Funny as it sounds - Humility May Just Win The Election.


Thursday 23 May 2013

I’m writing this after being deeply moved by the people of Regents Park, Sydney who made up the audience of the Gillard Government Community Cabinet meeting last night.

I ought to be studying… and I guess, in a way I AM. Studying people – a lifelong habit after many hours of acting classes in the late 50s with the incomparable Wal Cherry.

What struck me last night was the difference between the way questions were both framed and asked in this meeting as opposed to some of the questions in other shows on TV such as… well yes… QandA. The questions came across as questions that people genuinely wanted answered – rather than, as is sometimes the case, demonstrating the unique wit of the questioner or a gotcha-trap for a brief moment of television notoriety.

The answer to why this difference was so apparent came to me before the question bubbled to the surface of my consciousness. And it came in just two words… respect and humility.

Respect! Where HAVE you been in the lead up to this election?

Well – there it was last night in the hall of the Regents Park Christian School for all to witness. I was taken aback. Respect is not something I’ve grown accustomed to seeing of late – particularly for the office of Prime Minister, let alone the Prime Minister herself – both from sections of our politicians, broadcasters and journalists to members of the general public. This is not hard to understand when one sees the influence from a Print and TV Media monopoly that is, itself devoid of any respect for our democracy and would choose to tell us who the next incumbents should be. Whether we personally like or dislike the person holding the office of Prime Minister, we cannot allow it to affect the respect we have for that office or our democratic system that ultimately chooses who shall hold it.

You could argue that the audience last night was hand-picked to be positive and receptive to the Government but I defy anyone to tell me that that necessarily guarantees respect. Respect was there however, beautifully obvious – often manifesting itself simply by the addressing of Julia Gillard as ‘Prime Minister’.

And then of course, there was the humility.

Humility! Funny word isn’t it. So close to ‘humiliation’ yet couldn’t be further from its meaning. But it was there too and quite evident from everyone involved.

My Dad taught me about humility. Raised in abject poverty as a child then rescued by family into extreme wealth, this set the scene for him to have a well-balanced view of the world and its people. He was intelligent enough to go to University and study dentistry; athletic enough to be a Country Regional Champion in many sports and raise a son (my brother) to reach Olympic standards – but overwhelmingly he was a ‘people person’ with a perfectly simple understanding of who he was. He could relate to the poorest in the socio-economic scale or the wealthiest from the Toorak suburb of Melbourne but as far as I could ever tell, not once did he deviate from his firm opinion that humility was the key to being a worthwhile human being.

Not so much do I see this in many parts of society today that still cling to the idea of entitlement; the idea that being born into a position of wealth is the measurement of your quality, giving you a natural superiority and right to the largest slice of the pie whether you own it or not.

And what comes with this sense of entitlement?  Far too often we see deluded, raised-in-wealth-or-privilege souls become impoverished of a sense of human decency and kindness. Utterly divorced from the reality of other people’s lives and needs, they use a tactic of ‘Aspirational Taunting’ early in life – a ‘look at me, you could be as important and useful a human being as I am if you follow me and do as I say’ to accompany much of what they do. And this in many ways is the first step to bullying – a subject I am as qualified to discuss as the next person who has ever been a victim.

Look at the prevailing attitude by so many to refugees/Asylum Seekers – fellow human beings often terrified, traumatised, homeless, bereft of all human comfort or reward.

Look at the attitude to disability, poverty, inequity, difference and see how much humility or respect you can find in any argument from those of the ‘elite’ of society (influencing their would-be followers ) who choose to use their wealth as their hallmark of quality. Sadly you will more likely see and hear contempt or apathy or superiority as the privileged foot comes down on the neck of deprivation.

Well – I for one was moved to tears last night and the tears removed the scales from my vision.  Maybe, just maybe – a sense of decency towards our fellow human beings is making its way back. Maybe, just maybe more of us are starting to see that our successful future lies within the sharing of our wealth and power and expertise with our children and future generations; ensuring that they receive the best education this country can give them; the greatest health and technology support systems we can devise and a fair and equitable distribution of the wealth of natural resources (apart from the children themselves) we have in our midst.

And maybe, just maybe we’re also seeing how much more powerful it is - and how much more it contributes to our society - to be a compassionate, respectful individual, than one full of privilege with little respect, humility or understanding of the true worth of human life.

Politicians of all persuasions trying to win the September 2013 Election would be well advised to take heed of the humility they saw on display last night.


  1. Nancy,

    You have nailed it beautifully. I witnessed it on TV and felt many of the things that you have articulated so well.

