Freedom of Speech, or “The Right to get Reassigned”

I’ve recently started paying more attention to the global gay media. Having followed Alvin McEwin’s Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters for quite a while 1, I’ve finally moved into the rather more varied and general Joe. My. God.

Recently featured on both of these blogs 2 has been the case of Mr Jerry Buell, former “Teacher of the Year”, Social Studies Department Chair and Liberty Counsel client du jour.

Mr Buell has been suspended from his teaching job for making several posts on his Facebook page, namely:

I’m watching the news, eating dinner when the story about New York okaying same-sex unions came on and I almost threw up

and

And now they showed two guys kissing after their announcement. If they want to call it a union, go ahead. But don’t insult a man and woman’s marriage by throwing it in the same cesspool of whatever. God will not be mocked. When did this sin become acceptable?

Both of these quotations are taking from the following video, which is courtesy of his lawyers, Liberty Counsel, and their Youtube channel.

Now, I’m not going to take issue with Mr Buell’s views, as I respect his right to say whatever he wants as a fellow citizen of the Internet.

Nor am I going to take issue with the history of his counsel, including their involvement in Madsen v. Women’s Health Ctr. or their publication of the delightful little tome Same Sex Marriage: Putting Every Household At Risk.

Nor am I going to address the appropriateness of his making his students aware that they are the “creations of God”, or make snide comments about his intent to make sure that his students know that he “loves them”. 3

No, what I have issue with starts at 02:06:

Randi Kaye: 4 Mr Mihet, I know that you’ve said that this is a First Amendment issue as well, and that your client has a right to free speech, but the school is calling for an ethics violation here, certainly an investigation surrounding that. Do you… What would be your response to how the school is handling this?
Harry Mihet: You know, whatever the school’s ethics rules are, they cannot purport to supplant the First Amendment. If the First Amendment does nothing else, Randi, it protects the right of all Americans, including public school teachers like Mr Buell, to engage in robust public discourse about issues of the day, and to express their opinions about those issues without fear of reprisal for what they think or how they say what they think.

Now, here’s my issue.

I’m interested in the First Amendment to the US Constitution primarily as an outsider. Not just to America, but to the whole concept of constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech. It’s an interesting clause, which says some very pertinent and important things, extremely tersely and unambiguously.

It does not, however,

protect the right of all Americans … to express their opinions … without fear of reprisal for what they say of how they say what they think.

The text begins, rather plainly:

Congress shall make no law …

Oops. Do you see where my problem is here?

A decision on how to apply an ethics policy upheld by a school district in Florida isn’t an act of Congress, neither on a local, a state level nor a federal level. 5 A First Amendment action would seem to have to be directed not at the Constitutionality of an action, but at the Constitutionality of a law.

Which kinda leaves an obvious question – which law would be at stake here?

Not being a legal scholar, I shall leave my musing on that topic aside, and consider the flip side of that quote about the right of all Americans.

Now, I’m just going to be blunt here.

What the hell do you guys think you got with this paragraph? ‘Cause if you were expecting a ‘right to free speech,’ you seriously missed the mark.

The First Amendment is a ‘right to speech free from Government censorship,’ it’s not a ‘right to free speech.’ It doesn’t guarantee your safety from reprisal for what you say, especially not commercially 6, editorially or personally. People are free to fire you, write (true) nasty things about you or stop talking to you if they don’t like what you’re saying.

So, essentially, what I’m saying is: welcome to the rest of the world. Like here, in Australia. We don’t have a right to free speech either. At least you guys have a Bill of Rights.

Note: While I was writing this post, Mr Buell was reinstated to his old job. Looks like someone had their point made. Still, I am unsure as to whom…

Notes:

  1. It’s well worth a read, if you don’t mind getting the same talking points a few times, particularly when it comes to the National Organiszation for Marriage.
  2. And in the mainstream news as well
  3. However much I might desperately want to.
  4. I believe? I really with that these fun dies would attribute their videos properly…
  5. The Supreme Court in the US held in 1925 that the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment means that the First Amendment applies to all levels of American Government. It’s rather an interesting decision – Find out more at Gitlow v. New York.
  6. Especially if you live in a state with At-will employment. Oops, that’s everyone but Montana. Sorry.

