Wednesday, November 16, 2011

No there's not!

I use public transport whenever possible - it saves the hassle of traffic and parking even if, at least in Sydney, it can sometimes be unreliable.

One of the benefits of using public transport is that it gives me the opportunity to observe people. Yesterday, for example, there was a young man who got on the train a few stations after me. I'd guess he was early 20's, big build, and, from his clothes, was clearly involved in some form of manual work. He was heavily tattooed and sat in the seat in front of me where he openly indulged in drinking a large bottle of beer. The impression I got was "don't mess with me!" We reached his station and, as he stood up to alight, a woman, probably in her 80's and using a cane for support, also stood up from a few seats away. The train lurched and she stumbled. Like lightening the young man reached out, saved her from falling, then gently assisted her down the stairs, out the door, and onto the platform. As the train moved off he was walking and chatting with her and ensuring she was ok.

I couldn't help but compare this experience with one a few days previously when a group of school children got on the train. From their uniforms this very neat and tidy group (males and females) were all from prestigious private schools on Sydney's North Shore. They were aged around 16 and, as is often the case with young people, were talking loudly about their day's experience. At first glance this group appeared to be self-assured and confident. But, as with my experience yesterday, appearances were deceptive. Everyone in the carriage was quickly aware that the boys had sat some form of test and one boy in particular had not done as well as expected. He commented that his father would be furious about the results. One of the girls suggested he discuss his father's expectations with his father and the boy was obviously terrified at the thought. After some further discussion, and as the doors closed after the group alighted, I heard another of the boys then suggest: "Well, if its that bad, there's always suicide!"

Its a very long time since I was a school boy. As the train moved off I thought about my experiences with school tests and exams in the late 1950's. Neither I nor anyone I knew always got the results that our parents expected and there were times when we took results home very apprehensively! Like this group, we too talked about our results vis a vis parental expectations - but I have no recollection of anyone ever suggesting suicide as an option - even in jest.

I find it a sad commentary on our society when a child shows fear in relation to talking with parents and even more sad when, even if in jest, another child can suggest suicide as the solution.

Many years ago (1946) Victor Frankl, a Concentration Camp survivor, wrote a book called "Man's Search for Meaning" in which he recalled the desperation of concentration camp existence. He concluded that it is in knowing that we matter to someone somewhere that gives life meaning. Our society seems to have degenerated into an economic rationalist abyss where all that matters is "the bottom line". In this world, for far too many people, suicide is always an option. And tragedy can strike again.

Every person matters. Every person is important. Every person is deserving of respect and consideration. Every person can make a positive contribution to society. That is the message we need to get out alongside the emphasis on bottom line results. When it is again realised that, despite the rhetoric, we actually do live in a society not an economy then, when someone says "there's always suicide" the response can be "no there's not!"

What do you think?

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