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Posted by Philip Patston on 18 May 2010, 2:30 pm in , , , ,

Is common sense good enough?

I struggled last week to to form an opinion about John Key's gaff with Tuhoe, where he joked that he could have ended up on the menu had he been dining with them and not Ngati Porou. Like many others, I could see the wit in the quip, but, as Te Ururoa Flavell so rightly pointed out, it was Key's timing that let him down.

They say that comedy is tragedy plus time. Sadly, Key just didn't allow enough time for Tuhoe's tragic loss of their hopes of getting ownership of Te Urewera National Park to become a laughing matter.

But there is something else in the mix here. Many might say that it would be common sense for Tuhoe to see the humour in Key's throw-away remark and attempt to be clever. Common sense, however, in this sensitive context, is not enough. Common sense draws only half of the dynamic that operates between people – our sense of normality, similarity and the ordinary – which favours mainstream, middle-class and middle-aged values and ideology.

What John Key needed was a bit of "unique sense". Unique sense could be described as the second dynamic that connects us – our sense of abnormality, difference and originality – which does not exclude mainstream, middle-class and middle-aged values and ideology, but combines it with non-mainstream values and ideology.

Tuhoe had a unique sense of the situation and Key failed to anticipate that.

* * * * *

It's great to read that in our rugby-dominated culture, some boys are having the chance to follow heroes like former All Black captain David Kirk and former Black Caps skipper John Wright, in doing something that defies common sense in many people's world.

Boys are donning tutus and continuing the long tradition of the Selwyn Ballet, now in its 82nd year. It's the oldest troupe in the country according to 3News, beating the Royal New Zealand Ballet by 25 years. "The fledgling ballerinas don't have much trouble getting into character," reports Dave Goosselink. One of the boys has told a bemused makeup artist that "he wants blue eyes and then darker colours for the swirls around the outside – to accentuate his features.”

So maybe it's all helped by the charade of being part of Otago University's capping show, but it makes my queer little heart sing to know that "some of the tutu-wearing lads are proudly following in the footsteps of fathers and grandfathers."

One of the ballerina boys acknowleges, “It's pretty cool knowing that that many years ago they were doing it, and now you're part of the chain and following the old man's footsteps I guess."

If only there were some way of these boys holding onto this unique sense of themselves, and imbibing the rest of society with a looser interpretation of what's ok and what's not.

Many would call on common sense to prevail and avoid putting young adults in that situation which may confuse them. Again, the Selwyn Ballet calls for a bit of "unique sense".

* * * * *

This week Diversityworks Trust launches our Unique Sense Project, which seeks out the perspective of young people as the future leaders of society. We aim to build a collection of short films (3-5 mins long) aiming to add diversity to common sense. The films will capture images, words and ideas about diversity and human rights and present them in an inspiring and creative multi-media mix of still images, moving images and sound.

You can check out the project at www.uniquesense.net

Perhaps we'll send a copy to John Key, to ensure he avoids eating parts of himself - namely his feet - in future.

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