In the eye of the beholder – Andrea Grant

On a recent family holiday to Cape Otway we took a day trip to the iconic 12 Apostles. I’ve visited a few times in my life and never failed to be captivated by their glorious obstinance in the face of the pounding surf. This was the first time that I have been there with my three young sons and the combination of ancient majesty and youthful exuberance led to the expression of a beautiful truth.

My youngest son, aged 7 at the time, gazed over the magnificent rock formation in silence. The rare absence of babbling commentary was a good indication something significant was stirring deep within. After a while he quietly reached for my hand and whispered, ‘Mum, I feel something and I can’t really say what it is. I’m both happy and a little bit scared at the same time.’

My adult interpretation of this childish offering was that he felt moved by the enormity of the experience and simply didn’t have the words to express the truth of his joy.

There is something tremendously humbling about gazing out on such majesty. I too became moved, lost in the power of the moment and acutely aware of my own relative smallness. It’s important to me that I take such moments from time to time; lift my eyes up from the screen, leave the office, and abandon myself to something I have no control over. But it took my child to remind me of the simple, heartfelt truth: this is beautiful, bigger than me and beyond my understanding.

It would be false to leave you with the impression my children always speak truthfully! There is however, an unclutteredness to their truth-telling which I find refreshing. In my experience, children have a tendency to speak from the heart, without the complicated layers of assumptions, prejudices and agendas we adults drown our assertions in. In public discourse, truth has tended to become synonymous with the position a person is taking to express, or forcefully declare, a point of view. The ability to ‘tell it like it is’ is hailed as a virtue when in reality the speaker is usually telling it as she or he sees it or wants it to be, rather than speaking truth.

Recently, much of this public discourse has centred on the complex issue of global migration. Many feel compelled to share their opinions publically regardless of how informed they may be. In this debate one position seems to be regularly declared as an absolute truth; all migrants must assimilate into their new communities. The degree to which they are willing to assimilate is proportional to the willingness of locals to welcome them. This is how, according to public debate, multiculturalism is successfully managed.

I question whether this is in fact a truth. My litmus test for this question is John 14:6 ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’ Is this declaration about assimilation life-giving? Does this position enable a pathway to God? Does it restore loving relationships throughout the world? If not, I remain unconvinced this is true.

Assimilation is a notion that is entirely self-serving for those who avow it to be essential. What I hear when people proclaim something to be ‘the only way’ is; ‘I will only accept you if you will change to be just like me.’ Is that really our position on migration – that we will only accept newcomers to this country if they are just like us? That seems preposterous to me, and entirely impractical. I was raised as one of six children, yet each of us has grown up to live quite diverse lives. We don’t all share the same political leanings or views on key dimensions of life such as parenting or the practice of faith. So, how on earth can we expect newcomers to our heterogeneous society to be ‘just like us’? Which ‘us’ are they supposed to conform to?

Conversely, the children I know have an uncluttered view to this highly emotive issue. They don’t see race, religion, colour, gender, or politics; they merely see a potential new friend. Their regard seems to be solely for the person standing before them. We live in a part of Melbourne that is widely diverse and my children play football with other children from a vast array of cultural backgrounds. When I ask where a particular child is from they simply respond, ‘he’s from the under 10s’. It is no more complicated to them than that.

Posters in my children’s school remind them to ask three questions of themselves before they speak: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? In other words, will this deepen my relationship with God and foster the love of God in the world? If not, it’s probably not worth saying. That’s one truth I can happily accept.