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In the developed world, we’re hyperaware of the prominent role technology plays in our lives.

The term ‘technology’ is complex and Murphie and Potts (2003) suggest it has now been generalised to the point of abstraction, as ‘an overarching system that we inhabit’ (p. 4). In any case, technology is dynamic, as is culture. Culture – another term with many intricacies and social attachments – might be seen as a reflection of a society’s views, values and ideas. Yet as Murphie and Potts note, ‘the internet is at once a technological, a cultural, a political and an economic phenomenon’ (p. 9).

This is because technology and culture are interdependent and two major schools of thought have emerged out of the many discussions and theories on their relationship.

Technological determinism

‘…treats technologies in isolation, as if they come into existence of their own accord and proceed to mould societies in their image’ (Murphie & Potts, 2003, p. 17).

Commonly known as the view of Marshall McLuhan, technological determinism is both a popular attitude and theoretical position in which technology is seen as the agent of change. Coined by social scientist Thorstein Veblen in the 1920s, technological determinism sees technology as an independent factor with its own properties, course of development and consequences, and technological change as autonomous and removed from social pressures. Furthermore, technological determinism suggests the successful implementation of technical innovation can generate a whole new type of society.

Thought of as a prophet of digital networking, McLuhan’s basic premise is that all technologies are extensions of human capacities. His infamous statement ‘the medium is the message’ suggests the cultural significance of media lies not in their content, but in the way they alter our perception of the world. While still defining history by technological change, Josh Myrowitz added that the key to a medium’s cultural effect is in the way it conveys information. He suggests that the Victorian era culture – print culture – was a time of secrets, which now has become a culture of exposure where society is perhaps more excited by the act of exposure than the secrets actually exposed. This, of course, has been perpetuated by digital networking and technological change.

Cultural materialism

Alternatively, cultural materialism situates technologies in their social and culture context. A pioneer in this school of thought is Raymond Williams, who suggests McLuhan’s ‘reductionist’ version of cultural history is ‘an attempted cancellation of all other questions about it [technology] and its uses’ (cited in Murphie and Potts, 2003, p. 18).

Williams looks for the particular circumstances into which technologies are introduced and at the political and economic decision-making behind new technologies.

MacKenzie and Wajcman (1988) agree, saying ‘a new device merely opens a door; it does not compel one to enter’ (cited in Murphie and Potts, 2003, p. 20). They identify the relationship between technology and society as not simply cause and effect, but rather an ‘intertwining’ of the two.

Personally, I quite identify with Stephen Hill, who in his 1989 publication The Tragedy of Technology writes:

‘Technological change… is not, by itself, productive of social change. Instead, the direction of change is a product of the particular alignment between the technological possibilities and the society and culture that exists.’

The preexisting culture would take into account patterns of ownership, class relations, gender relations, the role of advertising and public relations, and the flux of social attitudes and beliefs, each contributing to the way in which technologies are developed, introduced, used and even resisted.

Murphie and Potts (2003) also make reference to ‘technophobia’, an anxiety towards new technologies which Mark Bosnan estimates affects up to a third of the industrialised world. I think this is a critical point as the extent to which and ways technologies are welcomed by different groups and individuals is inherently related to the age, stage of life and state of mind one is in when new technologies are introduced.

The other critical point within the first chapter of the Murphie and Potts publication is the question of whether technology in itself, is neutral.

They note ‘Technologies operate and are operated upon, in a complex social field’ (p. 22), each bringing great possibilities for both destruction, and innovation and progress. However, to further question technology’s neutrality, the authors propose the example of gun control.

The conservative argument that ‘Guns don’t kill people, people kill people’, is a political position proposing that gun technology itself is neutral; that it is the way it is used – either responsibly or irresponsibly – that counts. The counterargument is that the gun’s very presence alters (and I’d add, escalates) a situation.

Finally, Murphie and Potts consider ‘machinic’ thought as a certain technological ‘flow’ we become a part of.

Technologies are as much relations between cultural and physical forces as they are objects [which] means that technologies can be studied not only in terms of their specific form, but also in terms of their function and their various contexts (p. 31).

‘Flows’ have emerged and sustained themselves throughout history in accordance with new technologies. But Murphie and Potts say that it is in our contemporary world that ‘our thought and culture have finally aligned themselves with flow… that which technology does best’ (p. 32).

