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Society as a broad church: How we destroyed the elders and failed our young

By Andrew Klein

Australian society could be viewed as a very broad church that includes people from many nations, various religious faiths and cultures.

To my mind, it is this very diversity of culture and personal faith, motivations and contributions as family groups and communities that have made Australia strong and offers real hope for the future if we choose to embrace it.

The very reality that I can easily access these cultures, socialise and communicate with members of our diverse communities offers a font of information, observation and perceptions that I would otherwise be denied unless able to travel at great cost and sometimes at great risk.

The diversity of ideas, cultural influences have on the whole been a beneficial one in a world that is growing smaller in terms of communication and information sharing.
The downside to the virtual world has been the proliferation of misinformation, the influence of the mainstream media (MSM) for ever needing and shaping public opinion based on information gathered with various degrees of credibility from other news sources or simply bought as syndicated page fillers where local content was lacking or not deemed interesting enough for those willing to consume MSM information.

I still have this heroic image in mind of fearless ‘journalists’ willing to question anybody that claimed to be speaking on behalf of a segment of the community as a whole or those individuals that by their very actions challenged and undermined the stability and dreams of our entire community. Of course, we still have a number of excellent journalists that will invest both time and reputation to expose the villainy of those in high places or worse, those seen as community reference points regarding acceptable mores and boundaries between people.

I digress here from my main point. I have noticed over the past 25 to 30 years that those we regarded as community elders – the wise women and men – have been in a serious decline or have been over run as serious sources of mentoring by an industry of the caring-services providers who being either legislated into being or receiving funding from governments and private donations then end up marketing themselves and their own core belief systems as something to fall back on to or even rely on in case of personal, family or communal crisis. The very language has been devalued to reduce the impact of any crisis by simply calling it an ‘issue’. Issues tend to be less dramatic and require no urgent response and blend in well with the service industry of issue solutions and the social engineering attempted in the having communities, families and individuals comply with some, at times, rather bizarre and confusing pieces of legislation which at the end of the day tear families apart and undermine the very concept of community building.

We have failed to encourage those with life skills, professional skills, community building skills from engaging and been seen a credible and very worthwhile sources of guidance and information to those young people in our communities that are in need of such services and would benefit from the positive influence of dealing with mature adults that have negotiated life and have not only things of interest to share but above all, the sharing of life experience.

Life experience is a treasure that cannot be bought, does not come in a short form academic presentation and certainly not from many of the so-called ‘caring community service providers’.

To highlight this crisis in the demise of the wise elder model let me give you a couple of examples based on my own observations. Real people facing real challenges and seriously let down. Living in the remnants of the nuclear family model so adored by marketing firms in the need to create consumers of the physical, we have created not only a mindset where consumption is the measure of the Individual, but we have also brought about the destruction in physical terms of extended families and the very support that such extensions would have offered.

Within our multi-cultural society, we still have models of such successful systems, but we rarely read about them, and it requires some physical and emotional investment to engage with others. This by its very nature is more difficult in the Age of Terror. As we continue to fail our young, we have resorted to blame-shifting and demonising those seen as part of the threat and our political entities have no hesitation to use such malevolent and self-serving, be it short term approaches, to convince the public that accountability does not rest with leaders but it’s the implied fault of immigrants and at the moment the demonized Muslim community that is not only misunderstood but like all communities, does contain some less inspiring minds that have agenda that are self-serving.

The same can be applied to any group that seeks to identify wholly as a faith-steered and guided group and as Christians, we have had a long tradition of not only killing one another over matters of dogma, and likewise attacking others seen as believers in a lesser God. Our treatment of our Aboriginal (Sovereign Nations People) bears this out as we happily convinced ourselves that these lesser beings needed our spiritual education and above all, willingly accept the concepts of land ownership, divine right and control that was inherent in having been born white and seeing oneself as the privileged by right to rule all others; no matter which Flag we used to pull that stunt of.

The cost to the Australian environment, the loss of traditional wisdom in land care and such important things as plant identification for health benefits being just a couple of examples. The stereotype of the complaint ‘Black Jackie’ was marketed via TV stations and via various state governments for many years and records exist that show how the ‘black fella‘ could be made acceptably white and a consumer if the individuals concerned bought into the dream or had been so demoralised and survived such genocide and attacks of Culture, that desperation drove people into making attempts at whiteness. Thankfully we have now woken (in part) to the great wealth of knowledge that this culture and its elders were able to share had we been prepared to act with even a modicum of decency, which today must include the acceptance of the many massacres and abuses that never rated a mention in schoolbooks or the general mind of white benevolence by right until recently.

Let me return to the examples that I have observed and have tried to understand. For example, the challenges of single mothers trying to bring up children in a world that still insists on name calling and attaching stigma to the mother and the child. If, for whatever reason, this young mother fails to live up to the expectations of being a mother, she is aged 17 years old and is managing to acquire the skills of adulthood, what do we as a society offer this young person that would have long-term positive results for herself and her children?

In reality, very little. If she fails as a mother, her behaviour is drawn to the attention of authorities that will quickly remove the children from her care and place those children in foster care or if lucky with a relative that may show some interest. We do nothing to educate the young woman and, on the streets, and living alone in the ‘burbs’ there are few trustworthy and reliable mentors that could be recommended.

