Recently I attended rallies supporting the release from detention of asylum seekers who have come by boat to Australia. This particular group of 120 men made it out of offshore detention on Manus Island only to find themselves locked in hotel rooms in Brisbane, Australia. Several men are in one small room together with security guards stationed outside in case they try to leave; meals are delivered; and they are separated from children, spouses, and the community. These men are refugees who have escaped harm, not criminals.
The issue of detaining asylum seekers indefinitely has relied heavily on a combination of silence and ignorance. The silence is easy if media is forbidden access to refugees, who are locked away from sight; and ignorance is enabled by a dominant political narrative that frames asylum seekers as ‘illegal’.
I have challenged these facts with many people over the years, sometimes to be met with a sense of disbelief: “No, our Government would not do that.” There is a perception there must be guilt attached somewhere, despite no terrorist attack or threat being connected to these asylum seekers. Mud seems to stick.
The current rallies follow a groundswell of renewed enthusiasm for racial rights in the wake of the US ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign. I feel heartened by the fact that protesters are unusually persistent, attracting more than the usual numbers, while peaceful. Supporters are stationed outside the complex housing the refugees, blockading the efforts of security police to forcibly move them to another, more remote, detention facility.
As I looked at the chalked graffiti on the walls, I recalled all the talk of ‘grey areas’ – the debate around border security versus refugee rights. I understand this conversation less and less as time goes by because the values that I live by become increasingly clearer. This doesn’t mean I can’t be strategic (my profession relies on it) but a values focus does tend to take care of that ‘grey’.
Renowned psychologist, Shalom Schultz (great name right!) published a list of universal values – as ideal categories – seen to drive human behaviour. The truth is they motivate us much more than we may like to think when it comes to taking a perspective on complex social issues.
If you value universalism (in relation to human dignity) and benevolence as a priority, this will lead you down a different path to someone who is prioritising traditionalism, power, and conformity. The latter is likely to rail against any changes to the status quo; or could lead you to define security as who you keep out, above who you might protect.
When I think of concepts like ‘freedom, faith, and humanity’ – written on that graffiti wall – I realise values can be black and white in a good way. A human issue is unlikely to see resolution until enough people value human lives consistently and above all.
When you are communicating for change, remember not only your own values, but those of others around you. Is there a common language you may be able to draw upon? Next time you find yourself debating the so called ‘grey matter’ in between the facts, try talking values. It has a way of washing the grey away and a human issue will become solvable.