…as I observe them moving about in our/their world. It’s my worry that for quite some time now, we’ve let our young people down. We’ve let them ‘disconnect’ from our worlds – unplug if you like – as life and it’s pressures clamber all about us, forcing us to burn the candle at both ends, forcing us away from those things that help anchor our young people as they grow apart from us – their family, and their community.
I think there’s a saying that goes along the lines of ” It takes a village to raise a young person”, and personally – I couldn’t agree more. I happen to believe that raising our young people well and safely, is a whole COMMUNITY responsibility! I believe that half the problems we are experiencing now as adults, and most of the difficulties facing young people as teenagers – isn’t about the marital status of the parents. I don’t believe for a moment it’s about parents doing it alone. I certainly don’t believe these issues are anchored in ‘cultural faults’ belonging to specific ‘cultural groups’, nor do I think it’s the fault of those who have simply cast off their spiritual guidance. I believe it’s about the fact that we simply don’t value our young people anymore – certainly not enough to cherish them as fellow community members.
Stop and think about it for a minute. If we REALLY valued our young people and their culture, wouldn’t they be taking more of a part in the decision making processes in our local communities? If we REALLY valued them – wouldn’t we be listening more and ACTING on those things they tell us. If our society was REALLY geared towards developing for the future of this country, wouldn’t we be thinking of THEIR future – not OUR future? Aren’t we simply custodians of this country, waiting for the time when our young people come of age – aren’t we preparing our world for our young people, and their lives – not ours? My smally time on this planet – my experiences thus far as a member of our Australian Society – leaves me thinking that the answer as a society in general, is: No – we’re not!
This realisation scares the absolute Bejesus out of me! I live a life largely for me, not for my son’s and daughter’s – certainly not for YOUR son’s and daughter’s – and the point of it all really is that; yes – I should be! I should be taking part in a life that holds me responsible to the future of our young people. I SHOULD be held responsible for the choices I make, the things I do, the life I lead, because frankly – if I as an individual misuse the rights to life I’ve been given, this then runs the risk of impacting upon the lives of you and your children (and their children and so on).
I’m not talking about me taking your car, smashing your personal belongings or assaulting you beyond belief. I’m talking about higher things here; those things that when fostered well at the right time in a young person’s life, help to prevent those physical things from occuring – later on in a young person’s life. We’re ALL responsible for the way our young people live in our society. We’re the village, and I think the problem here is that somewhere, somehow – we’ve moved away from this way of caring for and raising our young people.
I have to tell you that as an Indigenous person in this country – brought up with the knowledge of our own family system – it astounds me how little most non-Indigenous families know about their own families. I can’t think of my family members in terms of first cousins, second cousins and third cousins the way it seems in whitefella families; because to do so means I’m separating those members further away from the centre of the family. In our family system we don’t have first cousins – we have brothers and sisters. All of my mother’s sisters – I call Mum. All of my mother’s brother’ we now call ‘Uncle’ – but the English term means so much more then it does in most Non-Indigenous communities – it has much more depth, so much more responsibility.
Second cousins in my family, are my nephews and nieces, and those you might consider your third cousins become my Grandchildren. I’m responsible for the way they’re brought up, in much the same way their mother and father are. I could be the one raising my nephew, or grandson, not necessarily his father or mother – it might be MY responsibility. By rights – I am obliged to look to my family as a whole – not as individuals. Traditionally; my place in the scheme of things is to look to my young people, and their future, not to myself. Sadly though – something got broken along the way. Colonisation shattered these values and beliefs, and History smashed apart whole families and clans – scattering apart a family care system as old as time, and leaving behind remnants, that simply don’t seem to have place in our largely ‘whitefella’ main stream culture.
Which saddens me; because if there’s one thing I’ve seen that’s badly needed in the world of young people experiencing crisis and difficulties – it’s belonging – feeling wanted and valued. Any young person I’ve worked with as a youth worker who’s come close to the cusp of suicide has done so largely becuase they are in crisis themselves. They feel cast off, alone, helpless, lost, worthless – all those things you’re least likely to feel if someone truly cares fore you – really cherishes you for who you are, and what that means.
Our young people need to know that they’re part of a much larger picture – a family jigsaw puzzle if you like – where they’re a key puzzle piece, and without them the picture remains incomplete. This has to be known by that young person – they need to be reminded of this at all times, and for it to really work well – the WHOLE family must think like this – and do this whilst the young person is living and breathing. Not lament this when they are dead. By the time this happens – it’s far to late… the young person is gone, and that seems to me to be the saddest thing about all this business: We leave it far to late – and we lose the opportunity to help our young people grow well and safe.
Our young people are part of our village, our community, our bigger and greater family if you like, and we should treasure them, nurture them, grow them even, because in MY mind this is a whole community responsibility. I want my son’s to grow well and safe. I want my son’s to have value in their life. I sure as hell want this society that I live in to value their life, past that of the trouble young people appear to cause in our life. We complain incessantly about the strife young people bring about. We make a hell of alot of noise about this as a society. We point fingers, gesture wildly, groan, sigh – expect amazing things, and make judgments more applicable to silly-bugger adults, who really SHOULD know better. However, we don’t accept responsibility for the situation we helped create. We don’t acknowledge the legacy we passed onto our young people. We don’t reflect on the lessons we might have inadvertently taught them.
My dealing’s with young people in well over 10 years of yarning with them about how valued they feel as members of our community, sadly leave me shaking my head. I’m scared that we cast off our young people far too easily. As a whole, as soon as they experience any difficulty – and we as adults fail to understand it – we dismiss it, and whack it in the too hard basket. Whilst I know we have things happening in our life – constantly challenging us and not making living any bloody easier – I also think there’s things we might do early in a young person’s life that helps them better overcome difficulties much later. I don’t think it’s rocket science, but I also know that for some people it’s simply not this bloody easy. THAT’S why it takes a whole village to do this business of raising our young fellas well and safe – because a true community realises the value in helping out all community members as a whole. It pays dividends… beyond our belief.
Invest in our young people, and reap the rewards. Keep them safe, care for them, and value them… because we lose far too many of them, for all the wrong reasons. I can tell you – as a person working in the youth work industry – there are more ways of losing our young people then simply to suicide. It’s bloody heart breaking, and I’ve cried more times then I care to remember.
I’d rather cry tears of joy as they succeed and overcome difficulties in their life! And I know really – you’d rather do so too!
Belongum – Out!