06 Aug

What follows is a reflection by Bob Simpson (of the Australian Media Engagement Project) on the Urban Conversation we had recently that explored the social environment and youth suicide.  An interesting reflection from a different perspective….

Are policy making and funding demands for “scientific” evidence destroying young lives?

This week, I sat in a facilitated conversation which explored the tragedy suicide, mostly youth suicide! I heard a train driver talk about the trauma of the vehicle in his control sliding towards a young person, ‘seeing’ the empty look in the victim’s eyes, before their choice of execution wipes out their life. I heard the story of a website set up by Jess and Tom to try and embrace a few friends who could not cope with the suicide of a number of their other friends. The website now has 18,000 members. I heard the story of a husband and wife, who in response to Nick’s death, realised that there is a huge need to portray “hope” for life through the performing Arts. I heard a young AHD affected boy who having been pushed out of the system, found meaning through people who encourage his creative capability to flow in film production.

I also heard senior journalist with The Age, Chris Johnston, discuss the colloquial “rail delays” and “no suspicious circumstances” – official code for death by suicide. While the subject has been taboo, he is hoping more disclosure, more knowledge, and more learning will raise the public’s consciousness to this immense social tragedy.

The story that most provoked me was told by an experienced Salvo.  It was a story of corrupt processes that caused employees of a State-managed institution to mislead Salvo workers, and put a vulnerable young person at huge risk of successfully killing herself. But, I wasn’t provoked by the alleged actions of State employees. What provoked me was that funding demands overrode compassionate policy responses.

If we think about it we’ll all know of times when money drove policy decisions. It’s a principle where money is at the heart of policy formation, rather than compassion and justice. If my instinct is sound, my question is, “What drives policy design that puts money ahead of compassion and justice?”

As the talk continued words like “belonging”, “connection”, “identity”, “meaning” and “purpose” began to permeate the conversation. Not for the first time in conversations I’ve heard!

In this post-critical era, how many people are troubled that billions of their taxation dollars are spent on government initiatives, which don’t seem to work? E.g. suicide prevention! Why is the underlying situation not getting better? Where is the fault line that prevents young people wandering into fields of deadly risks? What allows them to fall, sadly, only to be picked up by an ambulance at the bottom of a cliff?

I think a big part of the answer is in the words, above. Identity, meaning, purpose, connection and belonging! These are spiritual words. Words more akin to religion than science! But in our pluralist society influential materialistic thought leaders have silenced the voice of religion. Who are the intelligent religious thought leaders who can intelligently speak into the need?

Incorporating revealed insights and spiritual understanding within policy frameworks is not tolerated. Researchers, policy developers, technical experts and funders expect nothing less (or, more) than “scientifically” evidenced proof on which to base policy, funding decisions, legislation and bureaucratic management.

With the exclusion of this revealed insight and spiritual understanding in key areas of education, health and the law, can the children of citizens, ever effectively wrestle with the issues of identity, meaning, purpose, connection and belonging?

From the voices I heard in this conversation, I think the answer is a resounding “No!”  

So resounding is this “No!” that one needs to ask the question, “is the demand for “scientifically” evidenced proof, before funding and acting, actually destroying peoples’ lives?” If so, should prominent proponents of exclusive “scientifically” evidence-based policy be liable?

Listening to some of the panelists and audience members, you could have little doubt that there are magnificent activists in the field doing amazing things. Most are doing simple things that could be done by anyone in a community.

It is said that it takes a village to raise a child… These are some suggestions to strengthen the villages so that “at risk” people are nurtured. If you see someone often alone in your coffee place, say “Hi!”, and introduce yourself. If you are a sporting coach of young people draw older people into your program to engage with kids on the fringe, and their parents. If you are a business manager, offer some of your experienced people as mentors to young people in your business locality. If you are retired, knock on the doors of younger families to see how they are! The first step may seem hard. The journey will be profoundly rewarding!  

But if a more just and compassionate Australian society is to be built by future generations, big issues need to be confronted at the upper echelons of our society.

These are some big areas that need radical transformation:

  1. Religious leaders intelligently articulating spiritual development  to help parents frame identity, meaning, purpose, connection and belonging in their children and young people
  2. Education to overcome learning difficulties for children and young people
  3. Effectiveness of government in Australia
  4. Economic strategies and methodology that improve social wellbeing at community level
  5. Political representation of communities not political parties
  6. Media description of Australian social environment: the good, bad and the ugly in true proportions!

Let more conversations begin…

Bob Simpson

Australian Media Engagement Project


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