Category Archives: Australian Society and Culture


It’s time again for a deep conversation on the things that really matter as we gather around a pub meal and have a chat, seeking wisdom so we can make a difference.

Yes that’s right, it’s time for:

Cafe Conversations

DATE: October 14th, 2013

TIME: 6.30pm for tea and then 7.00 start

VENUE: Hotel Sophia, cnr. King and Lt. Lonsdale, Melbourne

TOPIC: Beyond the Game: Exploring Australian Democracy Today

Sophia Think Tank has been involved in some research this past year exploring people’s attitudes to democracy. Three of the major themes out of all that work are:

1. We need to de-professionalize politics so that more rank and file people can get involved

2. We need to be a whole lot better at training leaders

3. We need to have a national vision based on the common good.

We will discuss these themes together as there is much wisdom we can gather from our various perspectives that will help us to learn and grow….. and then do something!

I look forward to meeting with you at our next Cafe Conversations.




The next Urban Conversations will be on the topic of ‘Environmental Responsibilty: Who Cares?’.  It will be lead by Byron Smith, a PhD Candidate in Environmental Studies and we will have ample time for a conversation around the issues raised.  Different perspectives are more than welcome and will be listened to and learned from, as usual for an Urban Conversation event.

The Details:

October 13 at 6pm

Café Hamodava, Westwood Place, Melbourne (off Bourke St)

No Charge for entry; Gold coin donation for coffee and cake

Please RSVP to




Urban Conversations (Melbourne) this coming Sunday is a conversation with Roy Williams around his latest book ‘In God They Trust?’.  This book looks at the place of religion in the life of Australia’s Prime Ministers from Barton to Gillard.  Roy Williams will give some input that will help us look ahead in the light of his research and then we will have some hearty conversation on what this means for all of us as Australian citizens, no matter which way we voted.

Sophia Think Tank will also take the opportunity to share some of the findings from their research into Democracy in Australia Today.

It will be good to see you there.  The details:

September 22, 6pm

Cafe Hamodava, Westwood Place, Melbourne (off Bourke St)

No Charge



This week’s Food for Thought looks at the question ‘How should we then live?’ in the light of last weekend’s election….




First published in Eternity Newspaper On-Line July 8 2013

FOOD FOR THOUGHT | David Wilson                        

Talking to a friend last week, she told me about some bullying she was receiving in the workplace. She got a very threatening email from someone she works with and it was pretty hard to take.

On the way into the office this morning, there was a cement truck (much bigger than my car) and a cement truck driver (much bigger than me), who thought that the part of the road I was on belonged to him. With some rather bully-like tactics, he let me know that part of the road was his and he took it. I was very happy to let him have it, taking into consideration all of the factors, but I felt bullied. Not a nice feeling.

Over the weekend there was an article in the press about domestic violence and the terrible effects it can have on the whole family. It is heart wrenching stuff to read and so obviously a serious case of bullying. In the article, journalist Jill Stark tells the story of one abused family and the impact the father’s bullying had on the children in particular. The story has a positive ending, but the pathway through abuse and finally to wellbeing is hard to read without becoming angry that such abuse can go on in our communities.

Stark correctly points out that the child is at an ‘increased risk of mental and physical health problems and cognitive impairment in adulthood’ which leads to the ‘trans-generational consequences of family violence, abuse, neglect, economic hardship and parental mental illness and drug and alcohol problems’ compounding over time. She quotes from Joe Tucci, chief executive of the Australian Childhood Foundation: ‘So in the future what we’re going to see when these kids are adults is a lot more anti-social behaviour, a lot more violence and aggression and social problems. We’re going to have to deal with the cost to the community of that increased level of violence that arises from children who haven’t had the opportunity to learn how to regulate their emotions’.

The message is clear when it comes to family violence as illustrated in Stark’s column. When a child is exposed to a parental figure that doesn’t control emotional outbursts, that child doesn’t learn to control his or her emotions. And what about other contexts where the child is exposed to uncontrolled emotions? What about movies, xbox, social media, parliament? If a child or young person experiences uncontrolled emotions in varying contexts of life then bullying is reinforced as a way of life. The victim becomes the abuser!

In one of the research projects that Sophia Think Tank is currently running, the topic of youth suicide has been prevalent. We’ve found that bullying on Facebook and other forms of social media has had a major part to play in suicidal thoughts and suicidal behaviour. The consequences of bullying can be horrendous.

We are all subjected to bullying in our communities and across the various contexts of our daily lives. Some instances are pretty easy to take for most of us—like my ‘friendly’ cement truck driver this morning. Some are much harder—like my friend’s email at work. Others are terrible, with lifelong consequences such as the family abuse Jill Stark talks of.

At the root of all bullying is an abuse of power. We see this in the playgrounds of our schools, on the late night streets of our major cities, along the roads in our communities, and in the abuses of social media and family violence. What wisdom from the Bible can be seen to be addressing this problem?

The Prophet Micah from Moresheth (near Jerusalem), in the 8th Century BC, proclaimed this: ‘Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds! At morning’s light they carry it out because it is in their power to do it. They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them. They defraud people of their homes, they rob them of their inheritance’ (Micah 2:1-2).

