Is Altruism too Hard?

There were two audio tracks I listened to today – both broke my heart. One was me feeling a rush of anger, the other was me feeling something break and I can only describe the feeling as despair.

The rush of Anger

The issue under discuss was the constitutional recognition of Aboriginal Australians. Its early, and as I make coffee I listen incredulous to the speaker make the statement that: “constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians is racist”. You can hear that here.

In 2009 when I taught Service Design to Industrial Design Students I was focussed upon one aspect of service design – a focus upon the unserved. Serving the Unserved is how I described it. To get the students to appreciate how society can systematically disempower a section of its citizenry, how a group of people can have all manner of injustice heaped upon them with the rest of society complicit in this injustice, I got the students to read Reynolds. In his book “Why weren’t we told” Reynolds journeys through his process of discovering a reality that he was not aware of. To quote from a review:

Reynolds has spent the past two decades leading the revolution in historical understanding of black-white relations in Australia. The efforts he has led have all but destroyed the traditional understanding that the colonization of Australia was a benign process that encountered little resistance.

This is the link to the review.

I was angry today at being fed a line that I felt to be untrue. But that many years ago I had a student come up to me and say she had wept as she read the book. That is a much better response. I wish I could have wept this morning for our loss and our inability to come together to make a better world for all.

The Feeling of Despair

I listened to the podcast episode “The Problem we all live with” on This American Life. In this episode there is a town hall meeting to discuss the possibility that the admission of black students would destroy the all white school. As the episode unfolds you hear from the black student who was standing in that same town hall meeting – hearing the words that described her as dangerous.  The episode is discussed in policy terms – with no mention of individual lives in this article.

I guess that’s my main concern: that the show might underplay the challenges of integration in an effort to show how well it can work and urge greater attention to school inequalities, and in so doing set readers up for disappointment?

Listening to the show I can appreciate the challenges of integration. But I also know that it is the good news stories that make us persevere so that we may one day achieve something good, that looked hard when we began. It broke my heart that this story is unfolding today as I write and the situation, of desegregation, is potentially going backwards.

We are missing something in our education ecosystem. The belief that we are imagining the future and that young people are yearning to do better. They are idealists, they can easily be idealists, and we are not giving them the chance. Is Altruism too Hard?

Published by Soumitri Varadarajan

Soumitri lives in Melbourne, Australia - #probonodesign #codesign #sustainability #patientexperience #quantifiedself #mdg

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