On Sunday evening, after a warm, autumn day, I drove past the white gates to the perimeter of the Linwood Islamic Centre. I’ve driven this route for the last eight months, but today, at the traffic lights, I sat stunned at the energy that radiated through the surrounding gates of the property.
It had been two years since this innocent, seemingly average location became the top story of global media when a man undertook the most heinous of acts.
Today, a few dozen cars parked inside its gates, children running in between them while the adults hugged and greeted one another. Adjacent sat an orange, blue and white police truck that was completely outplayed by the dazzling display of flora and signs of love and support.
You would be forgiven to deny such an event ever happening here.
Like last month’s reflection to the Christchurch Earthquakes a decade ago, I was reminded that Christchurch seldom forgets.
Almost every day, you will see a car with the sticker “they are us” planted with pride on the back. The staunch nature of the south islanders’ is reflected in how we respond to such crimes like this. I’ve lived here through the earthquakes, the change of the city, a tragic mining disaster, weather event, terrible economic conditions, and then this terrorist attack – something not a single person could have predicted. This city has had it rough, and yet it remains this bustling, beautiful garden metropolis.
But I’m not here to talk about what this city has been through, I’m here to talk about the resilience of the New Zealand people, the expectations and reaction to events that seem to have made us generally ready for whatever the world throws at us.
Of course, this is general – some will do well, many have struggled – but our response and considerations of culture, beliefs and commitment to something like the covid-19 lockdown is admired the world over. I have travelled enough to recognise ‘every man for himself’ versus ‘love thy neighbour’.
On March 5th, Kiwis were subjected to another extreme event in the way of a tsunami. Thousands evacuated, homes at risk, lives at risk, the countdown ticking away as more and more surges picked up in the surrounding bays of Gisborne, Bay of Plenty and the east coast.
I observed the reactions at my desk all day. Calm, perhaps even positive reports showed the people, the tradies and residents finding an excuse to grab a box of beers, a picnic and sit atop the hills on a beautiful, clear summer’s day. The community spirit broadcasted through my screen was intoxicating.
It was a different picture that I observed while rendering the ten year old footage from the Christchurch earthquake back in February. One of terror, chaos and concern as a sudden event submerged anyone’s hope of control. This EQ was New Zealand’s biggest event and opened the doors to how vulnerable people really are.
And while it’s recognised the tsunami risk in March was a slow burning event in comparison, it was the calm, resilient response from the locals that really impressed me. As such, it got me thinking;
Is it possible, and are we beginning to see the evidence that countries can embody effective group, community resilience?
The emotional (and sometimes physical) toll of a crisis must be addressed here when considering this hypothesis. Firstly, many countries do not have the resources to support the mental effects of an event. New Zealand certainly isn’t the exception here with our country sitting shamefully atop the youth suicide count when compared with any other developed country.
The next consideration is how this is measured. While much footage on March 5th showed the community gathering together, supporting and helping ensure children were safe and entertained, reports also fluttered in from residents refusing to leave, now likely boasting the “I told you so” speech to all.
We don’t yet know the full impact to the muslim community in New Zealand. Police continue to show their presence around Mosques. But I can confirm that they continue to meet, pray and smile in the presence of one another.
I’ve been impressed and proud to see the general staunch, resilient attitude to many of our events here in New Zealand.
No one can argue the inspiring community spirit and the camaraderie the country showed during the Mosque attacks. Similarly, our seemingly straightforward and effective response to covid-19 places us atop of a more positive podium as the number one country to reside in during a pandemic. That’s impressive.
Like our brothers and sisters in Australia, our GDP and overall economic situation has been more positive than first predicted. We’re continuing to live out our lives and get on with it even when these crazy scenarios are presented to us.
This hypothesis will come with its arguments and its confirmations, but while it remains just that, there is no doubt that I have seen this country pull together in more ways than one to support each other. My understanding is that the experiences we’re going through are used as case studies across the globe, but I see this as an opportunity to learn from them and include them in our organisational culture, our clubs, our circles.
We need to question whether community resilience is possible and why we’re not embodying that as a foundational value within all areas.
On this two year anniversary of a terrible event, we can take this time to remember those lost and consider how we continue to grow as communities.