Mea Culpa

When I say “mea culpa” I only have myself both to blame and forgive. I have no God for a fall back position.

I have not believed in a “maker” since I was 11 years old 66 years ago, although I did come from a Christian based family. I therefore became adept at going” under the radar” for many years and I do deeply respect the life values of most mainstream religions. (I find these values within each major religion very similar.)

This morning, reading the article in the Sydney Morning Herald by Catherine McGregor, with which I basically agreed, I found myself musing on the difficulties that religions have posed over the years.

Whilst the essence of most religions is the call to be good towards others, this at times appears to me to be incompatible with some of the strong beliefs and also the expectations of some congregations.

When once I said that I thought religions have been the cause of many conflicts over the centuries, the late Dr Denis Wright, a University teacher and researcher in Asian history, religions and culture, modern Asian politics and Society, replied with these wise words.

“I think it oversimplifies when it’s said that people have fought for centuries over their beliefs. When you study the history of religions, you discover that the beliefs themselves are practically irrelevant to conflict; it’s how you are treated because of your religion that matters. Is the battle between Jews and Muslims in Palestine over doctrine? How often does doctrine come up as the basis of war between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland? When did violence really erupt between Hindus and Muslims in India? It was only when all of these became political and economic issues, usually cloaked by nationalism in various forms, that doctrine was made the rationale for conflict. It was never about doctrine. It was about land, equality and freedom.

Why is there not bitter struggle between religions in Australia as there us elsewhere? Because most have enough of the good things in life to be content to live with each other; not with a knife at the others’ throats, or a bomb. Violence erupts when people feel a keen sense of injustice.

(It amazes me that the aboriginal people are not more violent towards those they blame for their loss – or is the violence turned inwards for them, against each other? Another question, not for here.)”

Wise words. When I hear of proposals to give those of the Christian Religion another favoured voice in my culture I feel a great sense of injustice. I do not acknowledge that our society is great because it is founded in a Judeo Christian culture. I think our society is only great whenever we can bring ourselves to think of others, including minority groups. I look around in dismay at what we have done regarding various beliefs in our indigenous cultures and migrant cultures. I remember the fights in my childhood between Catholic and Protestant children, often supported by parents.

And indeed it is adherence to differences that is sometimes what is preached by many religions. But these cannot be unfairly imposed in the secular society by giving personal beliefs any priority under our laws. All we can ensure is the right to personally hold such a belief within the law.

I know many Christians who are dear to me and who I admire. I know Muslims I love. (I do prefer the Islamic sacrifice story and regard it with more satisfaction than the Christian sacrifice story- though they have some strong similarities. I do not believe either of them.) I have known a Christian Arab, born, bred, educated and working in Jerusalem, who was exiled, for life, from his home. So much for the “Judeo/ Christian” bond!

My own personal faith in life is to try and be nice to others. I like to help where I can, if I can, which is not really as often as I should.

I do think everyone has a right to believe as they like and to freely practice their own religions in this country – but only in ways which do not impinge on the rights of others who are not of that faith or indeed of any faith.

We live in a society based on a secular constitution. Christianity has had an “inside run” since colonisation, first because of brute force and then because of its powerful majority in the population. Christianity, and in particular individual Christians, have certainly contributed some great good to our society. It has also perpetrated some evils, particularly upon the indigenous population. But those of us who are not Christian should not be forced to support a belief, and its trappings, which are not ours.

I will take full responsibility for all my decisions. I will obey all the laws of the land in which I live. But I deserve the right, in a democracy, to protest peacefully against any proposed laws that I think are unjust. And I think they are unjust when they favour religion in a society.

I take this responsibility seriously and do not have a God to give me guidance and forgive me if I err. I have to forgive myself and mend my ways.

I do not wish to support any legislation that will either regulate society by interpretation of any “superior” God’s wishes over any other God’s wishes, belief systems or indeed over the considered personal, equally non intrusive, decisions or speech of a free human being who does not have a belief in a God.

