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How to change the way people think on the asylum seeker issue in Australia?



(By Abby Eagle) This is a linguistic analysis of the article, "Why Australia Hates Asylum Seekers", written by Christos Tsiolkas September 2013 and published on

This is not a criticism - it is a process of inquiry - using the NLP Peace Mapping Model - that attempts to map out the structure of the article and open it up for further discussion. In the excerpts from the article, key phrases and words have been highlighted in bold. I have quoted larger sections in preference to smaller sections in an effort to keep the quote in the context of the article in which it was written.


We apply the NLP Meta Model to the title.

The title sets the tone of the article. It starts with the interrogative, "why" but has no question mark which indicates that Christos will be giving the reader his opinion.

The word, "Australia", is a nominalisation - that is an abstract noun. Australia is a name for a peace of land and a name for the nation, Australia. How is it possible that a peace of land or a nation can do the process of hating?

So perhaps he means, "Australians" but then if so does Christos mean all Australians or some Australians? If he means all Australians then how is this possible? If he means some Australians then which Australians specifically is he referring to.

The third word in the title is, "hates" which sets a frame of mind from which the author states his opinion. This probably says more about the author than Australians in general.

He has used the term, "Asylum Seekers" which refers to a group of people seeking political asylum. This sets the frame for his article. Other people may have used the terms, 'refugees' or 'boat people' or 'people trafficking'. The important thing to keep in mind is that the term that is used will set a presupposition for anyone who joins in the conversation. [Read more about frames of mind and meta model.]


Opening paragraph sets a number of frames.

"Our governments and press have demonised boat people for 15 years. Organisations like the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre worry they’re fighting a losing battle."

The first sentence sets a presupposition for anyone who joins the conversation. Which governments specifically is Christos referring to? Governments is also a nominalisation which is made up of a group of people - so which politicians is he referring to? Press is also unspecified. Which publication is he referring to - newspapers, television, Internet? Who are the authors? Which articles?

Asylum seekers are now referred to as 'boat people'. The frame has changed. How specifically have they been demonised?

The phrase, "they're fighting a losing battle", indicates use of a war metaphor. So in the title we have the word, "hates", and in the opening paragraph we have words that indicate a war metaphor.


The meaning of the communication is the response that you get.

“I received a text from one of my colleagues, and he wrote, I feel like we have failed,” says Kon Karapanagiotidis. “I texted back and wrote, Yeah, so do I.”

It is a few days after Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced his “PNG solution” to his latest political crisis, whereby no asylum seeker arriving by boat will be settled in Australia. My friend and colleague Karapanagiotidis, the founder and CEO of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC), shows a rare moment of doubt and confusion. But it doesn’t last long before he’s thumping the table, remarshalling his forces.

The words, "thumping the table, remarshalling his forces", indicate a war metaphor.

“We are going to have to fight harder, push harder. We are going to have to become even more outspoken. We are going to have to go out there and be as fearless as we can. The success of the Centre is in fighting from adversity. I learnt that lesson from childhood, at school.” That would be the primary school in regional Victoria, at Mount Beauty, where the kids taunted him with, “Wog, wog, why don’t you go back to your own country, dirty wog?”

And then, "fight harder, push harder", and, "become even more outspoken" indicates an attitude of telling.

There used to be a model of communication which made the recipient responsible for receiving the message. It went something like this, "How many times do I have to tell you? You are just not listening to me. If you would just open your ears and listen you would understand what I am trying to tell you." And then they would repeat the exact same words, again and again, each time increasing the volume of their voice, making violent pointing gestures at the listener.

In NLP we use the principle that, "The meaning of the communication is the response that you get". That means if the listener does not give you the desired response then do something else. If that does not work then do something else. In NLP we put the responsibility for communicating the message back onto the one who is delivering the message. That means we need to develop flexibility in what we say and in how we deliver the message.

In simple terms we can make statements, give commands or ask questions. Simplifying that even further we can make statements or ask questions - we can tell someone what to do or we can ask questions that invite the listener to act or think in a particular way. The best quality questions are open ended questions that invite the listener to access and mobilise their inner resources, rather than closed or leading questions.

So perhaps if Kon Karapanagiotidis was to change his method of communication he might get more people on side?


Applying negative frames of mind to self.