Micah is condemning people who lie awake at night plotting how they can use their power for their own benefit (bullying) and then wake up and do it, because they can. Micah says God is very angry about abuse of power and that judgement is coming against such bullying behaviour. But, as always, the Prophet has a message of hope for the community. They are horrified at the prospect of judgement and so they ask Micah what they can do about it. They come up with some of their own ideas such as more sacrifices or more costly sacrifices (Micah 6:6-7). They think that by becoming even more religious they will overcome the problem.

Micah’s answer is to remind them of what God sees as good: Justice (doing what is right), mercy (unconditional kindness), and humility. Herein lies the hope: that a nation committed to these qualities will experience wellbeing. Bullying, and the abuse of power that lies beneath it, seems to be the antipathy of these three qualities for in bullying there is no justice, no mercy and no humility.

What if our nation, at all levels and through all of its sectors, was to prize justice, mercy, and humility? What if we loudly applauded all expressions of these qualities and refused to excuse and/or affirm in any way, shape, or form the abuse of power. This would include the refusal to excuse the family abuse as ‘just another argument’ or the racial tirade as ‘freedom of speech’ or the vitriolic email as ‘letting off steam’. Let’s do it. Let’s decide as a nation that we’ll no longer put up with bullying. Let’s call it what it is and thus expose it for what it is. And let’s, as a nation, commit ourselves to, and hold our leaders accountable to, seeking justice, mercy, and humility as the Australian way. Come on, let’s do it!

Food for thought.

Dr David R Wilson is Director of Sophia Think Tank, a Bible Society Australia project.




Originally published in Eternity On-LineTuesday 2 July 2013

Leadership issues have been front and centre in the media over the past week and in the furore of what’s been going on in Canberra you could be forgiven for missing a positive story about character and leadership and family.

An article in The Age last week demonstrated a father’s unconditional love for his son. It also highlighted several leadership characteristics based on some deep-seated values that Canberra would do well to emulate. I’m talking about Tim Watson and his love for his son, Jobe.

Tim Watson is the Channel 7 Sports anchor and is a past Captain of the AFL’s Essendon team. He is one of Essendon’s favourite ‘sons’. Tim’s son, Jobe is the current Captain of Essendon and the holder of the 2012 Brownlow medal as the best and fairest player last year. But Jobe is caught up in the so called ‘drugs scandal’ haunting the AFL (and in particular Essendon Football Club) and came out recently admitting that one of the drugs he was given last year—an anti-obesity drug—has been placed on the banned list and is not cleared for human consumption. Jobe’s confession was filled with the humility that we have come to expect of this exceptional sportsman.

Image: Flickr under a CC licence, Rich in Kensington:

Image: Flickr under a CC licence, Rich in Kensington:

Since then there have been cries to ban Jobe Watson from playing and even suggestions he should hand back his Brownlow Medal. Essendon’s response is that the story can’t be told while the investigation is continuing, though they are confident that when the whole story does come out, the Essendon players will be exonerated. As a one-eyed Essendon supporter, I hope that’s true!

So, that’s the background. Tim Watson was interviewed by his Channel 7 colleagues about his son’s confession. In the interview, he spoke of the possibility of the Brownlow being handed back. The Age reported it in the following words:

Watson appeared to be close to tears after he watched footage detailing the events of the week, that included his son being booed throughout Thursday night’s game between Essendon and West Coast in Perth.

“To me the Brownlow doesn’t define Jobe, and I’m talking as a father now,” said Watson. “We didn’t love him any more because he won the Brownlow and we wouldn’t love him any less if he lost the Brownlow.

“If that happens, we have two choices: he goes and wins another one, or Rob Harvey’s got two and I know where Rob lives and maybe we can take one of Rob’s.”

Take a moment to note the values that lie behind this father talking about his son. Here’s what I can see: Identity formation, unconditional love, moving on in life, and equality of distribution.

Identity formation: Watson points out that this is not about his son’s identity. Sport is sport and it must never become more than that. It especially must never be seen to define who I am as a person. When we mistake performance identity (how well I do at something) with personal identity (who I am as a person) we are setting ourselves up for some serious problems. There is an epidemic of this in Western society. The Judeo-Christian approach is that ‘personhood’ is discovered in the Bible. Our performance does not define us; instead we are defined by our nature as human beings and our character as individuals in relational community. Watson got it right: the Brownlow does not, and should not, define Jobe as a person.

Unconditional love: Watson says that the winning and the losing of a sports award has nothing to do with his love for his son. How many kids long to hear that from their dads? In a ‘former life’, I was involved in counselling people who were in our gaol system because of drug related crimes and I would often hear about their cries for unconditional love. They didn’t necessarily call it that but that’s what they were describing to me. Again, the Judeo-Christian ethic highlights the importance of such love. The Greek word Agape, used to describe God’s love for humans and the highest call of humans love in relationships, is a love that has no conditions imposed on it. Again, Watson got it right and I think Jobe is a lucky man to have a father like him.

