Deadly tsunami and dangerous pride


Cairns PostOn Friday, The Australian proudly ran with its story 'Aussies top world list of national pride'. It was about a survey reported in The Economist that revealed Australians have the highest degree of support for their own country out of 33 nationalities polled by the New York based Reputation Institute.

Traditionally pride is one of the seven deadly sins. But it's widely recognised that a positive self-image plays an important role in buoying our spirits and enabling us to achieve our potential. We are all proud of somebody in our midst who does well, and we attend closely to a piece of news that makes us all look good.

The source of Australia's current wave of pride is the assessment by many economists that we are the country that was least affected by the recession.

Pride is often merited. But it's worth asking questions, as it is often derived from hollow or misleading information that has been carefully selected. In the case of Australia being recession-proof, it's largely a matter of the fortuitous circumstances of China's appetite for our primary resources. We all know this is the case, but it easily slips from consciousness.

A glance at the website of the Reputation Institute reveals that pride has more than a little to do with the health of a company's bottom line.

A 2007 Business Week article on the 'new science of spin' argues that a struggling company is more likely to rescue itself by reengineering its reputation than improving its products. The implication is that it is failing its shareholders if it does not engage in this particular form of embellishment (or deception). Like tax minimisation, it's often legal but not moral.

Moreover a Crikey media analysis of the parochial Australian press reaction to last week's Samoan earthquake and tsunami shows that editors can play on people's sense of pride to sell newspapers, at the cost of those who really need our attention.

The Cairns Post managed to inject a 'local hero' angle into its coverage of the disaster, giving the impression that the survival of the family of a Cairns man added up to a happy ending for all concerned. The scant reporting of the suffering that remained was relegated to pages 8 and 9.

It's well worth comparing with the information published on the website of Caritas Australia. Caritas' emphasis is that survivors are not at all relieved. They are suffering psychological trauma, and preoccupied with fear of another tsunami that could be imminent. They need our help.

We are often amused by the way politicians use their 'spin doctors' to turn bad news into good. We think we can see through it, and don't take it too seriously. But the misuse and manipulation of information can have adverse consequences for third parties. Misplaced pride can be a deadly sin. On the other hand, compassion for the victims of last week's natural disasters would be something Australians could be proud of.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: michael mullins, national pride, parochial media, Samoa tsunami, Sumatra earthquake



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Existing comments

A timely reminder of our need to see the bigger picture and to bring compassionate global awareness of other nations, especially those which have little importance except as "our" vacation spots. Thank you!!!

M.Confoy | 05 October 2009  

Can any form of pride ever be inherently virtuous? I wonder.

To offer charity from a sense of pride in our compassion would surely be seen as patronising; to accept it would surely be seen as demeaning.

Nathan Socci | 05 October 2009  

Thank you Michael,
I cringe ,mentally and physically, whenever the media reports a disaster which happened outside Australia! Except when it happens to Australians, as a group or as individuals, outside our borders.

"Many are feared missing or dead, among them an Australian.". I know we are lucky, happy and blessed(?), but are we so above the rest of humanity that we need to be elevated above the sufferings of the rest?

john W McQualter | 05 October 2009  

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