go back to where you came from

I’m still thinking over the last episode of go back to where you came from – a 4 part series on SBS, where a group of 6 people who had strident opinions against asylum seekers were taken on a journey to have a tiny taste of the experiences of asylum seekers.

It was the kind of tv that converts you to the medium – utterly transformative, nuanced and complex.

I cried watching Raquel on Tuesday night. She began the journey in episode 1 describing herself as a racist. The rest of australia described her – quite viciously at times – as a bogan, and decried her lack of intelligence and compassion, all the while creating questions about our own lack of the same. But she came back for the final panel, publicly changed beyond recognition. It’s hard to imagine the kind of courage that would have taken. It would have been far easier for her to not be changed, or for her to be defensive and explain away the attitudes she’d had. We don’t let people change easily.

I think that’s what impressed me so much about the series. It wasn’t just that people changed; it was what the process used for change meant for the kind of change that happened. When the program’s participants talked on tuesday night’s panel about what they’d experienced, it wasn’t seeing the situations asylum seekers were trying to escape that had an impact; it was the encounters with people who were generous and gracious; who respected and honoured them first. Knowledge is only ever transformative when it comes wrapped in encounter.

Should they have known all this before they went? Of course. Should we all be changed by facts and statistics, and not need personal encounter? Of course. But there’s a difference between knowing and knowing: the kind of change that goes almost to our dna is only ever going to come out of relationship and story.