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CONDITIONING and HIGH HEELS

I have a strong antipathy to high heeled shoes. This is well known in my family and much objected to as part of my considerably more minor non acceptance of general “fashion” trends.

But now I am also being subjected to attack for my explanation that I feel we are “conditioned” into accepting high heels as part of women’s fashion. A close friend the other day and my son last night asked me last night why I feel I am exempt from the conditioning process which might be, in my case, AGAINST the wearing of “high heels”.

I must state that, as a former psychologist, I am well aware of the nature of conditioning. But has this, in essence, conditioned me to the view I am harder than average to condition? I first studied psychology in the days of Skinner when much of Freud’s work was being challenged. Skinner’s experiments and contribution to psychology were almost all about conditioning. However I have never been entirely convinced that conditioning played as large a role in psychological processes as he alleged and I have always retained considerable faith in many of Freud’s theories.

( I must state clearly here, in defence of Freud, that I have never heard an allegation that he thought women’s wearing of high heels was just another form of “penis envy”.)

The history of high heels on shoes is interesting. It was, at first, a man’s fashion and their first use was a practical one. It gave an extra tool for gripping on to stirrups etc when horse riding, particularly in battle. The use of heels then, over many years, became a sign for both genders of being a member of the upper class. Perhaps this was because the “menials” needed flat shoes to be mobile enough do all the work? At the time of The French Revolution high heels went out of fashion for the very reason that it signified the class division. Marie Antoinette, in defiance, wore them to the gallows.

Much effort was then expended by the fashion gurus on the design of flatter shoe wear.

However high heels made an eventual comeback but only for women.

In deference to my son’s views I must say I grew up at a time prior to Germaine Greer’s “Female Eunuch” was published and my friends and I were quite a strong feminists. My mother always wore a hat and gloves out shopping. Prefects would give us detentions if we were caught on the train on our way home from school without hats or gloves on. At University we were not able to wear long pants to lectures. We would sometimes do so and roll the pants legs up under our undergraduate gowns. Later all teachers had to wear skirts or dresses when teaching a class. As a young solicitor I had to wear a hat in court and of course to church. So I was perhaps “conditioned” by reverse psychology to be a very overt feminist.

All these requirements about appropriate ways for females to dress and act changed gradually with the push from we feminists.

But, as far as fashion goes, high heels are the only fashion item that I know of that can cause actual damage. That done to the feet and back is sometime irreparable. High heels are harder to walk on, make the wearer slower, can and have caused accidents and falls and they damage some floors. They make it more difficult to drive cars and operate machinery.

Why has this much bigger, more physically damaging issue of high heel wearing not changed attitudes and choices? My assumption is that it has been conditioning, helped along by shoe manufacturers. We see many public images of well known women still wearing high heels, we hear of things like women being banned from the red carpet at award ceremonies if they did not wear heels. Heroines of children’s movies and adult dolls for children wear heels or very long dresses which cover the feet. (Mermaids are exempt from this criticism.)

I found one picture this morning of a well known celebrity wearing high heeled, open shoes pushing a motor mower on her front lawn!

But do I just think all this is wrong because of my own conditioning?

In an attempt to find out about perhaps more modern views of conditioning I went to the tried and trusty Google.

But I had forgotten about the hair product “conditioner”. Google was full of details about this product. The rationale for its use is that it makes the hair “soft and pliable”. That fits with Skinner’s view.

Do I think I have become soft or pliable?

No. Perhaps unfortunately I have become even more tough and opinionated.

Young girls around me (and my sons) will just have to put up with my opinions or close their ears!

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Aussie Values and White Blight

I speak from a position of old age but, so far, I have not lost the clarity of my memories.

In the last few weeks I have also had the great privilege of speaking with groups of even older people, who also treasure their Australian memories. For example, some of those who remember their own war service are amazed, and like me are not very pleased, about recent new attitudes towards remembrance ceremonies and the development of brand new memories  surrounding wartime.

