Tim Costello on compassion and storytelling

Speaker Key:

TC              Tim Costello

AL              Andrew Leigh


TC              I’m not an academic and a great thinker. I think the heart sees often before the head sees and understands. Certainly, in my experience that’s true.

AL               My name’s Andrew Leigh and welcome to The Good Life. A podcast about living a happy, healthy and ethical life. While I’m a politician and an economist, this isn’t a podcast about politics or economics. It’s about living a good life, which is an idea that goes back to the Greek philosopher Aristotle.

                   What Aristotle meant by good life was the life that one would like to live. A life with pleasure, meaning, and richness of spirit. A life that most of us were trying to live until everything else got in the way. In this podcast I’ll seek out guests, not because they’re smart, but because they’re wise. I’ll speak with writers, athletes and social justice campaigners. With people who’ve been lucky, and those who’ve experienced hard times. I’ve found their stories fascinating, and I hope you do too.

                   To see Tim Costello in Parliament House is to witness a man struggling his way through a storm. Invariably Tim is accompanied by a minder who is trying to take him from one meeting where he’s running late to the next meeting. And that’s because everybody in Parliament House has something to say to Tim. Whether it’s people on the progressive side of politics who see him as a role model, a voice for the less powerful, or people on the conservative side who knew his brother, Peter Costello, during his 11 years as Australia’s treasurer.

                   Tim Costello was the minister of Collins Street Baptist Church for 11 years, the CEO of World Vision for 14 years. He’s now taken up the newly created role of World Vision’s Chief Advocate. His new book is Faith: Embracing Life’s Uncertainties and Mysteries and he joins us on The Good Life podcast today. Welcome Tim.

TC              Thank you. For a politician you’re a great broadcaster.

AL               It’s my new vocation. Let’s start at the beginning, Tim, when did religion first find you?

TC              I was in a family that was very committed to their faith. My father had this extraordinary religious conversion at 19. He was from a atheist family, non-churchgoing, working class, labour voting family out in Ascot Vale, the Western suburbs of Melbourne. He wanted to play with the best cricket team in Ascot Vale which was the Presbyterians. You had to go to church, and he come home one night as a believer. Religion’s really a testament to the power of sport in our family.

                   Through my father’s religious conversion, he became a Methodist lay preacher and when he and my mother settled in Blackburne, without a car, which they didn’t have until I was ten, the closest church was the Baptist church. We were very devout, I’d go to church, Sunday School, a thing called Christian Endeavour in the afternoon, and then a youth service at night. You’re lucky you’re devout now if you go twice a month to church, we were going four times a Sunday. From a very early age, it was a part of my life.

AL               And you trained initially as a lawyer rather than a minister, didn’t you?

TC              I did.

AL               At what point did you decide that you wanted to become a minister?

TC              I was doing family and criminal law, and I loved the law, and I wanted to go deeper. Every criminal I represented repented on the steps of the court, and only to usually go back to their ways when I kept them out of prison. Family law was pretty depressing, people who had loved each other scratching each other’s eyes out over the couch or custody of the kids. I never chose not to be a lawyer, I went off to study theology to actually be a better lawyer, but to have deeper theological, philosophical foundations to be a good lawyer.

                   And when I came back, I set up a legal practice in St Kilda, and a little Baptist church with ten people said, you can set it up in our building if you’ll preach for us on Sunday. I was a lawyer preacher, I’m a slow mover from law to grace, and over time the preaching, the pastoral side became bigger. The legal practice flourished but I started to turn the volume down on that.

AL               What do you enjoy about preaching?

TC              I think when you’re talking about a morally serious topic to people who gather each week, so you’re not just giving your best talk and heading out of town, but you’re actually doing formation, grappling with your understanding and theirs. There is a sense of great integrity and traction, to say, the great mysteries of life which we never solve, we’re actually serious about. We’re devoting this time every Sunday and doing some good passing around a plate that actually helps people in need in our community.

                   A whole lot of aspects of it I found fundamental, and still do, and I actually do miss being a preacher-pastor week by week with the same congregation.

