Lessons in right and wrong
A few years ago, at the Melbourne Cup Carnival at Flemington, I was sipping bubbles with a friend in the members’ area before we decided to take our catchup conversation elsewhere. Catching a train before the main race finished was a strategic decision to avoid the transport and human mess thereafter.
Dressed in our finest ladieswear, we embarked to find many of the seats taken but a few available gaps to fit two large hats together. A fellow in his late teens sat near another man who was clearly his father. Both in suits, seemingly sober and well presented but sitting with spaces between them.
I gestured to the younger man who was closest to the aisle, “Excuse me, do you mind moving along so my friend and I could sit here?” He didn’t bother to look up, just barked, “I can stay ‘ere and you can sit on me lap if ya like.”
Given that there had been no previous interaction, that I was old enough to be his mother and there was no cheeky twinkle or humour to the comment, it went down like the old wrought-iron hanglider. Even his dad didn’t chuckle although Rude Boy looked to him for approval.
At best it was a misplaced and boorish attempt at humour. At worst, an example of the alarming, insidious sexism threatening to be accepted as ‘Australian culture’, along with racism and ageism. I have no opinion on which it was, but I do recall it vividly because it was painfully obvious that the boy had no guidance from his father about how to behave around women, or show respect for people generally.
I’ve always believed everyone has a moral compass; that we all have intuition, gut feel and that we know deep down what the right thing means. My rigid stance was challenged last week by a line in the GPAC performance of Frankenstein.
“I know right from wrong! I am EDUCATED!” bellowed Frankenstein’s monster. The highly charged emotional performance resonated on many levels, but this phrase inspired me to consider our local context.
There is a huge philosophical discussion about nature versus nurture and an equally interesting debate about our current standard of education. Certainly in the political discussion, our education system seems to lurch from crisis to dysfunctional model and back again, but the truth is difficult to know.
What we do know is that the Geelong region has comparatively low levels of educational attainment, so what does this mean for all of us?
Parental influence is critical, yet parents of all ages seem confused about what is acceptable now – internet use, sportsmanship and bullying are just some of the dilemmas we all face. Standards of behaviour are often set, exemplified and promoted by people in authority. Yet look at the predatory antics of the priesthood.
I was shocked by the edited radio quote from a police spokesman after a group of teenage boys attacked a 38 year old mother of three in a park. He said, “The message here is that women should not walk alone after dark.” Pardon?
Conversely, when Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir was asked to place a curfew on women to help end a series of rapes, she refused and replied, “But it is the men who are attacking the women. If there is to be a curfew, let the men stay at home.”
I wonder what the message would be from our authority figures if teenage girls were attacking pensioners in shopping malls at lunchtime. Would it have been about elderly people avoiding shopping malls? And if packs of dogs were biting kinder children and their mums walking home would the message be, “Don’t walk home from kinder”?
We really need to challenge that sort of behaviour and the associated public commentary because the messages are confusing. To imply that the 38 year old woman was primarily to blame is ridiculous. To suggest to boys that when they do wrong it will be someone else’s fault is dangerous. To accept that mothers are unprotected and vulnerable in our society is disgraceful.
Assuming that some people need to be taught ‘right from wrong’ and the schools are not responsible, the parents are incapable and the authority figures are not willing, then who is?
I propose that it is all of us, every child, parent, brother, sister, teacher, cousin, grandparent, umpire, employee, volunteer and bystander. We are all obliged to work out the right thing, support others in their efforts and create ways to promote it in ourselves and other people.
If we don’t accept this obligation and take responsibility, then we deserve to live in fear and sit in the lap of ill-mannered disrespect.