Failure to function: Flag farcical write up

My Facebook page blew up over this write up about the flag proposition by Virginia Goldblatt.  So I read it, then read it again and was just stunned.  I find it to be inflammatory in places and more likely to create civil unrest than civil discussion!!  My response to Virginia’s writing is in italics and below the part of her writing that I am responding to.

The increasing animosity around the flag “debate” has demonised some unlikely candidates of late  – Richie McCaw, and Dan Carter for example, not to mention the arch villain of them all John Key, also the most consistently popular Prime Minister in New Zealand’s history.

How did this happen? How did we go from a place where most New Zealanders wanted a flag that better represented them in the 21st century; from cross party political support – this was Labour’s policy before it was National’s; and from a powerful desire to be able to look at the flags raised in major sporting stadia all over the world without vainly hoping the audience could tell our flag from Australia’s; to where we are now. It appears that most New Zealanders have forgotten the flag debate was about the flag and made it about everything else they don’t like about politics or society.

I must have missed the referendum that actually asked if I wanted the flag changed.  I also think the flag is raised in much more important places than just sporting stadiums, like the United Nations or at ANZAC ceremonies.  I guess I am not in the majority of NZers.


Perhaps this is happening because we stopped focusing on interests and focused on positions instead. We lined up people (the ones we didn’t like) and made it about them. Then, following the logic of the revolution, we soon started lining up people we did like as well (sorry, Richie! sorry Dan!)  We haven’t confined our strong feelings to parliamentary debate and media commentary but have taken it into our homes and extended it to our friends. On an issue that was supposed to unite New Zealanders, tolerance has been in short supply.

I focussed on the flag and its history.  Come the next general election I will show my distaste for this process in that vote.  I happen to like Richie and Dan, they have their own opinion but in a public arena like this, bias has to be recognised both ways.  Yes they are entitled to vote to change the flag but in sharing their view they can create the sense that this is the popular choice to a sport mad country.  I believe it is wrong to attack them for their choice but maybe it was inappropriate for them to share their personal choice with the popularity and the potential sway they hold as beloved sports people.  This should have been mentioned here to make a less biased and judgmental writing.

So it is hopeless then? Is our stubborn refusal to do what a majority of us once wanted to do and change the flag, a refusal that has increasingly little to do with the flag itself, unresolvable or is there some way to recalibrate the discussion and make more positive use of this opportunity?

I disagree with much of this statement as I believe positive use has been made.  I have never seen as many flags flying as there are now.  The NZ flag has gone beyond sports arena’s and everyday NZers are asserting their pride in it by flying it at their own homes.  I resent the implication that those who do not want change are unable to make the decision based on the flag and the assumption is that it is a negative choice.  For a mediator, I find much of this write up inflammatory and not likely to promote a civil discussion.  It is simply too one sided and shame on Massey University for publishing it under their name, with no disclaimer that the views Virginia expresses are not the University’s.  

In mediation people are often asked to focus on their shared interests, the things they have in common. Disputants can usually remember a past time when they did get on and there were things they agreed about. If so, they may be willing to apply that understanding to their present difficulties.  If we were to do that here we could remind ourselves of what many of us really care about and try to promote dialogue instead of discord. Even if the flag can’t bring us together, at least the way we talk about it might improve.


I wonder if in writing this the Virginia read what she wrote.  “If we were to do that here we could remind ourselves of what many of us really care about and try to promote dialogue instead of discord.”  Statements like this are inflammatory and is the author not demonstrating the very style of thinking that she is wanting us to stop doing?  Is this the case of “do as I say, not as I do?”

It seemed for some time that  most of us wanted a new flag – a flag that represented the country we are now, not the one colonised by Britain in the 19th century. We also liked the Silver Fern and we felt that was us, not only those of us who watch sporting teams with it on their chests, but also those who have seen images of  battlefield cemeteries like those on the Western Front where it appears on every young New Zealand soldier’s grave from the 1914-18 War. Some of us even liked a similar Kyle Lockwood flag design when it first appeared in various publications a number of years ago. We were better at focussing on future generations as well as previous ones and talked about the kind of flag we wanted our children to grow up with.

To be honest I like the alternative flag, it is just not my flag.  I like that when I talk about the existing flag, it has a history to each part of it.  Where is the history in Lockwood’s design?  The silver fern is not a strong enough representation of NZ today.  I find the idea that this flag better represents NZ than our actual flag flawed.

If most of us still agree on those things – and probably many more – which are about the flag itself, then why are we rejecting the chance we now have to celebrate them?

I believe Virginia is putting too much on the alternative flag.  Or maybe she sees something that I am missing in it?

Perhaps we need to use another mediation technique – the reality check. If we do not vote for this change in 2016 we will be left with the old flag, the one most of us felt no longer represented New Zealand, for a very long time. The process might not have been problem-free but that can’t be changed (set realisable goals); the alternative flag may not be perfect (nothing is); nor our particular first choice (unanimity was never a criterion for decision making here); but does it serve our identified shared interests better than the only other one we have on the ballot paper, the old one?

Easy answer:  NO it does not

Ken Cloke, an internationally recognised mediator, says that revenge is the willingness to hurt yourself in order to injure someone else so, before you vote in the referendum, consider the options, think about the flag you want to see for foreseeable future, and vote positively.

I resent the idea that voting for no change in flags is some form of revenge.  If I follow this line of thinking then I would say the general election is a far better place to stage revenge.  I just find this part of Virginia’s writing to be simply inflammatory and completely oppositional to the stated desire for a civil discussion about the flag options.  

Make this about the flag.

My vote is about the flag, as it may well be for many other people who on reading this could be offended.  It strikes me as funny that Virginia Goldblatt is the director of the Massey University Mediation Service.  Unless it is a case of those that can’t do, teach?  




  1. Absolutely agree – and shame on Massey for publishing it on their website. If this is an example of mediation, please let me never go into a mediation process with so biased a mediator

    Liked by 1 person

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