AL               Did you think of it largely as a way of repackaging well-known ethical truths or about trying to offer new insights?

TC              Yes, so out of my theological study there was this realisation that Christian faith wasn’t about an escape ticket out of this world. I’ve booked my ticket to the great U2 concert in the sky and my place is reserved. It was actually about Thy kingdom come on Earth, Thy will be done on Earth. And that in the life and teaching of Jesus, and I would say anything we know about God, God’s pretty fuzzy.

                   I like Woody Allen who was asked, do you believe in God. He said, yes, I believe in God, but he seems to be a bit of an underperformer. He doesn’t stop tsunamis and kids are ill, dying. I would say that God doesn’t seem to intervene a lot in answering prayers, in the supernatural, not in my experience. But in the person of Jesus, who loved right over the top, who said, turn the other cheek, even love your enemy. I could go with Jesus if it was common sense like avoid your enemy or maybe tolerate your enemy, but love your enemy?

                   And that sense that even your enemy carries the image of God, has inviolable human rights and love, rather than destruction or violence, is not a formula for success in transforming your enemy, but is actually a better way to go about him. Meant that it was ethical principles, but ethical principles really founded in a Christian faith that there is a different way of reconciling, of forgiving, of loving, and that has been unleashed, that is actually a historical human possibility. Certainly ethical, but certainly also founded in a faith.

AL               How do you go in terms of loving your enemy? It’s an extraordinary notion. I remember the church shooting in the United States last year and the willingness of those family members of the victims to stand up at the funeral service and say that they forgave the person who had murdered their loved ones. And Obama speaks about this in that speech in which he ended up singing Amazing Grace. How do you go in your own life about loving those with whom you disagree the most?

TC              Now this is actually why Christian faith isn’t a recipe for happiness and prosperity and upward mobility, it’s actually demands, impossible things. I struggle loving my enemies. I have to meditate on that and recognise that I’m not just an individual who can exclude and cut out others, that I am interdependent with them. Even the things that annoy me most in them often are actually a projection of the things I don’t like about myself, and I have to face that. I think what you cited there is an extraordinary example.

                   That young man, white racist, who’s named Dylann Roof, and he literally said, I have to do this, you’re raping our white women and I’ve got to kill you, and they said, no, you don’t have to do this. And then for families to say, we’re going to rise above hatred because we know hatred only is a cancer that destroys us is extraordinary. I don’t know if I could ever do it, it’s the ideal. But I think they’re right, and I think in terms of political history we know they’re right.

                   In Rwanda where I was quite shocked to see many of the people World Vision works with say, we forgave the killers of our family before they’d even confessed and repented, and I said, that’s the wrong order. They should confess first and then they might deserve forgiveness, why do you do it that way? And they said, because offering them forgiveness opened up this space where they could confess, where they actually were so shocked that they took responsibility and it led to, not just reconciliation, but showing where our loved ones were buried.

                   That putting forgiveness first, that opens up a space, I think, is what Nelson Mandela did. Who would have thought there wasn’t going to be bloody revolution but he came out and he said I forgive, and he lifted a nation above revenge, and Desmond Tutu and Martin Luther King. So I think loving enemies is right.

                   I love the story of Abraham Lincoln when he had his political opponents in a corner, his advisors said, go for the strike now, you can destroy them. And he was being nice to them and treating them kindly and his advisors said you’ve got to destroy them, their backs to the wall. And he said, but if I make my enemy my friend, do I not destroy my enemy? And Lincoln… Great leaders, I think, have understood, this doesn’t always work out but it’s at least a historical possibility.

AL               How do you reconcile that with the notion of evil in the world? You then presumably think of evil as being something that can be disconnected from the evildoer?

TC              I’ve seen so much malevolence in my work with World Vision that I’m not at all the naïve optimist I once was. My journey is a journey from naïve optimism, a very simple faith, if you like, through despair, to what I’d now call a realistic hope. And realistic hope says that evil does exist in the world, and it does need to be quarantined and contained, and you can’t simply apply the personalist ethic of love your enemy, turn the other cheek in every political, historical situation. That evil does need restraint.

