Australian sociologist Hugh Mackay gave the 2019 Australia Day address. It’s worth reading in full, or listening online. Here’s some of what he had to say:
“We humans are not at our best when we are trying to cope with a heightened sense of disruption, uncertainty, insecurity and anxiety, especially when we lack a vision, a sense of direction, an explanatory narrative. At such times, we tend to become less compassionate, less tolerant, less forgiving, more self-absorbed, more prejudiced, more vulnerable to fear and generally harsher in our social attitudes. That’s what feeds our obsession with security; it’s what drives our unrealistic yearning for simple certainties; it’s what encourages misplaced faith in so-called ‘strong’ leaders; it’s what pushes some of us in the direction of political and religious extremism. Compassion, tempered by justice and fairness, is the only truly rational response to an understanding of what it means to be human.
Hugh Mackay says we need a radical culture-shift in the direction of more compassion – more kindness, more tolerance, more generosity, more forgiveness, greater mutual respect – in our public and private lives. We need to abandon the relentless and fruitless quest for personal happiness and, adopt, as a way of life, a greater responsiveness to the needs of those around us. As Mahatma Gandhi put it: ‘The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.’ (Jesus had a thing or two to say about that as well!)
What would a more compassionate Australia look like, according to Hugh Mackay?
* A culture of compassion would address, finally, the need for serious reconciliation between Indigenous and other Australians, perhaps via a treaty. It is never too late for a treaty. It would mean responding respectfully and generously to the Uluru Statement’s call for Indigenous Australians to be given a formal advisory voice in matters that directly affect the well-being of Indigenous people.
* A culture of compassion would address the cruel and unconscionable way we treat people who come to us, by whatever means, seeking asylum and refuge.
* It would encourage a greater concern for the educational welfare and development of children in our most disadvantaged public schools.
* It would mean that inequality – of income and opportunity – would become an urgent focus of public policy. The thought of 3 million Australians living in poverty would scandalise us.
* In a culture of compassion, we would not tolerate the present distortions in our housing market – including our level of homelessness – especially when, on Census night, one million Australian dwellings stood empty.
* In a culture of compassion, we wouldn’t allow ourselves to become too busy to spend time with the people who need our undivided attention, nor too busy to notice when our neighbours need help.
* A culture of compassion would mean paying at least as much attention – and devoting at least as much of our public discourse – to the health of our society as to the health of our economy. In such a culture, we would think of ourselves more as citizens than consumers. We would acknowledge that people thrive because their lives have meaning and a sense of purpose; they thrive when they feel as if they are being taken seriously and their voices are being heard; they thrive when they feel loved and supported; they thrive when they feel safe; they thrive when they feel they are part of a society that recognises and includes them.
He concludes: On Australia Day, we like to acknowledge and celebrate Aussie heroes. Let me suggest that, this year, we also acknowledge the unsung heroism of all those people who are already helping to create a culture of compassion; people who are quietly devoting themselves to the wellbeing of others. Do you dream as I dream of a kinder, more compassionate, more generous, more equitable Australia? If enough of us are prepared to act as if we are already living in that kind of society, that’s the kind of society it will become.
Hugh Mackay’s wisdom resonates deeply with the Jesus mandate, and our call to be people of the Jesus Way, where all find welcome and a place of belonging, healing and wholeness. The church has much to offer for the common good and human flourishing in the midst of fragmentation, division and suspicion, if it could grasp its identity as the embodiment of Christ, if it incarnated the compassion of Christ, and if it could recover its DNA as the community of Christ with a place for people from a diversity of backgrounds – without differentiation and denigration according to status, ethnicity, gender or sexuality.
May we live with the audacious hope that we can, in small or large ways, be the change we want to see in the world as part of the Jesus community, the body of Christ here and now, for the sake of the world. Amen.