Shouting insults serves no one well
This week, the political discourse has included allegations of sexist comments and abuse in the Australian Senate.
Subsequently, on ABC breakfast radio, the Senator accused of this sexist abuse said the following:
"I think you’re mischaracterising it as sexist abuse when it's just abuse. I am an Australian. I will tell people they’re bastards or bitches or to f-off irrespective of their gender".
It reminded me of President Trump’s attempted justification of some of his worst sexist remarks when he claimed what he had said was simply “locker room banter” and, therefore, somehow excusable.
As I observed at the time of the Trump comments, I think the Senator misunderstands what constitutes 'normal' Australian behaviour.
In the Australia I live in, people do not routinely tell people they’re bastards or bitches or to f-off, and they certainly don't do so in a workplace. If the Senator’s comments were made in our workplace - at Mental Health Australia - it is hard to imagine any other outcome than his dismissal, particularly in the light of his refusal to apologise, and his propensity to repeat and inflame the comments.
Comments from a member of parliament who on being sworn in takes an oath to ‘well and truly serve the Commonwealth of Australia’...How then do such abusive comments 'well and truly' serve our nation?
This same week the Australian newspaper carried a front page story telling of the concerned Principal of St Andrew’s Cathedral School who was contemplating instructing teachers not to answer their phones in the face of abuse from certain parents, and that he was even contemplating banning those parents from school property on the basis of their abusive behaviour.
The Principal had become concerned that he was having to 'interact with too many parents who have verbally abused, physically threatened, or shouted at a staff member'. He went to observe 'a considerable increase in parental anxiety ... that may reflect increasing anxiety in society generally'.
Two stories of abusive conduct in communities that should be respectful. Two incidences that highlight how our own words and behaviours can either contribute to increased angst, or alleviate it.
One only has to scroll through some of the comments on Facebook or Twitter to see how quickly people resort to name calling and abuse in pursuit of often legitimate public policy goals.
My fear is that all the name calling, all of the mockery and negativity, and all of the questioning of motives, frequently serves to shut down genuine and constructive debate rather than enhance it.
In mental health, we work in an area where people are often distressed. An area where good people have strived for reform, only to be frustrated and disappointed with progress. The challenges we work on are non-trivial, and the consequences of our failure to achieve real reform can mean life or death for people who frequently have little or no voice.
It is only where we find common ground that we begin to make inroads. When criticism is limited to the well-intentioned solution-focused kind; where differences of opinion unite and diversity is embraced, then our efforts to create positive change can be enhanced rather than stifled.
Having a true conversation and engaging in robust public debate is far more nuanced and far more beneficial to all than shouting ever more abhorrent insults, in ever louder voices.
Chief Executive Officer
Australia's new Digital Health Strategy
Australians will be able to access new digital health services following the official launch of Australia’s National Digital Health Strategy. The strategy will help deliver improved health services including coordinated real time care for patients with chronic illnesses. The Agency’s top priority is the creation of a My Health Record for every Australian by the end of 2018, unless they choose to opt out by October 15. Doctors, pharmacists and authorised healthcare providers will be able to access patients' My Health Records to assist in their treatment, access to prescriptions and advance care planning.
For further information on My Health Record go to www.myhealthrecord.gov.au