But what most affects me at the moment is how generations younger than we are seem to idolise what they call “Aussie Values ” without criticism and analysis.  They think our way of life and “Aussie Values” have always been the same and that they should be immediately adopted, as is, by new settlers and refugees from whom, they assume, we can learn little.

One of the most amazing myths I have heard, and this is a development only obvious this century, that is we view ourselves as always having been a welcoming inter-racial society.

How is this possible? Consider the official government “White Australia Policy” – not a good example of welcome and only finally buried in the 1970s.  Observe our continuing poor treatment of Australia’s  indigenous peoples.  We have not, in fact, been very inclusive. I worked with a professional woman of Polish descent who remembered, not fondly, the years her family spent in a post war refugee facility. On Wednesday I was speaking to a very elderly lady who described herself as a “twenty dollar migrant from Glasgow” (but we did have a laugh about the “ten pound poms” as they were called). She also told how awful the camps were. I remember how poorly some refugees were regarded, by some, on the Snowy Scheme where I grew up.

This morning I heard on the radio a woman defending current criticism of a lack of acceptance of migrants.  She had an expectation that acceptance required rapid and major adjustments of displaced people from their traditional culture to adoption of “Aussie values”. She stressed the non patriarchal nature of our society must be accepted. But she seemed to have no appreciation of how recent that transition of Australia to a partially non patriarchal society has been.

Australian women were required to wear head gear – usually hats but scarves would sometimes suffice – in all sorts of places as well as in church – well into the second half of the last century. Prefects used to put us on detention if, on the train home from a state all girls high school, we were not wearing our hats. Women were required to wear hats in a court room when I was a young solicitor. When I worked in schools in the 1980s women teachers were expected to wear skirts.

As a University student I was not permitted to go to lectures in trousers.

In the early seventies, when I was a young married woman, the daughter of a neighbour was married at 14 with the permission of her parents as she was pregnant. This was not uncommon. (It was only in the mid 20th Century that Tasmania was the first state to raise the age of consent for girls from 12 to 14.)

I don’t say that we Australians are not entitled ( or even obliged) to  be vocal about women’s rights and child protection. But it is not reasonable to totally condemn migrants for practices we fully supported as a nation in the lifetime of many of us older Australians and which we remember clearly.

Culture is like the learning of English. It does not always come easily to the first generation of migrants and refugees but it will be easy for the next generation.

And as for the White Blight analogy. I wish all those who talk of “Australian values” could read the poem of that name, “White Blight” by Athena Farrokhzad . I wish we could all read it in the original Swedish but I, like the majority of non indigenous Australians born here, have sadly not got the facility to speak another language. Hearing her read (in beautiful English translation) of an immigrant mother trying to lengthen her vowels so they are “whiter than white” is so sad and moving.

Let us all try to develop a new set of Aussie values of modesty and tolerance.

Blight can destroy the most beautiful.

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Basic Skills? Learning to Read?

As an avid and lifelong lover of reading I never thought I would agree with Socrates’ opinion about reading. That was that reading would reduce our brain function.

But listening to radio discussions about the “new” curriculum it is clear to me that it is happening. Those supporting some silly interventions of more focus on early teaching of “basics” need to take a good hard read of Socrates’ opinion.

Two questions come to my mind. “What actually are basics in life?” And “Have these people ever heard of ‘reading readiness’?”

Basics, to me, are the gathering of knowledge and enhancing abilities, both by discovery and, perhaps even slightly less importantly, by formal learning.

Reading is one way to get this knowledge easily and quickly – yet this medium always makes such knowledge second hand and precludes self discovery! Ok, we do not have to go around every day rediscovering the wheel. But to some extent children should have to do this. If one watches children at play discovery is a great part of play. How to balance toys- we have all seen very tiny tots work this out, to give one small example.