While this is just the bare bones of theoretical understandings of technology and its relationship to culture, I’m certain each school of thought has its own merits and downfalls, as do individual technologies. However, I’d suggest one only has to travel – perhaps not as far as you’d think – to experience the difference living in a culture less-goverened by technology, has upon one’s way of life.

Not long ago I posted a response to Christopher Bantick’s opinion piece about the supposed decline of high culture and elite art in Australia.

According to Bantick, ‘Young people have lost the capacity to actually know when something is art, and worthy’. Without reiterating my entire spiel, as we would say in high school debates ‘I strongly disagree with this statement’.

Let’s continue with this semi-hilarious debate structure, shall we?

I will now present you with evidence in rebuttal to Bantick’s arguments and convince you – without a doubt – that young people have indeed not lost the capacity to “actually know when something is art, and worthy” of our appreciation and attention.

Exhibits A and B: Happy by Pharrell Williams and Happy by Gillian Cosgriff (background vocals/guitar by Sage Douglas, Josie Lane and Robert Tripolino).

William’s Official Music Video is a modern artistic masterpiece in itself. Originally for the soundtrack of Pixar’s Despicable Me 2, Happy is an all-singing-all-dancing four minutes and seven seconds of fun. As an extension of those few minutes, Williams also produced the world’s first 24 hour music video, which you can all watch at 24 Hours of Happy [dot com].

The video consists of the four-minute song repeated with various people dancing and miming along. Williams himself appears 24 times on the hour, and there are a number of celebrity cameos including Odd Future (1:48pm), Steve Carell (5:08pm), Jamie Foxx (5:28pm),Ana Ortiz (5:32pm), Miranda Cosgrove (5:40pm), JoJo (6:16pm), Kelly Osbourne (1:28am), Magic Johnson (5:36am), Sérgio Mendes (10:32am) andJimmy Kimmel (11:48am). The minions from Despicable Me 2 make several appearances throughout the film, including one scene at 3:00am, in which Pharrell and the minions dance in a movie theatre that is playing the scene from Despicable Me 2 in which “Happy” appears. The site allows users to navigate to various points in the 24-hour timeframe, including all 360 four-minute segments and each hourly segment with Pharrell. –  Wikipedia (it’s more reliable than you think)

So, all in all, I think that’s a pretty innovative, multidisciplinary, and inviting work of art, don’t you?

And, you know what? It seems not a whole lot of people agree that such art is ‘crass’, Mr Bantick, because Happy has topped the charts in Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, New Zealand, Portugal, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and the Netherlands and has come close in Hungary and Denmark, too.

Regardless of what the opposition thinks of Pharrell William’s current worldwide hit, Happy, which Williams no less than wrote, performed and produced, Cosgriff’s interpretation is so much more than just a cover you’d see on the first round auditions of The Voice.

Cosgriff is a graduate of the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), one of the nation’s leading music institutions. Having received some of the best formal training in the industry, Cosgriff is making numerous contributions to the Australian music scene. She won Best Cabaret at Melbourne Fringe 2013 and is currently on a mission to play on pianos all over Melbourne, an artwork in itself called ‘Play Me, I’m Yours‘ by artist Luke Jerram.

Play Me, I’m Yours, in Melbourne until 27 January, is presented by Arts Centre Melbourne as part of the Betty Amsdem Participation Program. They’ve been painted and decorated by local community artists and can be found all across Melbourne’s arts precinct and its surroundings. Anyone can sit down to a piano and play to their heart’s content.

Now, take note, Bantick and fellow high-culture-appreciators. This is an artwork, presented by Victoria’s premiere arts institution. The very same Centre is home to the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Australian Chamber Orchestra and Opera Australia, amongst other more traditional arts ensembles. Furthermore, Betty Amsden OAM is one of Australia’s most generous philanthropists who is directing her funds specifically towards children and young people and their engagement in the arts.

Anyway, Cosgriff’s taken on her own little arts project, playing and performing on the pianos for anyone who happens to be fortunate enough to be in the vicinity at the time. Her performance of Happy is cheeky, fresh and thoroughly entertaining. She’s also teemed up with other performers, and the locals at Real Good Kid productions to film and upload the performances to share with everyone with internet access.

