We all know what's wrong with New Zealand. We are regularly reminded of the seemingly intractable problems that beset us, from a public health system that is imploding to an education system that isn't serving today's children as well as it did their parents and grandparents.
We hear stories on an almost daily basis of people being shot, stabbed or beaten up, of inequities in the delivery of services that are right regarded as fundamental in a First World country, of people in high places behaving badly. We know that many of us are the authors of our own misfortune, eschewing the ability we all have, whatever our means, to eat well and healthily, to live the sort of lifestyle that will contribute hugely to maintaining our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Too many of us drink and drive, too many of us do not give our children the priority they deserve, too many of us would rather languish on social welfare than recognise the dignity of work and the benefits, not least financial, that it bestows.
Woe is us. Or is it? Anyone who would like to see the other side of life in New Zealand should go to a citizenship ceremony.
These are staged on about a six-weekly basis - or they were before Covid-19, and are hopefully back on track now - at Te Ahu, in Kaitaia. And those who stand before a small audience, mainly comprising fellow immigrants, their friends and families, invariably make it abundantly clear by their demeanour, and often their words, that they are thrilled to become New Zealanders.
We saw that again last week. People from all over the planet saying they were proud to be New Zealanders, that there was nowhere else that they would rather call home.
They spoke of our natural environment, and how people had welcomed them. One said that the open arms with which she and her family were welcomed to New Zealand had now become an embrace.
In the past they have spoken of the opportunities, for them and their children, to be had in New Zealand. In many cases they had waited years before taking the steps needed to enable them to declare themselves Kiwis; in many cases they had been contributing to our community and our country for decades before finally requesting and being granted citizenship.
Every one of these people have become New Zealanders because they wanted to. There was no compulsion - they could have continued living here as Americans, Britons, Filipinos, Germans, Swiss, South Africans. For them, the advantages of becoming New Zealanders were not material. They were emotional, difficult to define perhaps except as a gesture of faith in their decision to come here in the first place, and their desire to remain here, not as immigrants from a foreign land but as New Zealanders.
They are invariably formally welcomed, as they should be, by Mayor John Carter, who conducts the ceremonies with a unique Far North informality. He begins, every time, by telling those gathered in the atrium that they should be smiling - they are about to enjoy a happy occasion. They laugh, every time. But the smiles after taking the oath or affirmation of allegiance need no prompting. They have now become part of what Carter describes as the best part of the best country in the world. No one has ever disagreed with that.
Changing citizenship must be a big step to take. Perhaps that is why some people wait so long to take it. Perhaps, too, that explains why it is invariably such a joyous occasion.
It does the heart good to see these people, of all ages, children to the elderly - last year 91-year-old Setsuko Edwards, who met her future husband Ormand, born at Mangonui, when he was serving with J Force and had spent most of her life in the house he built at Cooper's Beach, became the oldest person ever to be granted citizenship - share the delight of officially becoming New Zealanders.
Mrs Edwards, incidentally, spoke for many who had gone before her, and who will no doubt follow, when she described New Zealand as a country where the air is clean and the people are very kind and friendly.
We New Zealanders aren't a bad bunch when you get to know us. There must be many who come here and, for whatever reason, choose not to stay, but many do. We should be proud of that, and it would not do any harm to remind ourselves now and then that what we have here, and no doubt take for granted, is special. We do live in a country with a wonderful natural environment, albeit one that needs constant protection, and our reputation for friendliness is genuine.
We might remind ourselves that life is largely what we make it, and there are few, if any, better places on this planet to do that. Life isn't always easy, and there will always be mountains of some description to climb, but the much that is good, or can and should be good, about life as a New Zealander should always outweigh the bad.
Anyone who doubts that might watch the television news of an evening and ponder where else on Planet Earth they would like to live. Or go to a citizenship ceremony, and think about why it is that so many people, from every part of the world, are so keen to join us here.
We know best
Hone Harawira made a good point last week when he suggested that iwi should be playing a leading role in delivering the Covid-19 vaccination to elderly Māori. Wellington might not see it, but whether it's rolling out a national vaccination programme or feeding hungry school kids, local people know their communities better than any politician or bureaucrat ever will, and this is another occasion where the devolution of authority makes very good sense.
They did it in the East Cape area, where the national formula of vaccinating specific groups of people before others made no sense. People there pointed out that when receiving the vaccination often involved travelling considerable distances, it would be counter-productive to vaccinate some members of a family one day and others weeks later. The same argument undoubtedly applies in Northland.
Involving the iwi would also potentially reduce any suspicions that could affect the final vaccination rate.
And whatever people might think about the Covid-19 checkpoints that iwi established when the pandemic began, they proved that they were organised. Not a word that always springs to mind when one thinks of bureaucracy, and certainly not one that could be used to describe what gives every appearance of being a shambolic Ministry of Health.
There are so many areas in which government in all its manifestations could accept that local people know their communities better than anyone else. In this pandemic situation, where, unlikely as it might be in that Covid-19 is not loose amongst the general populace, we could be talking about life and death, much greater responsibility should be devolved. Even if it isn't a life or death situation, the job could be done much more efficiently by people who know what they are doing, and who are trusted. Pity it probably won't happen.