Do Australians have empathy and compassion?

Cate Andrews, East Lismore

Kerryn Phelps has opened opportunities not only for refugees but also for Australians. Medivac questions Australian society and culture and the responses, both negative and positive, reveal something about Australian society and culture.

Phelps has demonstrated empathy and compassion for people not from her own culture, language, political persuasion, religion, gender, etc. She has questioned our social denial of vulnerability and lack of generosity towards people who are different from the rigid norm: emotional and social intelligence is undermined and lack integrity in the standard order of our society.

The next step is for Phelps and supporters to maintain respect and safety for the refugees in relation to government scrutiny, found in agencies such as FACS. With a government that damns  all refugees publicly; slandering them as “rapists and paedophiles” would it be the same to say that the truth of all Prime Ministers is, they are ignorant of human needs; obsessed with personal power and wealth;  ignorantly project false views of the world into the minds of the masses?

Like most dealings we may have with government agencies, such as FACS, the experience is often invalidating, tiring, and leaves the impression that unlike person-centred therapies and holistic approaches to medicine are oppressive. Politicians telling the public how to think and feel about refugees and people from different cultures is not only discrimination and oppressive, but also irresponsible and life-denying.

This is impoverishing and only generates negative views about race, culture and the ability to provide opportunities to get along with different perspectives. The government attitude that pervades most racial discrimination denies people the right to connect humanely with others; it denies deeper connections that are emotional, intelligent, generous and life-affirming.

Negative attitudes generated by groups, such as Islamophobia for example, prevent a future-oriented approach to a sustainable, intelligent Australia. That is, a multicultural country that can, through education, problem solve and find solutions that fit with other multicultural nations.

Phelps’ has opened the potential for Australians to rethink ideas about, of and with generosity and how this might transform how they think and feel in their relationships (work, social, personal, familial, neighbour, etc). This means, rethinking how we, as a community can responsibly express our emotions and connect with others to have deeper conversations that aren’t mediated by government bias is a step towards building a community and nation that includes differences for a sustainable future.

There is an emptiness that echoes from a government that claims refugees are rapists and paedophiles because it is an irresponsible and disrespectful statement that denies victims their right to tell their story: victims of rape and child sex abuse in this country have experienced these violations from people they trusted and knew. The argument is one that must address male sexuality as well as female-to-female violence.

It is one that needs to include religion, sociology, psychology, feminists as well as altering educational practices.  It is not a simple one that ticks all the right boxes in a stereotypical well-ordered manner.  It is a sensitive issue that is left swept under the carpet in the media. How our biases and lack of concern for others reveals in our culture the way we don’t cultivate and nurture differences, empathy, respect and compassion.

Refugees deserve to feel and be given respect, integrity and dignity until they have broken the law not feel guilty until they spend their lives battling discrimination to earn respect and integrity. Just as government agencies such as FACS taking mandatory reporters words as verbatim (unquestioned, unexamined for bias and malicious intent) in life-denying approaches.

So too does the general Australian public take the word of a politician as verbatim. To enter into a critical debate and question this style of approach – authoritarian, oppressive, and one-sided, would be to question Australian society and culture as well as give people who are different from the cultural norm their integrity in their own narrative and the basic human right to feel safe in their home environment.

Phelps has opened the right to question the current lack of generosity in Australian society and culture.



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2 responses to “Do Australians have empathy and compassion?”

  1. Mulch says:

    Could you please make a definition between true refugees and attempted illegal immigrants. Just because you fly to Indonesia and pay a people smuggler to put you on a boat does not automatically qualify you as a refugee. Shame on those people who organise that sort of activity, and shame on governments, where ever they be, that allow that to happen.

  2. Len Heggarty says:

    It is not all sugar and spice in welcoming refugees and asylum seekers as we in the rural areas don’t feel the pressure so much of the migrant intake but the cities of Australia are growing too fast and too quickly. They are being clogged with traffic and pedestrians and there is not enough housing. Sydney and Melbourne have expanding problems. And to the west of the state the Murray/Darling system is running out of water. There is good and bad points in every decision and this nation is a very dry nation.
    I know what you mean though as the government do not have a soft side. They have a hard unrelenting side. I have been a carer for the disabled and there is nothing better that being your brother’s keeper. The issue about law-breakers is not valid when they are prevented from entering Australia and we must remember that the birth of the white nation was by the settlement of convicts, the lawbreakers of England.
    The bigger Australia grows the smaller the percentage of our First People the Aborigine becomes. They now are now more than three percent of the population and their health and well-being in the inland are not much better than asylum seekers in our own country.

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