We need artists and social commentators to perform the occasional moral reset. But it’s what we do with that lesson that matters.
Peter Walker and I were always too much alike to be really close. We’re both trained in the theatre and passionate about it. Both prone to impatience and anger at society’s never-ending ills. Neither of us is inclined to suffer fools gladly—and once or twice each has not suffered the other.
And both of us have spent a lifetime being far too deeply in love with humanity. Yes, in love with it. Even with all its injustice, its grotesque and sometimes appalling behaviour. Its casual and careless selfishness, its venality and its outright greed.
Mostly, we’ve never gotten tired of asking the same questions again and again: Why do people so enjoy having power over others? Why are they so cruel? How can a human being, so amply qualified to love, to share and to dream be so sordid and cruel? How can a species better equipped than all others to do good… be so bloody-minded, stupid and evil?
Again and again and again, for decades, Wan Smolbag’s productions have confronted injustice, and they’ve done it in a way that few others can. They don’t just rail against it. They don’t just reject it.
They remind us that this is who we are.
When I heard that Peter and his cousins had been so savagely attacked, I reacted as anyone would. I felt a surge of outrage, hatred against the sub-humans who senselessly inflicted such cruelty on total strangers.
I wanted those animals to die.
Peter’s example that led me back. If we’re really intent on stopping these acts of violence, then the first thing we need to do is accept that this is who we are.
Our society is no sicker today than we were yesterday. We’ve always been capable of this. An elderly Tannese man was brutally attacked earlier last week, but didn’t have the benefit of a lifetime spent in the public eye. His family too are suffering.
The real questions are: Why do we keep doing this? What should we do when this happens?
Most of us—myself included—just want to be shut of it. We just want to push it away. We make excuses.
It’s not us. It’s those people.
They had it coming.
They’re animals. They should be shot.
What did they do to bring it on?
They should have known there was danger.
Anyone who tells me they haven’t thought these things is a liar.
We’ll say anything to avoid the truth.
Peter and Jo never did. No matter how much they wanted to—and trust me, they did. What they said, again and again was: This Is Who We Are.
This Is Who We Are.
No excuses, no lip-flapping over ideology, religion, belief. No mantras, no slogans, no excuses.
This Is Who We Are.
The question they have confronted their audiences—and themselves—with, again and again and again, is this: What then do we do?
Now that we know what we’re capable of, what are we going to do about it?
Are we going to listen to same old moralistic self-serviency that we hear day after day? Are we just going to sit back and let ambitious people serve their own needs first and the devil take the hindmost? Are we going to be so caught up in our own petty dramas that we forget there’s anything else happening?
Because This Is Who We are.
This is human nature, and it sucks.
It sucks right up until it doesn’t. Humanity is capable of great things. Dozens upon dozens of people whose lives have been changed by Peter and Jo showed up at Vila Central Hospital and embraced them with an absolute deluge of love and support.
“It’s overwhelming,” Jo told me.
But what then do we do? How do we harness that love, support and yes, this anger too, to ensure that justice is done? That no one else has to undergo such trauma? That people are protected from this kind of sick and bestial behaviour?
What then do we do?
That is the question that Jo and Peter and everyone at Wan Smolbag have been confronting us with for decades.
This is who we are. These problems will not go away. What then do we do?
If you have any love for Peter and Jo and everyone who’s devoted their lives to making Vanuatu better, you will take the time—you will make the time—to answer them.