a sportsman but made the grade in sport because I was prepared to work at it. But when illness intervened and I couldn’t train, coupled with my depleted physical resources, I was never a chance. Perseverance, persistence and hard work pave the way to success in athletics as well as many things in life.
When I became a manager I found some of the same principles applied. It became obvious to me that good results in the workplace came from creating positive workplace cultures where, as I have often said, employees were aligned with the purpose of the enterprise. But this was something you always had to work at.
We created the potential for good workplaces by careful selection and induction processes and even more importantly by skilling our first line supervisors. They were the key to our success. Just like the athlete has to train every day, the supervisor has to maintain the culture every day. If the supervisor ignores the conflict in the workplace or allows the expected mores to be infringed the problems fester. A good supervisor has to go to work every day and act to reinforce the desired culture and model the behaviours required by the employees.
You might think that my story so far has promoted inconsequential things that won’t impact much on your lives. Well it is time to wake up, because many of you are asleep.
We live in a very privileged society. Our liberty, our freedom of speech, our religious freedom, the benefits of our liberal democracy are all wonderful attributes. And yet surveys are suggesting that many of our young people put no value on this at all. They seem to take it all for granted and don’t consider the obvious downside of the alternatives.
My contention is that just like my athletic performance and our good workplace cultures need to be worked at every day, so do our essential freedoms need continual defence. And too many people have become complacent. We, in the West have gone to sleep and allowed our concerns to be diverted to more inconsequential things like political correctness and a propensity not to offend, even when the offence is essential to the preservation of our freedom.
I love my garden. But if I neglect it, soon the weeds start to dominate. I need to be there every week weeding, planting, fertilising and conditioning the soil. I suspect our liberal democracy needs similar attention.
I have written many essays now on the problems being imposed on us by fundamentalist Islam. It is a very serious threat to our way of life.
Some claim that we are over-reacting and that the major issue is the struggle between Sunni and Shia. Certainly these two strands of Islam have endured the most in terms of the sheer numbers of casualties suffered. But both seem determined to establish theocracies based on Sharia law, imposing appalling medieval practices that would curtail our freedom and change our world irreparably for the worse.
It is not long since his demise as Prime Minister and my memory is not too good these days, but didn’t Tony Abbott tell us we should not be ashamed in asserting our values are better than the Islamists? And of course they demonstrably are! Our society is not particularly misogynistic. We don’t throw homosexuals off high buildings. We don’t summarily execute those who disagree with our religious principles. We prefer to debate with those whose opinions differ from ours rather than slay them.
To prove Abbott’s point, there has been a huge net migration from those countries where fundamentalist Muslim doctrines prevail to the West and this has been ongoing for many decades, even from countries whose civilian populations have been largely untouched by the ravages of war. Our way of life, our fundamental freedoms and relative material prosperity make the West attractive to these people. The only migration in the reverse direction, relatively small as it is, is by psychopathic fundamentalist zealots who want to die for Allah!
We should be championing and defending our free speech, but our resolve seems to have lessened. Our lack of resolve on this matter was demonstrated by the ambivalent responses to the Charlie Hebdo massacre just twelve months ago, and before that to the extreme reaction of fundamentalist Islam to the Dutch cartoons about Muhammad, and before that again to the ridiculous campaign against Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. Liberals should never have allowed the silencing of our protests let alone condone the gross over-reaction in the name of religious freedom.
I suspect that our ambivalence to such issues occurs largely because we see fundamentalist Islam as just another legitimate religious option when it is essentially, as Kenan Malik has proclaimed, “a rage against modernity”.
We need to guard against an erosion of our essential freedoms. We need to ensure we are not distracted from doing our essential maintenance lest we lose them. Speaking up when they are threatened is just the equivalent of weeding the garden, maintaining our workplace cultures or preparing to run that next mile!
I don’t like to be alarmist, but just twelve months after the Charlie Hebdo tragedy we don’t seem to have learnt that lesson. We continue to let our genuine concerns about the erosion of our basic freedoms be muted by the faux offence confected by the extremists and the political correctness promoted by the seemingly well-meaning but ultimately naïve deniers.
You know we are in trouble when so many would rather denounce the giving of offence than protest against the curtailment of our freedom of speech. And it is not too difficult to envision a time, that unless we put in the effort to seriously defend these important freedoms, they might indeed be lost to us. So my plea on this first anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo tragedy is not to take them for granted.