Have you ever wondered about the difference between a nice person and a good person?
It’s not something I had thought about much, well, not at all really, until my son said he considered himself a “nice person”, while his sister, he said, was a “good person”.
A nice person, he argues, is someone who never upsets another, lives a quiet life, is agreeable in every sense, avoids any sort of confrontation — verbal or physical, is polite, courteous and never refuses a request for assistance, but of course help is never offered until the request is made.
His sister, according to him, is a good person and while she has all those “nice” attributes, she never avoids a verbal confrontation and without hesitation calls out anyone whose behaviour, verbal or otherwise offends personal or societal mores.
My son, I like to think is a reflection of myself as I have always considered myself a “nice person”, a claim, I’m sure, many would question, doubt or even laugh about.
Whatever, I’ve always seen my life though the prism of “nice”, but sadly events have forced a serious rethink as nearly 15 years of listening and reading have left me with no option to reconsider how I respond to the musings of others.
The damage you and I have done to Earth’s atmosphere is clearly evident and anyone who doesn’t respond by helping mitigate our carbon dioxide emissions or help us better understand and employ adaptive ideas, needs to be called out as by implication they stand with those who deny the reality of the climate crisis.
A nice person would “roll with the punches” and a good person would demand better, and so say.
Of course there is another option; an option suggested by former New South Wales fire commissioner, Greg Mullins, who’s said that when people doubt and question the connection between climate change and the Australian bushfire crisis, we should just smile politely and walk away.
Sound and “nice” advice, but for me “walking away” is over.
This is going to be tough, as to confront another and question their values and ethics is contrary to my nature and in keeping with youthful climate activist, Greta Thunberg, I rely on the facts and trust the people will see the error in their thinking, and behaviours, and change their ways.
That doesn’t work, facts don’t change minds, but as Scott Morrison illustrated in last year’s federal election victory, emotion and stories based on fanciful information structured around fear of the other, and baseless numbers seem to comfort people and carry the day.
To further complicate matters, while able to understand the broad concept of climate change, I struggle to regurgitate the facts and so argue my position.
The facts, it seems to me, are so clear, so damning and so obvious that simply presentation of them should be evidence enough.
The recent bushfires that swept through parts of Australia are little more than a taste of what is ahead - the world has warmed by just over one degree Celsius and the Paris agreement, which is championed repeatedly by many, including our PM, and has programmed the world for an increase of about 3.5 degrees Celsius.
The root of our troubles is the prevailing economic system, commonly known as “neoliberalism” that promotes and encourages individualism, an idea that puts the success of one ahead of the many.
With that system comes privatisation and the steady erosion of the public sphere and what Canadian author Naomi Klein describes in her appropriately named latest book, On Fire, as the ‘gig and dig’ economy where jobs are not jobs, but precarious ‘gigs’ and the ‘digging’ up of fossil resources.
And contrary to what former Nationals leader, Barnaby Joyce, argues, we need more government in our lives for a thorough and honest examination of what makes this modern life possible, illustrates it all began through the government, that is public, intervention.
Thinking of what exists reminds me of the American Indian adage: “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together”.
So, fundamentally, if we want to navigate this dilemma we need to invest heavily in the public sphere, redistribute wealth (an anathema to many), stop the wholesale privatisation of our lives, understand that our status is not attached to our acquisitions, and as RMIT associate professor, Anitra Nelson, points out, we all need to learn how to share.
Others, of far greater importance than I, have also stepped aside from nice and taken up the ‘good’ baton and one of the those is Nobel laureate, Professor Peter Doherty.
Professor Doherty, who spoke in Shepparton last year, said in a tweet: ”Get mad not sad! Be mad as hell at politicians who won't act and the media liars who support them. Be mad at stupidity and ignorance. Rage at the fossil fuel types who screw your world (and theirs) for a few lousy $”.
Thanks, Peter, I’m not sad, rather I’m ‘good’, and mad.
● Robert McLean is a former News editor.