It’s the suit wot did it

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Surely one of the most unlikely things in the world has occurred in the last few days; the possibility of a different way has emerged. Syria and her people continue to suffer and die, but the bankruptcy of the choice between “aggressive action” and “further chemically-induced deaths” may have been laid aside.

In a moment when his internal censor was offguard, John Kerry raised a third way, the possibility of surrendering chemical weapons, and the Russians, at least partly out of mischief, seized on it.

What I love about this incident is that this genuinely creative moment, a moment when something new enters the picture, happened on camera. The unthinkingness with which this moment of grace, this moment of leadership emerges is apparent for all to see, including Kerry himself.

This is where the test will lie for he and Obama and the US government. Are they big enough, generous enough, not to have to be seen to be doing it “hard”? Big enough, generous enough, to look slightly foolish at the failure to hear the possibility in the offhand comment? To have Russia, of all countries, hear it instead?

I think they are.

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It reminds me of an incident that happened some years ago when I was running for election to my local council. I’ve spoken about it previously.

An elderly Jewish man, a Holocaust survivor, contacted me during the campaign to seek my help. He lived a few doors from the Chinese consulate in Melbourne, and every morning when the consulate was open to the public, people would queue up by his apartment waiting to be issued a visa. Because they had a captive audience of visa-seekers, members of the Falun Gong society took the opportunity to mount a protest against the Chinese government.

Every morning before 9am, the Falun Gong members would arrive, set up their posters, string banners between the trees, and for the next three hours, meditate or hand out flyers to people in the queue. All this was happening only a couple of metres from my man’s balcony, and when I went to visit him, I could see it was very intrusive.

He had written to the Police and Council asking that the protestors be moved on. As it was a lawful protest, they could do nothing. So he contacted me and I visited him.

When I got home, I started researching the issue and any legal avenues he could take. It didn’t look promising, and I was sitting there wondering what to tell him when something occurred to me. Because I was a candidate in the election, I remembered I’d been given the direct phone number of the Editor of the local newspaper. Without a moment’s additional thought, I rang my man and asked if he’d contacted the media. He said no, I gave him the Editor’s number and that was that. I didn’t think of it again until one morning a few weeks later when he rang and asked if I’d seen the front page of the local newspaper. He was all over it!

As a result of the story appearing in the newspaper, the President of the Falun Gong society contacted him and told him he had not known about the situation. They discussed the matter, and a few days later, another spot was found for the Falun Gong protestors which was away from people’s homes. My man called me, overjoyed and grateful, and asked me to lunch to repay what he saw as his debt to me. To my regret, I fobbed him off. I felt I had done so little and that I didn’t deserve his gratitude. I hadn’t done it “hard”, hadn’t slaved away, struggled, fought the good fight … whatever.

I didn’t see then it was one of those magic moments when a new possibility emerges, and that these things don’t emerge from someone. They emerge through someone, and on that day, it just happened to be me. Last week, it happened to be John Kerry.

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There’s another aspect of the John Kerry moment I love: the fact it happened when he was wearing a bright blue suit with a hot pink tie. It would not have happened if he were wearing the prison most men wear on their backs: the grey or navy number.

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11 thoughts on “It’s the suit wot did it

  1. Two great stories. I think you may be on to something with respect to the suit. In The Floating Opera by John Barth, the main character explains that his father used to put on his tuxedo to paint the house. The father reasoned that if he wore his best clothes he would take extra care and do a good job of painting. I’ve always liked that idea and it makes perfect sense that if you wear a non-standard uniform you can come up with non-standard ideas. Still, I just wish I knew what the real agenda behind the whole thing is.

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    • Love this story, Tom. I’m totally with the painting father. We all know the experience: if we’re wearing something special, something extra fine or superior quality, the whole day goes differently. People interact with us differently. We BE different.

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  2. Blue suit or not, the world heaved a sigh of relief. Not another Iraq or Afghanistan. So often, like your call to the media, the simple solutions remain rare. Now a simple solution for the plight of the boat people.

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    • Simple solutions are all around us, only we’re most often blind to them. There’ll be multiple paths for having the boat people situation occur differently, only we can’t see them, can’t hear them. Our brains, our thinking, are so heavily grooved by what we think we know, it really takes something to bump the record needle off its track.

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  3. It was indeed a beautiful moment when the “third way” revealed itself. Politicians should try harder to come up with such alternatives, rather than the usual rigid black/white way of thinking.

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  4. Black suits look so funereal. And the choice of a bright pink tie must have triggered his imagination. I wonder what color his socks were that day? There is usually a simple solution for almost everything, and this one seems so sensible;. I hope the “black” suits in “Washington and Russia continue to think so too. I don’t know about your boat people Gerard. Our doors seem to be wearing welcome signs for everyone as well.

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  5. Wonderful stories of people in positions of influence not letting their agenda trump the bigger picture. Usually it’s a cover-your-butt at all costs agenda for public officials. But not this time. How very refreshing. How very human!

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    • It is refreshing, isn’t it? It could have been so easy for John Kerry and the US Govt to want to maintain the “looking good” and make Russia into the bogeyman again. And they didn’t! Now to bring this generosity and “kind(red)ness” to the bigger situation of Syria.

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