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Thomas Wynne: Punching well above our weight?

Saturday 22 June 2024 | Written by Thomas Tarurongo Wynne | Published in Editorials, Opinion

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Thomas Wynne: Punching  well above  our weight?
Thomas Wynne.

I often think, when I have said, and when we say of ourselves that we are ‘punching well above our weight’, what is the measure of that success and why is it us who sing our own song about ourselves? Thomas Tarurongo Wynne writes.

Is that the right heart posture, or do we sometimes get caught in the shine and glimmer of our gifts, those wonderful things God has given us as a country and as a people, forgetting that it is not the gift holder or receiver that we should point to or praise, but rather the gift giver who we should consider worthy of that consideration?

Just last week, I was sitting in a marketplace chatting with a woman about her business and how things had grown for her. As we spoke, her daughter came and quietly sat with us, listening in on our discussion, as we spoke also of the dilemma her family now faces. Yet again, a trusted member of their family had betrayed their young daughter by taking from her, her innocence and preying upon her as a victim of sexual abuse over many years, and I ask myself, are we “punching well above our weight?”

Or is that sense of being better, bigger, and stronger only for those privileged by profit, name, title, land, and power? As more than 143,000 tourists return to our shores over the last year, it is clear that some again are punching well, and some again will sit at the table and eat. This is not a slight on tourism; rather, it is a question of how we distribute the wealth of our country and how we ensure we are all shareholders when we do well and not just the few.

When our Metua Pakari, some of whom I also have spoken to, continue to look after their young ina and inaina, with some having their pensions pilfered by family members, some living in squalor, and some abused by those who were meant to care for them – I wonder if they think we are “punching above our weight” also.

Or as I walked through the court last week with my Uncle Henry, as we looked at beginning the journey of land acquisition for him as a returning Cook Islander, and the long and layered complexity of that, I couldn’t help but notice the courtroom notice. A young man, who is family to me, was being tried for stealing pig, and in the course of that trial, it was clear he was driven in part to that decision simply because he was struggling to feed his large and young family. This doesn’t excuse the crime, because we are all responsible for our decisions, but I can’t help but wonder also … if he and his young family think they too are “punching well above their weight?”

“Kāre te kumara e tuatua ana mo tōna ake reka” is a Māori proverb that translates to “the kumara does not speak of its own sweetness”. It points to our Māori value of humility or ‘aka’aka, or to make oneself peaceable or smaller when considering ourselves in the shadow or light of others and the Atua we serve. Humility is the opposite of pride or being ‘akatangata, or nengonengo – a word I haven’t heard a lot but translates to Te Tuatua nengonengo ra.

Part of me just dies when I have caught myself using that term “punching above our weight,” especially when I consider and hear the hardship so many of our people face daily. Hardship to feed their families, hardship with two and three jobs, hardship with grandparents raising their grandchildren, and hardship when innocence is taken by predators within our own families. Hardship when kinaki and puaka toru is all we have to eat, and hardship when loved ones have to leave for other shores simply to find a way to get ahead.

Maybe the only thing we should be punching is this mirror we look into that reflects this distorted image of ourselves, and as we remember who we are in the shadow and shade of our Atua, all we are truly left with is this – but for His grace ... there go I.