Garth George

Garth George is a Herald columnist

Garth George: Unhappy paradox of modern life

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Of the many ills facing our nation, child abuse is the one we must fight with all our resources, says Garth George. Photo / Thinkstock
Of the many ills facing our nation, child abuse is the one we must fight with all our resources, says Garth George. Photo / Thinkstock

It's been about for 15 years and every time I write something about the state of society someone will send me yet another copy of it. It describes modern society in a few well-chosen words, and if anything is more pertinent today than it was in 1995.

Called The Paradox of Our Times, it was written by a prominent pastor in Seattle, the Reverend Bob Moorhead, for his congregation at Overlake Christian Church and was published in a booklet called Words Aptly Spoken.

He wrote: "The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers; wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less; we buy more, but enjoy less.

"We have bigger houses and smaller families; more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees but less sense; more knowledge, but less judgment; more experts, yet more problems; more medicine, but less wellness.

"We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom. We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values ... We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often.

"We've learned how to make a living, but not a life. We've added years to life, not life to years. We've been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbour. We conquered outer space but not inner space. We've done larger things, but not better things.

"We've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We've conquered the atom, but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less. We've learned to rush, but not to wait. We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less.

"These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion; big men and small character; steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the days of two incomes but more divorce; fancier houses but broken homes.

"These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway morality, one-night stands, overweight bodies and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill. It is a time when there is much in the showroom window and nothing in the stockroom."

Now those readers who are already reaching for their keyboards to tell me that Mr Moorhead was later discredited, don't bother. I know that a few years later he resigned when his ministry was compromised by accusations of indecency and sexually molesting members of his congregation.

That does not in the least detract from the wisdom of his words - an accurate reflection of today's societies in the so-called developed world. It explains why our country is still struggling out of a recession triggered by rampant greed. And why policemen doing their duty are viciously attacked; why our health system is clogged by sufferers from diabetes, obesity, heart disease and lung cancer. And why there are so many single-parent families, so much poverty and so many abortions; why booze and drugs contribute so alarmingly to lawlessness and community chaos.

But the biggest, vilest and most hateful affliction facing our nation as the new year gets into gear, which also results from the moral vacuum created by our life choices, is continuing and often fatal abuse of children, particularly Maori children.

This cannot be allowed to continue, yet it will because no matter how many sticking-plaster solutions we come up with, the fundamental causes - the breakdown of family and community life and the unravelling of morals - seem irretrievable.

But we have to keep trying for, as Michael Laws wrote in a column last weekend: "In response all we ever get from the authorities is hand-wringing. Successive Children's Commissioners have achieved nothing. As have successive ministers of social welfare. As have chief social workers, Plunket, Barnardos - anybody. The epidemic continues, to the point of resigned indifference."

The lobby group Family First intends this year to repeat its calls for establishing a royal commission of inquiry into the real causes of child abuse, but its main priority remains having the anti-smacking law repealed. It is flogging a dead horse.

And that's the way it will go: we will all continue to ride our hobby-horses while innocent little ones suffer the unspeakable torment and agony of violent maltreatment.

This nation needs to devote every resource we have, no matter what the cost, to finding an answer to this national abomination.

* My thanks to all those readers who in emails, phone calls and in person offered their congratulations for my New Year Honour, membership of the NZ Order of Merit. While I concede unreservedly the validity of the complaint critics made that too many honours go to people "for just doing their jobs", I really am quite chuffed.

- NZ Herald

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