"We’ll lock up asylum seekers in offshore detention centres, we’ll stand idly by as they slowly go crazy or harm themselves, we’ll refuse journalists the right to speak to them or to name them, we’ll redefine our borders to not let them in, we’ll farm them off to our impoverished, under-developed neighbours rather than construct a humane and efficient system to process their claims for asylum. It doesn’t matter to us that more than 85% of asylum seekers who arrive here by boat are found to be genuine refugees, and that as signatories to the UN Refugee Convention we are obliged to offer these people refuge."

In reading through the article I began to wonder about who Christos is? The article in some way says more about Christos than it does refugees.

"It is an ugly, ungenerous moment but it makes me aware that I am not untouched by the shame and fear that is my country’s dominant response to asylum seekers."

How does he know that shame and fear are the dominant response to asylum seekers? Is he projecting his mind set onto other Australians?

"The nervousness that kept me from looking in the direction of the young asylum seekers arises from a racist fear. I am not going to deny that. The fear need not be rational. It was not, in that case, and therefore it led to shame, which soured into anger and resentment."

In the above statement he makes a self disclosure. He maps out a series of meta states - racist fear leads to shame, to anger and to resentment. But does it have to? What other frames of mind could he bring to the fear that could lead it in a more positive direction, rather than shame? For example, if he brought acceptance or playfulness to the fear how would that change his mind-set? How would that help him to achieve his desired outcomes?

And further down the article Christos describes the processing of applying a negative frame of mind back to him self. There is an identification with immigrants of similar ethnicity - but he is not those immigrants - he is more than that.

"I am reminded of a moment during the 2010 election when a friend, who had been door-knocking for the Greens in Melbourne’s inner north, challenged me about the number of Greeks and Italians who openly expressed hostility to asylum seekers and refugees. “Why is that, Christos?” he asked. “Why are immigrants from your part of the world so racist?” At that moment I felt shamed, inarticulate. As with Karapanagiotidis, my identity has been formed partly through my experiences of racism. Consequently, resisting and battling racism has become central to my ethics, but racism in the Australian Greek community is something I have been aware of all my life."

He states that his identity has been formed through 'past experiences of racism' but in NLP we say that even though the past may form the foundation for who you are it does not have to create your identity. The identity is created by the higher frames of mind that you bring to life experience. Even though we can condition a child we can not make them think, believe or feel what we want them to. This is personal choice hence the door is always open to change. So rather than 'resisting and battling racism' - perhaps if he learned how to accept it, to embrace it, to welcome it - even though that might sound counter intuitive - perhaps if he tried that it would put him in the power seat and create a positive frame of mind?


An invitation to experiment with different frames of mind.

"In Footscray, in Melbourne’s inner west, Pamela Curr, the ASRC’s detention rights advocate, takes me on a visit to see the conditions that asylum seekers live in. “It used to be a nursing home and now it has been requisitioned to house asylum seekers just out of detention,” she says. It is a squat and ugly ’60s building, and as soon as we walk through the foyer, we are surrounded by young women and men, and by children "

"The unit is a brick-veneer shit-box, with only one bedroom and no laundry except for a basin outside that is smeared with bird faeces. The family seem ecstatic; they might finally have a place of their own. They would still have to wait on a mattress promised to them by the Department of Immigration. There is also no fridge, no other bedding; they are fortunate that the unit has a gas heater installed."

The attitude expressed in the article seems to be a condemnation of the treatment of refugees by Australians. It is emotive - he uses words like, "bloody, fucking and shit box". "The unit is a brick-veneer shit-box... no laundry except for a basin that is smeared with bird faeces".

There seems to be a lack of acknowledgment for the efforts that have been made to care for refugees - and for the fact that many Australians have lived in or still live in, "brick-veneer shit-boxes". Does his attitude serve to bring people on side or is he marginalising sub groups? What attitude would better serve him and others?

Stepping back and reflecting on the article I wonder if Christos is judging his fellow Australians because he is judging himself? If he changed his frames of mind to curiosity, fascination, playfulness, compassion - and learned to look at others and himself through those frames - then how would he approach the asylum seeker issue? Given that he has a positive intention, what frames of mind does he need to hold in order to change the hearts and minds of more Australians?

Your contribution to this article is welcomed so please take a moment to leave your comments below. And if you are interested in NLP Coaching then please contact Abby Eagle using the contact form on this page.


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