In my career which included teaching, child psychology, having children and grandchildren, I have come upon very many different types of learning. One example is that many clever, involved children come to school and are not particularly interested in the mechanics of merely decoding words. They would rather take apart a toy and reassemble it, would rather gather a collection of nature’s offerings  than see pictures of them in a book. Then, about the age of 8, some discover research and they then learn to read very quickly. These children may be brought to books and reading earlier by the use of maps and diagrams but not by extra decoding skills such as phonics with cats in hats. And while they are learning without reading should this joyous knowledge gathering be spoilt by a task they are not managing and enjoying as well as that of discovery?

With the advent of the wonderful range of IT available I can see some are now satisfying their thirst for more knowledge through podcasts etc.

And why not? The development of language is extremely important in education, for concept formation and for daily life. Oral communication should be a basic in every classroom from K to 12.

The art of reading is not a God to be worshipped. It is a mere tool which is very handy if we understand how to use it and if we keep it sharpened. Teachers can help do this but it is very far from the most basic skill we all need.

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Philip Drew’s very interesting article in the Sydney Morning Herald this morning about the Opera House and Utzon’s role reminded me of a long ago morning with my long deceased father.

I love the Opera House. I enjoyed watching with my small children from a Cremorne window as its opening was celebrated. I have enjoyed performances and operas under its sails. Some of the later performances I have watched involved said infants as older children and then adults.

But I remember the morning in our kitchen in Cooma when Utzon’s amazing, winning design was announced to us, also in the Sydney Morning Herald. I was in my last year of school at the time.

My father was closely perusing the details in the paper and shaking his head in a mixture of amazement and despair.

He was, as we all are today, extraordinarily impressed by the concept. It took an extremely imaginative and inspirational person to come up with the concept which all Australians, and the rest of the world, must admire. Utzon deserved his prize. We, who enjoy the building, give him our thanks.

My father, an engineer on the Snowy Scheme, that morning in 1957 said, “This is a magnificent idea and he deserves the prize but it needs to be redesigned with the assistance of some engineers before the first sod is turned. It just will not work like this. The shape of the sails, for example, will have to be slightly altered.” He went on to explain more – such was my lack of understanding that I think I shut my ears to much of the rest he was explaining. I was quite used to the many, usually polite and intellectual conflicts between architects and engineers! Later there was quite a lot of this sort of discussion with his engineering friends.

My father was very sorry for the, at a later time, much criticised Peter Hall, who had to take over from Utzon and who was often blamed for the concept not quite working as first intended. He said Peter Hall was in a “no win” situation. But the decisions were made and we have to live with them. It should not be too hard!

It was interesting to read Mr Drew’s analysis today.

But whether we have got something perfect for our Opera House, or whether it could have been done better with more initial planning, it is still pretty terrific. The acoustics may not be as perfect as they could be, the stage space for a big Opera may not be excellent. I have been inside overseas Opera houses which blow one away much more with their internal beauty.

But where else, after a rousing performance of Traviata can one raise one’s glass, on a balcony or though a wide plate glass window and toast a wonderful city like Sydney? Who else, after a sad passage in La Boheme or Otello, can comfortingly sip a coffee under those magnificent sails and gaze at the healing blue harbour waters softly lapping? Only those at our wonderful Opera House.

 

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A RAGING RIPPLE

I was a feminist prior to the so called “First Wave”, so I accept that I have only been a mere ripple. But my compatriot ripples and I feel we made some contribution. For example we fought hard for the right to wear trousers (or slacks). Women no longer have to hide their long pants under academic gowns. Women teachers can wear them while teaching. A friend was the first woman to wear them presiding in court as a judge.

I am reasonably selective when I choose my long pants. I like those which, like men’s trousers, have pockets.

But over succeeding years fewer and fewer pairs of women’s long pants sport pockets. Why? Is it another aim to make us powerless by filling our arms with unnecessary bags? Or indeed is it so we will still have a capacious bag so that male partners have somewhere to put larger items? ( I so hope it is not just for “slimmer lines”). The fight continues.

