Much has been said of late regarding respect by non-Maori for Maori culture, specifically in terms of the rahui imposed at Cable Bay after Wairongoa Renata died whilst going to the rescue of his children, who were caught in a rip.

The formula is simple. You want respect? Then show some. That's how it works.

Facebook does not necessarily provide a reliable guide as to how rational people are thinking, but the reaction to a holidaying family's claims that they were abused and threatened after supposedly breaching the rahui was deeply saddening.

"If appreciation of and respect for Maori culture is to go beyond the All Black haka and Waitangi Day, then some people need to try harder. And that includes those who defend their culture with aggression and extraordinary intolerance."

The rahui, as is traditionally and widely accepted, prohibited swimming, fishing or harvesting seafood from the western end of the beach, but these people were told they could not play on the sand for the full length of the beach. Where that came from isn't clear, but it seems that those who took it upon themselves to enforce the rahui were aggressive, ill-informed, and in one case possibly affected by alcohol.


Read more: Rahui takes a nasty turn on Cable Bay

When it comes to nurturing understanding of Maori traditions and protocols, this incident will have done much more harm than good. There is a huge well of goodwill amongst the people in this country for all things Maori, and hopefully always will be, but that is by no means a given.

This family, who were abused again by some contributors to Facebook last week, made it clear that they understood why the rahui had been imposed, and wished to comply with it. Their problem was that they did not understand which part of the beach it applied to, how long it would last, and what activities it prohibited. Surely they did not deserve the vitriolic response they received.

Nothing has been said or written to suggest this family took the rahui as a joke.
It is far from "obvious" that they did not like being told of a Maori practice that the "whole country knows about," or that their behaviour represented racist oppression or interpreting Maori culture in terms of what they could be "bothered with."

Such accusations are more than unhelpful. They are paranoid and damaging. The reaction from non-Maori is less likely to be a resolution to try harder to understand Maori culture than a decision to ignore, or worse, denigrate it.

This is the way to drain the goodwill that exists in this country, and not only for Maori culture. We have reached the point where once much vaunted bi-culturalism has begun to evolve into multi-culturalism, and everyone's happiness depends upon the great majority accepting that various cultures have their own traditions and practices. We don't have to believe in them, but it behoves us all to respect them.

There is absolutely nothing in this family's experience, as reported, that remotely suggests any lack of respect or desire to do the right thing.

The need to instil respect for and understanding of Maori culture has perhaps never been greater since the days, only a couple of generations ago, when it was all but invisible to non-Maori New Zealanders.

The transformation that has taken place over the last 50 years is a wonderful thing, and long may it continue. But if appreciation of and respect for Maori culture is to go beyond the All Black haka and Waitangi Day, then some people need to try harder. And that includes those who defend their culture with aggression and extraordinary intolerance.

The fact is that most people do not have the ability to read minds, and if they cause offence it is more likely to be the result of ignorance than malice or arrogance. In that event, most people could be expected to react positively when they are enlightened. They should at least be given the opportunity to do so.

Clearly, no effort to do that was made at Cable Bay. These people, according to what they told the media, wanted to understand, and to observe the rahui, and were abused and threatened when they allegedly did not.

A much more rational element understands this. Aputerewa Marae kaumatua Glen Larkin hopefully undid much of any damage done when he described the behaviour complained of as neither proper nor sanctioned. The great majority of people, including overseas visitors, had respected the rahui, he said, but there had been a lack of information.

Signs were erected at the beach, for the five-day duration of the rahui, but there was more work to do to explain the process and its cultural significance.

Few people, whatever their ethnic origins, would argue with that. And lest there be any further misunderstanding, this is less about protecting our reputation and not deterring the visitors who contribute to the economy, although the jobs they provide will always be welcome, than it is about common courtesy. It is about treating others with the respect that we wish to receive.

If the boot was on the other foot, and the high-handed, arrogant attitude displayed towards this family had been aimed at Maori culture, it would rightly be condemned. The fact that the targets of this intolerance were Pakeha makes it no less offensive, or counter-productive.

Acceptance of and respect for any culture, be it Maori, European, Asian or whatever, depends upon capturing hearts and minds. The great majority of New Zealanders, and according to Mr Larkin's experience even overseas visitors, are clearly receptive to cultural practices that are foreign to their own cultural background and upbringing.

Hopefully they will continue to be receptive, but this is a process that cannot be compelled.

No one can be forced to show respect — it has to be earned — and most will be less likely to show it in the face of abuse and threats.

This behaviour simply sows the seeds for the lack of tolerance that is leading to violence all around us. Witness what is happening in Europe, in response to mass migration from Africa and the Middle East. What is happening in America, where the ugliest of human behaviour is manifested by white supremacists. We do not want that here, and we do not have to have it.

New Zealand might not be perfect, but it has long been an oasis of cultural understanding and acceptance that are in very short supply elsewhere. True, it has not been a painless process, but we have much to teach the rest of the world, not about assimilation (although New Zealand is probably unique there too, in terms of the process that followed, and continues to follow, European colonisation), but about how a genuinely multi-cultural society can develop and prosper.

All aggression begets is aggression. Anger begets anger. Intolerance begets intolerance. We can, and must, do much better than the rest of the world. If we don't we will inevitably be doomed to suffer the same hate, fear and violence that plague so many societies.

European culture offers a couple of pertinent pieces of advice — One catches more flies with honey than with vinegar (it is easier to persuade others with polite requests and a positive attitude than with rude demands and negativity), and Softly, softly, catchee monkey (to proceed carefully or quietly to achieve an objective or to capture a target without startling it so it runs away).

So does Maoridom: He aroha whakato, he aroha ka puta mai: If kindness is sown, then kindness is what you shall receive.