For my first blog post, I can do no better than congratulate our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, not only on her new baby, but also on her superb instinct for inclusiveness. At a time when many leaders would have felt justified in seeking special treatment, Jacinda came to the hospital in her own car, driven by her partner. She gave birth in a public hospital to a child whose middle name, Te Aroha, means love in Māori. Soon after the baby girl was born, she posted on Instagram, ‘Welcome to our village, wee one’.
I take it that Jacinda sees the new baby as entering what Marshal McLuhan called, way back in the sixties when the Internet was not even a twinkle in someone’s eye, a global village. The fact that she refers to it as ‘our village’ says something about the way she is able to relate to today’s interconnected world. Some of us have difficulty with it. Despite all the instant connection and communication, we feel isolated. We suspect everyone else on Facebook and Instagram is doing better than we are. We struggle with the word 'friend' for people we have never met. We have a sense of unreality about the whole thing.
To me, Ardern exemplifies the natural ease with which many younger generations orientate themselves to the electronically interconnected world as some kind of real community. There's something exhilarating about this new entrant to the human race breathing in such connection from her very beginning.
I'm not in any way eulogising the social media. Its capacity for spreading loneliness and despair is all too obvious these days. As McLuhan understood, in a village there is always dissension and the global village was bound to generate maximum disagreement because it intensifies normal village conditions. Diversity can easily get out of hand, as we see when teenage gossip via social media degenerates into orchestrated denigration, often with tragic results.
We know that loneliness is a common problem among older people, but it’s also affecting more and more younger people. In a recent radio discussion in St Louis, one of the participants, Rev Amy Bertschausen, commented that it was to do with the difference between connecting and belonging. ‘We’re all pretty well connected in terms of Facebook and that kind of thing, but it’s not really belonging to one another and having that level of intimacy and relationship,’ she said. Another, Dr Dixie Meyer, asked, “Are these connections (actually offering) that sense of belonging … or are they superficial, in that sense where people don’t feel like they actually connected with someone and that process makes them more sad and lonely?”
The challenge is for people to know the difference between connecting and belonging and to make sure they have plenty of belonging in their lives, with connecting as more of a nice-to-have. Jacinda Ardern seems to have a handle on it. It feels genuine when she and partner Clarke Gayford choose a Maori word meaning love for their child’s middle name. Te Aroha is also the name of the small Waikato town her family came from and of the mountain under which she grew up.
Māori themselves feel Jacinda’s warmth and authenticity. Te Ao Marama Maaka, a spokeswoman for the local tribe, Ngati-Haua iwi, said that the Prime Minister’s interest in the indigenous people of New Zealand was improving relations between Pākehā and Māori faster than at any other point in history.
“Te Aroha means a lot of love, because this baby has the love of the people throughout the country. When Jacinda visited our tribe, that was our moment with her. But this name will now bind us forever.”
Ardern said that the name Te Aroha was her and Clarke’s way of reflecting the amount of love that the baby had been shown before she even arrived. “I thought, how do we reflect all of the generosity, particularly of all the iwi who gifted us names? And Te Aroha seemed to be a way to show that love and generosity.”
Jan Barnes, the mayor of Matamata-Piako district council said the rural town was “ecstatic” about the Prime Minister’s choice, “The community looks out for each other here – it does take a village to raise a child, and we are so proud little Neve has Te Aroha in her name.”
Thousands responded on Instagram to Jacinda’s announcement of a new arrival in the village. So far the Prime Minister has shown unerring judgement in demonstrating how both the traditional and the electronic village can work for the benefit of all.
Glossary of Māori words
Iwi – Māori tribes
Te aroha – love
Pākehā – non-Māori who live in New Zealand