                   But the realistic hope in me still says the possibility that people can change, that situations can change through radical grace… There’s Obama singing Amazing Grace… Through forgiveness being offered is something that I keep alive and try to practice in my life.

AL               And in terms of how you decide how to deploy your considerable advocacy skills and your ability to bring compassion to situations where others wouldn’t, how do you prioritise things? How do you decide what to do and who to engage with? And how do you manage to stay calm through that process, which I think is the thing that I always admire when I see you in high pressure situations like advocating in Parliament.

TC              A lot of the issues choose me. I didn’t get involved in pokies… We’ve got 20% of the world’s pokies here in Australia, because I had a religious wowzah visceral psychic vomit. I had a client in my legal practice in the Baptist Church in St Kilda who had a marriage, a business, three lovely kids, didn’t smoke or drink. When pokies were introduced in 1992, she came to me because she’d lost her business, her house, her marriage and then had stolen $60,000 from a job she’d got, and I represented her.

                   She got four years jail, unheard of now for 60,000, we know it’s an addiction. And her name was Latham [?]. Her story made me say, this woman wasn’t a criminal, had never done anything wrong, didn’t even have addictions, we suddenly introduced, what I now know, are profoundly addictive machines, and it’s made her into a criminal. So, my 20 years of advocacy on gambling, on pokies, and now sports betting actually chose me.

                   I visited her in prison, I went to her daughters’ weddings afterwards, I was part of her rebuilding her life, and I knew I owed it to her to actually say, it’s not just her, it’s tens of thousands of others and we can reform this. When it comes to a lot of other issues, housing in St Kilda, I ended up the mayor of St Kilda. I’m the last mayor ever of St Kilda, I did such a good job they abolished the council.

                   It was people who were poor in St Kilda and live for generations being forced out with new money, so I stood on a platform and housing became a… Most of my priorities actually come through personal encounters that then becomes a campaign and an advocacy. And I stay calm if I do, I stay calm because I actually remember that the arc of history is long, it’s very long. I want to believe it moves toward justice, but it’s very long, and it may not happen in my time.

AL               And how do you use your skills that you’ve attained as a church minister in an increasingly secular world? To what extent do you find yourself drawing explicitly on theology or on religious metaphors, or is it more that you just take your beautiful speaking voice and your human stories and deploy them instead?

TC              No, I’m very, very schooled in the eighth century Hebrew prophets and clearly the New Testaments, and my mental world is that world. It’s funny, when I visit Israel, I feel like I’ve gone back home. I actually grew up with that world, and those stories, and they are the default setting for a whole lot of what I do. Now, I read literature and Shakespeare and I use lots of other metaphors, but the primary one still is that view.

                   And I think that’s important for me because I have a belief, people may not share it, that great cultures and societies can only continue to be nourished and flourish if they do have a spiritual transcendence story. That something that is bigger and deeper, that can’t be proved. You have to occupy this ground, there’s no empirical evidence, and that when we don’t tend the soil of that spiritual story, we actually become highly individualistic. We turn human rights into just an entitlement and a victim mentality when we don’t tend that deeper story.

                   For me, human rights are actually profoundly based in that spiritual story that everyone carries the image of God. That we simply can’t understand grounding human rights without some appeal, whatever, however faint, to some spiritual source, some transcendent deeper meaning. Even the Universal Declaration of Human Rights appeals to a spiritual brotherhood.

                   Now, whatever the transcendent story is, I’m not as fussy about, but when we lose that transcendent story the individualism, I think, leads to narcissism. I think we are in a time of deep narcissism. I believed this even before President Trump got elected, and I think that narcissism is profoundly corrosive of culture and flourishing societies, and the spiritual transcendent mental world of the Bible for me is a pretty important alternative narrative.

AL               To what extent do you draw on modern philosophy as you think about ethics? Sam Harris, one of the critics of organised religion says that he thinks the project of imagining what it is to live a good life is enormously important, but he thinks it’s also extraordinarily constraining to do so through the prism of a first century, eighth century view of the world. Do you draw a lot on modern philosophers, have they shaped how you see the world?

