Posted on: February 13, 2022
Written by Mark Le Messurier - 2022 SA Senior Australian of the Year
I spent three days in Canberra leading up to Australia Day with 32 Australians, each with compelling stories, personalities, and quests. We were our state’s recipients and had progressed to the National Awards. In the end, the 2022 Australian of the Year Award went to Dylan Alcott, Val Dempsey received the Senior Australian of the Year, Dr Daniel Nour, took out the Young Australian of the Year and Shanna Whan won Australia's Local Hero. Congratulations to them! How rejuvenating it was to spend time with generous human beings, who are change makers, and resonate with everything in my new book, TEACHING VALUES of BEING HUMAN.
As it turned out I didn’t need my acceptance speech. Instead, I’d like to share it with you because it’s a reflection on us, as a community, our attitudes, children, and their futures.
“Thank you. Firstly, I’d like to recognise the traditional owners of this land and my commitment to understanding your inconsolable losses and supporting reconciliation.
This recognition is a combined achievement. Those of you in my life - you know who you are - and I’m blessed to know you and be loved by you. You are the reason for my strength, commitment, and my attitudes. My gratitude is especially for the young people and parents I work alongside who often feel powerless, voiceless and isolated.
For all kinds of reasons, a large group of young people in our community struggle to connect with their peers and make meaningful friendships. Yet we know that continuing disengagement is a sure trigger for mental health issues. There is a reoccurring theme from many of the nominees about this. It is unacceptable in a healthy community. Most wonderfully, all of us are committed to finding novel and proven ways to connect people, especially children, to a tribe of choice because this is a vital protective factor against isolation, loneliness, and awful feelings of unworthiness.
The reality, however, is that we are losing too many young Australians to sadness, depression, and suicide each year because they can’t connect, share, and trust.
Teaching children the skills and desire to live generously in a community is the essence of our global ‘What’s the Buzz?’ programs. Thank you, Madhavi Nawana Parker, my ‘What’s the Buzz?’ writing partner and loyal friend.
Supporting educators, most who work small miracles in schools every day without adequate resourcing, to better understand the innate goodness in children is at the heart of my endeavour, and in my books. Oh? My books. Thank you, my darling Sharon, my life partner, for giving me the freedom to pursue my wild drive about understanding and connecting human beings, especially children.
I am in awe of the parents I work with and am privileged to walk with them. Such sacred ground. So many I see are in trouble because their children have been identified with challenges. Parents do their best. But it’s tough, lonely work, and they are sorely judged by others who don’t understand. On this platform, I want to share their stories filled with courage, tenacity, and ingenuity so they can become a source of strength to you and to others.
8% of Australian children have disability, but negative understandings around disability abound. Just listen to Dylan Alcott or to any one with a lived experience. One of the most common questions parents ask when enrolling their kids into our ‘What’s the Buzz?’ program is - “Will my child have to mix with children with a disability?” Just the word disability contains a negative bias. It dismisses personality, style, potential, hope and a wonderfully unique rhythm of human diversity. It sets us apart rather than drawing us closer. It highlights our attitudinal and structural shortcomings in society – it has nothing to do with them. We must wear this shame and change it. It’s time.
About 15% of Australian children express behavioural issues. We also know that 40% experience trauma in childhood and this changes one’s thinking and behaviour, forever. These children don’t deliberately choose to be difficult, rather they’re trying to survive.
Now is not who our children will be in the future, but what we do now, sets their trajectory. There must be systemic changes in the way teachers are trained, schools are resourced, and vulnerable parents are truly supported.
Finally, let’s remember the natural order of life. Now it’s our turn to be the adults, and our children … well they’re just that … they are children. Their brains, bodies, and spirit are in the process of precious construction. The atoms which merged to make them who they are, did so like never before, and will never do so again. There will never be another of them anywhere in the universe.
We want them to rejoice in their humanness, and know they are so much more than enough!
This must be our legacy. Together, let’s reject the bad, the questionable, and the prosaic. We can change what we once thought was unchangeable, and we should.”
|Mark Le Messurier is a teacher, counsellor, public speaker, and the author of 16 publications, with a new parenting book just around the corner. He works in private practice in Adelaide as a mentor to children and adolescents, and as a coach to parents. He is the recipient of SA Senior Australian of the Year 2022.|