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Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: A 2013 list we need to try harder to avoid

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Reaching out to each other could save lives. Photo / Getty Images
Reaching out to each other could save lives. Photo / Getty Images

So far, so good. A week in and the year ahead doesn't look too shabby, although I'm really not looking forward to all the "Life of Pie" headings on restaurant reviews and food features.

At the top of the list of favourite holiday-season activities, especially for the media, is the making of lists: 10 things the Government must do to save the economy in the next 12 months; top 10 films/TV shows/celebrity scandals of the past 12 months; 10 ways to make your New Year's resolutions stick.

I'm sure by now you're as sick of lists as you are of stories headlined: "Trampers plucked to safety"; "Weather ruins holiday plans" and "Black Caps collapse", which also appear at this time every year.

So here's a list of lists I decided not to do this week, but wouldn't be surprised to see pop up elsewhere:

*10 amazing hidden beaches no one knows about, with full directions on how to get there.

*10 ways to lose weight and still eat like a pig.

*10 upcoming reality cooking/talent/real-estate shows you can't afford not to see.

*10 best lists of 2013.

*10 ways a Hobbit-led recovery will save the economy.

*10 reappraisals of Justice Binnie's Bain report - a personal selection by Judith Collins.

*Eight state assets Bill English has just found out we have.

*Five possibly clean rivers.

And there's one list I don't expect to see: five rising stars of New Zealand First.


Another list I hope not to see in 12 months is that of people who came to harm because others failed to act.

The year ended on the bitterest of notes with the report of a woman who burned to death in her home in Whakatu, near Hastings, on Christmas Day. Her partner was hospitalised with injuries.

It's worth quoting the report of one neighbour's words at length: "We heard her yelling and screaming all day and he was yelling and screaming all day. The kids kept coming out and then we saw the smoke ... it wasn't very nice at all. They have quite a few domestics in there but this is the worst they have ever had."

I imagine it was the worst, from the sound of it - a woman was burned to death. And it's unlikely there will be another domestic to equal it, given only one of the couple remains alive.

Without knowing everyone in the neighbourhood, you might infer from what happened that Whakatu is the sort of area where inhabitants are no friends to the police and are reluctant to call them, but that is not the case. Emergency services were called when another neighbour heard "screams that somebody was on fire".

If you are wondering what you have to do to get someone to help you in Whakatu, now you know - you have to be on fire.

The people of Whakatu are not unique. They are all of us who turn the other way when we know something wrong is happening - a pattern of behaviour as widespread in our most affluent as in our poorest suburbs, because it's easy to think that "someone else" will do it.

But, as this case reminds us, we are all "someone else".

If anyone at all in the neighbourhood had called the police before the final catastrophe - perhaps after just a few hours of "yelling and screaming" - then a death could have been averted, two daughters would not have been left motherless, and we might have been able to start the year believing we live in a society where people look out for each other.

- Herald on Sunday

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