TC              Yes, no, absolutely. I read a lot of modern philosophers. I’m particularly influenced by people like Amartya Sen, his book, The Idea of Justice. Not just modern, I think Plato probably got it right when he said a just man is a happy man, an unjust man is an unhappy man, actually resonates with me.

                   Look, I would say I’m not an academic and a great thinker, I think the heart sees often before the head sees and understands. Certainly, in my experience that’s true. And when Einstein says, if you want to be happy, the happy person is someone who seeks out and then serves others’ needs. That to me is Jesus, but it’s also other philosophers. I don’t mind the claim to authorship.

                   That when I feel the resonance which might have started with my faith but I see in, particularly, virtue philosophers more than consequentialist utilitarian philosophers, I have a sort of correspondence and resonance between my sources of faith and modern philosophy. And just that deeper story, that it’s not all about me, I’m profoundly interconnected, I’ll be happy actually when I serve others.

AL               Where do you see Australians now as going for their nourishment, to answer the question of what it is to live a good life? I mean in a world in which less than one in five Australians are going to church, temple, mosque, any other form of religious service on a Sunday, where do you see people going for answers to those big ethical questions? Do the Sunday assembly, kind of non-religious Sunday gatherings have an important role to play here?

TC              Absolutely, and funnily enough it’s me and Father Bob Maguire that speak at these atheist Sunday assembly gatherings. And I commend them. I think they’re terrific that they actually come together and say, let’s do something intentional. It’s funny when you’re there because they say, we’re rationalist, empirical, evidence-based, so we’re going to sing but we’re going to sing for rational reasons because endorphins are released, and we feel better. And everything’s got to be rationally grounded. It’s a little twee for me, but I absolutely applaud them for what they’re doing.

                   I think Australians look to two sources, one is family. I think the actual debate around family, which is a contested notion and I personally believe we have to enlarge the notion of family but not abandon it, is because it is within family you get your primary identity and meaning. We know kids that are the stolen generation or fostered who just live a life of chronic pain because there wasn’t that family setting. I think that’s why family and narratives that nourish it, and a large view of family, is so important.

                   And I was talking to an American friend yesterday who said, the pain in Thanksgiving in America just passed, which is like Christmas for Americans. Many families cancelled Thanksgiving dinner because politics had divided them so badly in this presidential election they couldn’t sit down with their own family members. Now I know a little bit about political differences under the same roof, but I think family is the first one.

                   The second one is community. I think when you see, whether it’s sporting or recreational or artistic communities, it’s Australians saying, we know our identity comes from being in solidarity with a purpose beyond just our particular needs, serving something bigger, that actually gives that sense of identity.

                   The sad thing is that I think community is often fragmenting, the pace of our lives, technology. The fact that now when Australians are asked where do you go for community, the highest percentage, 39%, say to the shopping complex. That seems sad to me, but I think family and community are the sources.

AL               How do you manage to use these technologies and so they’re keeping you engaged and ethical rather than distracting you? How do you manage the demands of email and Facebook and Twitter and the like?

TC              Yeah, very simply, I’ve never been on Facebook, and I never will. I actually don’t look at social media. To be honest, I started with a Facebook page, that you can never get rid of, and I applied to each of my three adult children to be their friend on Facebook and all three rejected me. They said it’s parental stalking, and I said, that’s it, I’m not going on Facebook now. I’m very worried about… I’m old enough to remember when you trusted absolutely nothing on the internet. You trusted a journalist, who’d thought and edited.

                   I’m really worried the debate with Facebook, that’s meant to be open and connected as their motto, that the algorithms that produce the filter bubbles that drive stories of your prejudice and ideology towards you is making us siloed and less connected. So part of me just says I’m not going there.

                   I guess I use phones and emails and I keep trying to remember and remind myself that if it’s a choice of emailing someone in the building or going around and talking to them, I should at least have a rule to go and talk to them as often as I can. Because facial expression, nuance, touch is actually so important in creating community, care, and empathy.

