Words Form Our Thoughts, Thoughts Become Deeds

A gang of six young females attacked two men and two women after the four refused their demands for money and cigarettes in Ipswich, QLD the other day. As the assault began a van with another two females arrived with the two women joining in before they all drove away leaving the victims injured and missing at least one wallet. It does not pay to underestimate the female of the species, especially when she is ‘mob handed’, ie: in a gang or group.

I knew right away upon reading the first few lines that the women would be indigenous, we have a similar problem where I live with gangs of female Koori’s begging for cigarettes and money down at the local shops. If you refuse they have been known to turn on you. They can inflict very serious injury yet it is difficult for many of us to react with sufficient force in the first instance to dissuade them from escalating from verbal taunts to actual violence. Yet by the time you realise it is really happening it is often too late.

Of course it is not all one sided.  In Albury-Wodonga in 2008 there were a series of attacks on Koori teens by white teen gangs, purely based on ethnicity or race. Aboriginal community elders called for calm and restraint from their young people and the point was well made that we all bleed red blood. So, was the Ipswich attack racially motivated or simply a criminal act? It is all too easy to play the race card when there is a visual identifier in place, such as physical appearance that clearly identifies those involved as being of one ethnic group or another.

While the Albury attacks most likely were racially motivated, the Ipswich ones I would presume were only partially fuelled by skin colour. It is easier to hate those who are visually different to oneself, the greater the differences the easier it becomes. Being so visually different has been a survival aid since time began. If that other human did not look like you and your clan then there was a good chance they were from somewhere else and quite likely a threat. All very well 40,000 years ago but times have changed.

Times have changed for our indigenous citizens too, albeit not always for the best. However the status quo is what it is and we can’t turn back the clock to 1769 and send Cook off somewhere else. What we can do is listen to the words of Wiradjuri elder Nancy Rooke, “We’ve got to live in this world, we’ve all got to get on.” That goes both ways.

Today when I visited the local mall there were five young teens on bikes in the mall, contrary to the rules which prohibit riding push bikes inside. All five were Koori, or indigenous kids. My immediate thought was, “boody abo kids! No respect for the safety of other people”. I caught myself right away as I realised that my adjective that identified them (abo) is no longer considered an acceptable epithet. What I had just done, no doubt out of habit, was to throw these lads into a basket based on the visually identifiable feature of their race.

The sad reality is that where I live these kids are a menace, a problem, and far too often the cause of crime both petty and serious. If, as a witness, I had to describe them  then the fact that they were indigenous is valid, just as the hats and hoodies they were wearing or the type of bikes they were riding. Yet the basket I had automatically thrown them in also contains the belief that everyone in that basket is bad, beyond redemption and of little to no use to society. How wrong is that? We have many solid young citizens among our indigenous community members and given proper support and help, most of these young boys and girls would far prefer to make something of their lives other than becoming substance abusing, spouse abusing petty criminals and teenage single mothers.

Perhaps the first step on the path of not having them end up as so many have before is for the rest of us, like me, to not use words like ‘abo’ either as an adjective or as a form of insult. By all means when it comes to describing them for the purposes of identification their ethnicity is relevant but that should be where it stops. For every other reference it should just be ‘teen’, ‘boy’, ‘lad’ or whatever. Then we throw them in the same basket our own kids would get thrown into if they were to ride their bikes in the mall, contrary to the rules. When we start to ‘lump’ them with our own kids, perhaps then we will begin to see them, and think of them, as ‘kids’ and not ‘this kind’ or ‘that kind’.

That might be an important first step on the path to stepping away from the past, which we can’t change, into a future we can shape. Let us be aware of the words we use to form our thoughts and own them, even if they are ugly and reveal a side of ourselves we might prefer we hadn’t let show. We need to be honest with ourselves before we can be honest with anyone else.

I think online writing can be used for good as much as for evil. perhaps someone will read this and stop and think about their own words, about how they think of people who are different to themselves. Race, age, health, fitness, orientation and so on. The words we use form and frame our thoughts and our thinking dictates our deeds or actions. The other day I read of Thailands 220Kg woman needing to go to hospital so part of the building was demolished and a fork lift used to get her out of her apartment. Some of the comments were funny, like moving the hospital closer to her would have been easier. But most were just cruel indictments of how people view the obese.

Who really knows how a person got so big? Maybe it is a thyroid imbalance and maybe she was a glutton, so what? She may have taken solace in food for whatever reason but does that means she is no longer deserving of even a modicum of civility and respect as a human in need of compassion and help? How perfect must these people be that they can abuse someone else in such an unfortunate state.

I used to be like that. I would make jokes about people’s weight and appearance but then one day I woke up and I was too close to fifty, way overweight myself and no longer perfect. I had five kids I loved and if someone was cruel to them it would break my heart. In other words the shoe was firmly on the other foot and I began to take stock of my own life and weaknesses, strengths, failures and achievements. I was neither perfect not a failure but like most people, pretty average on the whole with a few moments of rare brilliance and the odd moment of absolute stupidity.

I realised I like people. I like people from different places and cultures and points of view.  I realised I had thoughts in my head; call them values, standards, expectations, beliefs whatever, that I didn’t want to have. I had no idea how they got there and I wanted them gone. I began to think about how we form our beliefs and I realised so much of who we are is inherited or absorbed. We drag so much of our parent’s baggage into adulthood with us. We then soak up so much rubbish from our peers and the media and we rarely form our own beleifs, opinions and philosophies and live by them.

That can be due to insecurity, the old how can it be as good as what I was taught is right if it is something I thought up myself? Someone had to think up what you were taught in the first place so what makes that better than your own stuff? Age? Origin?

I decided I would change my PhD project from the eWriter Project to a more personal exploration of where one’s beliefs come from. I would look at it form the viewpoint of a middle aged white male in the 21st century… me. I would use my own family history to examine beliefs and behaviour over the last 100 years and compare it with the literature of the day.

The eWriter Project is a more vocational affair that needs a different approach to it than an academic  course of research such as this new path. I will still produce that online writer’s course and teach it, but only to the level of a CertIII or CertIV. For the PhD, I want to explore how I got to be me and why I think the way I do. Watch this space.

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