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Herald on Sunday editorial: Time to define who we are

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It's time to define ourselves on our own terms. Photo / Thinkstock
It's time to define ourselves on our own terms. Photo / Thinkstock

Who are we? What better time to ask ourselves such deep and meaningful questions than over a cold one at the beach. What defines us as New Zealanders, what defines us as a nation?

So here's how we're going to do it. Take one of those trendy corporate branding sessions, where companies work out their values and visions. Then transport it from the boardroom to the beach, replace the catered savouries with chargrilled sausages, and bring in a few friends and family to help out.

After all, one thing we learned about ourselves in last week's Herald on Sunday-Nielsen survey is that we'd far rather celebrate summer with friends over a barbie or a pot-luck dinner than in some swanky waterfront restaurant. Yes, yes - we paid good money for that startling insight ...

But this newspaper's research this summer delves somewhat deeper into the national psyche to help us discover who we are, what we stand for, and where we draw our lines in the sand.

In our Kiwiana Defined series, beginning this week, the Key Research and Nielsen polling companies probe 4000 New Zealanders on what it means to be a Kiwi, and what they believe.

Should we sell off part-shares in the power companies and Air New Zealand? Do we believe in gay marriage? Euthanasia? How many immigrants do we want, and what sorts of skillsets should they bring?

We've asked these questions not just to describe who we are as New Zealanders, but to help determine who we want to be. This is, after all, the time for New Year's resolutions.

For too long, we've allowed our nation to be defined by a marketing slogan targeted at cashed-up foreign tourists. This year, we've accepted that 100 per cent Pure is mere puffery - as Tourism NZ conceded yesterday, "a marketing campaign not an environmental promise".

And we've allowed ourselves to be defined by what others think. We go into national mourning when the New York Times criticises our clean, green credentials, or some visiting rock star dismisses us as boring.

It's time to define ourselves on our own terms.

So go on, crack another drink, and answer this question: what is it about yourself that you like best, the traits you wish to accentuate in the New Year? Are you smart and witty? Curious? Upbeat? Warm and welcoming? Courageous?

Are these traits that you share with other New Zealanders? Because as much as we must celebrate our diversity, we must also learn to recognise what we have in common.

For what it's worth, we reckon New Zealanders have been a courageous nation - look at how we all got here in our waka and sailing ships; remember how we settled these rugged and sometimes inhospitable islands. Think of our enormous commitment in two world wars, or how we stood up for our principles against the world's superpowers during the nuclear ships stand-off, and after the Rainbow Warrior bombing.

We can be brave again. We can throw off some of the suffocating cotton wool of health and safety, our sometimes crippling paranoia about sickness and crime, our fear of change. We can take risks to make life better for ourselves, our kids and our communities.

Our courage can define us, set us apart from older nations stifled by their own established hierarchies and traditions. Our artists and farmers, inventors and manufacturers can embrace and overcome new challenges, while their foreign counterparts are still filling in forms in triplicate.

That's what we think - but what about you? Write and tell us your definition of "Kiwi", and how that can shape our nation.

- Herald on Sunday

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