I’ve been thinking about this since Tuesday, when it felt like everything I was hearing pointed to people being in positions of influence, but not acting on them. I was in the car quite a lot – including a drive into the city that took longer than anticipated due to an accident on the freeway. And I listened to the radio and heard the full hour long evening news report, which is always a cheery thing to do.
In no particular order, I listened to reports about:
a) the Royal Commission into Institutional abuse, currently focused on abuse within a catholic school in the Ballarat area, about an hour and a half north-west of Melbourne, where I live.
The abuse was wide spread and appalling, the senior leaders of the school and bishops knew, but those who perpetrated the crimes were moved on rather than dealt with.
And others suspected – but admitted they didn’t raise questions because they feared the ramifications. Loss of work, loss of acceptance into the tight knit Catholic community, and possibly worse.
b) the increasing numbers of refugees from Myanmar (formerly Burma), who are now being denied entry to Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
In the past, these countries would have accepted them – possibly because they were transitional residents, on their way to somewhere like Australia (but we have ‘stopped the boats’ so that option doesn’t exist).
Fishermen had been rescuing the boats which were barely making it to shore, but the governments are now threatening significant punishment to anyone who does try to do so from now on. There is a suggestion that Australia’s approach has influenced this more hard-lined approach (why should poorer countries accept refugees if Australia doesn’t?).
The aid worker who was being interviewed stated that not saving those in need goes against the fishermen’s values in helping fellow humans, plus their religious teachings that all life is sacred. But can they afford the punishments that they would receive by doing what they believe is right?
c) the current Senate Inquiries into life on Manus Island for refugees to Australia (or illegal boat people – depending on your viewpoint – see above).
Conditions appear to be abhorrent in this detention centre yet they don’t seem to improve, although we all hear how bad they are. And the in-fighting between politicians continues, and no solution seems to be emerging.
And those who have raised concerns – people working on Manus Island, or trying to represent them – have often being denigrated, accused of fabricating information and so on. But it is only as a result of their actions that we even know what is going on.
d) corruption within the Victorian Education department
Tens, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars (in fact, now suggestions of millions – the mess gets bigger) have been syphoned off into personal expenses by a number of senior public servants.
And those who challenged this activity were sidelined, downgraded, or made redundant. If they hadn’t challenged the situation, however, it probably would have continued.
Power and Influence
The reason I was driving into the City was to hear the wonderful David Mitchell (no, not the comedian, but the author) speak about his novels. They range in topics, but one key theme is that of power, and misuse of power, and the temptations for those who have it to misuse it. And this element was one of the topics he spoke about.
Such a treat to hear him speak. And in the context of today’s news, the question of power and the will to act against it when it is misused and causing harm was top of mind.
And then, driving home again, I listened to the Q&A session recorded the previous week, when Edward Snowden spoke to a Melbourne Conference (via satallite, of course) on why he became a whistleblower. Now – I have to say from the outet – I don’t really understand the information he released, why he felt it was necessary, and therefore whether I agree with what he did.
However, listening to what he said – it was clear that he felt it was the right thing to do, despite the cost. As he says, he has paid a price for what he has done – he is unable to return to his country, advance his life in a meaningful way, because he did what he felt was right. And his advice was to question – always question – those in authority, and call them out if they have done what you believe to be the wrong thing:
“You have to develop a culture that is not submissive…It’s not that we think anyone (necessarily) has bad intentions (but) the most powerful in our society have to be held to the highest standard. But at the end of day – the measure of liberty in society is not what people say, but what they stand for – what they defend.”
You can listen to more of what he has to say from the Radio National link here.
Rather than judging those I have listed above (I do hope the Royal Commission and the Senate Inquiry make compassionate findings for the victims though), I thought it was worth turning the question on myself.
- What do I believe is worth standing up for?
- What would / could it cost? – to my comfort at work, to my time with my family, or potentially a greater cost?
- And would I be prepared to do it? Is it fully my choice – or do I have to consider the impacts this could have on my family, for instance? Where do I draw the line between setting a good example for my kids, and making them suffer as a result?
In the words of one of David Mitchell’s characters in The Bone Clocks:
‘If we BELIEVE that humanity may transcend tooth & claw, if we believe leaders must be just, violence muzzled, power accountable & the riches of the Earth & its Oceans shared equitably, such a world will come to pass. I am not deceived. It is the hardest of worlds to make real.’
‘It is the hardest of worlds to make real’. Yes.
So far, I have not been tested too much – I can choose how actively I pursue those issues I believe in – whether to make statements, join protest marches, write letters and so on. I have not been forced to decide whether or not to report corruption, for instance – thankfully (it is always a possibility as a public servant). I have not been wedged to HAVE to take a stand one way or the other.
If push came to shove – would I stand behind my values?
I hope so. But I don’t know.
Have you ever been in a situation where your values have been tested?