February 21, 2020

Communities of Care

This week has been a confronting news week. We saw an unspeakable tragedy in Brisbane this week where the ugliest and most despicable outcome of a family breakdown played out and spread trauma like a ripple effect throughout the whole country. We also saw footage of a young boy living with dwarfism begging for an end to the plague of bullying and cruelty he suffered at school. How do we make sense of these events? Both of these situations, these independent and awful situations, create a void where hope lives and I can’t make sense of it.

It feels simplistic to label the perpetrators as ‘evil’ and I can’t find fault with the assessment that these situations are just that. The curiosity in me, the change seeker, can’t end it there, though. 

I think if we ever want to have a hope of preventing these things from occurring again, we must be brave enough to mine for some very unpleasant truths. Why was a woman who had left her abusive husband, like she was told to do for her own safety, still not safe? What led this man to have such a sense of possession over his family that he could justify such an horrific act? Why were the children who bullied the young boy so desensitised to his suffering? Why was his mother so unsupported for so long?

The biggest question of them all is, why don’t we have answers to these questions, yet?  The compression of these two events in this week’s news feed has brought them into focus but neither type of event is ‘new’ news, and that – deep down – might be the most confronting part of all of this. 

Somewhere along our anthropology in the West, we organised ourselves into suburbs with fences in front of our ‘private’ space, closed our front doors and drew the curtains. Tiny sovereign nations in square lots with mailboxes and shut gates.

Unlike how cultures have traditionally organised themselves in communities with social leaders and a web of extended pro-social community ties to relatives and peers; social problems in the 21st century are intensely private matters, taboo to discuss and swept away under the rug where they are free to grow malignant, fuelled by shame and without check or care from the outside world. 

Maybe rather than ‘minding our own business’, we should be mining for opportunities to care. 

The Maori have a cultural practice that researchers have called restorative justice and it has been adapted into a community-based response to crime and anti-social behaviour by governments around the world as a brave, controversial and yet effective response to crime and punishment. Restorative justice sees the community as playing a role with both the victim and the offender and is a holistic way for us all to own the problems and the solutions when it comes to difficult behaviour. 

Here is a description of the practice by criminologist George Mousourakis, “This innovative approach revolves around the ideas that crime is primarily a violation of a relationship among victims, offenders and the community; that the chief aim of the justice process should be to reconcile those most directly affected by the offending behaviour while addressing the injuries they suffered; and that the resolution of crime-related conflicts demands a positive effort on the part of victims and offenders, and the assumption of responsibility by the community. A restorative justice practice that has attracted much attention in recent years is conferencing. Conferencing is essentially an extension of the victim-offender mediation process involving not only offenders and victims but also their wider ‘communities of care’, such as their respective families and other community members.”

The phrase that screams out in that definition to me is ‘communities of care’. I wonder if we became communities of care, and we took responsibility to care earlier, then maybe we’d have a shot at actually avoiding these news stories from occurring. 

I am very grateful that I recently revisited a book by Tim Costello called Hope: Moments of Inspiration in a Challenging World. “Essentially, I am a hopeful person who believes that life can and does have a way of giving us the impetus to keep going in hard times, and to keep working for what might otherwise seem like a ‘hopeless’ cause.” – Tim Costello

Brave is the active partner of hope. We must be brave enough to open the doors and fling back those curtains and connect again if we do hope to become communities of care.