Ko te kai a te rakatira he kōrero. Ko te kai a te kotahitaka he whakaroko.

March 20, 2024

Ko te kai a te rakatira he kōrero. Ko te kai a te kotahitaka he whakaroko.

Nā Awhina McGlinchey

Awhina McGlinchey (Kāti Hateatea) is raising her two tamariki in Ōtautahi while maintaining a strong connection to their pā at Moeraki. She is the Managing Director of Tokona Te Raki where she is co lead of Mō Kā Uri – Ngāi Tahu 2050, a project designing the collective iwi vision for the next 25 years informed by our whānau voice.


In an era dominated by the endless flow of information it’s clear that how we move forward collectively is deeply influenced.

In this current environment, discussing any topic seems to either trigger fear or an attack from the polarised perspective held by another. There’s more people forming entrenched opinions based on quick, often misleading info bites, who get stuck in echo chambers reinforced by algorithms that see them defending this perspective to the point where they are willing to cut off others who have a different view, often to the point of cutting connections with whānau, friends and communities.

We saw this through the pandemic when positions on vaccination were so polarised that in the most extreme cases people were choosing to end relationships and friendships.

As someone who chose to be vaccinated, and having whānau and friends who chose not to, it was an interesting time to navigate conversations, but something I willingly tried with varying degrees of success in keeping connections intact.

My first confrontation on the issue was in discussion with one of my oldest friends. Before engaging I took a moment to remind myself of all the things we have in common so I could approach this conversation knowing we would end it still disagreeing, but by remaining in the middle space leaving the possibility for further conversations on the topic.

We are still yet to agree on the topic of vaccination but are constantly able to discuss our views in a way that leaves it open.

As I watched the recent General Election and observed tactics employed using Make New Zealand Great Again-style campaigns that actively seek to divide citizens in democracies as a strategy, it’s clear there is a negative impact of this approach on social cohesion.

During his Waitangi Day address in 2019, Tā Tipene noted: “Whatever we think of the quality of our media journalism or politicians, it’s only fair to say that New Zealanders would have a very low tolerance for the extremes of informational chicanery now common in other comparable societies.” But gauging the impacts of Covid-19 on social cohesion and the use of divisive political tactics that create further polarisation, it appears our tolerance levels have sadly changed.

Not only does this impact our political parties but also erodes trust in institutions. I know there are many, including iwi and hapū organisations, who have felt an uprise in the lack of trust, in some cases to the point where they are choosing to disengage not just from structures, but from our shared practices at the heart of our collective identity.

These, of course, are not issues unique to us in Aotearoa – it’s happening the world over. In the United States there are many institutions that have been wrestling with the impacts a little longer than us and are exploring dialogue and storytelling as mechanisms for overcoming polarisation.

Some are offering tools and programmes to communities to connect and reconnect. The idea is to slow ideas down and meet in the middle space through real dialogue, which isn’t just about hearing words, but also understanding the why behind those words or the story that has led someone to hold their beliefs. This is about stepping outside comfort zones, setting aside persuasion or judgement, and engaging in truly curious and deep listening to connect.

While it all seems a little simple, social science confirms we actually don’t truly hear each other until we care about each other. By bringing all perspectives and ideas into the space in the middle and utilising the power that comes through connection we can begin to address complex challenges. And by doing so, potentially move from zero sum outcomes where there are no winners, to win/win – from distrust to trusting that we have common ground. The word practice is intentionally used as this is something that needs to be done over and over to “build the muscle” for it to be successful.

So why am I reading and now writing about dialogue as a response to polarisation in other parts of the world? Because as an iwi we do not exist in isolation of our political landscape, and I can’t help but wonder how the growing political polarisation and resulting loss of trust and social cohesion will impact our iwi and hapū? Will it have a negative impact to our collective identity, shared cultural practices and the cohesiveness among our whānau, hapū and iwi? What will happen to the kinship organisations that were built from the aspirations of our tīpuna and created through the social justice movement that was Te Kerēme if we do not pay attention to the signals or tohu around us?

If others in the world are embracing dialogue and storytelling as a solution to polarisation and complex challenges with success, I believe that given we already hold these super powers it’s an approach we too should embrace. How do we flex our abilities to wānaka, kōrero and use pūrākau to limit impacts on our whānau, hapū and iwi? And how do we share that with other communities we inhabit. How do we use kōrero as a revolution in a time of polarisation?