I’m not negating more traditional forms of art. I’m not saying all popular music is fantastic or that the price of tickets to some international acts’ concerts aren’t ridiculous. But, the cost is across the board. The fantastic Berlin Philharmonic (whom I’ve seen) or Beyonce (who, despite all my best intentions, I have not), they’re both raking in the cash because to put on such a show costs a whole lot of dosh. And, seriously, Beyonce is practically a God who never stops giving, so it’s only fair we give a little back.

So, yes, today’s youth are growing up with a different ‘cultural background’ than you and others who’ve come before us, Bantick. Our thinking is changing but it’s because now the world is growing stronger and becoming more connected by empowering people through the arts. And, elitism has no place in a world like that.

 

In the Comment pages of today’s Age under a banner advertising the paper’s ‘Quality commentary’, is a piece by Christopher Bantick, aptly (self-)described as ‘a senior literature teacher at a Melbourne boys’ Anglican grammar school. Unfortunately for Bantick, his opinion (also available at The Age online) only serves to prove aspects of his title, as he sits comfortably purporting the stereotypes of both ‘senior’ and a conservative gentleman teaching at an established, elite ‘grammar school’.

Cleverly, the subeditor – referencing of one Bantick’s remarks – had titled the piece ‘Another brick in the wall of Gen Y cultural decline’. Of course, I was immediately intrigued, but failed to note the commentary’s author before jumping in. What followed was fundamentally an utterly abhorrent dismissal of the entire 20th and 21st centuries, under the principle that Australia’s ‘jingoistic egalitarianism has gone too far’, and we are now all too ‘ignoran[t]’ to appreciate anything the writer deems a worthy contributor to ‘high culture’.

In a few hundred words, Bantick rejects world-renowned screenwriter, director and producer, Ang Lee, Leonard Cohen, the Rolling Stones, Australian writer, Melina Marchetta, and British street artist, Banksy. He claims ‘Young people have lost the capacity to actually know when something is art, and worthy’ and that the only people attending ‘an opera, a concert of searching classical music or an art show that is not a blockbuster’ are those with ‘Grey hairs’. Bantick professes to fear a future where ‘the elders of keepers of the cultural treasures’ will be extinct, leaving only a generation too hung up on ‘selfies’, ‘fanzines and blogs of banality’.

Apparently, according to Bantick, today’s celebrity culture is all-encompasing and so widely ‘pervasive’ that is it altering the way our brains are processing information. Well! If this ‘moronic introspection’ has such overriding power, would he too, not be under its spell?

Bantick discredits any potential value so-called ‘popular culture’ may offer a young person – or any person’s – life, and outright eliminates any factors of contemporary culture that may enrich us humble beings. Furthermore, he states Generation Y are all too ‘vain’ and thus blind, to the beauty of Mahler, Jane Eyre and John Keats, masters of what Bantick qualifies as ‘High culture: fine art, opera, serious drama and music that requires patience and understanding’.

What a load of absolute horse shit.

First and foremost, I am unsure of what elite qualification Bantick holds that he believes has granted him the right to oversimplify and almost objectify my generation. In fact, he has stirred up some controversy in recent times in similar vein, applying vast generalisations to today’s youth and ascribing us with what he appropriates as ‘amoral’ values and obsessions.

Secondly, he writes it is ‘beyond subjective taste’ that teaching Looking for Alibrandi rather than Jane Eyre is just another example of schools ‘pandering to the lowest common denominator’. Yes, it can be hard to obtain objectivity in today’s complicated world, but surely this man’s opinion is no more objective than yours or mine.

Furthermore, I am personally offended Bantick has so little appreciation of and respect for my peers and our mores, so much so that he has predicted the ‘atrophy’ of art, music, theatre and literature predating the 1900s.

Bantick is also a little off on his knowledge of the state of Australian philanthropy. Only a matter of months ago I researched and published a piece at artsHub specifically on the pertinent topic of Millennial philanthropists with a focus on the arts. Unfortuately, the article is locked to artsHub subscribers but I can assure you Philanthropy Australia’s New Gen project is working to ensure the future of all of our arts ‘treasures’ is preserved and sustained for a long time to come.

I may also suggest Bantick lends an eye to the perspective of British teacher, Andrew Jones, who is in favour of engaging students in their learning of religion, of all subjects, through ‘pop culture’.

