If travel broadens the mind, then perhaps the reverse might also be true.
We have become a more insular country since Covid started, and it is very unattractive. The social media vitriol and judgment directed at journalist Charlotte Bellis for daring to speak out about her predicament last week reflects badly on all who indulged.
Let's be clear here. It was Ms Bellis who was let down by her own country. Forget all the whataboutisms. When she needed to come home, when she needed a safe haven where she could be pregnant and give birth to her child, her country said no. That was simply appalling. It has never been who we are.
It was not just appalling for Ms Bellis. She was simply the human straw that broke the camel's back. In being rebuffed by the bureaucratic monster that is our managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) system, she joins thousands and thousands before her over the past two years who have had their spirits broken in their time of need.
People with dying relatives, those who are dying themselves, pregnant women needing to come home to be with family, those who have lost jobs or outstayed their welcome offshore. There are too many stories to count where a heartless decision-maker showed no empathy, no ability to walk a mile in the shoes of desperate Kiwis overseas, no willingness to make things right.
Somehow, the Government's sudden ability to find an MIQ slot for Ms Bellis under the public spotlight of the world's media made an appalling situation even shoddier. It was a brazen attempt at damage control by ministers, presumably breaking the rules their own officials had been zealously upholding. There was no apology for those who had come before, no acceptance that the policy had been wrong, just cold, naked politics at its worst.
You can't blame the people who tell their story to the media. These are the ones brave enough to run the judgmental gauntlet of their fellow New Zealanders to try shaming the Government into acting. Many people have suddenly been found a slot when their story makes it into the public domain, although for some it has come too late.
Special treatment for those prepared to beg publicly is also not our country. What about all those who didn't want to make waves, who suffered through their life events in silence, hurt by the intransigence of their own countrymen and women?
It is one of the most basic human rights that people be allowed to come home. The Government knows that. That's why they maintained the legal fig leaf that the border wasn't closed. It's just that you have not been allowed to buy a ticket to come here without an MIQ slot. Which you couldn't get. George Orwell would have been proud.
You can argue that in extremis a country can close its borders for short periods in a pandemic to protect the population. The case can be made that stopping the flow of people while a plan is worked on and new health measures are put in place is justifiable.
But not two years, and not while you sit on your hands and do nothing during that period to allow for more people to exercise their fundamental right to come home.
We passed up building more MIQ places, we passed up home isolation, we passed up privately run MIQ facilities, saliva testing, more hospital capacity, a decent booking system, a timely vaccination programme, or even filling the MIQ places we had ... we passed up a lot of things that would have reduced the pain and uncertainty of so many Kiwi families.
Why? It's hard to escape the feeling that collectively we didn't care enough. We stayed secure behind our moat. Often self-satisfied and increasingly insular. "They had a chance to come home for goodness sake", "too bad" "suck it up".
That isn't who we are, or at least who we were.
We were a country of voyagers. Striking out to see the world and seek our fortune. We took Dr Seuss' The Places You'll Go! to heart. Travel was a rite of passage, which for some turned into careers offshore, with partners and families. We took pride in their success, basking as New Zealand metaphorically punched above its weight on the world stage.
There's around a million of us who live offshore now — but always able to come home, to see grandparents, siblings, and reconnect.
Until the past two years.
In those two years we have had to stand in line, often behind DJs, children's characters, performers, sportspeople and Government MPs, all of whom seemed able to win the MIQ lottery while more deserving cases didn't. Let alone the people whose skills we need to help run our economy, our schools and our hospitals. Good job, some would chortle in their insular way. We don't need all those bright young foreigners helping to make New Zealand a better place.
And now, following the Bellis case, it's apparently, finally, all about to end. We think. We've been here before and it didn't, but hopefully this time. Still the dripfeed though, still the delay. Still not tomorrow. Even though we are 90-something per cent vaccinated, that this strain is largely mild and flu-like according to our own Government, and even though it's already here in the community. Still we hesitate to open the borders again.
A wise friend of mine said at the outset of all this that it is much easier to close things down and encourage people to hide away than it will be to open it all up again. And so it seems. Once people have become fearful of the outside world, it's hard to move beyond that fear.
Yet we must. We must get out and embrace that world again, let our young people take it on, prove themselves, have adventures and live their lives. We must invite people into our home and conquer our virulent insularity.
Let this be the last time we turn our backs on our own people. There must be a better way to protect ourselves in future that doesn't involve simply barricading the doors.
We should never stop our own citizens coming home to see their dying relatives, or giving birth here. That's not selfless and kind. That's not who we are.
• Steven Joyce is a former National MP and Minister of Finance