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Where is the empathy?

I love the team at Step Back Think. I am proud and privileged to work with this amazing group of people. They are brave, reflective and curious. Every day that I come to work, an endless and unknown treasure of conversations await me.

 

We talk about all kinds of things. We have tough conversations, fun conversations, stupid conversations and insightful conversations.

 

We talk about masculinity and what it means to be a young man today. We talk about family violence and how it intersects with social violence. Those of us with kids talk about their children and the funny and bizarre things they say and do. We talk about our childhoods and our families. We talk about the people we have met and the stories we hear from young people about their experiences of violence. We talk about race and gender and privilege.

 

We talk about the footy and movies. We watch funny dog videos on YouTube and talk about how cute my dog, Shadow, is (okay, fine, I talk about how cute she is).

 

Mostly, these conversations are organic and spring up while we sit around our shared desks, but sometimes these conversations happen in a more structured way.

 

In our team meetings we have an agenda item called “Reflection and learning.” This is an opportunity for anyone to bring up something they did well or could have done better and to chat about what they’ve learned from it.

 

In our team meeting today we started talking about a blog post I drafted in response to the violent weekend experienced at Melbourne’s MOOMBA festival.

 

After sitting on this post for a few days but not yet publishing, we still felt that it hadn’t quite hit the mark. For me, I felt like something was missing. The blog just didn’t capture the true sentiments of the conversations our team has every day and have had, particularly regarding the ‘gang violence’ seen at MOOMBA and the public and media responses to it.

 

Mostly, we talked about how we feel that the rhetoric regarding the incident is limited. The discourse has rapidly narrowed, and it fails to ask or address the hard questions. We worry that this is true for many conversations about social violence that occur in the public discourse. So what are some of these questions?

 

What about asking why some young people feel alienated and disenfranchised? Asking where the voices of young people are in this discussion? Asking what role our community values and culture play in creating these environments?

 

It’s easy to dismiss young people on the streets as gangs and ‘hooligans’. To dismiss them as disrespectful, broken children that exist somewhere outside the margins of our communities. People utterly undeserving of empathy.

 

It’s easy to attribute everything to individual responsibility. It’s more difficult to consider that, by definition, social violence occurs within our communities and cultures. To address violence we need to be willing to consider the broader culture in which individual choice takes place, and that these things are intrinsically linked.

 

We at Step Back Think will not do the easy thing. Change will only come through being challenged and challenging.

 

Professor Kerry Arabena, an academic and thought leader whom I deeply admire and respect, was giving a talk once about provocation. She said, “Provoke with love – being inclusive is the most provocative action of all.”

 

Step Back Think is unapologetic in its provocation of the cultural change needed to end social violence. We feel that there is a gap in the conversation and we want to fill it.

 

We will stand up and openly ask those hard questions and have those tough conversations that we have normally reserved for our meetings. We won’t always get it right. But we’re willing to put ourselves out there because it’s too important not to.

 

Each month I will make a blog post that explores a current issue or conversation our team has been having, because we need to broaden the conversation.

 

We need to bring rigour as well as compassion. Facts as well as context. We need to challenge and provoke with love.

 

We’re asking you, both our supporters as well as those who don’t agree, to share and engage with our message, because the responsibility for cultural change must be shared. Without open, empathetic and meaningful debate we will never change our culture and end social violence. Through sharing will come transformation.

 

With sincerity and excitement I invite you to join us on the journey.