A Letter to Malcolm Turnbull, MP

I have had long discussions about the rights and wrongs of including same-sex marriage in the long list of reforms, many of which have already been passed, aimed at reducing discrimination and providing equality for same-sex attracted people in our society.

In some of these discussions, I have come out on the side of retaining the status quo with regard to marriage, but with a far stronger and decidedly secular notion of civil relationship recognition – I do not support the notion of civil unions or relationship recognition purely for same-sex unions, but believe that if such a system were created, then it should be truly civil and secular, and available to all.

Here, I would like to acknowledge my bias: as an openly gay man, and one who hopes one day to start a family of my own (something found by the American Psychological Association to be not harmful to any children that I may have the honour of being a father to [Lesbian and Gay Parenting, 2005, http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/parenting-full.pdf]) I celebrate any legal changes which give more equal and full legal standing to the children of same-sex parents, to those parents, and to their families as a unit. Indeed, it would seem to be inevitable that I would support relationship recognition in some form, whether as a gay man or as a scientist and healthcare professional who contributes to his community just as much as his opposite-sex attracted coworkers.

However, I believe that it is important to extend the word ‘marriage’ to these couples, and the implicit governmental sanction that it bestows to their relationships. While different wording to that which is in common usage is in place, I fear that the legitimacy of these relationships, and the legitimacy of their families, may be reasonably called into question. Will the children of a marriage be seen as better than the children of a civil union, the way that those whose parents were married were once implicitly better than ‘bastards’?

In recognition of the fact that some may see the above argument as somewhat of a co-opted ‘won’t somebody please think of the children?!’ plea from the other side of politics to that in which it is usually employed, I would like to share a little of my own life.

When I was 6, I decided that I would like to be a husband and father. By the time I was 10, this desire was firmly cemented. When I was 12, I started to realise that, rather than liking girls as much as my peers, I had an interest in boys, too (perhaps even more so). When I finally came out at 17, all I could think of was how I could never marry, could never have children, could never buy the house in the suburbs with the white picket fence and the dogs and the car so that I could drive my kid(s) to daycare and to school and to ballet lessons and to football practice and to school dances.

My mother was fine. My father and stepmother were fine.

I was distraught, and fell into a depression that lives with me to this day.

Same-sex attracted youth are significantly more likely to suffer mental health issues than their peers. They are significantly more likely to attempt suicide than their peers. They are significantly more likely to succeed in these attempts than their peers. They are significantly more likely to suffer drug and alcohol abuse than their peers. When I ask my friends who have struggled with this why they didn’t seek help, why they felt like nobody cared about them, the answer I hear most often is ‘they don’t care about silly little fags/dykes/lesbos/queens’.

While we call same-sex couples by a different name, I believe that it will never be truly acceptable to be a part of those couples. Perhaps it will once same-sex attracted youth get through this difficult period and become same-sex attracted adults, living and working in a society that largely couldn’t care less about their sexuality, but cares more about whether they can do their jobs well, show up on time and crack a joke around the dinner table.

Once they get to be adults, these same-sex attracted youth may realise that the name doesn’t matter. The relationship does.

But my heart burns for those who don’t make it.

Thanks you for this opportunity to have my voice heard.

Yours Sincerely,

David Allen
Armadale, Victoria

Creative Commons License
A Letter to Malcolm Turnbull, MP by David Allen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Altruism

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about money. Living as I am between jobs 1 I’m doing my best to live on Centrelink welfare payments. Now, this is something I never wanted, nor currently want, to do – I value self-sufficiency highly, and having to rely on a Government handout is thoroughly irksome.

Now, living on welfare payments is hard. Very hard. In fact, as a single person on a Centrelink payment, I make about $288.10 a week. Hardly a small amount, but well short of the $402.52 set as the Henderson Poverty Line for a single person by the University of Melbourne Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research 2. Thanks to support from family and friends, I’m doing relatively well during this short period (only a couple of months, thankfully) that I’m living like many welfare-dependent Australians – in poverty.

Now, my argument here isn’t to say that we need to pay welfare recipients more. Nor is it a sob story, about how hard my life is without money around. Indeed, it’s not – I am very comfortable, and doing good things during this time to make sure that I don’t have to be dependent on the Australian taxpayer again.

Rather, it’s about three people who have made me smile in the last 24 hours.

