In these challenging times

We are surrounded by negative news. As if the major world problems weren’t enough concern, issues of abuse appear to have been stretched beyond reason. Certainly, allegations of serious abuse of which much has been brought into light over recent years and months and weeks is valid reason for appropriate action. But I am concerned about finger pointing and the pressures put on society in general relating to apparently inappropriate actions, the highlighting of which seem to imply that all males belong to a category of doubtful repute.

I am concerned because I believe that certain over-reactions made public emphasise the need for reason – and most importantly, respect – not only to women but to all of life. What is missing in our current society? How do we understand what it means to respect, to be respected and to be respectful?

Pondering this I started to consider my father – to me, the ultimate gentleman – and I wondered how he would interpret these matters.

My father knew hard and physical work from childhood. He and his siblings lived through the Great Depression, endured family instability, survived financial disasters and he was largely self- educated. Because he had the misfortune to lose his hearing in his early twenties, a lot of his life was spent in isolation. Spare time was devoted to reading, mostly quality literature and works relating to philosophical pondering. He was sensitive, non-judgmental, patient and tolerant at all times, quite reserved though with a keen sense of humour. If pushed, his strongest verbal explosion could occasionally contain the word damn and although he was not a regular church goer, he upheld the best of those values. In short my father enjoyed the metaphorical ability to ‘walk with kings and keep the common touch’. Most of all I believe my father emanated and taught respect – a word that to me, is largely conspicuous by its absence within the current articles and editorials laid before us each day.

Perhaps fortune smiled on me in having my dad as a primary example of male behaviour. And yet my first work experience was in the office of a printing factory that employed a significant majority of men including many young apprentices. In my several years in that office, dealing with all who came by, never did I experience an inappropriate word or action from any man. When I left there to work in real estate, by then a little more life experienced, the workplace was professional at all times and nothing untoward ever occurred. And in the three years prior to marriage and family as a PA in a peaceful and efficient environment of some thirty management consultants all of whom were male, my fond recollections are those of working with gentlemen and enjoying the gift of mutual respect.

The 21st century has brought many privileges but privilege carries obligation. Technology and science give us freedom and information, but these gifts must also be deferred to. As a society we face many problems to solve including those of refugees, our indigenous people, environmental issues, gangs and criminal activities and all kinds of violence. Surely it is only through respect – starting right at the top – meaning all government representation, and grandparents and parents that our values can be raised peacefully to address these issues and seek the betterment and benefit of all. And the media must also take responsibility – especially the media – which permits exposure to violence ranging from real life stories through to facile comedy and lucrative advertising that promotes aggression (for example the desire for powerful cars), along with demeaning portrayals of daily life that trivialize and set the wrong example to all age viewers.

On that note, just last week in the Melbourne news appeared the strategy of involving the police to teach online safety to kindergarten children and beyond – another aspect of the trials our world is now experiencing. Kindergarten children? To be taught by police? Where are their parents – and most importantly, their parents’ values?

What has happened to courtesy … to graciousness, dignity, kindness, to considered rapport between all people … to the essence of respect? And how can we cultivate meaningful attitudes to replace whatever it is that society has lost in these challenging times.
Yes, it’s true, 21st century times have changed. But is it change for the better? Obviously not. And what kind of excuse is that anyway? Something important is missing and in need of reinvention. It’s time to consider life issues with discernment. And that’s a task for adults and one to teach their children … with serenity and through calm control.

Pauline McKinnon
Melbourne, February 2018