AL               What will you miss most about stepping down as head of World Vision? Is it that personal contact with 600 employees?

TC              Yes, look, I’m still working as Chief Advocate, so I’ll have actually more time for that. The weight of being a CEO and managing a board was extraordinary. In the 14 years of actually managing when I was never any good at it really, I can tell you that secret now, lifted off me is actually quite a great stage of my life. And calling in a new CEO, her name’s Claire Rogers, who is good at some of those things I think is fantastic for me.

                   So I’ll still be doing the field stuff. I’m off to Uganda next month. I’ll still be trying to be the chief morale booster insofar as I do that so, those bits of the job feel like fun, not slog.

AL               What do you look for in those overseas trips? Are they information gathering or is there also a kind of spiritual side to what you see yourself as doing when you’re overseas in developing countries?

TC              Yes, that’s a really important thing to say. The developing world, unlike the developed world, is profoundly religious. We think secular is normal in Australia. In the developing world they say, secular? What does that mean? How do you name a child? How do you have a wedding? It’s quite a puzzle to them. So, in many countries I visit they will ask me to start with prayer, and it will be followed with singing and dancing, and being white I don’t move right if I’m in Africa, but I try. And a lot of it is actually just the solidarity of being there and saying, I notice and you’re not alone.

                   We often think of development as hardware, the health clinic, the water well, the school, and that’s important. Most of it’s software. It’s actually poverty, which is sometimes in your head and you can’t imagine another way, or cultural attitudes, where you simply do not value your daughters and pull them out of school, or even with foods.

                   I’ve been in humanitarian disasters where kids are dying of malnutrition, and there is food there, might be roots of a banana tree that can be cooked up but, no, our grandparents have never eaten this. But your kids are dying, and this actually is necessary to save their lives. So, rewiring software and having solidarity with people is a lot of what these trips are about.

AL               Your banana root story reminds me of the launch of the potato in which the… It was either Ireland or England, complete refusal to eat potatoes until the royals finally grew potatoes and fenced off the field and said, no one is allowed to come in and have our potatoes. And then the notion that those at the top of the status hierarchy valued the potato caused it to cascade down and…

TC              It’s a good story.

AL               Catch on.  But do you then… Are you also conscious of looking for stories when you travel? You’re a great storyteller, I remember you speaking about attitudes to refugees through the parable. Now, which parable…?

TC              Of The Good Samaritan.

AL               Of The Good Samaritan, of course. And the Good Samaritan not having any identifiers of religion or tribe. Are you conscious of looking for stories in your life as a conscious tool of persuasion, or have you been at this storytelling gig for so long that you just do it naturally?

TC              No, I think I learned this very young. Going to church, I notice how even the adults were bored with sermon, but the children’s talk, when the minister did the children’s talk, the adults were engaged. Their eyes would light up, they’d lean forward. I worked out just, it was true for me as much for others, that we actually do live by stories.

                   I personally think we all indwell dominant stories that are often invisible to us. I think often our Western stories, the richer I am, the happier I’ll be… And that’s why we’ve got to have growth at any cost because it’s such a powerful story scripting us. We haven’t stepped back and said, actually, is it always true? So I find myself just fascinated by a good story. When I see something that I think is a good story, I keep a journal each day, I write it down. It’s just the way I’m made and wired.

AL               And do you go back to that journal often?

TC              I do. I’ve been writing it since I was 17, and I go back there and it’s a very powerful way to reflect on how much you’ve done. You think you’re going to remember things, you never remember them. The best thing my wife and I did when our kids were little was have their funny book and write down the funny things they said. As a parent you always you’re going to remember, but you don’t.

                   When we pull out the funny book and read it now to adult kids, they just love it. And we wouldn’t have remembered a tenth of what’s in there, 90% of what’s in there, but for writing it down. So my journals are like that for me.