Handling disappointment: When life kicks us hard, we have different choices before us. One of those choices is to pick ourselves up and move on, to get on with the job of life. This is what is being proposed by Tim Watson. If my son loses the medal it will be a great disappointment, no denying that, but the rest of his life is out there for the taking and he will get on with it instead of letting the disappointment define his future. This reminds me of the Bible’s teaching when it records James (one of Jesus’ brothers) as saying that hard times should be allowed to produce perseverance because that’s what character and maturity is built from (James 1:2-4).

Equal distribution of what we have: Robert Harvey (a past AFL star footballer) has two Brownlow medals. ‘He needs to learn to share’ is essentially what Watson is suggesting. Yes, what a great idea! OK, OK, I know I’m taking it too far and that Watson was only joking on this one…

In this interview we catch a glimpse of the home environment that Jobe Watson was privileged to grow up in. It’s refreshing and it’s also a challenge. All our kids and grandkids need to have that sort of home environment: they thrive in it. But these characteristics need to be applied to leadership in all sectors of society.

Imagine a world based on prizing people for who they are rather than how well they perform, and on unconditional love expressed as acceptance and respect no matter what they are like on the outside, and seeped in encouragement and support to persevere through the hardest of times. Now there’s a society to be proud of. Tim Watson for Prime Minister?

Food for thought.

Dr David Wilson is Director of Sophia Think Tank and an avid Essendon supporter.


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A construction company, a football club and why we should all just do the right thing

From Eternity Newspaper


Monday 24 June 2013

On ABC local radio recently a man was talking about a brick that fell on the roof of his car from a construction site as he was driving by. He stopped and went back to tell the construction workers about it. The reception he got at first seemed OK but when he followed their request to put it into writing the response was basically that they were not accepting responsibility and he would have to take the construction company to court if he wanted to go any further. All of that for about $1000 damage. I guess they knew the man wouldn’t bother to go through all the hassle of court for that amount of money. Radio host John Faine responded by asking why people don’t simply just do the right thing: they know what’s right, so why don’t they just do it?

Same week, same programme, and Anna Krien was interviewed. Krien is the author of the book Night Games: Sex, Power and Sport in which she writes particularly of the culture of the St Kilda AFL club. Interviewed about the recent rape charges laid against star player Stephen Milne, Krien said she didn’t think the club would “do the right thing”. She said football clubs are all about winning and not losing and that the club would find it hard to stand Milne down throughout the court process, given his prominence. In previous years they had stood another ‘lesser light’ player aside in similar circumstances but Krien predicted the club would keep Milne on this time (she has since been proven wrong as St Kilda has stood Milne aside in what turned out be a controversial decision). Faine’s response to her predictions was along the lines of “I don’t care who the player is or how important the player is to a side, people have to be treated equally”. He was basically calling for the club to do the right thing. What a novel idea.

Sophia Think Tank recently ran an Urban Conversation on ‘Crisis in Australian Democracy’. Jim Longley was the keynote speaker and he talked about the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). As Chief Executive of the NSW Department of Aging, Disability and Home Care he certainly knows something of the subject. He said that one of the reasons the NDIS had caught Australian’s imagination is that it is a microcosm of what we want our nation to be. We know it is right to be inclusive of people with disability. Even at a personal financial cost, we know it is the right thing to do. The resultant conversation included questions about when we are going to do the right thing on behalf of our Indigenous people and on behalf of refugees.

Is the idea of ‘doing the right thing’ getting more air time in our consciousness as a nation? The phrase is certainly being thrown around a lot. It will be a good thing for the wellbeing of Australia if it becomes common practice to simply do the right thing.

The Bible talks a lot about doing the right thing. It’s often called “righteousness”, a word which many in our society would think sounds otherworldly and stuffily religious. But when understood properly it simply means justice or… choosing to do the right thing. Here’s a sample of what the Bible says about righteousness:

“Doing what is right exalts a nation” (Proverbs 13:34). A nation looks good– and is good–when it does what is right.

Moses applied the principle of doing the right thing to the poor, the vulnerable, and to refugees and he states that this will be seen as righteousness (Deuteronomy 24:13 in the context of 24:10-22). He links this to the Jews’ own history of being poor, vulnerable and refugees in exile in Egypt. “Remember” he exhorts, and then do the right thing, because in remembering what they went through they will be more inclined to treat others well.

Perhaps this is a part of our problem when we act out of self-interest: we haven’t experienced what the poor and vulnerable are going through and so we can’t (or, we choose not to) relate, and we don’t do what is right.

King David was seen as the greatest political leader Israel had in power. It is said of him that he was a king who did what right for all his people (2 Samuel 8:15). No favourites, no justice at a price, no cowering to the opinion polls. Everyone in the land benefitted from this man being in power because he was committed to doing what is right for everyone, for the wellbeing of society.

There are hundreds of references across the Judeo-Christian Scriptures that talk about doing the right thing. The three mentioned above are a very small sampling and yet the point gets across. We are called as citizens in a civil society to do what is right.

And so the call goes out to major construction companies, to Football clubs, to Federal politicians and to all of us to just do the right thing! We’ll be a better nation for it.

Food for thought.

David Wilson is Director of Sophia Think Tank


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