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Gemma Hudson reflects on her childhood and her struggles identifying with politicians.
Like most kids, I would, on occasion,pretend to be sick to stay home from school.
But my motivation for this was rarely to get out of a test or avoid an activity I didn’t like. I generally enjoyed school as a kid, I didn’t want to miss it.
If I stayed home from school ‘sick’, I might have the opportunity to go to work with my parents. And that was fun.
Because my parents were journalists, and they worked in the coolest place in the world. My parents worked at Parliament House.
I’d pack a bag of things to keep me busy for the day; a book to read or colouring in to do, and I’d sit in the car, excited for the journey to the best place ever.
I loved the ‘secret’ car park that you needed a pass to use. I loved the doors that opened with fancy buttons and the fire escape that also had an elevator in it. I loved confidently putting my bag through the security machine because I felt like I was in a spy movie. I loved the red carpet of the Senate side that felt like my playground. I loved the way it smelled there.
The halls were full of people, and I got the feeling that the people in this building were some of the most important people in the world.
I’d take wondrous excursions outside the office, down the hallway, to the most space age bubbler I’d ever seen, it had little paper cups on the side and the water was ice cold. Newspaper staff would race my brother up and down the office on a wheely chair. I’d commandeer a computer to play games online. I felt like a professional.
I’d run along next to my father as we made the journey from the newspaper office where he worked to the TV office where my mum sat. I’d feel pure curiosity at every labyrinthine twist and turn on the journey. In the corridors that were off limits to the general public, I met many politicians and journalists.
As I grew up, I never understood why people hated politicians and the people who worked at Parliament House. I had seen these people as everyday human beings. I couldn’t see how the media would be evil when they played chair races in their office with us. I would find it hard to believe that people who had the coolest bubblers in the world in their building were at best, incompetent, and at worst, out to destroy the world.
It’s funny, because you expect the harsh awakening from childhood to be that Santa Claus isn’t real, but mine was that the people who I had seen queueing at cafes, whose offices I had skipped past wearing jeans with my school shoes, who waved to my parents in the hallways were as powerful as I thought, but they weren’t using their power for good. It’s hard to believe that people who asked you the names of your plastic animal toys are also the people who let refugees suffer in squalor.
There are political leaders whose ideals and policies I will die on a hill denouncing. Those same political leaders are compassionate individuals who help people find hospitals to go to when their children are sick. There are people who have brilliant policies and are incredible advocates who have created positive change. Behind closed doors, some of those people are nasty and conniving.
No one is totally good or totally bad. I think we all know this, but we don’t really know it. It bothers us that people who spout bigoted views on the TV and radio go home to families they love and care for, just like the rest of us. It’s crushing to know that people who stick up for the downtrodden on Q&A are rude to your parents.
I know now that the people with some of the greatest responsibilities in the country will always be far, far from perfect. I know I don’t agree with many of them. I think lots of their ideas are terrible, and dangerous for the world. But when I remember walking in the same halls as they did, drinking from the bubblers they used and buying fruit tingles from the cafes where they got their lattes, I can’t help but think that these people are not evil. They are very, very, very human, and all the flaws that come with but not evil.
This raises the question, how perfect do we want our politicians to be? Does being held to a higher standard as a representative mean you forfeit your very human right to make mistakes? Where do we draw the line?
Can we hate a person’s views but respect their everyday kindnesses? Can we forgive someone’s poor interpersonal skills if their policies might make our world better? Do we want our politicians to be good advocates or good people? Can you be one without the other? Does taking a hard line make you a bad person?
I wish I had the answers, but my mind changes on this all the time. I want it to all be about policy. There is a strong and vocal part of me that believes the politicians who refuse to act to save our planet, are the worst. I trash talk their ideas to my friends. I say I hate them. Yet, if I walked to a room and met them, I question if I would berate them and scream at them? Would I tell them that they themselves are the problem? Would that make me just as bad as the people who have strong positive ideals for the world but suck as human beings?
Does sticking up for what you believe in necessitate some decimation of the humanity of the person on the other side of the argument?
How much is a person their ideas?
I wonder if I am simply naïve. If in the big bad world, when you’re dealing with the real issues, you have to shed your humanity to get things done.
But I just refuse to believe in cynicism. I would much rather believe in, and hope for, a world where perhaps we can reconcile the nuances of policy, but still be human while we do it.
Maybe I can’t separate myself from the kid who was enchanted by the magic of Parliament House. But maybe, I don’t need to.
This piece was entered in the Drew’s News Lockdown Writing Competition 2021.