Last night, wanting to get in on some of the hype surrounding the recent release of Tron: Legacy, I made my way down to IMAX Melbourne to see the lightshow outside. It’s rather cool, with a skateboard ramp as a projection screen that interacts with the skateboarders in interesting and very beautiful ways. While I was standing there, a stranger came up to me and asked whether I was seeing the movie, and when I replied that I wasn’t, offered me a free ticket to see the film with him and his friends, as one of their party had cancelled at the last minute. Unable as I was to afford a ticket, I accepted, and spent the evening with the three of them, seeing the film and then discussing it afterwards. I went home with a broad grin and a wonderful feeling that yes, there were good people in the world.

This morning, I was listening to the latest Radiolab podcast, about, strangely enough, Altruism. I walked up to my usual coffee place (Hudson’s in Melbourne Central) and ordered my usual coffee, noticing with a smile that the staff were in casual clothes, something that I’d chatted with the Manager about a couple of weeks earlier. Turns out that they’d taken the idea and had run with it after I’d said how much it made me smile that first time. While I was waiting for the coffee, the Manager arrived with biscuits and doughnuts for the staff, and when I said hello, offered me a doughnut, which I had with my coffee while chatting to the barista, who took a minute out of her day to talk to me about coffee and big chains (Krispy Kreme and Starbucks, in this case) before I went off to my exam.

Radiolab talk in their latest podcast about large acts of altruism: saving someone’s life while putting yourself in danger, giving up all your money, that sort of thing. While these stories are important, relatively few of us will ever be in a position to, let alone take the action to be altruistic like this.

Rather, it is these small acts of altruism that have made an impact on me today. Stressed by exams and depressed by a lack of funds, three people have lifted my spirits and made me feel good about my day, and the challenge that I’m about to face.

I’m not saying go out there and do three random acts of kindness every day. Those sorts of impulses fade, I’ve found, and don’t last long. All I’m saying is to keep your eyes open. Opportunities to lift a spirit or beget a smile are all around.

And, in my case, these three people – the random stranger, the manager and the barista – have had more of an impact on my day today than any reasonable amount of money could have.

And that’s why poverty lines only tell half the story.

Notes:

  1. Literally between jobs – I have one lined up for next year, but don’t start until early January.
  2. http://www.melbourneinstitute.com/labour/inequality/poverty/Poverty%20lines%20Australia%20June%202010.pdf

Carols and Fags

After a long discussion with a friend about how I’m not a typical gay man, and how I’m not interested in all of those ‘gay [noun]’ things 1 I suddenly find myself at what it probably the mother of them all:

Carols by Queerlight – the gay carols evening.

So far I’ve no idea whether anybody I know is coming, so it will be a golden opportunity to sit in the back and hum along quietly and bask in the hordes of gay and lesbian couples and parents who invariably attend these sorts of things.

Basically, it’s an excuse to get it out of my system,

Like, I suspect, many people, there’s a certain part of me that, well, I don’t like particularly much. It’s the part that has a deep and abiding love for the music of Katy Perry, that appreciates how difficult it is to get a good daiquiri at 3am, that spends half an hour obsessing over my hair before good sense kicks in and reminds it that there really is nothing that can be done with my hair. 2

On the darker side, this part of myself also knows what it’s like to have a hangover constantly for six weeks, knows how much fun $1000 will get you, and thinks that saving money and calories by not eating is a double win!

This is that part that, when I’m looking for a car, automatically removes those models that are ‘not pretty enough’ and, when I’m thinking about buying a dog next year, decides that something small and fluffy and long-haired is a great idea in a country town known not only for its crime rate but for the particularly disturbing nature of some of those crimes.

So, every now and again, I let him out, let him run free in the hope that he’ll tire himself out while at the same time reminding myself why I am me, and not him, 361 days of the year. 3

But at the end of the day, whether I like it or not, there’s always going to be a part of my that is (and I use this word proudly) a Fag. It’ll be the part that, when I buy a house, will obsess over finding exactly the right coffee table, and when I get around to having kids will assert that ‘no child of mine will be caught dead in double denim.’

But until then, I save my more intense bursts of Fagdom for special occasions. Midsumma 4, MQFF 5, the occasional outing to iQ 6.