Also pertinent are the views of this commenter, ‘drjones’ (amongst others):

Image

I’m left to ponder the following:

  • Do high art and contemporary art have to be mutually exclusive?
  • What is the role of time and reflection in determining high culture?
  • Does generalising the interests of an entire generation actually do them a disservice?
  • And, isn’t beauty in the eye (and ear) of the beholder?

Let me know your thoughts.

Last night I uploaded a new profile picture to Facebook.

Lev019

The Likes I received were incredible/ridiculous/many. Every time I checked my phone, the Likes had increased. I went out to yoga, put my phone on silent, and by the time I came home an hour and a half later, the number had skyrocketed further, still. As I write, I’m on 209 Likes and 23 extremely generous and complimentary comments. That’s a Like Record for me, the most I’ve had on anything I’ve posted over my five plus years on the social media platform.

So, I’m thinking, ‘Wow, this is great! People think I’m attractive, people like what I’m wearing, my smile, the composition of the photo, or a combination of all of the above’. It made me feel good, I felt (no pun intended), Liked. I felt more worthy than I had a few hours before, I felt more accepted and somehow, more legitimate, as a valuable, equal member of my peer group, of society, if I can to take it to that extent.

Here’s the problem: I recently had a professional photo shoot at a professional photography studio. I had my hair and make-up done by an ‘artist’, was shot by a professional photographer, and the team used ‘props’ like a fan to blow my hair around, made lighting and furniture adjustments, and positioned me in ways they thought complementary to my figure/features/whatever. Essentially, they directed me into looking ‘good’. The photographer said she had all the knowledge and experience needed to produce the most flattering shots and I was (and still am) grateful for her keeping to her promise.

But, how do I know she succeeded?

Because one of those photographs is the one I made my profile picture less than 24 hours ago. That same one with the most Likes, kind comments and good feelings that have come as a result of the finished product.

Oh, there’s another Like. 210, now.

So, here’s the thing. What does it say about me that this course of events and tiny clicks, minute actions by others, granted, by you, that have led me to feel a significantly increased my self-esteem over a short period of time? How else could I have achieved this sense of okay-ness on my own? Am I so dependent on others that I am unable to pick myself up?

And, perhaps, what does it say about you? Is this a situation you’ve too, been in?

What lesson does it teach me, or us, about our society? About praise, about dependence, about the relationship between looking good and feeling good?

Instant gratification. Social media provides me – and I suspect most of my generation if not everyone active across the various platforms – with comments, Likes, Followers, that give me a sense of achievement. For that second that I’ve got someone else’s attention, I’ve been thought of, considered, mentioned.

Truth is, my presence in your mind probably is only momentary, fleeting if anything was. You’ve no doubt now scrolled down your newsfeed and Liked three other Friends photos, status’ or Shares. But in our fast-moving world, that moment I was present with you is as significant as I can ask for.

But, here’s the thing. Is that person in that picture you Liked actually me? I mean sure, it’s me – the image captures my hair, my face, my favourite clothes, my ring, my posture. But, I’ve been manipulated. Edited. Touched up.

Granted, it wasn’t actually touched up a whole lot. If I had a copy of the original, organic, un-Photoshoped photo, I’d post it here for you to make that judgement yourself. I saw it before editing though, and I’d say they only smoothed out a few blemishes or whatever they deemed to be imperfections on my face or something.

But, what about all these pre-production adjustments? I spent a good 20 minutes getting my hair and make-up perfected before they even considered taking me into the proper studio (for lack of a better word) part of the ‘studio’. Yes, they opted for a fairly natural look (upon request), and they let me bring my own clothes. So, I suppose the final photograph could be considered a fairly realistic representation of who I am. But, what is troubling is knowing that had I uploaded this picture (see below) instead, I’d probably be sitting on a solid, oh, five Likes, if I’m lucky. And they’d most likely be from my nearest and dearest who fit the ‘take me as I am’ brief.

Photo on 18-12-2013 at 3.24 pm

We’re constantly being bombarded by Photoshopped images of celebrities, by messages of the ‘ideal’ body type, skin colour, hairstyle. We’re told, heck, dictated to, what’s ‘hot’, what’s ‘in’, asked ‘who wore it better’, shown so-and-so’s ‘biggest blunder’.

To be honest, it’s all fucked.