    It was wonderful to get that respect from the audience. It has come only gradually and grudgingly to our Prime Minister, I think largely because she has refused to be bowed by the most vicious and personal campaign against her.

    That respect was shown so clearly at the Q & A she did for schoolchildren. Not just respect, but the questions were essentially bona fide - no real attempt at point-scoring. They were far more intelligent questions than she'd normally get from the politically-selected audiences. And she responded with equal respect.

    The Regents Park forum was, as you've written, an even stronger display of that connection. And the key is humility. It seems to be a rare trait in political leaders these days. Perhaps the ego and ambition to get to the top tends to suppress it.

    But you are right that this is the noblest quality that a prudent person can have. There is no question that Julia Gillard possesses it in spades. It has led to her bringing out the best in her colleagues and her public service.

    I don't know if you saw the reception by DFAT staff given to her after Australia had won a UN Security Council place. It was explosive and spontaneous and could only have come from a genuine warmth and respect.

    I have studied politics over 50 odd years, absorbing some from before my time. There were only a few that had genuine humility. Curtin and Chifley were the outstanding examples.

    Even Menzies, judging by some of his correspondence with Curtin, possessed it. Tom Playford and Don Dunstan (despite his prima donna personality) had it. John Cain, Dick Hamer and I think Neville Wran. But not too many more. Maybe Malcolm Fraser but he was a little aloof- so it was hard to tell.

    It is certainly the greatest quality you can bring to leadership. It doesn't guarantee that you'll become a great leader, but it is an essential component for true success.

  2. Thank you so much for such a comprehensive reply GD (are you one with a redback under the seat?)and I love your thoughts on the leaders who may have shown this quality of humility in their time. I mostly agree with you - although I think Malcolm's has come out more since his retirement from public life.I can forgive Keating's apparent lack of it because I think it was there, underlying everything he did - but his larrikin humour always topped it. I too have loved politics - going back to Menzies' time when I was a kid - but my Dad saw much more compassion in Menzies than I ever could.

  3. Thank you for those observations, Nancy. They match my own impressions of our truly great, though humble, Prime Minister at a Community Cabinet forum in WA last September shortly after the death of her father, John Gillard. If I may quote myself briefly in the hope you'll follow up my link to read more....particularly the comments from others.

    I had the privelege just a few days ago of meeting the Prime Minister personally at a community cabinet here in W.A. in nearby Kwinana. I just wish I could have let him know of the conversations I had with some of her colleagues at the less crowded social event which followed the public forum. All of them, both men and women, expressed admiration for her as a leader of Labor Caucus and as Prime Minister. The women expressed much more – affection, love and appreciation for her strength and her support for themselves and other women struggling to achieve more both here in Australia and in other less developed parts of the world.

    1. That's a lovely observation, Patricia... and I shall certainly follow up. Thank you for your kind words.

  4. Dear Nancy,

    You may be right about Paul Keating - he could never resist the jibe, but he did cut through. Oddly enough, there was a bit of shyness which I think hid that trait of humility, just as he used that abrasiveness to disguise the gentleness within. It showed especially when he made a stand after WIK.

    I'd never associated Menzies with it until (on ABC Radio) I'd heard his exchange of letters with Curtin during the War. He said to 'Jack', "You were ready and fit to lead the country; I was not." Quite a remarkable self-reflection, and perhaps why he was able to learn from his failings.

    I loved Gough, of course, and he did reply beautifully to a letter and article I sent him. But I fear that though possessed of greatness, he may not always have been able to listen to those around him. He inspired so many others.

    It had been such a long battle to get to the leadership and the reshape the party as old officials tried desperately to preserve their little power enclaves, that he just couldn't suffer fools gladly. Crash through or Crash applied as much to his struggles within the party as to his parliamentary approach.

    My nickname derived from Don Dunstan, my all-time political hero. Nation Review writer John Hepworth had originally bestowed that on him, assuming he was just a flamboyant trendy. When Don turned out to be the real thing, Heppy repented of it, but I doubt it ever bothered Don anyway,. He was called much worse!

    warm regards

    Don Wilson

    1. Ah! The mystery is solved re the dunny. I had great admiration for Don Dunstan - and not only because he was a great champion of the Arts. I love reading your political thoughts - please do stay in touch. And yes - I think you're spot on about Keating.

  5. Dear Nancy,

    I've greatly enjoyed corresponding with you. As to keeping you informed on politics ...

    My most frequent haunt is The Pub - a political blog

    It started fairly recently as a refuge from The Poll Bludger (Crikey-owned, and managed by William Bowe) which in my view was the benchmark for political blogs. It still retains some of the best and most original posters from around Australia. However, over the past year it had become bogged down by the Rudd Wars and obsessions with whether Gillard might fall over after the next bad poll (and they were all bad).

