Auckland, New Zealand
After the sound of cicadas and faint smell of salt and sunscreen, the first thing you notice about being back in Australia is the deep sense of relaxation exhibited by its inhabitants.
From the moment of disembarkation there is a distinct chill factor, as ‘sirs’ and ‘ma’ams’ are replaced with ‘mates’ and other less deferential nods, footwear becomes optional and swear words flow freely though without aggression.
Even in Sydney – a metropolis that is larger in population than all but a handful of American cities – there are constant reminders that you are clinging to the sub-tropical underside of the Earth and are now on ‘island time’.
My first ever glimpses of New Zealand this morning, as I made the most of a 24-hour layover in sunny Auckland, indicate that the chilled vibe is not particular to its larger neighbour, but perhaps symptomatic of a South Pacific sensibility.
Unless you engage them in a critique of the beloved All Blacks rugby team – a case that unfortunately has been difficult to prosecute in recent years – Kiwis are arguably even more laid back than Australians, similarly removed from the politics and warfare of the Northern Hemisphere and in touch with a simpler, more earthbound existence.
Granted, my brief sojourn Down Under has come at the peak of silly season, amplifying the chilled vibe and general feeling of optimistic nonchalance.
Granted also, I have been watching a little too much Fox News lately, perhaps amplifying my own sense of fear and doom.
But the comparative anxiety among Americans is not something I have picked up from just drinking too much Kool-Aid. The fear and angst is palpable among much of the populace.
Whether the rational and understandable fear of violent Jihadism following San Bernardino and Paris, or the ongoing anxiety over race tensions as the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement escalates and people take to the streets daily in many American urban jungles, 2015 has undoubtedly been a year of divisiveness and derision.
Unlike 9/11, more recent incidents have failed to bring the nation closer together and instead have drifted its extremes further apart.
Many would lay blame for the impasse at the feet of a President that seemingly governs primarily for this Democratic base. Others look to a conservative movement and gun lobby that refuses to budge and sees compromise as weakness, if not betrayal.
Whatever its genesis, the feelings of unease experienced currently by many Americans is unhealthy to say the least, shepherding greater unproductivity and allowing politicians to get away with more.
There are downsides to apathy and Australasians should be realistic about the risks faced and problems lingering. As the Sydney siege showed, no amount of chilled vibes will help us be prepared. But having said that, the lack of panic probably helped Australia deal with that challenge, not to mention the national mental health benefits of a semblance of calm.
If Americans desire 2016 to be a year of greater peace and prosperity, perhaps they can look to the example of their ever-relaxed South Pacific allies.
Easier said than done, but a little sea breeze-inspired perspective may be just what the doctor ordered.
Published on 29 December 2015