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Does 26 January Hurt or Offend?

I first wrote about Australia Day protests six years ago. It seems little has changed. Today, in 2018 we still have protesters claiming that celebrating it on 26 January is hurting Aboriginal people. Dr Kerryn Phelps stated in the ABC Drum recently that she has spoken to people who are deeply offended by this national day of celebration. Dr Phelps is an intelligent person and so her words warrant careful consideration. I have no doubt that the people she has spoken to are offended. The offence is real. I am sure that the people believe that the offence is caused by celebrating Australia Day on 26 January. However, this causal link between the celebration (assumed to be the cause) and the offence (assumed to be the effect) is highly questionable. That is, I don’t believe that celebrating Australia Day on 26 January causes people to be offended.

To Feel Offended is to Feel Important

It is questionable on the grounds that many Aboriginal people are quite happy calling 26 January Australia Day and celebrating it. How have they escaped being offended? I can assure you that I am not the only person with Aboriginal ancestry who will be happily celebrating Australia Day this year (see update). So are we to believe that Australia Day celebrations on 26 January somehow magically travel through the air and choose to offend some Aboriginal people and not offend other Aboriginal people? A more plausible explanation is that people choose offence. Why would they choose offence? Quite simply because to be offended is to feel important. The celebration never offends anyone. People choose offence. Quite simply, offence is always taken and never given. The offence resides in the person - not in the date or the celebration on that date -and is just waiting for an excuse to express itself.

People claiming to feel offended believe their offence is always caused, thereby freeing them of personal responsibility. They believe this for their emotions generally. Consider the man who claimed to be angry because his girlfriend didn’t wash the dishes. He believes her failure to wash the dishes caused him to be angry. Again, we have an assumed cause-and-effect relation. Here, the assumed effect was his anger and the assumed cause was her not doing the dishes. He further believes he has no choice but to feel angry as he believes his anger is caused by her. In other words, she’s responsible for his anger (and happiness) and he is not responsible. He believes he is powerless to feel anything other than angry. And it’s not too difficult to see that in order for him to have control over his happiness, he has to have control over what he believes is the source (or cause) of his happiness - her. Yes, the anger is real, just like the offence is real for people who claim to be offended because Australia Day is celebrated on 26 January. But the cause is not in some other person or date, or other event – it resides within us.

Dr Phelps has suggested that we should speak to those who claim to be offended and ask how Australia Day could be a better experience for them. My advice for them would be to focus on changing their attitudes rather than changing the date. I know that may sound tough, but I don’t think the soft approach on matters like these have worked well for Aboriginal people. Perhaps Dr Phelps should visit a location where violence, child abuse, unclean living conditions, and poor health are common place for Aboriginal people and ask them if Australia Day celebrations are impacting on their wellbeing.

The Implications

To convince people that Australia Day celebrations on 26 January causes them offence (and they would need convincing because they do not develop that belief themselves) is to convince them that the source of their happiness is beyond their direct control and under the control of those who ultimately decide if future Australia Day celebrations will be held on 26 January. This is extremely disempowering. Do Australia’s most disempowered people need to be further disempowered? The only people who benefit from this are those in the grievance industry. That is, those who derive pleasure, status, and income from keeping Aboriginal people in an endless state of victimhood. This provides the beneficiary with the opportunity to play the part of rescuer and comforter.

What are People Celebrating on 26 January?

The answer to this question is: “Whatever they want.” I’m happy for people to exercise their right to take offence on that day. What I do challenge, is their choice to convince others that Australia Day celebrations are the cause of offence or hurt feelings.

It is also worth looking at what people will not be celebrating on that day. The opponents of Australia Day celebrations claim that to celebrate on 26 January is to celebrate genocide theft, and murder. That is total BS. I know of not one person who celebrates any of those things on 26 January. Do you?

Happy Australia Day

I want to wish you all a very happy Australia Day. If you are going out in the sun, remember to use appropriate sun protection. If you are going swimming, be careful. If you are with friends or family, value the time you have with them. Take time to reflect on the loss of Aboriginal lives when the British arrived, but also look at how far we’ve come, and appreciate what a great country we live in.

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