And maybe somewhere where I might bump into the people who are bringing their own inner Fags to the life that, eventually, I want – the gay parents.

Like here.

Maybe.

Notes:

  1. Gay clubs, gay picnics, gay festivals, gay gyms, gay cars, gay dogs, gay music, gay sporting teams… The list goes on and on.
  2. Think a Golliwog with brown hair and you’ll be about there.
  3. Yes, I calculated.
  4. Gay festival
  5. Gay film festival
  6. Gay club

The Elephant In the Room

I enjoy conversations about deep and meaningful stuff. As you may have noticed, if you’ve been reading back through this blog.

I enjoy conversations about life, the universe and everything. I enjoy conversations about the state of the economy. But most of all, I enjoy talking about the big three taboos:

Sex, Religion, Politics. 1

However, it seems lately that there’s a fourth. One that doesn’t just not get talked about, but doesn’t even get recognised as a topic that isn’t being talked about.

The Ethicsphant in the room.

Now, ethics is certainly not a dirty word. We all like to think that we’re ethical people, in one form or another, and consider the reasons that we do things carefully.

No, the problem appears to be a little more fundamental – we don’t talk about ethics because we don’t know how.

There are about as many ideas of what ethics is as there are university places for moral philosophers 2, but many of these models seem to me to be a little too abstract to be useful in my everyday life.

So, I revert to a model of medical ethics that I read about a few years ago and was reminded of earlier this year as part of the clinical ethics component of my university course. Basically, it refers to five values. In no particular order:

  1. Beneficence: Try to make good stuff happen.
  2. Nonmaleficence: Don’t be evil 3.
  3. Autonomy: Respect others’ right to make their own decisions.
  4. Justice: Treat everybody fairly.
  5. Veracity: Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. 4

The idea is that by scrupulously applying these values in each situation that arrises, good things will happen, bad stuff won’t, and if you get sued then you’ll be able to justify your decisions.

For example: The patient who comes to see me and has a significant sensorineural asymmetry 5 so I recommend that they get their doctor to refer them to an ENT. They ask ‘is that really necessary? Is it serious?’ By the principle of veracity, I need to tell them the truth (that it can be indicative of a Vestibular Schwannoma), but nonmaleficence requires that I don’t scare the s*** out of them while doing it. So, I impress on them that in rare cases this can be indicative of a deeper problem, and it’s best to get it checked out 6 just to be on the safe side.

So this model works nicely in my clinical practice 7, but how do I apply it to my everyday life?

Well, the answer comes from the fact that what this model is deal with is not primarily the medicine itself – it’s the relationships that go along with it 8. These same principles apply wherever you interact with people as part of your day. Whether you’re a bank teller or a social worker 9 or a full-time parent, wherever you interact with someone, there’s an ethically interesting situation just waiting to unfold.

In particular, now we have these values defined, a whole world of discussion about the other ‘untouchables’ opens up. Where does veracity sit when national security is at stake? Or when you fear for your own safety? Do we have a responsibility to be beneficent to convicted criminals? Is it unjust to offer social welfare to those who can’t or won’t contribute back to the system? How do we determine who is eligible for autonomy and who is too young, old, sick, unintelligent or crazy? The basic tenets of this construction of moral philosophy can be applied to just about anything.

However, this is just one way of thinking about it. There’s the Consequentialist way of thinking about things, in which the end is all that matters, not the means. There’s the Utilitarian view, in which an action is good if it serves the greatest good to the greatest number of people. Each of these views have difference precepts and different definitions, often for the same terms.

So what is good? What is ethical?

Well, I like to think that I am, and I’d like to think that you are too.

But to really understand what we mean by that, we’ve got to be on the same page.

Notes:

  1. Preferably at the same time, at a dinner party, near a large group of pensioners. But that’s another story.
  2. A lot, according to my Philosophically-minded friends
  3. This is the bit that most closely resembles the maxim ‘First, do no harm,’ often misattributed to the Hippocratic Oath. Like many statements both profound and trite, its true origins are shrouded in mystery.
  4. In some versions of this model, the sixth value of Dignity is included as well. See Medical Ethics on Wikipedia for a good discussion of this model.
  5. Kinda the Audiological equivalent of that rattling sound just before your engine falls off.
  6. Interestingly enough, I was recently discussing this issue with my optometrist, when she discovered a vertical phoria which wasn’t there a year ago. Apparently that’s pretty much the optometric equivalent. No tumors, but an interesting experience for me.
  7. Partly because it’s rare that anyone’s going to die from anything that I do, although mismanagement of the above situation is potentially one of those cases
  8. My primary criticism of the way that this model is usually expounded is that it’s rather heavy on ‘how to treat others’ and light on ‘how to treat yourself.’ You are important, kiddies – you can’t be beneficent if you’re dead or dying.
  9. Arguably a healthcare professional anyway

When did I start writing to the Age?

