Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Compulsory Non-military National Service?

I've been hanging off writing this because it was likely to turn into a rant  - but you know what? I don't care any more. This deserves a rant.

What first stirred me up was an interview with Mark Carnegie (he is a venture capitalist) on ABC1's Lateline last week. Then I watched Q&A on Monday where he was expounding his ideas on the panel. You can also get an idea of what he proposes in this interview with him on ABC radio and the interviewer here raises some good points too.

In summary, as I understand it, he believes that there is not enough social commitment in Australia and  in order to increase this we should institute a form of compulsory volunteering. Apart from volunteering - the obvious misuse of the term volunteer which is inherently something freely done irritated me immensely, he suggests a four pronged approach and specifically suggests that while everyone in the community should be involved apart from the ill and children - and how that can be done I don't know - particular groups targeted should be the retired and students where there would be some undefined sharing of wisdom and mentoring.

The thing is that for most people  - you know those who live on a minimum wage and/or work several jobs - even with the best will in the world there simply is not enough time to do more than they already are. Many parents already work for their local P & C or something similar while there is a lot of good will with individuals helping others without recognition. A case in point: when I hurt my back and was unable to do very much at all apart from lying uncomfortably in bed for three weeks a friend, knowing my husband's ineptitude in the kitchen - he's since learned how to cook, thank goodness - arrived one day with a fortnight's supply of meals for the family.

Then we come to the students. I don't know about you but I've been appalled to hear university students saying, "I'm studying full time and working full time." but it's very common among those without the back up of parents able to support them. The irony is, of course, again the misuse of language. By definition you cannot be doing both full time unless you are attempting to do twice as much as any one person should be required to. And these people don't have enough of a social commitment, do they? I wonder why.

Then we come to the retirees - and this is when I found myself getting really annoyed with Q&A especially when some smart mouth made a crack about how he belongs to Rotary and spends a lot of time with 60 year olds helping them with their computers. How arrogant and insulting. Yes, there are  certainly 60 year olds who don't get on well with computers but I could name - but I won't because they wouldn't ever talk to me again - younger people who can't cope with computer problems on their own but, since they are working, they call on tech support and get their advice that way instead of asking someone else they know.

But that's a distraction. The truth is the majority of retirees who are fit enough are already actively involved in volunteering or are actually providing free services which would otherwise have to be funded by the community.

To prove my point I went to the membership list of a small organisation I belong to. This is a disparate group, mainly women and most of whom are retired. What brings them together is a common interest. Of the twenty or so members well over half are currently providing free day or after school care for their grandchildren on a regular basis and a number are, in addition, caring for ageing parents. Some also assist others in the community who are unable to do everything for themselves. For example they give lifts to those who can't drive or use public transport, they shop for them and they all mentor others in their area of expertise. Pity they're so unengaged with the community, isn't it.

Then there's another group of twenty I belong to. This one is mixed, mainly couples, with all but two retired or semi retired. Guess who are the free day care providers for their youngest grandchildren, pick up from school and care for older children and step in a child is ill and can't go to school - and many of whom are also caring for elderly parents? As well, several are full time carers for disabled partners who would otherwise need to have services provided for by the government.

The thing is we never see or hear of these people because as a society we don't record this data. Grandparents caring for their grandchildren? That's just what grandparents do. Looking after your old parents? You want a medal or something? You're a full time carer for your wife or husband or disabled child? Well, you did it. You committed. Suck it up.

So while I applaud the idea of encouraging people to give back to the community I have to say that making a compulsory, one size fits all system is in my view ridiculous until or unless we actually look at what people are already doing. Without that we're just running up thought bubbles based on our own experience and, if that experience is one of privilege, we really have no idea of what is actually happening in the wider community.

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