Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I too was secretly taped!

This John Key-John Banks teapot tape scandal* reminds me of a time I was secretly taped. I dined out on this story for years and still find it amusing. If only the PM had a sense of humour, he could be getting hours of fun from the experience instead of feeling harassed and looking ridiculous.

I was about 17 and hitchhiking on the West Coast of the South Island with another young woman, both of us done up in full punk regalia. We got picked up by a well dressed man in a tidy car who said he had to make some deliveries and did we mind a few detours on our way? Since our appearance on the side of the road generally attracted much more insalubrious rides, we counted ourselves lucky and enjoyed a bit of sight seeing on back roads in the sunshine.

As our journey continued I noticed first that the man was wearing pantyhose instead of socks under his suit pants, and then that he had a bra on under his business shirt. When he stopped the car to hand deliver a document I mentioned these unusual sartorial details to my friend and we speculated on the implications. Meanwhile she riffled through his box of documents to discover they were a kinky sex newsletter for West Coasters swingers. We muffled our giggles as the driver returned to the car and carried on.

At his next stop I looked down by my own feet, saw a tape recorder and said to my friend, 'hey, here's a tape recorder... and he's left the recording button on...' as I turned it off. We looked at each other in guilt, confusion and amusement and decided as soon as we got back to the main road we'd ask to get out and try our luck with another ride. We feared he might be cross with us for turning off his tape recorder.

I was, and still am, ashamed for sniggering at the cross-dressing driver who'd kindly offered a us lift and feel far worse about him being hurt by hearing our prurient amusement than I do about him secretly taping me. I'd like to say that I learned a lesson about circumspection that I've never forgotten but of course I still sometimes say and do regrettable things like everyone else.

However, when I chose an action (such as mean gossip) I am choosing its consequences. Whether or not anyone records or overhears my ill chosen words I have to live with myself. I could blame or shame myself (or whoever records or overhears me, if they do) but ideally I would apologise, learn from my mistakes and move on with the intention of doing better in the future.

Making a mistake like being indiscreet is an opportunity to demonstrate one's ability to put things right. It's a chance to show you can take criticism, be apologetic, generous and compassionate. Most of all its a chance to show one has a sense of humility and humour. At 17 I failed to express those qualities in the moment when it mattered. By telling the story repeatedly throughout my life I have used it to learn and grow, as well as have some fun.

In the current 'teapot tape' situation I see a powerful public figure demonstrating hubris, defensiveness and arrogance. He looks angry and scared all out of proportion to this event. In an election campaign based on promoting his personal leadership qualities rather than party policies, his response to this event reveals (if you hadn't noticed before) that our current leader lacks resiliance and the ability to laugh at himself.

To my mind there are a myriad of other reasons not to vote this man back into power (asset sales, coal mining, deep sea drilling, beneficiary bashing, anti-arts, ridiculously old-fashioned education etc) but if one were chosing one's votes based on character rather than policy, then surely this is a deal breaker.

*If you are from beyond these shores, it might help to know that New Zealand has a national election on this Saturday and much has been made of the 'secret taping' of a media-staged conversation between the current Prime Minister John Key and a candidate from another political party, John Banks.

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