Okay, I know that hating on popular culture is, like, so passe these days, but seriously. There’s a menace out there to popular sensibilities worse than the Adult Film Industry, worse than information about sex online, worse even, possibly, than the thought of all those gays getting married [insert shocked silence here].

Music Videos.

Now, I’m not talking the likes of Rihanna’s Rude Boy here, in which she graphically asks her, presumably male, partner, whether he can, uh, ‘get it up’. Rude Boy could be seen as having a rather sex-positive message, namely that women have the right to deserve sexual satisfaction as much as men do 1 – although why you’d need to take copious amounts of LSD in order to achieve said satisfaction is beyond me.

Nor am I talking about the amazing wonder that is Tik Tok, by Ke$ha. Sure, it advocates breaking into people’s houses, drinking significantly to excess, stealing handcuffs 2, riding without a helmet, the mullet 3, and getting into the cars of strangers. Oh, and going to sleep in a Mexican bathtub 4. But it’s okay, because she wears a lot of American flags 5.

No, I’m talking about the truly amazing masterpiece that is Baby, by that Artist-who-became-an-adjective, Justin Bieber 6. Okay, let me sum this up in one sentence.

When did it become appropriate for 16-year-old boys to sexually harass girls who they ‘like’ while their friends stand by and cheer?

Now, I’m not saying that Justin Bieber is a role model for thousands if not millions of kids around the world.

No, wait.

I am.

Bieber, while not really my cup of tea, has a fan base that extends into the millions around the world. After all, his debut album sold over a million copies in the USA alone. Much of his fan base is, apparently, ‘tweens,’ that wonderful time of life when you’re not yet an adult, which is now a teenager, but not quite a child any more 7.

These are kids at a vital time of life, when they’re figuring out who they are, how interpersonal relationships work, and what to do next. So please explain to me why we’re putting out this drivel? Let’s add it up:

  • The main character repeatedly harasses a girl who repeatedly says ‘no,’ in deeds if not in words,
  • The singer promises to get her back no matter the cost, and
  • The eventual message is that if you just try hard enough for long enough, she’ll give in.

Oh, Ludacris, I expected better from you.

Well, maybe not.

Notes:

  1. Although the ‘bigger is better’ stereotype is a little old hat. Can we just agree that guys with smaller junk are more likely to please their partners and be done with it already? (Reilly, Justine M., and C. R. J. Woodhouse. 1989. Small Penis and the Male Sexual Role. Journal of Urology 142:569-571.)
  2. Which is a felony in America, and apparently something you actually get charged with..
  3. Which is a crime against humanity AS IT IS
  4. Which I thought was only useful if you had a spare kidney to get rid of
  5. And has great roots. Seriously!
  6. If you don’t understand what I mean, check out this. Although I guess that this is only funny if you’re an Aussie.
  7. Which I didn’t get until I was about 16, and that was only 7 years ago. In a decade, there’ll be marketing to toddlers. Not the parents – toddlers.

But what’s it all FOR?

More and more, the people who I associate with are interested in, engaged with, and worried about government. Some write about the benefits of a particular party, some campaign, some work within political parties, some just discuss it at length over bottles of wine at dinner.

Much of this discussion around government surrounds what governments (particularly those of Australia and the United States) should do, given the realities of increasing public awareness and concern over standard of living both domestically and internationally, the increased demand for technological infrastructure and education, and the push for social, economic and legal equality for various different groups within society.

As a soon-to-be gay healthcare professional with a particular interest in rural and regional health, primarily that of the Indigenous communities of the Kimberley and Top End, this final point seems rather fundamental to me. It has galvanised people around the world. Indeed, for evidence of this, we only have to look at the recent campaigns around the world, including the focusses on child mortality in sub-Saharan Africa, the FCKH8 campaign out of the USA, and the recent awareness push around homophobic bullying and youth suicides emphasized by Dan Savage’s It Gets Better project and the recent TripleJ-supported Wear It Purple day.

