Removing the Guernsey

By Veronica Sherman Not long ago I was asked to go into my daughter’s school to talk about Jewish Festivals. In order to give some context, I asked the class 3 children if they could find Israel on a globe for me. They searched and searched but no matter how much they tried they couldn’t find it. I explained that even though Israel is so often on the news it’s a much smaller country than we realise. In fact, three whole Israels would fit into Tasmania. I went on to explain that the reason Israel is in the news so much is that there are two different people groups who both think that the holiest site in Israel belongs to them and this has led to years and years of fighting. Now, I have lived in Australia long enough to know that as soon as you mention the Middle East conflict people’s eyes start glazing over. I needed to tweak my wording in order to keep having the children’s attention. I asked them to imagine the MCG. To picture it in this tiny place that is way smaller than Tassie. They were all nodding. I then asked them to imagine that the MCG could only belong to one footy club. The children gasped. “Only one?” I asked them to imagine that there were two footy clubs that both felt that the MCG only belonged to them. Their eyes lit up. They got it. I had used an analogy that they could relate to. Footy in Melbourne is what religion is in other parts of the world. As someone who has lived in Australia for twenty years now but is still completely ignorant about AFL I feel very distant from what actually takes place on the field. I don’t see footy colours as such, unless of course I’m on a train on the weekend and surrounded by a crowd of people all wearing the same coloured scarf. To me footy players are all the same, just a sweaty bunch of guys chasing after a ball and attempting to kick it between some poles. For footy fans it’s a whole other reality. It’s all about what colour their guernsey is. Their team is out there battling for them. It’s taken me a long time to get used to someone commenting on the Monday morning that “they won” on the weekend. As if they were out there on the muddy field alongside the players. However, if we were to remove the guernsey, the item that identifies which team the player belongs to, what we have left is a guy who loves to be out on the footy field kicking a ball. Without their coloured tops the players no longer belong to opposing teams but are united as men with a similar passion. It’s the same for the rest of us. Once we remove the ‘guernseys’ that separate us from each other, we realise that we have a lot more in common. And it’s in this space of looking across to someone that we once saw as an opposition and instead seeing what we have in common, that compassion is birthed. This analogy stretches much further than AFL players without their tops on. We’ve seen it in the past few months since Alan Kurdi washed up on the beach. There was something about his small body alone on the beach that made the general public finally connect with the story of innocent people fleeing Syria. His face hidden in the sand made him look like he could be anyone’s son. Our prejudices instantly gone as our hearts broke for a dead little boy.
From left: Alan Kurdi, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan
From left: Alan Kurdi, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan
We are coming up to the one-year anniversary of another story that reinforces this concept of compassion. I suspect that for most of the population the initial response to Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran was one of disgust. Relief that these two trouble makers had been caught before the heroin they were smuggling got through our Australian borders. They were part of the industry that destroys thousands of young lives and we have nothing but contempt for them. However, as their story has unfolded over the years we have evolved along with them. So many of us have gone from indifference to their fate and landed in a place of compassion. Many of us have been surprised at our tender feelings towards these two men. Of course the change has happened as we have learned more about them as people. The heroin smuggler ‘guernsey’ has been removed and instead we have heard about their kindness to their fellow inmates and we know that they had a lot more to contribute despite being locked up in a Bali prison. Time has allowed our perception to change and we found ourselves cheering for Andrew and Myuran from the sidelines, hoping that their lives would be spared.
Adam Goodes in his Sydney Swans guernsey.
Adam Goodes in his Sydney Swans guernsey..
In the case of Alan Kurdi, Chan and Myuran we have the media to thank in helping us in the process to reach a place of compassion. But how far can we take this analogy into our own private life? Is it possible for us to stretch it into areas that never see the public eye? For those of us who are divorced, can we ‘remove the guernsey’ and no longer see an antagonist but instead the other parent of our child who also wants what’s best for them? What would happen if we were able to do that in our work places and schools? Imagine if we were able to come from a place of compassion because we focused on what we have in common and not what separates us. I’d like to think that a whole bunch of people actively trying to come from a place of compassion could make a tremendous difference. I know that I won’t find an answer to what happens in the Middle East, that innocent children will keep dying because of wars and that over time I will forget the names of Andrew and Myuran. However, I do know that when I choose compassion instead of judgement, it makes me see and feel things from a different perspective and it makes my corner of the world a softer place to be.
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An excerpt from In the Shadows of Memory, Edited by Esther Jilovsky, Jordana Silverstein and David Slucki (2016)<< >>Jews For Refugees

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