Learning to be Human

On a day when Australians peacefully protested as the men on Manus Island have been having to do for far too long, I learnt about being human.

Since the Tampa Affair, the policies of successive Australian governments have shown us ignorance and cruelty. And for 16 years, Australia has learned those traits well. We have learnt fear, we have learnt hate and we’ve discovered justification for racism and selfishness. And all because of trust in our government.

I don’t know what those in whom that trust was placed have experienced. A rush of power and the desire for more? Pressure to comply with policies  entrenched in negativity because of party politics? The duality of doing what is right vs the need to ensure the votes of those who don’t have lives that allow them to access information beyond soundbites?

The world has become dark.

And it has felt hopeless as the rise of division has derided even small gestures of acceptance. Until so many have come to believe that exclusion and ruthlessness are acts of strength and not the choice of cowards.

It feels so much easier and safer to close our doors than open them and let the unknown in. But those that do can find a richness and warmth that reaches them through those opportunities as it envelops the people they have welcomed.

Life is a risky business. No one is safe from everything. Because we don’t control everything. So people reach for the assurance of promises of security and predictability. And no one wants those promises to be false. They need them. So they trust.

And those that knowingly abuse that trust should be ashamed. But if that abuse elevates those individuals and groups to pedestals where they can view their growing influence, then there’s no place for shame. Because power and greed are selfish beasts. And selfish beasts spawn selfish beasts. Hollow and dead-eyed and soulless.

So through 16 years, hope has been smothered. With every fresh lie and brutal political move (dictated at a comfortable distance from the impact of dehumanising tactics). But on the day when Australians peacefully protested to show those on Manus that they are not alone, to show those who keep them on Manus that they are not alone … and to make it clear that people who care about people still expect humanity from those who have seemingly ceased to be people. This is the day I learnt about being human. From someone who has every reason to feel that there is no escape from darkness.*

His words were read out across Australia. His message. It’s all here but below is where I felt the thaw that caught my pulse:

Our resistance was completely peaceful in a situation where we were under so much pressure and the threat of violence. Our resistance was completely democratic because so many people with different nationalities, religions and cultures were resisting peacefully together.
Every day we had a public meeting inside the prison camp and we shared our ideas together. Every day in the public meeting we emphasised this key concept: that we should care about each other, we should care about the people who are sick, we should respect each other and we should show the people around the world that we are peaceful, respectful and caring people. We even decided that despite our limited food we must feed the dogs who were living with us.
We did all of these things in a situation where we were living with very little food and water.
Our resistance had a broader purpose. It was to be a model and present a new way for humanity. We wanted to show how humans have this capacity to be kind and peaceful and care about humanity even in a harsh situation.
During the resistance we were following your protests in Australia and we became stronger and more determined in our decision to embrace kindness because we could see that people were hearing our voice, and that people are willing to care and fight for humanity in Australia.
We could feel you with us and it’s so beautiful to share in our humanity in this way.


‘A new way for humanity.’

It needs one.

Humanity needs to be a part of so much from which it has been widely banished.

I want to believe that it could happen. I don’t know if it will in my lifetime.
But I do know that it has begun on one small island. And then in gatherings inspired by the people on that island.

So I needed to find a way to explain that. To myself and maybe to one or two others.

This website has 6 followers. And after this post goes out, I expect there will be less. And that’s OK. We all have only so much time for the thoughts of others. And to dwell on idealistic musings that are probably too simplistic and quite obviously indulgent. I don’t expect more than a couple of people to read this far in this post. And that’s fine too. But if somehow it happens to reach beyond that couple, then I know it’ll receive scorn and sneers. And that’s fine. Because everyone’s entitled to their opinion. And this post is mine.

Once it’s done – in just a few more lines – Email Empathy will resume normal operations. To keep you informed about refugee policy and the reality it engenders and to make it as easy as possible to speak out if you’re so inclined.

But today I learnt about being human. And it felt like something. So I wrote this.


Thank you Behrouz*. Thank you Abdul Aziz. Thank you Walid and Ezatullah and Samad Abdul. Thank you to all the men on Manus who names I don’t know and to all the people who support them who are strangers to me in many ways.
But in one way they are with me. “And it’s so beautiful to share in our humanity in this way.”



Behrouz Boochani is a man, described by World Vision’s Tim Costello as “a striking man, lean, intense, acutely aware of the advocacy role he plays among the forgotten men of Manus“. A quirk of fate landed him on Christmas Island on 23 July 2013 – his 30th birthday and just four days after Kevin Rudd announced that refugees arriving by boat would have “no chance” of being settled in Australia. In detention he has refused to be defined by the number he was given – MEG45. Instead he has asserted his identity as a writer and witness in what he calls “this hell of a prison”.

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