In many of these cases, those campaigning are crying out to governments to ‘do something’ (a wonderfully abstract phrase that often neatly sidesteps any thought about what the ‘something’ actually is), to somehow step in and solve the issues.

Now, certainly I do believe that government has an important role to play in several of these areas, particularly child and maternal health (and healthcare in general) and potentially the civil rights aspects of marriage equality.

However, where you sit on this issue fundamentally depends on what you think the purpose of government actually IS.

I’m the first to admit that this is an area in which I’m purely an amateur, so let’s take a look at the literature on the issue. Thomas Hobbes believed that the fundamental purpose of a government is to provide safety and public order for its citizenry. John Stuart Mill expanded this to include the provision of equal justice to all people within the purview of the government. This extension is an important one, because it is this that underlies our inherent mistrust of governments who exercise their power too liberally or selectively.

Hobbes and Mill are onto a good thing here, but I think that there’s a different angle which we could take. Let’s take a few examples, first up.

Taxation: Possibly one of the most annoying things about growing up, the requirement to lose a third of one’s paycheck to the government for the provision of services apparently inapplicable to ourselves is a mire of red tape and apparent lost benefit.

Traffic laws: Okay, so I can park there, but not there, and I can drive now, but why do I have to stop for these stupid pedestrians? This is a ROAD, damnit! And what do you mean, I was speeding? My taxes pay your salary!

Social Security, Immigration Policy, Indigenous Rights, Racism, Basic Literacy: And I quote

“They should not give any payments to the aboriginals that only have to sign an x on the dotted line for their handout too. Immigrants and refugee’s shouldnt get $7000 when they land on our shores either. Detention centres should be knocked down and refugees and illegal immigrants should be jailed. Your a joke, you knob while you rant australians are racist, your busy slinging of your racist rants every chance you get,( check your posts on indians ). I suppose in your eyes two wongs make a right, ha ha. YOU DORK.”
Topix.com, Do you Agree Aussies are Dole Bludger white trash?, Accessed 27 October 2010

Says it all, really, doesn’t it? Anyway, back to the examples.

These all seem like rather different roles of a government, done for different reasons.

A rather compelling argument is, for example, that the point of traffic laws is to protect the people who pay the taxes that pay for the social security and the education that will get you to a point where you can get a job and buy the car and pay the taxes that pay for the social security, &c. That the point of each piece of legislation is to support each other piece, so that government doesn’t collapse in on itself. And then, anarchy and pure liberalism would ensue, which would, presumably, be a bad thing. Because we don’t want to become like those poor Victorians, do we?

I would make a slightly different argument – namely that, in modern Australian society, the purpose of a government is not to achieve social order for its own sake, definitely not to provide safety in a bluntly utilitarianist fashion, not even to just leave people alone and get on with their lives – but to provide two words that have become somewhat dirty in modern political parlance.

Social Justice.

Now, hear me out, I’m not some kind of crazy neosocialist that believes that government should provide everything to everyone, and that everybody deserves exactly the same resources as everyone else. Not at all – I’m a dirty meritocratist in that respect. I believe in giving credit where credit’s due, and that if you work your ass off, you’ll achieve the things that you want to achieve, much of the time.

However, the prerequisite for this achievement takes two prongs – a little bit of fortuitousness and a whole lot of access. Primarily, access to basic needs, like food and shelter and healthcare (particularly timely mental healthcare), but also access to education, information, support, credit, technology, culture, civil responsibilities and eventually civil rights.

So, what is the purpose of taxation? It’s to fund those who are, temporarily, unable to support themselves (something I know far too much about for my liking, having been a broke university student for 6 years now). It’s to provide access to transport for all citizens. It’s to provide equitable access to schooling for all citizens. It’s to provide support to those who engage and excite our senses artistically. It’s to help provide a health system that will see you, treat you, and get you well again, no matter who you are. (See my friend Clare’s awesome blog post on Mental Health access Our Mental Health System? More Mental Than Healthy! for an incredible behind-the-scenes look at how well our mental health system works in this country)

What is the purpose of traffic law? It’s to keep you alive, certainly – but it’s also to do the best possible to set good examples for those who need protecting: the kids in the back of the car. It’s to ensure that safe and equitable access is available to all road and near-road users, including car drivers, motorcyclists, pedestrians, cyclists, kids playing in the park by the street, guys changing streetlamp lightbulbs and the owner of that dog that you just almost hit because it appeared from between two cars.

