“Australia is shockingly on fire, a continent-wide bonfire of the lies that have held long overdue climate action in check. We need to open the way to a responsive, awake and steady form of presence, strong in its holding of the tragedy of all that is happening, firm and clear in not succumbing to fearful despair – so that we can truly be of some help”.
Australia, as a nation, is diminished because of the lies about the ancient sovereignty of First Nations people and our refusal to actively engage in the invitation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
Susan Murphy’s call to hold onto the complexity and tragedy of the important issues of our times but move forward with helpful actions is an important message for individuals, organisations and the entire not-for-profit sector.
While there is no shortage of reasons for people to feel despair, (and a marked increase in so-called deaths of despair—those involving drugs, alcohol or suicide), we must not give in to despair as it can make us feel powerless and not capable of making a difference, leading to inaction.
We need to be aware that there are many vested interests (political, economic, social and religious) who benefit from despair as inaction means they can maintain or enhance their unjustified power and privilege.
Every action has a consequence and doing nothing is a choice and an action. Doing nothing means no change to the power imbalances that are at the heart of most inequities in our society.
So how do these vested interests encourage us to do nothing that upsets their power base?
Those with power want to discourage collective action as this has a history of creating change. The recent Marriage Equality vote was won not by a few key actions such as protests, marches or speeches but by many individual conversations about how marriage equality would lead to a more inclusive, richer society that benefits us all. So, what at one time was considered impossible became to be seen as inevitable!
A common approach to preventing collective action is to assert that individual action has no impact. A classic example of this is the climate change denialists saying that there is no reason for Australia to worry about reducing its emissions as our emissions are such a small contributor to global emissions.
Doing nothing guarantees no change but if there are enough small actions there can be an important, often unseen and unanticipated, ripple effect that nudges and moves society in the right direction. We must not get caught up in measuring the exact, immediate impact of our actions (which those in power will try to do in an effort to belittle our actions) but we need to be comfortable in knowing that we have done the right thing, even if we can’t see an immediate effect or short-term personal gain.
It is a disconnect or mismatch between our beliefs and our actions that demeans and diminishes us. Doing what we know is right without trying to measure the immediate results restores us to being a more complete human.
So, what can we do?
There are many small and large things we can do.
Those with power like to pretend that they don’t have the power so that they are not challenged. Therefore, we need to keep talking about power so that it is brought out into the open and discussions can be held about how sharing of power leads to a more equitable society.
We need to call out in a polite but firm way all instances of systemic or casual racism or other discriminations on the basis of colour, age, disability, sex, intersex status, gender identity and sexual orientation.
We need to avoid being accidentally or strategically unaware of the effects of our actions and think about how and what we consume.
We need to keep reducing our use of plastic, reducing our use of fossil fuels, offset our carbon emissions and encourage others to do the same. Even when our government doesn’t have a plan for the climate crisis, we can support organisations like Beyond Zero Emissions that have clear pathways for transitioning to zero emissions over a 10-year period, turning Australia into a renewable energy superpower in the zero-carbon global economy.
We must also seriously consider how we can walk with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in a movement of the Australian people for a better future which is the invitation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
We should stand in solidarity with suffering so that we can shape a more creative, attuned and effective response to any crisis. However, this paradoxically means that we need to avoid drowning in a constant feed of suffering streaming into consciousness as news and be aware of all the good news stories that we rarely hear. Bill Gates’ tweet and the Gatekeeper data report make for interesting reading.
We should take a lesson from the Aboriginal concept of human and non-human kinship networks that connect us with Country, so beautifully described in Vanessa Cavanagh’s article. In reality, we are all in this together. We move together and we fall together, as the climate crisis and coronavirus pandemic is forcing us to understand. When we truly embrace the fact that we are all in this together, then compassion is the natural outcome and we do what we can to help, no matter how small it may feel at the time.
As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”.
So, let us as individuals, organisations and communities all do what we can to do what we know to be right. We need to be comfortable knowing that while every action can be different based on individual circumstances, each action is valuable and gives us the best chance of making the changes we need to create the future that we want.