She concluded one letter: “The Cook Islands News has changed hands and in doing so has changed the face of the nation’s pulse and nerve. When the likes of New Zealand look to try and get a feel for the nation and their thoughts they will no longer see the heated and vigorous debates from the people, instead they will see the life and times of J J Milne.”
I published the letter, then went home in a grump and showed my wife. She laughed, and said, that’s quite funny!
So I emailed Ruta and said, we ought to do coffee. It turned out she lived just round the corner in Turangi, and she invited my wife Georgie and our kids round, too, for tea and scones.
Fast-forward another month, and I’d signed her up as a columnist – I disagreed with most of what she wrote, but I loved that she was willing to step up, argue her case, and listen to constructive responses.
A couple of times this year, too, the Prime Minister has invited me to his office to express his unhappiness with stories or headlines we’ve published. I agreed with some of his criticisms, disagreed with others – but always appreciated the calm, gracious manner in which he argued his position.
Pastor Ngarima George is another – there have been a couple of occasions when he’s had cause to call me up and warn that the wrath of God would be called down on me if I continued on certain paths, such as my belief in (God-given) human rights that should be shared by all of us, regardless of our race, sex or sexual preference.
But, even in his warnings of fire and brimstone, we concluded by agreeing to talk it out over coffee. Papa Ngarima, let’s do that coffee before I leave!
These are just three of the many people I have met in Cook Islands who have taught me an important truth, forgotten in too much of the world today: We can hold differing views, without holding a grudge against the person.
In these communities and these islands, we can disagree, but it’s impossible to stay angry. We must meet the person tomorrow, and work with them.
I have learnt much from many of you about how we can speak with grace when we express our differences.
Some of you – and this is rarer – show us not just how to speak with grace, but also how to listen with humility. To recognise that others have legitimate points of view, and sometimes to humbly accept their arguments may be stronger than our own!
There are many people in these islands holding knowledge and wisdom of different kinds. Nurture them, and recognise you may find them in places you least expect. They may come from any village, any island, any nation.
In coming months you will debate the way forward as a nation – how do you define property rights, what is your relationship to New Zealand, how do you diversify the economy, what is the definition of a Cook Islander?
I only urge you to remember to value all who have wisdom to share; you can celebrate the power of diverse ideas, and protect the Maori heritage and traditional knowledge of these islands.
If we speak with grace, and listen with humility, we can learn from each other.
This is J J Milne … signing off.
Ka kite e kia manuia.