As a young man, I thought it was a sign of strength of character to stick to your guns. That if you held an idea about something, you stuck to that idea and you didn’t let anyone mess with it. You fought them tooth and nail and showed them that you were right and they were wrong.
Only one danger to that – what if you are the one that is actually wrong?
This is a short story about how I held a strong perception about a certain group of people and it took one experience to show me that my opinion was total bollocks. And that group of people are hippies.
That’s right, hippies. And I figured I had them down pat. Long haired, pot smoking yahoos that never did a day of work in their lives. Smelly, filthy people putting more faith in a healing crystal than an aspirin and would lecture you about how you should eat nothing but lentils. Tree hugging nudies who deserved a good kick in their chakras.
I was 24 and living with a couple in Yarraville. Good friends who when they heard my first marriage was breaking up turned up with a moving truck and said “We are getting you out of here”. I’d been living with them for several months and was healing nicely from being used as an emotional punching bag for so long. With New Years coming up, they were going to Confest and wanted me to come along. Confest is best described as a hippy festival that takes place twice a year along a piece of river bank in the bush in southern NSW.
Did I wanna go? Hells no! If I went to the bush it was to do proper camping, catch some fish and maybe shoot a few rabbits. I wasn’t going to no damn hippy festival and see blokes walking about with their tackle out! I especially wasn’t going to go when they told me there was no meat allowed – bugger that!
But my friends wore me down and I ended up going along. I made ‘filthy hippy’ jokes the whole way to the point my mate Michael was asking me to give it a rest, and I had a big store of dried beef jerky (the proper stuff from a butcher at VIC Market, not that rubbery crap you get at a servo) hidden in my bag.
When we got there I was very non-plussed. Taking tickets on the gate were indeed two naked people, a man and woman in their late 40’s if I was any judge. As we parked and lugged our tents to find a spot, I was even less enthused when I saw the ‘workshops schedule board’ and saw there was actual tree hugging on it! As we walked past there was indeed people there embracing trees with their eyes closed. Oh gawd, I thought, I’m stuck here for a week with these friggin lunatics! This is gonna suck!
We found a spot and set our tents up, me grumbling to myself the whole time. I was an alpha-male stuck with a bunch of fruitloops in the middle of bloody nowhere. I figured since I was stuck, I might as well make the best of it and went for an explore.
Over the afternoon some things started to confuse me. There were naked people yes but plenty of clothed people too. You could smell pot coming from the odd tent but certainly not all. People were openly friendly without trying to convert me to crystal worship or lecturing me on the evils of a good steak. I was very taken aback when I stumbled across a cricket game in progress which I quickly joined and even managed to take a catch or two.
What was going on? Where was all the self-righteous condemnation for me not being one of them? Besides being perhaps a bit more openly friendly that is usual, these all seemed like normal people, that couldn’t be right!
Well guess what – it WAS right. It was right and I had been wrong. I had a brilliant time over the following week! People were really friendly, no one was in your face about anything, there were no people drunk out of their brains or off their heads on hard drugs. I had lots of great conversations with people who turned out to be very intelligent and well informed and seemed to have made their own minds up about issues rather than simply subscribing to some ‘hippy dogma’. Yes there was no meat allowed but I think people probably just pretended they couldn’t smell dried beef on my breath.
A few days in and I had had a go at a lot of interesting stuff I had not considered trying before. I wandered round in a sarong, very comfortable in the heat. Hell, on occasion I just disrobed and went for a walk in the nude which I found to be quite liberating! I went to a few workshops (though not the tree hugging one) and learned about yoga and crafts and all kinds of stuff. I learned to fire-twirl and developed a real taste for properly brewed chai tea. All these things I would never have tried if I had stuck to my guns, dismissing them out of hand and therefore never enjoyed experiencing. Come New Years night I danced hard into the wee hours of the morning, covered in sweat and body paint as a dozen guys smashed out a bestial rhythm on their bongo drums – it was primal and it was bloody fantastic!
I left Confest on the 2nd on Jan, my mind reeling from the previous weeks experience. I had been wrong all my life about hippies. Oh sure, there were plenty that did exist that fit my preconceptions but it turned out there were way more that didn’t. And they all seemed to be onto such a good thing, it was probably one of the most chilled out weeks of my life. Just a bunch of happy people being happy around other happy people and not bothering anyone else. Instead of continuing to condemn them I had actually learned from them. So if I was wrong about hippies, what else had I always believed that I could be wrong about?
I learned to examine my own opinions, looking for flaws in my own arguments. I learned just because you believe something strongly, whether that be about a group of people in general or because it’s the popular thing to believe or it’s what your parents taught you was right, it doesn’t make you correct. I’m not talking about abandoning your ideals, I’m talking about challenging yourself and making sure that if you believe something that you are right on the money, not simply believing it as that’s the comfortable thing to do. Of course it can work both ways, while some people hold irrational prejudices, don’t believe something just because it’s a politically correct thing to believe either. Find out the truth for yourself – good or bad.
This has served me well in all the years since. I’ve learned to admit when I’m wrong. I think it’s made me more intelligent, or at least better informed on issues as I’ve learned to examine something rather than letting someone else or popular opinion mold my own. A lot of the time popular myths are wrong, for instance I went to France a couple of times and the people there were quite polite. Besides one old street lady no one was overtly rude and it turned out the French weren’t a bunch of sex obsessed, cheese eating surrender monkeys. Back home I walked down the street one day in Broadmeadows and saw a big gang of Lebanese guys on the corner. I nearly crossed the road then thought “Hang on – the only times I’ve been punched in my life was by other ‘Aussies’”. So I continued walking and they couldn’t have cared less about me, let alone get violent or try to sell me drugs. Preconceptions smashed. I think the show A Current Affair might need to fact check things a bit more.
So challenge your own preconceptions, you might be surprised what you find out. And as for the long-haired fruitloops at Confest…
… I went back the following New Years and met a very pretty one. It’s now 14 years later and we are married, have 2 kids and organically grow all our own fruit, nuts and veg on our hobby farm in the countryside (they go well with meat). God bless the hippies!
Got a similar story? Would love to read it in the comments section below!
*Please Note: I have subsequently been informed by Ms Emily Taylor that meat is indeed now allowed at Confest except in some of the communal kitchens – thanks for the update!