And I can only say this because I play into this culture of externally-identified ideals of perfection and sources of assurance. I’m a victim and an offender but it’s perpetual, it’s enthralling, it’s insane.

We, as a society, have an addiction to judgement. We draw conclusions from un-evidenced or unsubstantiated data. We take thing at face value and buy into advertising, media reporting and gossip without stopping to consider our deeper values or attitudes.

Even when just taking that photo above on my computer’s Photo Booth, I took a couple. I wanted to look my best ‘in a bad situation’ (read; day at home, no make-up, dirty hair). Side note: omfg the temptation to edit that picture was enormous.

But, why is this? I’m not saying we don’t have the right to want to feel beautiful, to feel accepted and to want to be happy. Naturally, that’s an inherent aspect of building one’s self-esteem, something no one should be denied. It’s something principally deeper than that.

It’s more about how we source that emotion, and questioning why we value certain ‘sources’ over others.

And, it’s also about how much we rely on social media for quantified assurance and positive reinforcement.

211 Likes.

I don’t want to play the blame game anymore than I have, nor do I believe this culture has come about as a consequence of a single event/person/aspiration. It’s a process, it’s constantly evolving. And no one is immune (J-Law, case in point).

212 Likes.

I’m not anti-make-up, anti-media, or even anti-Photoshop.

But, if I – or you – can’t upload any picture of ourselves in equal self-confidence, and are dependent on external input to confirm or trash our mood and opinion of ourselves, I think there’s at least something to think about.

So for something a bit different, here’s a kind of latest news/opinion piece I wrote for artsHub yesterday. It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek but the foundation of my arguments still stand. So, have a read and give ya mum a book this christmas – and while you’re at it, buy your brother/sister/cousin/friend one, too.

An abbreviated version is available at the artsHub website.

***

With the rise of the hipster, young adults are creating a digital divide when it comes to reading – and its not what you think.

Young adult readers want a tangible bang for their buck when it comes to buying books

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image: Books abound at The Central Library of Stuttgart
A new study has found 16 to 24 year olds prefer buying printed books to eBooks.
Recent research by British marketing group Voxburner found that 62 per cent of this demographic surveyed would rather buy a physical book than purchase a copy of the same book for a digital reading device.
As referenced in Voxburner’s Buying Digital Content Report, which sourced and surveyed 1,420 respondents in the UK between 24 September and 18 October this year, 17 per cent of respondents felt eBooks need to be 75 per cent cheaper than current market prices.
Only eight per cent of young people found eBooks to be reasonably priced and over a quarter thought the price of eBooks should be halved.
As a young woman who could comfortably locate myself within this demographic if we presume such findings are transferable across the equator, I find myself siding with the majority.
Nothing beats the smell, the weight and the wonder a physical book presents. I nurture the opportunity to flip through a book’s pages, making my own creases in the spine and being able hold it close to my heart. While I personally am not a fan of dog-earing page corners, it too, is a physical sensation unavailable to those who choose the digital path.
Voxburner found the top-rated reasons for preferring physical to digital books were ‘I like to hold the product’ (51 per cent), ‘I am not restricted to a particular device’ (20 per cent), ‘I can easily share it’ (10 per cent), ‘I like the packaging’ (9 per cent), and ‘I can sell it when used’ (6 per cent). These physical and emotional experiences are simply unavailable when it comes to eBooks.
Readers may benefit from being able to enlarge the font size of their eBooks, but with so many hipsters wearing glasses these days, that’s hardly a concern for today’s young adults.
I gain so much satisfaction from slowly lifting up the bottom corner of the right-side page whilst reading intently and swiftly through an all-enveloping story, before the climax of reaching that last visible word and slamming the page down on its head to continue without breaking rhythm.
Then there are the smells of a freshly printed page, or the history of the second-hand book purchased from a little bookstore in a country town after accidently forgetting how amazing reading can be, relishing in some free time and subsequently finishing a book faster than expected, on a weekend away.
Bookshelves are a unique window into a person’s interests, past and knowledge. If I were to store my books virtually, I’d be without the ready reminder of who I’ve become through reading, each time I pass the shelves.
In an interview with The Guardian, Voxburner spokesman, Luke Mitchell extended this sentiment, reiterating that ‘books are like status symbols, you can’t really see what someone has read on their Kindle’.
Additionally, eBooks lack character. As Gerard Ward of Voxburner notes, most eBooks use standard fonts and contain fewer images due to the lack of colour available on many devices.
I admit, I don’t own an eReader of any sort. But, I also have very little interest in doing so.
Where is the pleasure of cuddling up in front of the open fire on a wintery night but having to worry about the heat adversely affecting the electrical components of my ‘book’? I want to be able to sit as close to the heat as I want, and observe the shadows of the flames illuminate and shade different parts of my page as they flicker.
Yes, I am highly dependent on my smartphone and many other technological devices. However, as Mitchell suggested to publishers in an interview with British trade journal, The Bookseller, it might pay to reconsider their pricing hierarchy.
‘The report suggests that publishers should look at how young people download content, because although about 85 per cent have a smartphone, only 55 per cent have some kind of eReader’, Mitchell said.
So, eBooks may be convenient and available at the drop of a hat (or the tap of a screen), but isn’t the kill of the chase a significant element of the reading experience? Browsing, scouting and landing the coveted paperback only heighten my desire to jump in once the pages fill my hands.
But ultimately, what is important to me is that we just keep young people reading. So this holiday season, don’t pass up the gift of giving your loved one a whole other world they can explore in the palm of their hands, whatever your preference; print or digital.

