An Hour of Optimism with John Anderson AC
John Anderson is a former Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, former leader of The National Party and a Farmer. In January 2022, he joined us to share an hour of optimism with The Centre for Optimism.
Victor Perton asked John Anderson what makes him optimistic.
John Anderson: "I do have a profound faith, and I do believe in grace - unmerited favour. So that gives me great personal optimism. And it's a particularly useful optimism, you see, because I've done nothing to deserve it. And I think that's a great thing.
And a lot of hope revolves around things working out better perhaps than you're entitled to think that they might have worked out.
And there's nothing like either extending that grace; if you like to your children and their loved ones around you, there's a lot of hope and a lot of optimism in that. So relationally, I find life rich and fulfilling at every level.
I chose my parents very wisely. They were Australian. In fact, they were regional Australians. I mean, what more could you ask for? What an incredible country to live in? How fortunate are we?
Over and above that, what I would say is that the thing that worries me is, in fact, a lack of optimism, excitement and a willingness to face challenges.
The default position for a lot of people is fear. I think fear binds us up and has us cowering in the corner.
And it really worries me that we do face a lot of challenges at the moment, but just imagine if Churchill and the Brits and the young pilots during those terrible days of August, September 1940 had said, "oh, it's also hopeless. The numbers are against us. We've got 600 hurricanes and Spitfires, and the Germans have got 4,600 aircraft, and we can never win. So we're not going to bother taking off."
Now we're told 80% of our young people have varying degrees of climate anxiety. But, if you dig into it, it's more than climate. Paradoxically they're worried about jobs and having enough income to leave home by home of their own. Well, you can either give in, or you can say, "these things look pretty daunting, but I'm gonna have a go."
Victor Perton asked "may we ask you what makes you optimistic for Australia?"
John Anderson: "What makes me optimistic for Australia as much as anything else is, as Margaret Mead said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
"And in Australia, I see complacency, and I see worse cynicism. Scepticism's one thing about your political leaders. You want a degree of scepticism, but when it flows over and trips over into an unhealthy cynicism and a fear and a dislike and a distrust, it's crippling.
"You know, you get two or three people gathered together. And a first issue that arises is "Do I trust the others?" If you trust them, you can move forward together in harness, cooperation, better outcomes for everyone. If you decide you can't trust them, well, you flee for security.
"And security is the enemy of freedom.
"People don't realize that we've seen it during COVID. Our fears have meant we want government to look after us too much. So in the sense that we've been prepared to let them really crack down on our freedoms too much, I'm not sure they're going to give them back to us unless we make a lot of noise.
"It's really important to encourage those people who are saying; I'm not going put up with this anymore. I'm going to break the mould.
"I do feel encouraged about young people. We've sold our young people short - telling them our culture's no good that they're inheriting something no good: that it's not worth defending. And a lot of 'them have bought it.
"I was asked to compare a night with Jordan Peterson. I didn't even really know who Jordan Peterson was, but he was in Sydney. We went to the Chatswood town hall. It was good for my humility because I mean, this guy, he's not a rockstar. He's not a sports star. I'd not thought of him as a motivational speaker. He walked on, and a thousand people gave him a standing ovation. He spoke for 90 minutes. They gave him a second standing of action. He took questions for 30 minutes. They gave him the third one. That's not the point of the story.
"The point of the story is that audience was packed with young people. His message was a tough one. It was don't think an empathy culture, victimhood culture, all of these sorts of trends will solve your problems or get you in touch with reality. You've got to do it yourself. Go back into your bedroom. You've all heard that expression; examine yourself, have a long hard look. You're not the person you ought to be. Resolve to be the noblest you can be. And then go back out and make a contribution to the world. And I looked around, and I thought, "Hey, these are the same young Australians who would've been in the Cooee marches out in the Bush in 1914. "
Syed Saeed Alam asked "My question to you, why did you go into politics? What makes a good leader, and how do you describe your leadership style?"
John Anderson AO: "Well, I'm always reluctant to talk about my leadership myself because somebody will immediately point out why I am wrong. And when you say you did something the right way, they'll say, no, you did it the wrong way. And they're probably right half the time.
I was talked into it. Had you told me as a young man, I'd end up being a federal member of parliament, I would've fallen over backwards. If you'd told me I'd end up a cabinet minister, I would have been amazed. If you'd told me I'd end up Deputy Prime Minister and then acting prime minister during 911, for example, I would've said, "you've been on the Kool-Aid."
Jordan Peterson refers to this: young men, in particular, just need some encouragement. And I was encouraged. Older men who I respected came to me and said, "look, we think you've got something to give."
And we must never forget that that's, that's part of the answer that I've left out to some of the earlier questions, our job in engaging in with and mentoring and just encouraging and being there for young people, our own and their friends and the ones that you meet. And I meet quite a few through the podcast that I do.
We have a responsibility to be friends with them, be encouragers, seek, encourage their strengths, and help them identify their weaknesses. These things are gold. And part of our problem is, is that we've not respected our elders. We've broken down the mechanisms in our culture for passing on the wisdom of the ages. I would posit that no society that has cut itself off from the wisdom of the ages has ever remained in good order for very long.
As Os Guinness puts it, "We are living in a cut-flower civilisation."
We've removed ourselves. We've slipped ourselves off from the vines and the branches and the roots and so forth that grew us and sustained us. Every hot wind that blows, we wilt a bit more and take longer to recover... every cold wind that blows the same thing. We need to reattach ourselves to the sustaining wellsprings of freedom and of hope.