“As a culture we assiduously avoid talking about social inequality – we prefer to embrace a narrative of how we are a land of luck and lifestyle opportunities, values worshipped in mainstream media (witness top-rating TV shows such as The Block and MasterChef). Australian historian and social commentator Mark Peel has written that future generations will be shocked by the callousness of a nation that ignored the growing inequalities between classes and generations. “They might ask why people in positions of influence chose to endorse and practise selfishness,” he says. [source]
This paragraph perfectly addresses my malaise for where this once great nation is heading.
For years I have been watching Australia bury it’s head in the sand over every issue that paints this country in a bad light. The increasing homeless problem, the mental health system, the social inequality of indigenous Australians, the poverty-stricken, the aged care system, disability. The list is endless.
For three hours on Monday I stared at my Twitter stream as it filled with the hashtags #thevoice and #masterchef. As I read the words, some of which I’ll admit made me chuckle, I was thinking not of these wannabe chefs or would-be superstars, but the thousands of homeless people who at that moment were trying to sleep in near freezing temperatures.
“A staggering 2.1 million Australians reported having been homeless at some time in their lives, with relationship and financial problems the most common reason. That’s 13 per cent of the population.
More alarmingly, the same survey determined that 251,000 people had experienced homelessness in the previous 12 months. Homelessness has become as significant a part of Australian culture as football or the Holden.” [source]
I have been one of the 2.1 million who have reported being homeless. I was one of the 251,000 who experienced homelessness in the last 12 months. And yet on the same day this article is published, I am told that an OECD survey finds Australians are living the good life and loving it. How is this possible when so many people are suffering?
It’s not just the plight of the homeless that saddens me, it is Australia’s endless quest to ignore it in the hope it will go away.
Which is what we are, apparently, supposed to do about sexual discrimination. Through all these years of fighting to end discrimination why didn’t anyone think of this? Why don’t we ignore racial discrimination as well, surely then it will just go away. The discrimination against the mentally ill, pah, let’s just ignore it. Ditto for homophobia, religious discrimination, indigenous Australians, the homeless. In fact let’s just bury our heads in the sand over the pain these marginalised groups experience and tweet about State of Origin instead. A much happier way to pass our time.
It fills me with sorrow that there people who still think like this. The fact discrimination still exists is a shameful blight on what we consider important.
No-one has the right to discriminate on any grounds. This segregation from society based on what is considered acceptable breeds nothing but pain and loneliness.
This latter reaction fills me with such melancholia I don’t know where to begin. Due to my mental health and homelessness I’ve been on my own for nearly half a decade. Each day I rise, log onto the computer, write, brew myself a mug of green tea, listen to the radio, write, walk down the road, share syllables with librarians and shop assistants and then return home for Norman the quiz, a cold bed and a book.
There are days when my anxiety is so great I can’t leave the unit, imprisoned and isolated by the psychological damage being the victim of abuse has inflicted.
But I’m not sad for me, I accepted my deserving of this isolation many years ago. I’m sad for others who have to experience life without friends to turn to for comfort, partners to share in life’s ups and downs or connections to make life feel worthwhile.
I feel for the forgotten on the street or the bullied school child with no friends.
I feel for the ill, the disabled, the elderly.
My sadness and sympathy goes out to all the alienated, isolated and friendless. To all those who have no comfort or support, to everyone who has trouble smiling each day.
Smile. A word that conjures so many emotions and buried memories. How can something so full of life and joy make someone so sad? Perhaps because I rarely smile these days, perhaps because this song brings on the tears like only one other thing can.
With that other thing being abuse.
An estimated 1.2 million women in Australia aged 18 and over had experienced sexual violence or its threat since the age of 15. More specifically, one in six adult women in Australia had experienced sexual assault since the age of 15 years. [source]
In a study of 1,000 women 15 years of age or older, 36% had experienced emotional abuse while growing up; 43% had experienced some form of abuse as children or adolescents; 39% reported experiencing emotional abuse in a relationship in the past five years (Women’s College Hospital, 1995). [source]
1 in 10 women who had ever been in a relationship disclosed an incident of sexual violence by an intimate partner. [source]
Over half of the women surveyed (57%) had experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence over their lifetime. [source]
My reaction to these statistics is an overwhelming desire to weep. As a victim of abuse I’m only too aware of the pain and damage it can cause.
Nothing we do in our lives is deserving of this treatment, yet, as I sit here, this justification is being made by a father who is beating his child to a pulp. As you read these words, somewhere in the world a woman is being raped for ‘wearing the wrong clothes’. As a tear trickles down my cheek over the torment these innocent victims are enduring, someone is being emotionally attacked to the point their soul has crumbled to dust.
It angers me that domestic violence is on the rise. That in spite of campaigns, initiatives and crackdowns there are people out there who still believe they have the right to treat their fellow human beings in this despicable manner.
Jonathan Safran Foer once said “You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.”
Much emphasis is placed on happiness in this world. How we should ‘put on a happy face’ and ‘pretend our problems away’, but we forget that happiness would not exist without sadness.
For through the darkness there are rays of hope.
People are speaking out of their abuse, rallying society’s naysayers to take notice of the malaise that is plaguing this world. The stigma against the mentally ill is slowly being whittled away, bringing hope toward its end in my lifetime. The homeless and disenfranchised have taken to social networks to voice their frustration over the prcrastination in tackling this issue.
I do not wish to push away all that brings me down, I wish to embrace it. For without sorrow I would have no appreciation of the things that elate me.