Monday, December 31, 2007

A New Year's resolution, with a twist

A New Year’s resolution, with a twist
I’ve been writing similar columns this time of year for a while now, always urging readers to make the same resolution.
Decide to pay attention for the next 12 months. To the people closest to you, but also to the way life works for people in your town and across the world. We’re not good at paying attention.
We suddenly notice people have changed - children have grown up, parents have grown old, lovers have grown apart. We wonder, when did that happen?
Of course it happened every day, right in front of us. But we weren’t paying attention.
We miss a lot. You grow close to people when you share experiences with them, travel through life together.
But if you don’t notice where their lives are taking them, the little bumps and joys, you’re left behind. Soon you’re somewhere else all together.
And the smallest things you missed put you there. A hesitation when you ask how things are. A laugh. A brief sad look. The kind of things you don’t notice, unless you’re paying attention.
It’s not just about the people right around you, though. I believe that when people see that something is wrong - an injustice, cruelty, waste, foolishness - they want to right it.
If they can’t, they expect those responsible to fix it, with that responsibility often falling to governments.
I have to believe that. There’s not much point in writing this kind of column unless you believe that people will consider the information and analysis and - at least sometimes - do something with it. Just chronicling our troubles isn’t enough.
I also believe it’s true. It takes us a while for us to figure out there is really a problem, and then longer to decide what to do. Longer still to judge who should do it.
But we don’t like to see people left behind, or children in care shortchanged, or businesses struggling with pointless government regulations and paperwork. Eventually, we deal with the problems.
But only if we notice - if we’re paying attention.
Here in Victoria, we’ve suddenly noticed big problems on our streets. Drunken louts at bar closing time. A lot of homeless people, including many dealing with serious mental illness, damaging drug addictions or both.
They didn’t just appear one day, a group of 50 hanging around the needle exchange, panhandlers on the corners, heaps of belongings and cold-looking people outside Streetlink, the main shelter.
But we didn’t notice when the first people released from mental hospitals in the 1970s, with the promise of support in the community, started showing up on the streets. The support wasn’t there; they could make their way without it; so they fell.
We didn’t notice when the small group of older alcohol addicts were joined by more and more people haunted by cocaine, their limbs twitching, sores on neck and arms and faces.
Because we didn’t notice, governments thought we didn’t care. If we’d been paying attention, it would never have got so bad.
Instead, this all got so much worse that we now face a giant problem.
So I’m amending the resolution that I hope you’ll adopt. It’s still to pay attention. And really, it’s best to start close to home. With the people you live with each day, the world you inhabit - the way the breeze feels on your face or the sky looks like at dusk on a middling spring day.
But when it comes to the bigger world, maybe this year we could all resolve to focus. To pick something that seems wrong, and make it better.
Maybe it troubles you that children in care are pushed out into the world the day they turn 19, with no real support or guidance. (Except for the efforts of some extraordinary foster parents.) Or you don’t think people with mental illnesses should be dumped on the streets.
Pick something, and resolve to make it better by the end of the year. Demand action of politicians. Give some money. Give some time. Hold yourself accountable.
Footnote: To the regular readers out there, and the editors who decide to run the columns: Thanks. It’s a great privilege to be able to share information and thoughts on things I think important. And a great responsibility. I do appreciate you’re willingness to read this far, whether you agree with me or not.


Gazetteer said...

That's some twist, that 'take action' twist.

Great idea.

Thanks Paul.



Anonymous said...

Paul, your article is right on.
Yes we do read your articles and remember those places being closed to allow the patients to get to live at home. But it sure didn't work well.It didn't work at all.
The familes couldn't cope, and many had no family prepared to assits.

It reminds me of one advert on TV showing the invisible woman and child blending in with the side of the building.It's so easy not to notice. We must be reminded that most working folks are about one or two paydays from being standing there too. The noisy ones are easy to see but just as easy for us to not see. Victoria talks a lot of doing things but talk doesn't do much for the person who desperatly needs a place to sleep tonight.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Paul - your columns are always thoughtful, inspiring and useful - a pleasure to read always in a world where so much of what we get from the media is trite, depressing or downright repulsive - happy new year & keep on truckin'!

Anonymous said...

I'm a few years older than my wife and her university studies continually reference the time when "it all changed". I remember it. I remember a cultural sea change starting in 1980.
The great "Hayek" revolution of the early 80's was the beginning of where we are now.
It atomized relationships into nothing more than self serving "networking". It turned us all out into the marketplace.
Thatcher proposed that "there is no such thing as society" and I am always humoured by the right wing ranters calling up NW to lament what happened to our society - blaming it squarely on "liberalism", when it was anything but that.
The early 80's are when we turned from viewing greed and wealth with suspicion and distaste to a loathing and a hatred for the weak, the powerless and the poor.
It continues to this day, but the worm will turn ...