Despite its prevalence in our community, the stigma associated with having a mental illness is evident and challenging for those with mental health struggles. Similarly, I am aware that many people are self-conscious about seeing a therapist/psychologist/psychiatrist/counsellor/social worker or other type of mental health professional, despite their services being available for a multitude of issues, conversations and conditions. It’s a shame that this stigma is so prominent as I believe the benefits of seeing some kind of mental health professional are numerous and do not just pertain to those with a serious mental health condition. Therapists are available for individuals, families and couples who just want someone to talk to, to listen to their stories, provide them with a sounding board and commonly, some feedback as to how to proceed, what to tackle next, or how to work with a troubling situation, person or circumstance.

It is with this sentiment that I wonder whether the language we use is a significant contributing factor preventing more people accessing and seeking out these kinds of health services. When we have a sore back, we have no trouble going to the doctor and asking for a referral to a chiropractor, or seeing a teacher of the Alexander Technique for some help with postural realignment and lifestyle changes. When we have a sports injury, we see a physiotherapist, or perhaps, someone even more specialised. Generally, we seem to have no (internal) trouble with seeing a podiatrist, dermatologist or occupational therapist. So then why have we, collectively, created an invisible barrier barring us from seeking and receving guidance and help for what is intrinsically associated with what is arguably our most vital bodily organ, our brain?

Each week, I attend a range of appointments. This is not unusual for any of us lucky enough to live in a developed society with relatively easy and cost-friendly access to a range of health services. However, I’ve noticed that, at least until recently, I felt some sort of shame saying to others that I had a session booked with my psychiatrist, and instead of just saying so, I would omit the ‘location of difficulty’ or ‘source of stress’ if you like, and just say I had ‘an appointment’. Fundamentally, there is nothing wrong with that, and privacy to such an extent should be our right. Except the problem arises with the emotional guilt or side-effect associated with that omission, and I believe is comes from the stigma we as a society have attached to mental health.

Unfortunately, those receiving care for their mental health are often referred to, and immediately though of, as having a mental illness or mental disorder. For some, this is appropriate and true and I am not saying these terms should not be used, per say. Rather, I question; is it possible that due do these terms so often being used interchangeably, we are in fact, unintentionally, reinforcing that stigma and subsequently preventing ordinary people from seeking out mental health services? That people won’t see a therapist because they don’t want to be thought to have a ‘mental disorder’?

So, I guess I am kind of addressing two separate, yet interrelated, stigmas: one with diagnosed mental illness, and another with mental health care in general. I believe that neither are justified and both should be dispelled, but maybe starting with the latter will help to lift the stigma from the former. And to do so, I suggest the following:

Let’s change our language. Let’s start referring to ‘mental wellbeing’, adding a positive connotation to the world of mental health care. We know that to achieve optimal health we must strive for a state of complete physical, social and mental wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity (WHO, 1946), and as such, are entitled to and worthy of receiving assistance and professional care for all elements of our wellbeing.

