Kelvyn Eglinton: Growing sense of inequity, exacerbated by Covid, is undermining trust across the board

Kelvyn Eglinton: Growing sense of inequity, exacerbated by Covid, is undermining trust across the board

OPINION:
Kia ora tatou everyone.

The sharp end of the Covid-19 pandemic is upon us, as the vaccination drive and lockdown fatigue prompt talk of “a division in New Zealand society” that risks becoming self-fulfilling.

Underlying disagreements on science, society and the state, usually set aside for the sake of a peaceful life together, have suddenly become visceral and immediate.

Those alienated from authority through bitter experience have good reason to expect bad intent when political power attempts to reach into their lives. Some rebel against any redrawing of the nature and extent of their personal agency in the world, regardless of a change in its objective circumstances. Those who like to swim against the tide feel like they are caught in a rip.

Whatever drives the suspicions, in some minds a wedge is being driven into our nation.
Which assumes, of course, that we were a united, egalitarian Aotearoa-New Zealand in the first place. I would contend that we have been divided on many fronts for some time, and are far from the traditional Kiwi dream, the rugby-racing-and-beer, bach-boat-and-a-BMW, get-a-fair-suck-on-the-sav utopia.

There has long been “division” in our country on many fronts – be it materially through factors like home ownership, gendered pay gaps or the digital divide, or over issues like climate change, criminal justice, or equality in a diverse society, or driven by identity be it Boomers v Millennials, race v race, town v country, whatever.

Kelvyn Eglinton: Growing sense of inequity, exacerbated by Covid, is undermining trust across the board

It is easy for voices on any kind of media, mainstream or social, to characterise all these differing positions as being black or white, left or right, right or wrong in nature. In reality, most issues and relationships involve a muddling range of shades of grey, with all of us sitting somewhere on the spectrum between the defining poles of each argument.

Perhaps the sense of “division” is being felt because the Covid restrictions and demands impact those far enough up the social ladder to have rarely, if ever, felt such limitations in their lives before.

The restrictions on movement, business, supply chains, dining, events and holidays are not missed by our more-vulnerable fellow citizens, they already faced a dearth of such freedom and opportunity. The impact is felt by you and I, the high-vis and white-collar workers, by those who own their home, who have or aspire to the boat and the bach. It is us feeling the strain and sense of frustration usually felt by only those whose lives are already beholden to rent increases, loss of income, rising prices and an inability to pay bills.

The Covid restrictions and the concern and stress they have created are the most equitable aspect of this whole period in our history. Everyone is impacted in some way, including those of us unaccustomed to limitations on our movement, spending, access, choices and freedom.

During and after the first lockdown of 2020, I wrote a number of times on the need to collaborate differently, to emerge with a determination to find new ways to resolve the divisions the pandemic was already so dramatically highlighting.

Last year I sought to “challenge those of us in leadership positions that to achieve the more effective and immediate outcomes our communities need, we all have to reach out more proactively across the barriers created by central agency structures, local government boundaries, sector silos and agency politics”.

So once again I reiterate the need to come together and collaborate differently, not simply to address the challenges of Covid, but to bridge the divisions in all spheres of our community.

Largely, it comes down to a lack of trust. The Edleman Trust Barometer currently reveals “that despite a strong global economy and near full employment, none of the four societal institutions that the study measures — government, business, NGOs and media — is trusted. The cause of this paradox can be found in people’s fears about the future and their role in it, which are a wakeup call for our institutions to embrace a new way of effectively building trust: balancing competence with ethical behaviour”.

The growing sense of inequity, exacerbated by Covid, is undermining trust across the board. There is a growing cynicism about capitalism and democracy, as entrepreneurship loses ground to the power of corporate and financial bureaucracies, and the Government and our other institutions are seen as only serving the interests of the few.

To resolve this, we will all need to think and work differently. Central government needs to let go of some power and relax its restrictive risk-and-trust-averse approach to delivery; local government needs to move beyond parochialism and collaborate across sectors and boundaries; the commercial world needs to step up its commitment to the society that makes business possible by providing its skills and resources, to conquer social and environmental issues; and the not-for-profit sector needs to be braver and more confident if it is to be as nimble and aggressive, and dare I say as commercial, as it needs to be to realise its full potential for positive impact.

There has been much talk of innovation and thinking differently, however, the delivery and the execution of this talk has, sadly, been “more of the same”.

Momentum Waikato is putting up its hand, working with others of like mind to do things differently, to gain the trust of those we work with and those we serve, and to attempt in our small way to build back better in a way that heals division.

Come join us and see our agile philanthropic-impact investment formula realise your desire to create change.

Momentum Waikato is a community foundation that exists to simplify and enable local philanthropy, working to connect generous, charitable people with the work of proven changemakers. More info at: momentumwaikato.nz/.

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