The Powerful and the Oppressed

It’s hard to share something this week without it coming across as either sanctimonious and moralistic, or superficial and flippant. So please consider this as my best effort, offered with best intentions.

It’s National Reconciliation Week, “A time to focus on strengthening relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, for the benefit of all Australians”. An important thing to do every year, but especially so right now. It feels like 2020 has shone a big spotlight on problems and issues that have been simmering away for generations. (My favourite description is Kimchi problems- the deeper they’re buried the hotter they get). Inequalities and differences in life experiences are front and centre, everywhere we look. It’s hard to remain hopeful when life feels like such a shit show. But I choose to believe that we do better facing reality than ignoring it, even if it’s hard.

This week’s listen/read/watch of the week is a podcast episode from Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History; a chapter from his audiobook David and Goliath. He’s written a lot about race and policing in the US (Talking to Strangers centres around the death of Sandra Bland in police custody). This podcast tells the story of Northern Ireland in the 1970s, but it’s really about power and oppression.

I’m not going to tell you how to process things, I’m just going to share my unfiltered thoughts on where my head’s at. This isn’t a refined argument, or eloquent writing. But it’s honest so I figure that’s as decent place to start as any.

I feel like a lot of what I’m seeing relates to the way we’ve been conditioned to associate things like status/power with value/worthiness. Passively or actively, we have all been brought up to believe that things like talent and skill are a scarce commodity possessed by the lucky few; that some people are capable of contribution and others are less so. Thankfully, much of society has woken up to the idea that defining that according to race, gender or sexual preference is unacceptable, but the legacy remains. Systemic and unconscious bias are real, and they have real impact on people’s lives. We can acknowledge this without feeling ashamed. I mean, how do we work to overcome it if we don’t first recognise it?

Of course, power differentials and divisiveness aren’t exclusive to the realm of social justice, they’re pervasive in the culture of healthcare. Have you ever been in a Residential Aged Care Facility and witnessed the hierarchy that exists between the medical/RN/EN/personal care workers? Have you ever glossed over a patient’s concerns because you know you have more technical knowledge than they do? Maybe participated in a discussion ripping apart the character of ‘anti vaxxers’ or Pete Evans because they express a belief you consider damaging? I have. On occasions I still do. And lying at the heart of it every time is an ‘us and them’ mentality. It’s a very natural way to be, but over recent years I’ve come to the realisation that I just don’t think it’s all that helpful. Not if we want to create a different reality. And I do.

Divisiveness and polarisation are a hindrance to progress. They kill conversations, turning them into dogmatic arguments and stand offs. I think we could benefit from thinking more about the ‘we’, and less about the ‘them/me’. If we think about what ‘we’ want to build, how ‘we’ want the world to look, it changes from an argument about blame and shame to a conversation about action and contribution. Because everyone has something to contribute and is worthy of value and all voices deserve to be heard.