Everything means something. You may not like this. You may wish it wasn't this way. You would prefer life to be breezy and straightforward.
You would like it if dinky concrete real life things would stay being dinky concrete real life things, with no annoying subtext. You call yourself pragmatic and bemoan the way people take offence too easily. "I'll report to The Society for Very Deeply Respecting Boundaries for sensitivity training, ha ha."
I get it. Acknowledging what is unsaid makes you feel out of control. (If you're thinking "No it doesn't!" Then I just give you a beady look and say, ahem. Denial). If anything means anything, then it's next stop chaos. It's disturbing. But whether you like it or not, everything has meaning. That is the truth.
So when Air New Zealand chooses to make a safety video set in Antarctica, the site of the worst civil disaster in New Zealand's history, consciously or unconsciously, there is deep symbolism in that decision.
Air New Zealand maintains it was not offensive. This is arrogant. They don't get to decide that. They have the right to run their business however they choose, but they have no right to tell the rest of us what our truth is.
And whether intentional or not, some family members of the victims of Flight 901 have certainly taken a message from it.
Eric Houghton, who lost his father in the Erebus crash wrote on The Spinoff: "In making this video, I suspect that Air New Zealand is saying it believes it is time to move on. But they don't get to choose when we move on."
Two hundred and fifty seven people died in the worst air crash in New Zealand aviation history. I would have thought Air New Zealand would now be able to see they showed a lack of respect and would be in Deeply Apologetic Mode. But they seem to have done the marketing version of a shrug.
So here are some thoughts I would respectfully offer up for Air New Zealand to consider in why they got this so very wrong.
1. Trauma can stretch across generations.
Maybe because New Zealand's European history is short, we think 40 years is a long time. It's not. Also: the past is never dead. It is not even past (Faulkner). Grief doesn't hit us in tidy phases and stages. It is not something that we forget and move on from. It is an intensely personal contradictory chaotic and unpredictable internal process. As grief therapist Julia Samuel writes, if we are to navigate it we need to find a way to understand and live with the central paradox, that we must find a way of living with a reality that we don't want to be true. This suffering can be passed down through generations. That is because….
2. We are all interconnected.
What happens over there doesn't stay tidily "over there". We all feel a sense of collective grief. For Air New Zealand to tell people overtly or by implication how they should respond – get over it - is a boundary violation. Showing respect means accepting other people will have their own reality. This is not just for those who lost family or friends, but for all of us. A friend on Facebook recalled: "I was working at Air New Zealand at the time and I still clearly remember the crash and the days following. If I still remember it with much melancholy as a bystander, how much more upsetting must it be for those who lost family?"
3. We have a collective shadow.
Erebus is part of our shadow. It is a shadow, not just because of the loss of life in the disaster itself, but also because of the subsequent dissembling, cover-up, the repercussions, the demonising of Justice Peter Mahon, which profoundly shook our faith in public institutions. Erebus became a scar on our national psyche. Thoughtful people in the advertising and marketing industries know that they are caretakers of our myths and narratives, and are mindful of what they do with them. They know the energy of the shadows does not go away. They always go somewhere.
4. Empathy is a critical component of good management.
Empathy is often regarded as one of the soft leadership skills, because it is hard to quantify ROI (return on investment). But given that effective management is accomplishing work through others, increasingly empathy is being recognised as crucial, rather than soft.
This is not just me saying that. New research, reported in Forbes, found that empathy (the ability to understand and share the feelings of another) is a "critical driver of overall performance" for management. I would venture to suggest Air New Zealand did not demonstrate empathy in the way they introduced the Antarctica video.
The Air New Zealand board may have a lot of "real world" smarts, but they do not seem to be well endowed with emotional intelligence. So little in fact, that they haven't woken up and realised that these days, that really matters.