AL               Yes. Do you also use them for other purposes? I know people talk about… One of the things I do with my own diary is a gratitude exercise each day to try and note one thing for which I’m grateful in my life, big or small, and then one personal interaction that I could have managed better. Do you use it for that sort of reflective purpose? Or is it essentially an archive of things that you might use later in your work?

TC              No, it’s reflective too. So I have prayers that I write, or want to pray, in it. I have insights about myself. I don’t want these diaries to fall into any other hands so I, like you, what I’m grateful for, which I think is so powerful, what you said. As humans, we always seem to compare up, and someone’s always doing better. I make an effort to compare down and go, aren’t I blessed. And isn’t it fantastic that I’ve had this situation, what can I do about this. So I think gratitude is so important.

AL               Yes, I notice it so much in politics because to be in the Federal Parliament is to have a position which less than a couple of thousand people, Australians, have ever had since federation. But most of the emphasis within politics is to think, not in absolute terms but in relative terms, where am I in the pecking order and how can I move up it? And that gratitude exercise for me is very much about just appreciating what there is, not just professionally but also of course in having three healthy and happy children.

TC              Absolutely.

AL               I want to ask you a little bit about managing difference. You made the quip before about family differences, but you have maintained a strong friendship with your brother, Peter, with whom you presumably disagree on many things. What do you have to do to make that work, and what should others listening to this do if they want to maintain a friendship with a person with whom they disagree about pretty fundamental things?

TC              You’ve got to keep perspective that at the end of the day whatever differences that seem so important and intensely magnified in the scale of history, in the scale of Australian life, are pretty marginal. And I think the second thing is it’s important not to take yourself too seriously. I think identity is so tied up with not just respecting my opinions, but acknowledging I’m right, and having to win and prove I’m right. And I think when you don’t take yourself too seriously and say, who knows, I think I’m right today.

                   I may think differently in five years, or ten years. Life is fluid and I’m not Plato, I’m not Socrates, I haven’t worked all this out. But this is my position, and I hold it, and I’m committed to it but I’m not going to destroy relationship over it, I think is very important.

AL               But let me push you a little on that, because take the pokies example you had before. When you talked about the importance of pokies you didn’t seem to be leaving a whole lot of scope in what you were saying for the notion, this is just one perspective, that this is a small issue, that you might be wrong. You seemed to care very deeply about that issue and so I wonder how you would go about breaking bread with somebody who held entirely the opposite view about the role of pokies in Australian life.

TC              Yes. So look, I’ve had some very full-on debates with the leaders of clubs, hotels, the pokies industry, I’ve been sued by them. That’s why the houses are in my wife’s name, well, the house.

AL               Really?

TC              Yes.

AL               Wow.

TC              And that keeps me in the marriage too, actually.

AL               You know that after you’ve been married for a certain amount of time it doesn’t matter.

TC              Who’s name it’s in, thank you. So it’s been, at times, personal, bitter, and I do feel very strongly about that. But having said that, I sit down with those leaders, or I’m at forums, and I’m very courteous. I absolutely distinguish between the person and, perhaps, the industry they’re promoting. And I try and remind myself that I wouldn’t want people to think that I’ve always got it a hundred percent right or a hundred percent wrong, and have broken a friendship with me simply on the basis of views. So, I try and keep a bridge across which I can walk.

AL               Are there other things you do to nourish your spiritual self? Do you meditate, do you have particular exercise routines that help?

TC              Yes, each morning I write my diary, I pray…

AL               First thing? So you’re…

TC              First thing.

AL               Out of bed, straight into the journal?

TC              Yes. I then try to exercise. I don’t always do that too well but that’s the daily plan. So there’s a rhythm, which I think’s really important for grounding. However busy, distracted, emotional things might be that rhythm grounds you, and I do those things.

AL               Well let me wrap up with a handful of standard questions that I’ve asked all of The Good Life guests. What advice would you give your teenage self?

TC              To not be in a hurry. I think when I was younger, I thought if you hadn’t achieved your goals by thirty you were going to be too old. And I now know that life comes in different waves and there’s different seasons where you can be just as effective without being busy and rushing and being in a hurry.

