Speaking with a young man involved in war memorial displays, our conversation turned to the resurgence of interest in ANZAC Day amongst so many people of diverse ages. His theory, based on his observations, took me by surprise. He believed that people compared their lives with those of our ANZAC heroes, concluding that at least their lives were better than those who went to war! Whereas a better life for future generations is an important motivation for service men and women, surely this self-centred attitude is not our key reason for being there? I believe we are better than this! Surely, it is more about an opportunity to express respect for the sacrifices made, to learn from history, and the consequent forging of a national identity of courageous altruism and mateship?
Today’s society, however, does have a huge emphasis on being ‘better than’ the next guy. Competitive sport, academic results, awards, climbing the corporate ladder, brand comparisons - the list goes on and on. We are encouraged to be better than our ‘competitors’ to be victorious, inferring a product of satisfaction and happiness. While that may be true for a little while, the elation evaporates quickly and we’re on to the next competition. And what about the losers? They certainly don’t experience that temporary high and may resent us for winning too. Whereas healthy levels of competition can inspire greater results, when that requires stepping on others to get there, we need to re-evaluate carefully. Recognition of the team’s victory, or even the contributions of other worthy competitors who helped us to produce our best, shares the glory and reduces the sting of loss.
Without the joy of positive relationships around us, our victories will ring hollow in the end. What point is there in being better than everyone else, if societal benefit is not achieved and people are alienated from us in the process? Our pain-forged, national values of courageous altruism and mateship are worth the conscious effort to retain. Can we, in this era of competition, also strive to do our best, without needing to win the gold medal? Let us model our ANZAC spirit to younger generations and refuse to surrender to lesser principles.
The articles here are currently written by Liam McKenna, Lane Cove Community Chaplain.