Social researcher and bestselling author Hugh Mackay AO delivered the 2019 Australia Day Address.
A culture of compassion
So how might we minimise the risk of social isolation in our society and its damaging consequences?
As a starting point, I believe 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.’
So a call to become more compassionate is partly, perhaps mainly, a plea to do all the simple things that good neighbours routinely do: smile and say hello when you pass someone in a local street, or wait with them at a bus stop. Be especially alert to the well-being of anyone in your street, or your apartment block, who you know is at risk of social isolation particularly the frail elderly. Keep in touch with them; be ready to offer practical support – even if it’s only the gift of listening. Engage with local groups – book clubs, community choirs, U3A groups, community gardens, events at your local library, sporting and service clubs, neighbourhood associations, faith communities – anything that will put you in touch with what’s going on in your local area, and make you more aware of people potentially in need of your help. Organise occasional street parties or picnics in the local park. If you really need an excuse, invite the neighbours in for a drink to celebrate Australia Day.
Photos: Salty Dingo