At the end of last week's ABC Late Night Live RN Talks: Fixing The System, presenter Fran Kelly's final comment "It's up to all of us" reminded me of advice Mahatma Gandhi once gave to those seeking change: "You must be the change you want to see in the world."
In response, the following comment was posted about a person trying to do exactly that. It included the following copy of a handwritten plea to our newly elected politicians to address some of the matters of most concern.
This is a 'cri de coeur' and plea for your help. It is from a politically non-aligned, disengaged and increasingly disaffected and despairing aged pensioner. Like many of our fellow Australians, I really fear for the wellbeing of our beloved country unless we all seriously address the following concerns.
1. Climate Change. We have an extreme emergency, requiring much more urgent and radical action than is presently proposed if we are to avoid catastrophic consequences. At the very least, we need to drastically reduce emissions, stop building new coal mines, phase out existing ones and convert to 100% renewable energy ASAP.
2. Cruelty to our fellow human beings. Surely we can find ways to "stop the boats" without blaming the victims and punishing asylum seekers as a further deterrent. Our current offshore processing policies are cruel and bring nothing but shame upon us all. There must be better ways to both "stop people smuggling" and respect human dignity.
3. Cruelty to our fellow creatures. The live animal export trade is a national disgrace. It should be abolished, as in New Zealand. So too is our treatment of caged birds and penned pigs. Surely we can do better than base our economy and lifestyle on such cruelty.
4. Overseas Aid. I believe we have a moral duty to alleviate the extreme suffering of "others" wherever we can. As one of the richest countries of the world, we can and should significantly increase, rather than reduce, our overseas aid budget, from the present 0.32% to at least 0.5%GDP.
5. Transparency & Accountability. There should be a limit to political donations and full disclosure as they occur. We need a federal ICAC. The publication of reports about government activities should be encouraged and their writers protected.
I have faith that you are a good person who wants to make a meaningful contribution in public life. Are you willing to increase efforts to significantly advance any of the above matters as a member of parliament?
What about at a personal level?
Like any concerned citizen, I try to do my bit. I am reducing my once high personal carbon footprint. I have reduced my consumption of meat by 90%. I have pledged to give at least 10% of my aged pension to the most effective charities to address the above concerns. I am inspired by those who do much more than me and by the increasing numbers who are now joining this movement to "be the change they want to see", and feeling all the happier for making the effort.
I have faith that you are a good person with high ethical and moral values. Are you willing to join with me, and many other like-minded concerned citizens, in any of these personal initiatives?
Together I am sure we can make a difference.
A 'cri de coeur' is a cry from the heart and is defined as "a passionate appeal, complaint or protest." Clearly this qualifies. It is a cry that I believe lies unspoken just under the surface of all of us who are naturally concerned about the kind of world we have created and are bequeathing to our children and grandchildren.
We know intuitively that something is seriously wrong but feel so overwhelmed by it all that we either flee into vehement denial ("There really isn't a problem."), defensiveness ("It's not my fault."), blame ("It's the governments and the big corporations."), moral indignation ("It's all those other insensitive, greedy bastards."), self-righteousness ("I'm entitled to my indulgent lifestyle. I work hard and deserve it."), avoidance ("I haven't got time to deal with this now."), helplessness ("There's nothing I as an individual can do about it."), fatalism ("It's too late, we're all already doomed."), resort to magical thinking ("There's sure to be a technological magic wand just around the corner. God/science will save us.") and/or collapse into paralysis ("It's just all too hard and I cannot deal with it.").
The result is that we deny, avoid or disavow reality. And what is so alarming is that our current culture relentlessly encourages us in this. Rather than performing its traditional critical function of helping us understand, face and deal creatively and constructively with reality, the prevailing dominant culture actively undermines our capacity to do so.
As psychoanalyst Sally Weintrobe, author of Engaging With Climate Change and many papers since, points out:
Care starts with a determination to face the real picture, and the real picture is that the present dominant culture…– I call it the culture of uncare – actively undermines our capacity to care.
It relentlessly promotes the false belief we can solve problems not in real ways but by rearranging our way of seeing the problems so they no longer have the power to disturb us....
She points out just how pervasive this trend has become in our culture.
American neo-liberal politicians triumphantly refer to the reality-based community as a thing of the past: "The reality-based community believes that solutions emerge from a judicious study of discernible reality. … that's not the way the world really works anymore. We are an empire now and … we create our own reality".
This is hubris gone mad. If we create our own reality – or, more likely, allow others to create it for us – we do so at our individual and collective peril. However much we want to kid ourselves, creating our own reality to make us feel better will not save us from the reality of climate change, the reality of animal cruelty, the reality of mass human displacement, the reality of extreme poverty, the reality of political corruption, and the acceptance of that part of our nature that – let's acknowledge it – does not care. The only thing that can save us is facing the truth about ourselves and our world and caring enough about it to act upon it individually and collectively.
The proof that we don't want to deal with this can be seen in the difficulty we all have talking about most of these subjects seriously with our friends and the discomfort we feel when our attitudes are exposed and questioned. There is always the proverbial elephant in the room that we are fearful to disturb because of the risk to the relationship. This resulting silence means we cannot gain the collective strength to face these problems and deal with them together. Such difficult conversations can only be undertaken with great care and mutual respect because they are often so painful. However, we need the courage to have more of them, and soon.