• Closing the Gap at Christmas

    When my friend, Gary Ware, and I left Tauranga Primary School in 1951 to go on to what was then Tauranga College, it was an open question as to which of us would be the smallest boy in the school.  We have both grown a bit since then – and it is one of the pleasing things for me about coming back to the Bay of Plenty to find that I can pick up with old friends, and even more pleasing to find that we still have much in common.

    Today, Gary is the motive force behind the Tauranga College Reunion Committee, and has helped to keep many former pupils in touch with each other.  Even more importantly, he and his wife Marlene have been active in promoting a range of good causes – Amnesty International, for example – and they have also been leading members of Closing the Gap, a voluntary body with a strong local branch in Tauranga, dedicated to raising awareness of, and adopting measures to counter, the growing divide between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ in our society.

    As Christmas approaches, it is perhaps more important than at any other time to remind ourselves that too many of our fellow-citizens will not enjoy the festive season in the way that most of us take for granted.  The unacceptable aspect of the “gap” that causes concern to many of us is that – on one side of that gap – there are far too many families (and children in particular) living in poverty, and that in a country that is blessed in so many ways, as we are, this is inexcusable.

    An American friend once told me that her relatives could not understand why she had come to live in New Zealand and that she had explained her decision by saying that “in New Zealand, there is enough for everybody”.  And so there is; people – and children – go without, only because we do not care enough to make sure that there is enough for them.

    The “gap” might seem to occur for reasons we can do nothing about, a consequence of inexorable economic forces, but that would be a mistake.  People are left behind, without the resources to bring up their families at a decent level, because we are too selfish to be bothered.

    Christmas is not of course just an opportunity to have a good time.  For many, it is a time to recognise and proclaim the Christian message.  Even for the non-religious, like me, it is a time to reflect on the strength and meaning of Jesus Christ’s central injunction to “love thy neighbour”.

    We may not, in every case at any rate, feel like “loving” our neighbours, but what Jesus meant (if I may presume to interpret him) is that we should be kind to each other, that we should think of others, that we should be generous in our dealings with each other, that we should not ignore the need for our help when we see it.

    Concern about the rising level of poverty in our country is not, in other words, a sterile matter of economic statistics, or forces that we cannot influence.  It is about how we treat each other.  It is about ensuring that, as a society, we organise ourselves so that everyone has enough and that those who cannot provide for themselves are not left destitute and their children are not left to suffer.

    Some will offer an excuse for inaction – we don’t have the time or resources, they will say, to help every waif or stray.  But that is what we have a government for – to act in our name, and in a democracy we can make it clear to government what it is that we expect of them.

    And what better time than Christmas, to heed Jesus’s message, both in our own personal interactions with each other and in the actions and policies that are undertaken in our name?

    Closing the gap is a goal we should all set ourselves – individually and collectively.  The gap –as Gary Ware and I both agree – is a blot on our fair country.  It will continue and grow only if we let it.

    Bryan Gould

    18 December 2016