    It got trapped in the same rubbish being recited all the time in the MSM, and the Rudd loyalists simply wouldn't let go or listen to any reason. So The Pub (started just as a blog for political tragics over the Christmas recess) continued, and eventually became a refuge for those wanting to move on from the Rudd nonsense. A lot of us have moved over permanently to The Pub. A few still post at both. It has gradually developed into an excellent blog with some first class posters.

    It's a bit of a community thing, and many have been encouraged to do a lead story on a topic of their own choosing. I am just drafting what I aim to make three leading topic posts there. Mine are on the three biggest political heroes in Gillard's life. They are Nye Bevan, Don Dunstan and Gough Whitlam.

    Bevan, of course, from South Wales, would have come from her father John Gillard, who played a vital role in Gillard's life. She would still only have been a teenager when Gough and Don finished, but with politics discussed so much at the family table, she would have learned a lot about them.

    All were popular, but more importantly, all were prepared to stand firmly for what they believed in and not be daunted by highly personal attacks against them. If you wonder where she gets her inner strength from (and even Nicola Roxon, no piker herself, was in awe of it) hsving them as your role models is not a bad start.

    But I think you've got it right on the key component, humility. It was what I loved about Ben Chifley. If you haven't done so already, I'd encourage you to read L F Crisp's biography of him. There's any interesting parallel with the trouble Ben had (trying to hold the traditional Federal ALP together) against the breakaway NSW Lang Labor Party in the 1930s.

    For most of that time, Lang's group were much more popular than Chifley's Federal group. Lang did many good things, but equally he was a megalomaniac and more populist than substantive. Chifley had more depth, and his achievements federally have not been equalled. More important was his humility and his acceptance of the democratic process. He accepted that you couldn't win all the time. When he lost he never seemed bitter, even though he was often beaten by unfair means. That made him a greatly respected man.

    Anyways ... I'll let you know when I've got a leading post up there.

    Warm regards


    1. Funnily enough, I stumbled across (in my usual elegant fashion) The Pub only a few days ago and loved it - as you say a real sense of community. I was drawn to Nye Bevan as a child and my father (a Menzies devotee) and I had great debates about the National Health Scheme. I have read a biog of Chifley but not the one you mention so will add that to my list. Actually, it was Chifley's humility that was back of my recent post. Please do let me know when your post is up... although I now have the site in my sights (in a manner of speaking).

  6. I did not see the programme but your post is thought provoking. Can a politician or even a person have humility and ego, ego surely being necessary to succeed in politics? I don't think ego is a bad thing, if it means some decent self confidence.

    1. Thank you for your comments Andrew - and I was thrilled to hear that you found the post thought-provoking. Re the question you raise: I certainly think that one can have humility and an ego - depending of course, on one's definition of 'ego'. To me, it is a sense of self that develops as one leaves the baby-state of recognising little else but a nurturer. One's sense of self is best served by an understanding of one's abilities and how best to use them to reach full potential. A natural consequence of this is confidence. Where 'ego' comes unstuck is when the self believes it is better than other 'selfs' for whatever reason resulting in an attitude of superiority or scorn (a distraction from self-development). Humility on the other hand, quietly utilises its self-knowledge to develop and grow in stature but not at the expense of a fellow life-traveller. In my opinion the human with humility will always be the superior Statesman. Feel free to disagree - I love that you bothered to make your point.

  7. They don't seem to Andrew. Yet they can. I met Don Dunstan in 1963. I was a pimply Politics student, rather cynical of the gerrymander existing in SA. I couldn't see how it could be overcome. He treated my enquiry quite patiently and seriously, explaining that it's really quite simple. They would run a public campaign shaming the other side into reforming the electoral system.

    I didn't believe him, but he was right. After he was defeated in 1968 with 53% of the vote he sustained a long pubic rally against the system. Eventually Steele Hall's government did reform the system and Dunstan swept to power in 1970.

    Despite his highly cultivated style, Dunstan was very approachable, starting his career by listening to Italian migrants that most politicians didn't want to know then.

    I'd say that Ben Chifley definitely possessed that quality. I agree with the general likelihood of your conclusion, but there have been exceptions. There was still an ego of sorts, but I think it was mainly an internal belief, and not part of their interaction with others.

  8. I didn't see the programme yet your post is provocative. Can a legislator or even an individual have lowliness and sense of self, self image doubtlessly being fundamental to succeed in governmental issues? small business funding australia .

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