"Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters," says Margaret Wheatley, author, professor and community activist.
We don't have to look far for topics that meet that challenge at the moment. But the question is, how do we have those conversations without settling into our traditional tribal boundaries or only coming out fighting, looking for a good old fashioned winners and losers debate?
The latest divisive topic has been capital gains tax, or tax in general. My children repeated to me this week the refrain "everyone hates tax" so that started a conversation. Not quite as challenging (or perhaps more so!) with a 7 and a 9-year-old as with those set in their views and set on their trusted messengers.
My response to the boys was that tax pays for school, and going to the doctor, and the roads we use to get places, and much more. I appreciate our tax system and receiving these services, and was pretty disappointed that quite a few aspects of the tax report were rejected.
The proposed changes weren't going to fix everything, and may have introduced some complications, but I remain sure that a carefully designed and implemented capital gains tax has a place in New Zealand. Taking some steps towards a fairer tax system is worth it, regardless of the inevitable criticism from those not quite ready for meaningful conversations, preferring to defend the status quo.
I've seen a change in the cannabis discussion so maybe there is hope for talks on tax in the future. The growing interest in evidence-based policy to support, again through careful design and implementation, personal use of cannabis is another that has been controversial in the past.
I rate MP Chloe Swarbrick's commitment to a respectful discussion where she plays the ball, not the man, even in the face of cynical political ploys.
Now Chloe is young, female and Green, so shouldn't be a messenger with wide appeal given the history around respect for these voices, but she has earned her place with a considered style, quick wit and research that backs up her points. Why shouldn't we learn from someone young sometimes?
Her clear message is that the current unregulated system means people can access cannabis without any controls – making something illegal doesn't stop its use. This question is not one about whether cannabis should exist in the world or not – it's about controls on its access and being able to more effectively reduce harm.
Dare I mention euthanasia as the next topic in need of finding common ground. Our own Chronicle letters to the editor are packed at the moment with strongly held views. Just like discussion on abortion, there seems to be some sort of assumption that reform around abortion or legalised euthanasia will impact everyone.
My view is that this is about bodily autonomy – people having responsibility for their own choices about what happens to their body when they are pregnant, or when they are facing a painful and radical deterioration to death. The horrific experience of the late Lecretia Seales sticks in my mind.
Again, the question is not whether people should do these things but how we regulate them. Forms of abortion and euthanasia have happened through the history of time, sometimes in quite dehumanising and risky situations.
We have the opportunity to provide protections for people to make these personal and individual choices safely. It doesn't make it compulsory or encouraged, and we have to guard against unwanted pressures – it is about informed choice.
Next topic on the whistle-stop tour of controversy is racism. As one of my favourite New Zealanders director Taika Waititi said, New Zealand is "racist as f***".
We don't like confronting this, particularly discussions around the place of the Treaty of Waitangi and Aotearoa's experience of colonisation. It makes us Pākehā (and some Māori) uncomfortable, even a bit guilty, around what that means for our experience of growing up Kiwi.
This week I've been blessed to reconnect with Taaniko Nordstrom and meet her sister-in-law and business partner Vienna Nordstrom, the duo behind Soldiers Rd Portraits. Taaniko is a wonderful force of positive disrupting energy. She is a hero at bold conversations and their work is helping change imagery of Māori, literally.
Their approach unpacks questions about identity, values and beauty, leaving a powerful image behind. It starts a transformation and may be a catalyst for wider change in how we connect in modern Aotearoa. And how we have the conversations we need to have.
- Nicola Patrick is a councillor at Horizons Regional Council and leads a new social enterprise hub, Thrive Whanganui. A mum of two boys, she has a science degree and is a Green Party member.