Transposing emblem by Sara Deiana
Well, this is something I come to think about quite often: suicide.
No, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think about committing suicide, what I mean is that I think about suicide as a dimension, a door you open and close very quickly, which only people who actually do use that door can embrace. That is it: I find myself thinking about these people, their stories, how they do it and, above all, why they do it. What pushes them to their limits in such a powerful way that they need to be sure to die in the way they choose, and be able to stop bearing the uncertainty of tomorrow?
It is the greatest act of destruction toward ourselves because LA VITA is the only thing we have that we can be sure about. Or it is safer to say is the only certain thing, while we have it. What triggers us to end the most precious of all gifts?
It is almost a paradox that the countries with the highest rate of suicide are often also countries with apparently the highest standard of living in the so-called developed world. I have now been living for a while in a country that is known world-wide for its laid-back approach to life, pristine and endless beaches, snow-capped mountains, breath-taking and magnificent landscapes: New Zealand. But probably not many people are aware of its sad record, this silent health epidemic of suicide. From the outside we can only speculate and try to find the possible reasons: so, when I think about it from a foreigner-living-in-New-Zealand point of view I can see that being such a young country, the “lack” of an old historic heritage can play a huge role in the way people feel and live.
It is a real challenge to define what culture truly means in New Zealand; the only real culture I can witness with my own eyes comes from the Maori people, from their values and myths, evidence of which can be found in many toponyms around the North and South Island. The European immigrants who have come here since the beginning of the nineteen century, largely recruited as settlers, were traditional rural craft workers such as builders or blacksmiths and agricultural laborers. These skilled people came to New Zealand to fulfil dreams of independence through the ownership of land. Obviously, these folks were interested in making a living and settling well in a new country so far away from the one they left. Therefore, I believe that it took a few decades for them to focus on the enjoyable things in life, like recreational culture, leisure and arts, consequently losing a bit of the umbilical cord that strongly tied them to their country of origin, also due to the remoteness of their new home.
That same geographical isolation and the resulting dependence on imports has created a Do It Yourself culture, which has been a necessity for many centuries, until not so long ago. This peculiar trait has shaped the characters and souls of kiwis (Kiwi is a native bird and unique symbol of the country; New Zealander are colloquially named after this national icon). This can be a good thing, as people are strong, practical and not easily impressed, but if you think in broader terms, it also has its negative side which we see in the widespread belief that everyone, especially men, have to be good with their hands and good on the land, can’t show weakness and have to conceal their emotions and, if they do not do so, they should feel ashamed. So, many boys grow up with the idea that they are not allowed to think, “I can’t do it by myself.” This is known as the “toughen-up” culture, common here in New Zealand and ingrained in kiwis‘ blood. And not surprisingly, the suicide rate is, in fact, higher among young men.
Another important aspect of being a kiwi is sport and being outdoors, both of which play a big role in today’s society and lifestyle. If you don’t conform, there’s not really a valid, widely accepted alternative. For example, I just read in today’s newspaper: “as New Zealanders we grow up having a love of the great outdoors and knowing that we have a wonderful country…” It is something that HAS to be that way. You hardly need to be anything else. Again, a good and a bad thing. The prevalent culture is centered around the outdoors, the sport, being strong, masculine, stoic, physically fit and terse. It is common to grow up surrounded by a “boy don’t cry attitude” instilled in you from a young age, which in your adulthood transforms itself into “you need to value achievement and success,” to have tough rugby players as main male role models. This does not necessarily help you find your own way. On the contrary, I think it leads more of us to question ourselves, to ask where we belong, and the uncertainty of a proper personal identity can be perhaps described as an existential void that we are dealing with down here. There is not a huge and diverse culture that works as a protective force and shows us the way, something that act as a soft pillow to fall back on. I suppose we are still feeling our way through things and this makes us feel even more the uncertainty of it all as we haven’t found the right combination yet. The sad statistic (and we are talking about 606 people who took their own lives in 2017 alone; that is, one person dies, by their own hands, every 15 hours) is hard to swallow and even harder to address, but certainly there is a very big lack of access to a cohesive cultural history in New Zealand, a strong reality that can make us all feel less lost.
This may all just be a single opinion, but all these kiwis that became numbers in the statistics must have something in common…