Of the other examples I gave, most speak for themselves – Indigenous rights and racism are fundamentally justice issues, social security is covered under taxation, education is about access to the culture and technology of modern Australia, and modern Earth in general (if we’re being pedantic, which I almost always am). The really interesting one here is immigration. “But,” I hear you say, “don’t governments only have a responsibility for their citizens? And don’t certain aspects of immigration policy diminish rights for preexisting citizens?”

Well, this is where the big divide in this argument arises. Some say yes, governments have responsibility for providing justice to their citizens, and their citizens only. I can understand this argument, and it almost feels more logical than the alternative – which I find more appealing, and probably more so for being mildly illogical.

Can it be that governments, like you and I have responsibilities to the people around us every day, have responsibilities to all the people in the world? Can it be that the mere act of asking for assistance requires something of a government? If that’s the case, what does that mean for me, who “hasn’t had any change” when asked for years now? Would I hold my government to a higher standard than I would hold myself?

You know what?

I think I would.

Trust, Respect, and other Unmentionables

In the last few days, several of my friends have complained of losing trust, respect or caring about their friends or acquaintances, which prompted me to think about what these things actually mean to me.

I’ve always been a strong believer in the ‘a reason, a season, a lifetime’ principle. If you haven’t heard of it: Spontaneous Concept Explanation!

Basically, the idea is that you have three kinds of friends: those who are in your life for a reason, such as school friends or clubbing friends; those who are in your life for a season, such as those who you used to hang out with a lot, but don’t any more; and those who are or friends for a lifetime, like that one school friend who you can not speak to for months and catch up with and it’s like nothing ever happens. Sure, now they drink instead of taking ecstasy, and smoke cigarettes instead of weed*, but they’re still a friend, and will be until one of you carks it.

The interesting thing is when you start to think about what happens to the amount of respect or trust or care that you hold for this person. Let’s think of them as actual measurable quantities.

In the first case, none of them peak particularly highly. You have a certain amount of each one for the person (probably significantly more when you’re drunk) but when the reason passes the feelings fade, and you’ve never placed a significant degree of trust on the person, or invested a significant amount of emotional resources in caring about them. As such, the result when the relationship ends isn’t particularly impressive – things change, people move on, the world turns, your bins get taken out on Fridays and your boss is still annoying.

In the third case, the issue never comes up – the respect, trust and emotional attachment that you’ve invested is never betrayed because the relationship (read: friendship) never ends, so no harm, no foul.

The interesting case is the second case, and it’s the stage that relationships have to pass through before we realize that they’re actually the third kind. In these cases, respect and trust and caring are more fluid. We may invest a certain amount of trust in a person, and then they do something that feels like a betrayal of that trust. And you know what?

That’s okay.

in this situation, we have two choices: we can walk away, end the relationship, and cut our losses; alternatively, we can reduce the amount of trust (in this case) that we have for the person, and then continue the ongoing process of testing how much trust we should be putting in the person in the first place.

Because trust, respect and caring aren’t earned in one fell swoop. Or, at least, they shouldn’t be. We give a little, we increase it slightly, and we see whether the other person rises to the occasion. Then, when we feel comfortable, we increase it a little more, and see what happens next. Thus, incrementally, we build friends from acquaintances.

And, although a betrayal of trust, respect or emotional investment may feel like the end of the world, this model suggests that it’s not – it’s actually the necessary outcome of testing a relationship. It’s the sign that we’ve reached the limit of what this person can give at this time.

But who knows what they’ll be ready for down the track! Keep on testing, keep on trusting, keep on respecting and keep on caring. Because you never know where someone will be in a month’s time, let alone a year’s.

*Note Bene: not based on reality. No, seriously.

Tomorrow When the War Began

It’s a beloved series of books that’s been part of lives of many young Australians. It’s one of the most hotly anticipated releases in Australian film ever. And, when it comes down ti it, Tomorrow When the War Began is a truly awesome film.

