Cultural Comment Politics Sport

Six Places – Learning to Walk Away from Proselytising

This week I have had six different experiences, sat in six different places and I have felt as though they sum up where I am in life but also have taught me about the exhaustion of being a proselytiser.

When I started writing this blog and was developing my political twitter direction, I had the zeal of the proselytiser.  That person very keen to encourage others to consider another point of view in so many directions.   Part of me was even hoping to convert people to a different way of thinking.  Right now, however, I am exhausted by that effort.  Right now, I am wondering whether the work of the proselytiser is pointless because it’s very hard to change the paradigms of other people – and really, who am I to tell people that there’s a “better” way to do things?  Those six places told me all.

Place One – The City Recital Hall – Stephen Hough Piano Recital

I was listening to the first half of the piano recital being entirely bored – not because of the performance, it was beautiful.  It was about me – what kind of life experiences I had been having, the politics in which I had been involved, work.  And here I was, listening to Chopin Ballades that were really making me itch in my seat, wanting to be OUT.  I even rang my wife at half time, ranting about Chopin. I didn’t leave, however – it was Stephen Hough, who is my favourite pianist.

Then, after interval, a transformation occurred. The music had changed, but it was me that had changed the most.  I enjoyed the other Chopin Ballades, the Children’s Corner suite was beguiling (though I did reflect on what people on Twitter would think of the “Golliwog’s Cake Walk” that ends the suite), The Joyous Isle was glittering with the inner voices that Hough was bringing out of the music.  Suddenly, I remembered what it was that I loved about classical music recitals.  And then Hough did something remarkable (in my eyes, at least) – the last encore was a Grieg Nocturne that I used to play A LOT as a teenager.  I thought it was a great piece to both express teenage romantic yearnings and impress people (i.e. women)

It was a night that sang to me beneath all the layers I had built around me.  All the blogs, the tweeting, the engagement on social media platforms, all rendered irrelevant and without access to that part of me that will always love things that not all that many my age and younger are “into”.  It also occurred to me that I have spent a chunk of my time trying to proselytise classical music to people around me and through Twitter. It’s time for me to stop that. I love the world of “classical” music and it means something special to me. But it doesn’t serve any useful purpose to push that view towards others.  There’s worlds of music that mean all sorts of things to other people.

The twain doesn’t have to meet and we can go into our different music silos – or mix them up – whatever makes people happy.  It’s taken too long for me to realise that, and a lot of wasted emotional energy.

Place Two – Education Forum, Penrith

I attended a forum run by the AEU, NTEU and NSW Teachers’ Federation about the education cuts being made by the Federal Government and the NSW State Government. It covered the potential future of education, with deregulation in the university education potentially giving students a lifetime of debt. It also covered state governments wanting to make money that used to go to TAFE colleges into being “contestable” funding that could go to private companies running colleges.  It was a stark, worrying future laid out by the presenters, showing how conservative governments seem to want to make high education something for children of wealthy parents, rather than for all.

It struck me, however, that the room was filled with public sector teachers and politicians – after all, the aim of the evening was to empower fighters for the cause. To help those who wish to proselytise to the people in the middle in Australian politics just what will happen to education.  That’s a worthy cause but I can also sense the exhaustion that could occur with people trying to make their case yet again in the same ways of the past.  It occurred to me also that the room was missing a group – teachers in independent schools, many of whom (me included) are also wary of university deregulation and the degrading of TAFE colleges.   However, the false dichotomy built between public and “private” school teachers continues to exist in the realm of education.  I hope that the campaign to create awareness will work – but I have my doubts.

Place Three – Year 12 Farewell Celebrations

Away from Twitter and blogging, away from being accused of being “broken”, “butthurt” and the rest of the macho braggadocio shown by people pretending to be something they really aren’t, I am a teacher who tries my best at teaching students at being the best students they can be – as well as help them realise their potential as people.  One of the best guides for a teacher as to their impact is the Year 12 Farewell week.  Hearing from students as to where their lives are heading.  For teachers who have had a Year 12 class, it is usually an emotional week. Some of the nicest things a teacher can ever hear are said in this week. It’s also a fun week, with the formal coming around and getting a chance for a dance and a laugh or two.  Weeks like this make me realise that there’s life, the real stuff, the things one does in their every day has the real impact.