To my dismay, a further, nastier element has crept up upon us. Look at this photo of three pairs of pants I have bought in recent times. A close look will show all have pockets. The pockets on the middle pair even sport zippers, perhaps “for safety”.

Imagine my dismay when I found each and every pocket was false. None of these pants can hold anything – not even a credit card!

What message is this sending? One a bit like our University days when our welcoming women’s common room was still home to a urinal ( water turned off). A message about a passing fad we thought at that time.

Is it the message that our whims and fads will be tolerated in a friendly fashion but our needs are not to be taken seriously?

And, worst of all, I am sure that there must be many women complicit in this false pocket decision.

If you think you are riding a big wave of women’s rights whilst wearing false pockets just for fashion, listen to the ripples – you may be on a dumper.

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Thanks to Anne Moon

Thank you to Anne Moon and to this organisation for the wonderful  opportunity to have heard her. What we heard about the plight of some off shore refugees was gut wrenching to say the least. But I must agree with a comment Liesl Tesch made. Australia is, and has been, a very racist country, and  it is up to us all to speak to our neighbours and acquaintances about this. Sadly we cannot expect, in this country, that our population would elect a government on an anti racism platform. And there are more refugees world wide.  I have had a little professional experience of cases of damage from other refugee camps, not nearly as cruel as Manus and Naru.  Even some of our on shore centres have also been psychologically damaging.

I first discovered the racist nature of Australia when I was 12 years old, 65 years ago. I moved to a school in Cooma as my Dad was an engineer on the Snowy. In our school population 78% of children had English as a second language. Some came as children of overseas consultants enabling the Scheme to develop. Some came as children of World War II refugees.

Those children were treated to particularly harsh unwarrented discipline from a senior teacher. We were all silent, adults always knew what was right. But I eventually spoke to my father. I am still ashamed at the two whole months it took me. He made waves and the school community was rid of this senior person. But the question remained, how did we let this racist abuse of children happen? We just refused to admit its existence and  looked for other excuses.

When I was at Cooma I was privliged to come to know well, as a family friend, one of the post war refugees.  He was German and had been a soldier during the war.  He had spent some time in an allied prisoner of war camp.  My father spotted  his talents when he was working as a refugee labourer, his extensive German engineering qualifications were eventually recognised and he made a great contribution to the work of the Snowy Scheme.

His wife and daughter had been killed in the allied bombing of Berlin and I later realised that my age being so much the same as his daughter’s would have been, was probably why he was interested  in sharing some thoughts and experiences with me as well as with my parents.  Of course my intense questioning may have been another!

He was dismayed that  the German people did not fully know what was going on pre war and during the war.  He was saddened at reports of what went on in German prisoner of war camps.  On my insistent questioning, though he spoke very carefully, I am convinced his allied prisoner of war camp, and possibly others, were also very difficult places.  What we do and do not not know is sometimes the victor’s history.

He, however, still looked at life with hope and at humanity positively.

At university I met a fellow Law student who fell in love with a Malaysian Colombo Plan student.  He was not allowed  to settle in Australia, even if they married.  She had no future in Malaysia – she went there and tried – but there was no space for Australian lawyers there.  It was somewhat of blight on both their lives but they have kept in touch.

Here, on the beautiful Central Coast at my old ladies’ exercise class  a short time ago, I overheard quite a racist discussion with one very sweet and kind lady complaining, “I had a whole lot of those Muslim people coming towards me jabbering away in their Muslim language”.  I had to intervene.  I said mildly, “There is no Muslim language, they could have been from Indonesia, Pakistan or the Middle East, for example.”  She demurred so I went on explaining, “It is just like Christianity, you can have French speaking Christians, German or Spanish speaking Christians and so on.  She replied with a finality I did not dare answer, “But our Bible was written in English.”

She is not at all unkind but merely fearful and very ignorant in this particular matter.

If we can try our individual hardest to mend the ignorance and get rid of this fear of difference in the population we may be able then to elect a government that has community permission to  act for humanity as a whole in an Australian context.

 

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