If you’re going through a series of life changes, you’re in an interim phase between jobs/houses/relationships, you’re needing some guidance, or would just like an impartial, in-judgemental face to talk to, seek out a professional to provide you with that support. You may not need ‘help’, you mightn’t be in a crisis, you might even be at the height of your career. But, by taking care of your mental wellness, you’re actively maintaing or working towards achieving your optimal health. And what better way to live your life than that?

On the train home from university this afternoon, I boarded a carriage with very few spare seats. I set up shop (read: positioned myself in a corner with The Age) opposite a distinctive group of individuals, who were chatting excitedly with smiles miles wide on their faces. Usually I try to steer clear of noisy groups, whether it be business men, school kids or screaming children, because I like to read in peace and relative quietness. But for some reason, I decided to stay put and have their conversation as a background soundtrack to my travel home.

The train took off and I started to read. But I was soon taken by the conversation this group of people were having. The first thing I noticed were their accents. Each person seemed to speak our mother tongue with their personal flavouring on top. Some were sweetened and drawn out, others spoke in sharp consonant soundbites. One man I found quite difficult to understand, yet another spoke clear and precise English, as if it was a language she’d known from birth, with just a hint of something special on the side. As I studied their faces, I noticed the diverse ethnicities they represented. Of the six people, some were dark, some of Asian heritage, and another appeared to be Middle Eastern. I heard one man speak of his hometown in Saudi Arabia. He was a hardware worker. One woman thought he’d said ‘hairdresser’ rather than hardware worker, and after clarifying his profession through adjectives they both understood, they had a laugh about their mixup. They bonded over their struggle to learn English but their pursuit of it, regardless.

I came to realise that among this group, one woman seemed slightly out of place. She was an Indian woman, significantly older, spoke of navigating Melbourne’s public transport system, and with correct grammar and articulation. She asked questions of the others, and stimulated conversation through these open-ended inquiries. The other members were only too happy to answer, practicing their English and enjoying the interaction and celebrating their achievements in managing to construct appropriate and coherent responses.

They discussed what might happen if they missed their exit station the next time they took the train, alone. The older woman pointed to the map on the train wall behind them, and used her finger to guide them along the line as she explained how to navigate the map of Melbourne. They were to get off at Parliament, today, and the group carefully named the stations before and after their stop, to familiarise themselves with the suburban stations surrounding the city loop.

As the train pulled up to Parliament, what I had thought to be a group of six suddenly ballooned into a group of a much larger scale. The woman turned around and announced to the seats behind her that they were arriving at their station, and to get their Myki’s out, ready to touch off upon exiting the station. As I scanned those I’d previously ignored in the nearby seats, I began to realise what they had in common. I can only assume, but I’m fairly confident, that each of those youthful individuals were new arrivals on our shores. These people were migrants from war-torn countries, others coming from backgrounds of poverty and hardship. Some had left behind their families and friends, and all were making an enormous change in hope of a better life in a land more prosperous and filled with opportunities, than their home.

It was incredible to see how excited they were. They were so full of energy, hope and delight. They were making friends, overcoming obstacles and making the most of what life has given them. And I was able to gauge all of this from about five minutes on a train. Not even speaking with any of them directly. Just overhearing their conversation.

As they left the train and stepped onto the ground at Parliament, my eyes turned back to my newspaper. I scanned the page titled World. Bombings, corruption, hope for basic human rights and democracy, suicide. Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Egypt. Bulgaria, Myanmar, Libya, and Syria. So much violence, and seems so far away. But it’s closer to home than many of us care to realise. We are a multicultural society, and it is so important that we continue to welcome people to our country. They may be escaping, fleeing, or simply looking for a better life. Some will stay, others may return to their homeland. But we should accept people not just for who they are, but because they are who they are. Everyone has a different story, and it is only through sharing these stories that we enrich our own lives and in turn, the lives of others.

These people appreciate what we take for granted, they persevere and fight for their human right to be treated with respect.

So in the midst the politics of 457 visas, stopping the boats, illegal immigrants and the like, maybe what we need to consider is the value of our culture as a melting pot. We should consider the risks people have taken and the choices they have made in coming to this country, and treat them as whole, and special, people. We need to stop treating people like abused animals; herding them, dictating to them,  mistreating them, and start to speak with them, as our equals.

Because that’s the right way forward for Australia. And politicians aren’t doing us, or themselves, justice, if they choose to act otherwise.