At Pinnacle Life this week, as we are sure many business and individuals around the country have been doing, we’ve been talking a lot about our backgrounds and culture, our diversity, religion, peace, and respect. We’ve been trying to come to terms with and to start finding answers to the tragic events of last Friday. Tomorrow in Australia (March 21) they will celebrate World Harmony Day. We wondered if that is something NZ should consider adopting.
Harmony day is endorsed by the Australian government and coincides with the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The day is marked by people coming together and participating in local activities. It’s an opportunity to learn about other cultures through activities such as morning teas, fairs, school assemblies and costume days. The key message is that ‘Everyone Belongs’, it is about community participation, inclusiveness, celebrating diversity, respect and belonging.
It seems timely to think about harmony in NZ and whether we should be doing more to celebrate our diversity, bringing it out in the open, making it more visible rather than taking it for granted and helping us all to learn about all the cultures in our communities. Because despite the horror and tragedy of the last week, many of us have shown we deeply care about the welfare of all New Zealanders. We want to understand each other better and eradicate intolerance. The way to do that is by knowing each other as individuals not as labels.
The intention of World Harmony Day is to celebrate a culturally diverse society. Like Australia, most of NZ’s population is made up of people who arrived in the country in the last 200 years. Because the majority of our population is made up of people who moved here in the last 2 or 3 generations, our backgrounds and cultures are varied and different.
Just over 25% of NZ population was born overseas at the time of the 2013 Census, this was up from 23% in 2006 and 20% in 2001
- Over half of our overseas born population lives in the Auckland region
- In the late 2000’s Asia overtook Britain as the largest source of overseas migrants
- Immigrant religions mirror the trend in migration with the greatest increases occurring to Sikh, Hindu, Islam and Buddhism.
In February the World Interfaith Harmony Week passed almost unnoticed in NZ apart from a few localised activities. The observant week was first proposed in 2010 by H.M. King Abdullah II of Jordan and was unanimously adopted by the UN. The initiative calls for Muslim and Christian leaders to engage based on two common fundamental religious Commandments; Love of God, and Love of the Neighbour, without compromising any of their own religious tenets. The formula includes all people of goodwill, it includes those of other faiths, and those with no faith.
Almost all of NZ’s public holidays are based on a Christian calendar. Yet the statistics show that over half of our population are non-Christian. Without knowing it we learn about Christianity in our everyday lives. How can we celebrate and learn about other religions and cultures in the same way? How can we learn not just about the differences but also the similarities?
Many of us have been left feeling guilty about our inaction over passive racism, wondering what we can do differently to ensure that NZ is a safe and happy place to live, where all cultures and religions are valued. If we start by treating everyone with respect, ensuring that all people are valued, take the time to find out about other cultures, and celebrate rather than ignore our diversity, we can help the world and most importantly NZ, be the peaceful place we want it to be. A national day won’t answer all our questions nor solve all the problems, but it might help us all to understand each other a little better and have more tolerance and understanding of our differences.