We shrug our shoulders and images of loving, faith-based groups appear that will rescue this young person and guide her. Seriously, if you believe that, then your attention span to reality is very limited. The recent Royal Commissions into the Abuse of Young Persons in Faith Based Organisations ranging from Roman Catholic orphanages to Salvation Army training centres and so many others that include all those religious faith groups made it clear that these organisations not only failed in their duty of care to protect the most vulnerable but in many instances created generational victims of predatory behaviours whose entire lives were impacted by the well-perceived and government funded groups that still exist today and still offer a failed model.

In Ireland (and other countries) there has been a crisis of faith as truth revealed the horrors of institutions run by men and women with claims to religious credibility without question or accountability. The forgotten Australians, the Stolen Generations and child migrants are just the tip of the iceberg in what is in reality a huge segment of the population that we failed, we allowed to drift into crime and dysfunctional relationships, and we forced to live in fear. What has happened to all those people, the broken men and women that had to build themselves up after being falsely labelled as being in ‘moral danger’ or being difficult as a child? Many are now in their late 60s+ or dead.

Governments continue to fail to recognise the suffering allowed in our name as a civilised state and they struggle to survive their nightmares and to seek redress involves the least desirable approach, the adversarial system. One where the trite academic arguments presented by learned counsel to the court becomes one akin to the ego tripping in a debating society with all its fake pretence of good will among members of the bar and instructing solicitors, acting on the instructions of their clients. Of course, the serious flaw in our legal system is that the champions we secure to represent us in court come at great cost both to society and the individual and we know that some organisations make it a high point in denying information, delaying tactics and abuse the process in the hope that the litigant will give up being emotionally and financially drained.

What quality of elder advice or mentorship lies in this? None actually, those dealing with highly charged emotional matters before any court are left drained and gutted, and even a victory of sorts is just that.

We lack serious alternatives for those who run into conflict with the demands of a State where, let me remind you, we have policing by consent. We allow ourselves to be policed and guided by those empowered by law to make the most life changing decisions based on their own personal observations and judgements, these observations and opinions than run past a court for the legal status required and the circus continues.

What we need in our current failing state model is the creation of a nation-wide mentoring system that could combine mature adults who are prepared to participate with the young that have been through the foster care system or have gone astray. There are so many isolated and good people that, if vetted properly, could easily be matched with a young person for whom they could become part of a real extended family. Where advice could be sought over a cuppa or whilst sharing some domestic tasks that in it teaches life skills. It could provide a mentoring system to young person’s leaving the state-based foster care system and allow a mature and qualified driver to share those driving skills that the laws now suggest young people have. It could reduce the need for multi national nursing and home-care providers to milk the system if the young person undertook to do a little housework to assist the mentor.

It could viably offer safe and supportive housing with a carefully workable model to a number of homeless that are seeking to be part of a structured life and need a chance to save money to be in the running for independence. It would offer those isolated mature Individuals an opportunity of again being active members of the community, sharing life skills and the often-overlooked minutia of living that no paid service-provider would be capable of providing.

Some years ago, I was asked to assist one of the major youth service providers in creating a mentor model that would assist young people to obtain their Victorian driver’s licence. It would have been carefully vetted and would have involved a serious commitment on the part of the young person and the mentor.

The most often raised concern to me at the time speaks more about our failed state, the breakdown as society as a broad church rather than any of the individuals concerned.
What would happen if the mentor and the young person formed a friendship and a bond during those many hours of driving together? Even worse, what if the mentor took mentoring seriously and became an active person in the life of the young growing adult!?

The most terrible of outcomes would be one where the mentor formed a family type relationship with the young person and then, horror of horror, possibly left the young individual a share of whatever estate was left behind after the demise of the mentor? How very terrible for the blood family that an outsider might be thought of with affection and be left a little money as a leg up for the future.

Now with attitudes like that and a historic failure of the system that we have in place, is there any question as to why we allowed our wise men / wise women (community elders) to die out?

We have indeed failed our young because we so gullibly believe in stereo types of good and evil, those that have been in the marketing of such ideas and we have gutted our very humanity in the process to be ‘politically correct’ in never warning a young person of impending danger because heaven forfend, they must make their own choices because we certainly lack in providing credible role models.


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  1. Ken Robinson

    As one who is in my last year in my 80s I am deeply troubled how our successive governments have failed all of the lesser well off in society while lavishly supporting those who are able to make large donations?? to the party and ignore the needy, where has “THE LUCKY COUNTRY GONE”

  2. Caz

    While young people struggle to find rental accommodation and older women are becoming homeless i become more depressed each day reading of the unseemly display of wealth by sections of our community. When the headline reads ” Justin Hemmes has just paid $17m for a beach shack at Byron and the Atlassian boys buy houses worth tens of millions, I wonder how these people sleep at night knowing children are bedded down in cars IF they are lucky. Like Ken I will never see 80 again and won’t live to see the revolution. But it will come.

  3. Marilla North

    The AIM gives expression to the ethical tenets by which I live.

    I endorse this journalism.
    Marilla North

  4. Peter

    I find this to be a really accurate article. After working for over 40 years with youth I am disturbed by the number of times people sit back and critically dismiss our young in a world they inherited from us. Some media ruthlessly use this to continue to create us versus them, at times in the most insulting of terms. We must move forward together with change.

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