It made me reflect on my life away from this, taking on the role of proselytising for the western suburbs of Sydney.  This may have been presumptuous and I’m sure people are sick of me highlighting examples of poor pigeonholing and stereotyping of people from the west. I get sick me doing it, mostly because the coverage and representations hasn’t changed.  Journalists still rely on lazy stereotypes, stories in the metropolitan dailies focus their attention on Sydney.  So, really, the exhaustion factor has reached its zenith. Trying to change the way western Sydney is perceived is a waste of energy and time.  The attitudes towards the “racist housos of the west” remain and as does the reality, which varies from those attitudes and representations in so many ways.  I and others know what the area consists of and that should be enough for us. To try to change those attitudes is to make a useless effort.  In the process, though, I have made great friends.   But  Twitter and blogging is, for the most part, a curious hobby and an endless Beckett play that you need to walk out on from time to time.

Place Four – Colleague’s Place over a cup of tea

Sometimes one’s involvement with politics needs to be discussed with a deeply respected colleague who is outside that world but understands it completely. One should always get such opportunities.

Place Five – The AFL Preliminary Final at ANZ Stadium

I have been trying to proselytise the cause of AFL football in the western suburbs for some years now, encouraging people to just watch it, give the code a go.  I have heard these phrases often:

“I just don’t understand the game”, “I don’t understand the rules”, “I’m not interested – I just like rugby league”, “It doesn’t look good on TV”, “It’s not tough”, “I don’t know anyone else who watches it” – etc, etc.

I tried to proselytise in the beginning because I wanted people to go with me to games back in the days when the Swans were the only team in town and it was a slog to go to Moore Park.  That changed with the creation of the Giants, so the proselytising goal changed. I had become a fully charged proselytising machine in my workplace and out and about in the community.

What has happened, however, is that I have made great friends who are Swans supporters (despite me coming up with a few sledges about their team as a part of the emerging banter between the clubs).  I sat with them for the first time at the preliminary final and it was wonderful to see their passion for their club and their excitement in regards going to the Grand Final next week.   I will always have a big soft spot for the Swans – they were my club, even if I couldn’t get to too many games.  But I have also made good friends in the Giants’ cheer squad and around the club – it’s a group of hardy souls from other states who want the Giants to work, to connect with the community.  They are far from the description I have heard of cheer squads that they are filled with “broken people”.  No, they are people who enjoy being part of something bigger than themselves.   There was also a mysterious, overwhelming feeling of pride and being at home when I first pulled on my first Giants guernsey.  As much as I still like the Swans, that feeling will never leave.

It is past the time, however, for me to proselytise the AFL, to try to convert people to liking it, going to it.  As far as I can see, people will like it if it’s good, if there’s something in it for them.  And it’s all good if people want to stick to what they know.  As I see the pride emerging in Penrith in the rise of the underestimated Panthers, league is the game of choice in the western suburbs for many and they get a sense of something being bigger than themselves in that code.  The atmosphere at Penrith Park during a home game is intense and positive and that will remain for the years to come.  Over the next decade, however, there will be a shift in the balance of the codes, especially with the work being done by the AFL and Giants to show the kids of the west how AFL works – though that will never “kill” league and that should never be the goal.   What the AFL is doing in the west is the real proselytising, not me with a keyboard, a blog and a Twitter account.  Knowing that, I can sit back and enjoy the football.

Place Six – 1st Wedding Anniversary Lunch

Today is the 1st anniversary of the best day of my life – our wedding.  The marriage of minds and hearts, the wedding to the only person I know who truly understand me. I don’t need to proselytise anything to her (which I did feel I have to in my first marriage – never a good idea).  So, my priority today is not proselytising, trying to convert people.  Mine is to be happy, to be in a happy marriage – really, just be. And with that, off I go.

(Our wedding waltz song – but it wasn’t this Barry and Pav version)