Who needs Netflix when you've got this stuff? I'm emotionally exhausted from the ordeal of the last week's drama from within the National Party that has spilled over into the public domain.

It's a feeling probably shared by many observers, from the parliamentary press gallery in the thick of it to the National-voting 60-somethings in Kerikeri going "what the hell?"

While the setting might be Parliament, and there are high political stakes (especially in the politics of perception that is everything these days), the unwinding of Jami-Lee Ross has been pure tragic theatre.

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The beauty of tragedy — and I mean that not as a slight to the people Ross has hurt, his family or the man himself — is that the drama allows us to reflect on our own human failings.

Who hasn't misused power? Even if a minor matter that no one else would think much of.
Who hasn't been prideful and made bad decisions?
Who hasn't been tempted by sexual relations with someone other than their spouse, whether acted upon or not?
And who hasn't suffered mental health issues before?


Tragic art done well (by a Shakespeare or Scorsese) and real-life tragic drama can force us to recognise part of ourselves and the conflicts at the heart of being human. That can be uncomfortable, as the Ross saga surely has been to witness.

Whatever our compulsion to judge, we can't help but relate to the personal failings and the cost.

Tragedy at the highest level, amplified in the public domain by a ravenous media or by a great artist, can, in response, make us feel a little more humble.

In recognising the bad behaviour — and the consequences — we can be mindful of our own.

The ancient Athenians, who invented tragic drama, also understood that the bloodletting and conflict on stage, shared by the audience as an event once removed, reinforced a sense of community.

To those not involved, it is a public spectacle that can be gossiped about, debated and "appreciated" for the understanding it might bring us.

As the story around Jami-Lee Ross unfolded, my own political views were soon sidelined. What was happening transcended left or right. Any gleefulness at National's possible fall in the polls was quickly replaced by sadness, for everyone involved.

It's the kind of sadness felt after watching a particularly good movie or reading a compelling novel where things don't turn out well for the main characters.

Afterwards, I usually want to connect with my partner, my kids, the dog even. I appreciate what I have. A sense of peace descends on me that contrasts with the drama I've emotionally invested in.

Tragic theatre can remind us of the happiness and small pleasures we can derive from our ordinary lives. It's what it does for me, anyway.


Rather than tallying political points won or lost, I'll end by wishing everyone contentment in their domestic lives far from the public drama of politics and personal tragedy made public.

■ Vaughan Gunson is a writer and poet interested in social justice and big issues facing the planet.