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Karen's thoughts on the Social Economy

Our Twilight Zone: Time to Shake it Up

Thursday, 7th July 2016

My mood has been really “off” since Saturday’s election: almost grieving – in a way that I’ve not experienced before. I’m not alone.

Young woman voting


We’ve hit a twilight zone. It’s yet to be seen whether it’s going to herald a dawn or a dusk or both – but whichever it is that “in-between time” is here. It’s a time where we have to implement understanding and implement change. And it’s not going to be quick.

The combination of the US election, Brexit and now Australian elections have lent an evidence base to the fact that people are polarised in their opinions and that our democratic institutions are fragmenting, being undermined and are no longer serving us in the way they ought. People are disengaged (those who don’t vote) and disbelieving (those who shifted their vote to the minor parties).

In all of this the most important issues of our times are not being addressed: climate, refugees, identity… yet, to counterbalance the negative, there are huge wonderful developments and discoveries happening which don’t get any significant airplay in our general media and if they did would go some way to diminishing the “fear factor”. (check out the podcast Exponential Wisdom on this).

The disappearance of the critical traditional advertising revenue streams for the general media  means that to generate the most “eyeballs” for advertisers news organisations focus on what they know works: writing bad news stories because that’s what people read.

Even here at Pro Bono Australia where our mandate is to write “constructive” news, news that “activates good intentions” we find that we get high reads on negative stories such as when the Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission deregisters charities. It’s only human to revert to the limbic part of our brain – the ancient part of our brain that generates the “fight or flight” response which, in the distant hunter / gatherer time of human development,  kept us safe from predators.

But in these days when predators are less immediate, how do we move to a more positive, less fear based place? How do we understand what people are fearing and how do we address it? Which part of the fear is real and which parts aren’t? How do we communicate with, how do we access those who no longer trust the institutions like our mainstream political parties to generate the social cohesion that is necessary to address the major challenges and to take up the opportunities of our time?

Over the last number of days many of my conversations have turned to the rise and rise of Hanson and those who follow her. People of Asian descent recall how they felt last time Hanson had currency in the electorate: alienated, afraid , unwelcome – as Dr Tim Soutphommasane the Race Discrimination Commissioner has been recalling over the last few days publicly.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. It’s time for a new narrative. It’s time for new understandings. It’s time for new way of conversing. And, by the way, I realise anyone reading this will probably be sympathetic to most of what I say. And therein lies the crux of the problem.

Karen Mahlab AM is the Founder and CEO of Pro Bono Australia. In 2015 she was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia for her contribution to the Not for Profit sector and philanthropic initiatives.
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