By Roger O’Halloran
Potential for a more inclusive world
Palms cannot continue its work abroad until borders open up. Our business model requires it. However, we need to be careful that we are not sucked into the cultural imperative to return to what we are used to; to return to “normal”, rather than participate in an honest search for a better life for all.
We know the old normal was destroying the planet, but the obligation to change our behaviour to save it was inconvenient to the big, privileged vested interests who want to feed their greed with business as usual. Even those of us with more modest vested interests feel a need to engage as automatons in the system. The dominant Western economic culture provides little experience of life without growing material abundance.
The things we can change
COVID-19 has stopped the gay abandon of unthinking, unrestricted freedom. It is harder to fly or spend excess incomes on luxury holidays and fine dining. This has left many reliant on insecure casual employment in these industries most vulnerable, and it is a callous government/society that fails to provide income support, especially while not retrieving millions from business who profited from employment support programs.
There needs to be a very serious review and rating of industries that not only exploit vulnerable employees, but who also generate a level of waste (carbon; plastic; clothing; food) leaving all of us vulnerable. Are we in danger of ignoring a message from the universe that the time for this review is now? Can we ignore this extraordinary opportunity? Indeed, are we not obligated to pause, think and plan a better world?
First, include the most vulnerable
Don’t be suckered into the shrewd emotional marketing (Qantas) and “authoritative” insistence of privileged vested interests (who disposed of vulnerable employees) that we need our freedom to move. Now! If we are willing to rush forward before having a comprehensive plan, giving proper consideration to the marginalised, we might want to wonder who will be the rejected marginalised in future? Enriching communities, instead of blaming victims vulnerable to the virus, will require inclusive and imaginative intention.
Andrew Hamilton provides a framework for some of the action required:
“A higher rate of vaccinations in order to reduce the number of people vulnerable to acute illness and death, communication specifically at persuading people in vulnerable groups to be vaccinated, planning to provide accommodation promptly for all homeless people, strengthening stretched health systems, vaccinating for young children who otherwise will spread disease, and ensuring that people held in prisons, homes for the aged and other institutions do not merely avoid death but have a fully human and social life.”[i]
The mental health arguments trotted out by politicians and others, who so often have ignored the issue in the past, seem to be conveniently unbalanced. The mental health of all of us in an alienated society will be threatened to a greater or lesser degree by the threat of lockdowns on the one hand or contracting the virus on the other if we are not in lockdown. Are we so devoid of imagination and ability to believe that we cannot embrace positive connections for good mental health in either circumstance?
What kind of society are we forging our way into? Are we choosing survival of the fittest over taking just a few extra months to put necessary safeguards in place for those more vulnerable?
A Prophetic Role for Palms Participants
Perhaps our cultural imperative to desire total control of our outcomes means we fail to realise that lives lived more simply are often more connected; more contented; less disintegrated and so less alienating. No community is perfect, but each has positives we might do well to integrate into a plan that takes our world forward with grace. The alternative is a dramatic loss of social cohesion[ii]. Do Palms’ program participants have a role, even a prophetic obligation, to share their experience of humbler ways of being, revealed by communities in which they have lived?
In terms of the aspects of Palms business model depending on travel, it cannot resume until we are sure it does not damage the lives of, or indeed is not deadly for others. As such we must check our desire to help others is not more about our need to feel useful than about those we think we might be going to help. If extra months are required to give governments, here and abroad, appropriate time to implement plans that ensure all groups are safe, especially the most vulnerable in a community, we can engage in alternative ways to help.
Feature image: Palms Participant Liz O’Sullivan enjoying a meal cooked by a local teacher at Khlotor School, Thailand.
[i] Andrew Hamilton Eureka Street, September 3, 2021 https://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article/coming-out-of-coronavirus?
[ii] Andrew Hamilton Eureka Street, September 17, 2021