It's Christmas time and as we string the bells and tinsel - Santa is checking his famous list of the naughty and nice.
There are plenty of people who belong on each list. The people who spend Christmas fighting bushfires, patrolling beaches and cleaning up the wreckage of the holiday road toll will surely be in the black ink column of Santa's ledger. While people who beat their children, sell Collatoraislised Debt Obligations or line their pockets with public money will be on the red side.
But what then of the rest of us – we who have not fed the hungry or cured cancer but have also not run over anyone's dog or skipped out on a shout? Where do we belong who have worked hard, loved well and lived happily in a country so blessed that few of us face any daily choice between being naughty and nice.
We are such a fortunate lot that with very few exceptions we will never have to find out if we could still be nice if it wasn't also easy.
Last year in Montreal, an elderly couple became national heroes after they won 11 million dollars and preceded to give it all away saying they had more than enough and that money can't buy happiness.
Many of us wonder what we would do if we won the lottery, whether we would give it away or spend it recklessly. We may think "I would help others too if only I won the lottery," but the truth is we already have won the lottery. Just by being born in the richest, freest, safest country in the world.
Because we are Australian, there will be no Sophie's Choice, no Caucasian Chalk Circle and we will never have to choose between bread and roses. Because I am Australian I will never have to find out if could kill a man or steal his bread, never have to choose whether to send him back in the 'queue' for freedom by risking my life or my children's to get there first.
The challenge for us as Australians is not the sins of commission, because none of us needs anything badly enough from our neighbour to wrong him. What we need to consider are the sins of omission – the forgetfulness and complacency that we tolerate despite daily reminders of the acute needs of others.
Not being naughty is pretty easy – in fact in some cases like bank robbery or cat burglary, it's the less onerous choice. But nice requires extra effort. The Bible tells us in James 4:17, "Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin." This is a way of saying that the difficult thing about nice is that it's hard to say when you can stop.
Australians are on the whole an exceptionally nice bunch. We have never spawned a terrorist movement, we dig up and sell the raw materials of prosperity to the world, our third largest export is a good education and we gave the planet Wi-Fi, Tim Tams and ACDC – not only history's most awesome rock band but the only hard rock superstars to never record a power ballad.
If Santa were watching he'd have to admit we are pretty nice, and good-looking too, as well as funny.
But he also might wonder how we'd hold up if the money ran out, if the sunshine faded or if some bugger decided to invade. I would like to hope that our spirit is more than a symptom of our good luck. I would like to hope that our 'niceness' is more than an offer to share desert from a man whose belly is bursting from dinner.
As Australians we need never find out for sure whether we are naughty or nice because we are blessed with freedom and prosperity. In a country without war, famine or disease we never have to find out what we might really be capable of.
None of us need face the choice of committing a crime or watching our children go hungry. None of us will have to decide whether to deliver a bribe to our children's schoolteachers to mark their final year results as is common in parts of Africa. None of us will have to wonder whether to 'wait in a queue' or take the leaky boat.
I hope our niceness is like the Aussie larrikin spirit which buoyed our Diggers through two world wars and which shines in the character of our troops defending peace abroad – a reflection of a compassion that flows from a deeper awareness that we really do come from the lucky country.
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