Following the lives of eight teenagers who are on holiday in the Australian bush when the country is invaded by an unknown hostile army, the film is remarkably true to the opening novel of John Marsden’s acclaimed and highly successful series.

Caitlin Stasey is wonderfully strong as heroine and narrator Ellie Lynton, bringing a self command to the role that is sure to leave diehard fans of the novels satisfied and cry out for more. While her rather clipped Australian English seems slightly out of place in the country town of Wirrawee, it is sure to make her more accessible to filmgoers outside of Australia.

Lincoln Lewis and Rachel Hurd-Wood have a fantastic chemistry as Kevin and Corrie, playing off the subtleties of their relationship to be a believably tumultuous teenage couple. Lewis in particular brings a sweet sensitivity to the role of die-hard coward, making the moments of bravery among the most powerful in the film.

Possibly the most poignant performances in the film is that of Chris Pang, as reclusive Lee, who manages to steal several scenes without saying a word. The iron self-control that he shows alongside an admirable passion makes this one of the most restrained and moving performances I’ve seen from a young actor in a long time.

Even in a movie this dark and bloody, a healthy amount of comedy worms its way to the fore often through Andy Ryan, whose quirky, very Australian sense of humour and wonderfully comic timing bring a freshness and joy to a film that might otherwise threaten to overwhelm an audience with it’s dark subject matter. His description of his experience of the war beginning is blackly funnyand must be seen to be truly appreciated.

Of course, all of this would have been impossible without writer and director Stuart Beattie, of Australia and Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of the Black Pearl fame. A self-proclaimed fan of the novels, Beattie says that he “made a movie that he would like to watch as a fan, and hoped that other fans would like it too.” Indeed, his devotion ti the film shines through the script, along with a puckish sense of humour that leaves his audience groaning (but in a good way).

Working closely with the cast to build a strong sense of community between them, he has taken a group of largely unknown and mostly Australian young actors and created at east a few unstoppable forces that should take the Australian film scene by storm – and created a stunning blend of Australian comedy and Hollywood blockbuster along the way.

Tomorrow When the War Began opens across Australia on September 2nd.

Nobody Puts Baby in a Pigeonhole!

Mother, friend, partner, coworker, best friend, housemate, boyfriend, patient, supervisor, boss, brother, doctor, client, the list goes on.

The number of names I have for people in my life is truly staggering.

Sometimes these names have power – for example, the patient/healthcare professional dynamic is important, in terms of trust, professionalism and the implicit knowledge gradient that it encapsulated.

Without the distinction between patient and healthcare professional, care is essentially impossible. I wouldn’t tell a guy on the street about the intimate details of my home life, but I expect it from my patients and clients, to a certain extent, every time I walk in through the doors of a clinic.

The name implies a pattern of interaction – pleasantries, history, evaluation, recommendation, implementation, farewell. Lather, rinse, repeat, for every monthly, yearly, n-ly appointment from here until the end of time.

Aside from the obvious benefits of expected patterns of interaction, the name also implies an obligation towards care. If I don’t want to be there, the name of ‘healthcare professional’ obliges me to be there, providing care and supporting my patient to the best of my ability.

However, this pattern of behaviour, while useful, has the fundamental drawback that it locks two people into a cycle that one of both may dislike or find unhelpful.

In healthcare, the advantages often seem to outweigh the disadvantages – and, indeed, a sizeable amount of research and development time has gone into ensuring that patient-healthcare worker interactions are useful and productive.

In more general interpersonal relationships, however, the question has to be asked – how much does this name reflect the relationship as it is, how much does it reflect the relationship as I’d like it to be, and how much difference is there between the two?

Particularly in complex, multicategorical relationships, are names or categories helpful or restrictive? Is it more useful to treat this person as my friend or my mother, particularly in a situation where different aspects of those two categories are coming to the fore? Is this person my coworker or my friend? What makes this person a boyfriend/girlfriend over a friend (besides the obvious physical aspects of an intimate relationship)?

Indeed, is the distinction necessary? I wonder whether we would be better off focussing not on what we should do, but on why we want to do – behaving in a manner that reflects that particular person, and the individual relationship that we have with them.

No rules. No labels. No holds barred.

No worries, mate!

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