Are demands for “scientific” evidence in policy making and funding destroying young lives?

Last week, I sat in a facilitated conversation which explored the tragedy of suicide, mostly youth suicide! I heard a train driver talk about the trauma of the vehicle in his control sliding towards a young person, ‘seeing’ the empty look in the victim’s eyes, before their choice of execution wipes out their life. I heard the story of a website set up by Jess and Tom to try to embrace a few friends who could not cope with the suicide of a number of their other friends. The website now has 18,000 members. I heard the story of a husband and wife, who in response to Nick’s death, realised that there is a huge need to portray “hope” for life through the performing Arts. I heard a young ADHD affected boy who having been pushed out of the system, found meaning through people who stimulate his creativity in film production.

I also heard senior journalist with The Age, Chris Johnston, discuss the colloquial “rail delays” and “no suspicious circumstances” – official code for death by suicide. While the subject has been taboo, he is hoping more disclosure, more knowledge, and more learning will raise the public’s consciousness to this immense social tragedy.

An experienced Salvo told the most provoking story.  It was a story of corrupt processes that caused employees of a State-managed institution to mislead Salvo workers, and put a vulnerable young person at huge risk of successfully killing herself. But, I wasn’t provoked by the alleged actions of State employees. What provoked me was that funding demands overrode compassionate policy responses.

If we think about it we’ll all recall unfortunate policy decisions driven by money. Money at the heart of policy formation, rather than compassion and justice! What drives policy design that puts money ahead of compassion and justice?

As the talk continued words like “belonging”, “connection”, “identity”, “meaning” and “purpose” began to permeate the conversation. Not for the first time, did I hear these spiritual words in conversation!

In this post-critical era, how many people react to billions of their taxation dollars spent on government initiatives, which don’t seem to work? Even in suicide prevention! Why is the underlying situation not getting better? Where is the truth that will stop children from becoming overwhelmed, from losing hope, from giving up on life; wandering into fields of deadly risk? What allows them to fall, sadly, only to be picked up by an ambulance at the bottom of a cliff?

I think a big part of the answer is in the words, above. Identity, meaning, purpose, connection and belonging! These are spiritual words. Words more akin to religion than science! In our pluralist society, influential materialistic thought leaders are trying to silence the voice of religion. But in suicide we see an example of spiritual need that materialism cannot answer. And, there are deep spiritual needs in our society. Who then are the intelligent religious thought leaders who can speak into this need?

Incorporating revealed insights and spiritual understanding within policy frameworks is not tolerated. Researchers, policy developers, technical experts and funders expect nothing less than “scientifically” evidenced proof on which to base policy, funding decisions, legislation and bureaucratic management.

Can excluding this revealed insight and spiritual understanding in key social areas help Australia’s children and their parents to ever effectively and successfully wrestle with the issues that lack of identity, meaning, purpose, connection and belonging cause?

From the voices I heard in last week’s conversation, I think the answer is a resounding “No!”

So resounding is this “No!” that one needs to ask, “is the demand for “scientifically” evidenced proof, before funding and acting, actually destroying peoples’ lives?”

Listening to some of the panelists and audience members, you could have little doubt that there are magnificent activists in the field doing amazing things. Most are doing simple things that could be done by anyone in a community.

It takes a village to raise a child! These are some suggestions to strengthen the villages around Australia to help raise “at risk” people. If you see someone often alone in your coffee place, say “Hi!”, and introduce yourself. If you are a sporting coach of young people, draw older people into your program to engage with kids on the fringe, and their parents. If you are a business manager, offer some of your experienced people as mentors to young people in your business locality. If you are retired, knock on the doors of younger families to see how they are! The first step may seem hard. The pilgrimage will be profoundly rewarding!

But if a more just and compassionate Australian society is to be built by future generations, big issues need to be confronted at the upper levels of our society.

These are some big areas that need radical transformation:

  • Religious leaders intelligently articulating spiritual development to help parents frame identity, meaning, purpose, connection and belonging in their children and young people
  • Education to overcome learning difficulties for children and young people
  • Effectiveness of government in Australia
  • Economic strategies and methods that improve social wellbeing at community level
  • Political representation of communities, not political parties
  • Media description of Australian social environment: the good, bad and the ugly in true proportions!

Let our conversations continue. Let’s find better ways!


About Bob Simpson

Bob is project manager of The Australian Media Engagement Project (AMEP). He believes that ethical and independent journalists are vital to the continuing freedom of Australian citizens. You could argue that In recent decades media organisations have subtly subverted journalism to their own private commercial interests, and away from an integrated sense of fairness, well being and shared prosperity in Australian society, especially for the disempowered. AMEP aims to change general media narratives towards greater fairness, well being and shared prosperity in Australia.
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