Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Community, respect, diversity and change

Australia, indelibly my country, frets more often than it fixes problems. 

It is difficult to reconcile our general apprehension with our continued second place ranking by the UNDP on its Human Development Index.

My personal experience with local community organisation and motivation in regional Australia in the past 15 years has been the increasing difficulty in getting people engaged except when there is something that irritates them personally or threatens real estate. My speculations as to why have covered generational change, Howard-and-since encouragement of personal focus and distrust and the arrival of the flat screen TV and its outpourings.

In a 2008 local government electoral campaign in a 'city' of fifty towns and villages over a hundred kilometres of coast, I was conscious that some towns, on the Australian Bureau of Statistic's Index of Socioeconomic Disadvantageranked 'very comfortable', over 1100, while at the core, the biggest town, ranked troublingly disadvantaged at 820. The comfy big-number people were largely immune to or annoyed by any suggestion of shared interest in addressing the problems at the low score end. 

My experience in building, managing and shutting down a brain tumour support group over that period was of building something strong and happy with over 300 emails a month at times and wonderful mutual support... then evaporation of membership and of contributions with the arrival of social media. 

The current information revolution is comparable to the turmoil of the renaissance 500 years ago in which the distribution of printing presses (see some context here) altered entitlement to knowledge, distribution of ideas, challenges to established correctness and empowerment of local languages. With a difference from now in the extent to which new knowledge seemed 500 years ago to be sought everywhere possible, led by the merchant barons of Florence, while the puddles of information and the frissons of communication among the wider population now seem to grow smaller and murkier.

Source here. Being maintained by Canadian architects now.
 Experience in the last decade or so encouraging local empowerment and planning by communities in Africa, via the internet, (here for example) has been with people who may write to say "sorry I've been out of touch, it was the malaria again" and when one writes with concern about Ebola over the border, the reply is that "I hope it does not come here, we have plague in the next village now". 

My impression is that such people, minimally resourced and up against big problems daily, have far more strength for adaptation to change and use intelligence for that, than we do in comfortable Australia. 

They also have as asset real community and place in community, which is sometimes irksome, but is powerful. 

It was pleasing to be asked by Lucinda Marshall to find an African contribution to a feminist magazine's issue on peace and for this, called "Women, the Mother of Peace" to be written and published

My brief experiences in remote Aboriginal communities are also of powerful community. Government campaigns for indigenous literacy are not going to work if they cannot begin to comprehend and respect that that small girl over there, just starting school, whose kinship system says she is my mother or my aunty or my grandchild, arrives at school with probably three languages and a universe of special knowledge and understanding of the world. 

Diversity depends on respect. Respect is not just a polite utterance, it is a key to community building.

Technological dependency varies inversely with interest in local community; 
economic disparity inhibits meeting and communication and, 

this year, apprehension that "that person may be a Trump supporter" makes conversation harder to start.

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