Love one Another- is it that Hard?

March 1, 2017

Two unconnected stories on ABC Radio found themselves intertwined in my mind.

One was about the discussions that are happening within the Federal Parliament around possible changes to section 18c of the Anti-discrimination Act. This section deals with acts that are likely to offend, insult, or humiliate or intimidate another person because of race, colour or national or ethnic origin. The second report was about the sentencing of a man who pleaded guilty to murdering his wife and the mother of his daughter in a very public angry and violent outburst.

What has happened to our nation that we need legislation that makes it unlawful to “offend or insult” other people? Some argue that it is political correctness gone mad.

When I was a child I was taught not to insult or offend other people. I understood “insulting someone” was something I did intentionally. When I wanted to hit out at someone, I could use words to insult them. I was taught that it was just as bad to use words to intentionally hurt another person, as it was to hit them. Just because I was better at using words as weapons than using my fists, did not make my behaviour any better than the bully who physically hit other people.

While offending someone was usually unintentional, if I became aware that I had caused hurt, I was taught to apologise. It didn’t matter that I may not have intended to offend the other person; I still needed to do something to restore the relationship. I needed to take responsibility for my actions and the hurt they caused.

It is sad that as adults we need laws to enforce what most of us were taught as children. I realise that having created laws to enforce what most children were taught as socially responsible behaviour, some would then try to use the laws themselves to hurt and attack others. However my unease arises from the possibility that removing these provisions implies that it is now acceptable to insult and offend other people we don’t understand or like.

It was while thinking about this that I was confronted with the story of a violent public attack that led to the death of a young mother. A spokesperson for a domestic violence support group talked about the increasing number of attacks on family members that are happening in public. She expressed the concern that angry men seem less ashamed of their violent outbursts, and no longer confined their abusive behaviour to the privacy of the home. Something seems to have changed that has led to this phenomenon.

I found myself wondering if there are things that we are doing or accept collectively that give tacit approval to insulting or abusive behaviour. We seem to applaud those “who say what they think” even if what they think is vulgar, insulting or hurtful. While everyone has a right to their opinion that does not mean that their opinion is right, let alone helpful to a harmonious compassionate society.

Do we turn a blind eye to behaviour or language that suggest to others that no one cares if they are insulting, rude or abusive? I am pleased that our State Government has taken action to ban the vulgar, even abusive messages that appeared on “Wicked” holidays rental vehicles. While the company may try to find ways around the legislation, at least they have been told that we don’t appreciate that sort of language.

I do not think that it is possible or even desirable to legislate social behaviour, so I think that all of us need to consider what we can do to show that we want to live in a society that respects and values all people. We need to model a way of appreciating the differences between us and recognising that everyone deserves to be respected and treated with dignity.

I am excited to live in a nation that embraces people from many ethnicities and religious backgrounds. I have been enriched by the foods, the art, the music and the stimulating cultural events that have become so much a part of living in Australia in the 21st century.

When I was a child I remember being taught to “Do unto others what you would want them to do unto you” and “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” This is not about “political correctness”, or “keeping the law” but about respect and love that transforms and renews us all.