AL               So I’m just struck by the fact that this is, as I understand, exactly the opposite advice that Paul Keating says he would give to his teenage self.

TC              Oh, is that right?

AL               Rush.

TC              He’s the great man…

AL               Recognise.

TC              Ignore mine.

AL               Not at all. No, it’s just fascinating because it’s 180 degrees opposite. As I understand the story, Keating’s bit of advice to his teenage self is, time is running out, you don’t realise how little time you have, you have to run like there’s no tomorrow.

TC              I’d hate to see Keating going even faster, what he achieved.

AL               What’s something you used to believe, but no longer do?

TC              Well, I used to believe, and this is the naïve optimist, that people are basically good. I have seen, particularly in my World Vision work, [unclear] talk about industries like gambling and pokies that self-interest and, worse, malevolence, cruelty, all which I’ve seen in World Vision work. Deep hatred, tribalism, where it’s not just acceptable to hate the other, but a virtue to hurt and kill them, has disabused me of the idea that people are all just primarily good.

AL               When are you most happy?

TC              I think I’m most happy when what I think, when what I say, when what I do is in harmony. Often there are gaps between that, and I feel a bit hypocritical. I’m most happy when there’s congruence there.

AL               Tell me a little bit more about the congruence, what would be a discongruence?

TC              Well, a discongruence is people would go, well, Tim’s quite selfless and serving. And I actually know I’ve been doing some things that are quite self-serving and there’s a dissonance, which isn’t to say there shouldn’t be personal time and personal pleasure and all of that. But sometimes I know, and each person has to answer this for themselves, I’m not really walking the talk, and that’s the discongruity.

AL               Does the bracelet on your wrist have to do with reminding yourself about the congruity?

TC              Yes, it does in one way. I’m just back from Columbia where we had the World Vision triennial, and we’ve just launched a campaign, It Takes A World To Stop Violence Against Children. We made these for each other and wearing these to remind ourselves that we’ve got to be the change agents.

AL               Very good. What’s the most important thing you do to stay mentally and physically healthy?

TC              It is that prayer, meditation, reflection on both spiritual books, traditions, Bible… That’s actually the centring thing.

AL               Do you have any guilty pleasures?

TC              Yes, but this isn’t a confessional with legal privilege is it.

AL               It’s just us, Tim, really, just the two of us.

TC              You just keep it to yourself.

AL               Exactly. Whisper.

TC              Look, my wife nearly divorced me over this. I’m a bit of a sports nut. I can lie on a couch for five days in a row watching cricket and not move, test cricket. I played footie until I was 57, over 45s as is Aussie rules, and I literally would have to have my wife do up my shoelaces the next morning because I couldn’t bend over and walk. I love sports and I still do it, to the detriment of, probably, my age and time of life.

AL               What do you do now? What sport?

TC              Well, because of my knee’s gone I can’t play footie, I play tennis, but the doctor’s said all the cartilage is gone, and I shouldn’t be playing and you need a totally new knee but you’re too young because they only last ten years. But I still go out and play tennis and I can’t walk afterwards, which is a frustration to my wife who says, why don’t you just swim? And I go, no, you get wet, and I like playing competitive sports.

AL               Very good. It doesn’t sound like most people’s idea of a guilty pleasure, I have to be clear. I think most people are expecting alcohol or chocolates or the occasional packet of Winnie Blues. And finally, which person or experience has most shaped your view of living an ethical life?

TC              So I named my youngest son Martin, after Martin Luther King. He’s really the one who inspired me to be a Baptist minister, and his sheer counter-cultural courage to say we will match your capacity to hate us with our capacity to love you. That extraordinary, breath-taking vision that came out of his faith that led to the civil rights movement probably has influenced me the most.

AL               Tim Costello, thank you for your wit, your wisdom, your intellect, and for taking the time to speak in The Good Life podcast today.

TC              Thank you very much.

AL               Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of The Good Life. If you like The Good Life, why not rate us on iTunes or put up a little post on Facebook. Next week I’ll chat with Matt Napier on kicking a soccer ball all the way across Africa.


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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.