Targets in the middle
Sometimes it’s tough being in the middle.
Last century one of the expectations of me as a young teacher was to organise school sport and coach teams of enthusiastic kids for interschool competitions.
It was one of the joys of the job, encouraging and guiding young children as they skittered and darted in random ways around a sports field.
They had to work together and learn new skills, and experiencing the highs and lows of competitive sport helped build their individual and collective resilience.
When game day arrived I was required to keep up with a whirling mob of young sports people, ensuring they generally adhered to some basic rules of the game with the assistance of loud and authoritative blasts of my Acme Thunderer whistle.
The down side of being in the middle with the whistle was that you and the young players were inevitably on the receiving end of some nasty barbs from some “know-it-all” positioned on the sideline.
Things are no different for those in our community who step up to take on roles as elected representatives, leading civil servants, medical professionals, business owners, school principals and professional sportspeople, to name but a few.
Criticism from the sidelines of a person who steps up to take on a prominent role in our world can be hurtful, personal and venomous.
It was distressing for me to see tennis player Naomi Osaka reduced to tears at the Indian Wells tournament after continuous heckling by a spectator.
Criticism and debate is an important part of a thriving democracy but we need not accept personal and vindictive attacks on the prominent people in our community.
Recently I had to revert to listening to daytime talkback on the radio on a long distance drive.
The host began the programme by a rambling and personal criticism of a person leading our fight against the present pandemic.
The host then invited listeners to call in, which resulted in a stream of mainly older men contributing with increasingly personal and sometimes outrageous statements which were never challenged by the host.
It was obviously good for the radio station’s ratings and kept the advertisers happy, but it did little to inform debate on the issue.
Needless to say I soon tired of that particular listening option on my long drive and tuned in to Radio New Zealand.
As I drove down the stunning Kaikoura Coast I reflected on the loneliness of those who have had to make the “big calls” in trying times and if any of the sideline “know-it-alls” would actually cope if they had to step up and be “the person in the middle with the whistle”.