Chain Reaction Foundation Ltd

Belonging, Connection, Folau and Freedom

by Margaret Bell | July 9, 2019

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Belonging, what it means

Belonging -- what it means, and what it looks like in contemporary Australia -- has been our key focus over the past few weeks. You've probably seen some of my posts on this already, covering this sense of identity and stakeholdership within Australian society, and examining the responsibility our leaders have to nurture this sense of belonging.

Australia has many unique features including being home to the oldest living cultures on earth, the indigenous Australians inhabiting the land for over 60,000 years. This together with only close to 100 years or so of recorded national history makes us a complex country. We are a nation of immigrants from all over the globe, especially so in the last 50 years, and at the same time we are only now beginning to fully realise our indigenous history, and even that only in pockets of understanding across the country.

One thing that is clear is that in order to truly belong in Australia it is vital that we do all we can to understand and develop a profound connection with people and the land we now share. In coming to grips with this notion we look to our political leaders and we find anything but true leadership in this field of understanding. Rather we find leaders arguing, pointing fingers, attempting to win cheap points for political survival, and plain ugly ignorance pervading. Australian politics at the moment is floundering, short-sighted, and without awareness of the treasures we have and can learn to hold dear and even magnify and without a vision for now and future.

We speak with pride of being a multicultural country but lack the insight to understand that we could be recognised as a country of connection not just multicultural, connection to land, people, and beliefs. We are living in a world crying out for connection but we fail to find the key to this distinction which could become the Australian way, a way that could be shared with others in harmony and peace with much of the wisdom needed drawn from our First Nations people's.


Sports and its heroes

We have looked to sport and its heroes to bring us a sense of pride and belonging because sports heroes have brought us much in terms of direction and a way forward. We have taken great pride in Don Bradman, Cathy Freeman, Ian Thorpe and others.

The reverence for sport has raised the recent complicated case of Israel Folau a rugby union winger of renown and a Pentecostal church parish leader. His comments regarding gay and transgender people and others to be condemned to hell have caused an uproar.

While making these comments, Folau was expressing what he believed was right, particularly in regard to his own beliefs and his personal views on morality and on right and wrong ways to be. Understandably, this has inflamed debate in Australia, pitting the right to religious freedom against the right for all Australians to feel accepted, loved, and to feel that they belong.

Of course, Israel Folau has the right to express his own interpretation of his religion, and it is clear from his follow up comments that he truly believes what he says. But what does this do for the sense of belonging of thousands of other Australians; Australians who may have experienced discrimination or even violence due to their sexuality, and who may be feeling ostracised by, or excluded from, society at large?

Feeling safe, secure and connected to society

Ultimately, the right to religious freedom -- the right to approach the world and its ethical question from a certain direction -- does not trump the right of others to feel safe, secure, and connected to the society they call home. 

The situation is a regrettable one on many levels, but it does give us the opportunity to consider what is really important to us, both as Australians and as inhabitants of the broader society of Planet Earth. It provides us with the chance to look within ourselves, and to consider our own values and behaviours, asking "what are we doing to foster this sense of belonging, not simply in ourselves, but in everyone we come into contact with?"

Achieving this kind of clarity at such a fundamental level will drive our connection to society and to the soil, and help us develop the true sense of belonging that Australia needs if it is to progress.

Margaret Bell, AM - Founder and CEO of Chain Reaction Foundation.

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