The Australian election is over... finally. Now it's time to get back to discussing a critically important topic affecting our future. No, it's not the economy. (Yes, that needs attention too.)
It's reconciliation, but done differently. Perhaps, as we finally return to talk of recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Australian constitution, we should look beyond just reconciling our past and look to reconciling something far more powerful and life changing, our stories.
Why reconcile stories?
Two reasons. Firstly, it can increase our wellbeing and life satisfaction. Secondly, it can go a long way to ending considering indigenous people as inferior. It can help us finally put an end to discrimination.
Have you ever considered indigenous peoples as inferior? I know I have. I was taught it at a young age. It wasn't a hard sell. All you have to do is compare our amazingly advanced modern technology and scientific achievements to their simplistic and basic tools and beliefs. Of course we're better, right? But look at our native cousins in terms of their stories and we begin to see them very differently.
We all live our lives by stories. They define our thoughts, actions, and feelings. As a GP specialising in mental health, I most commonly see these stories as self-beliefs, ideas or views which affect a person's life and mental health. If we are taught the self-story by others treating us poorly that we are worthless, for example, we will often put our needs last, not care for ourselves, and can easily get depressed or sick.
But there are many stories that affect us, not just the stories that affect our personal health and wellbeing.
Some are religious stories that teach us how to interact with each other; what rules we should live by, like not committing adultery. Others teach us how to use the resources around us, such as stories of engineers, plumbers, electricians, and scientists. Others can give our lives hope and meaning -- such as giving us the promise of an afterlife.
But who has the most functional stories, the traditional Aboriginal people, or modern man?
What's a 'functional' story?
The simplest definition of a functional story is a story that helps us meet our basic human needs in a balanced and sustainable way. These are stories that work; they ensure we do what satisfies our hearts, and allow us to flourish in an environment that can nurture and sustain us.
Today we live dysfunctional lives. As a GP I certainly notice it. Perhaps you do too?
I often see many people who are terribly lonely. We live a more isolated existence these days. Social media is not enough. Few of our relationships are as satisfying as we know they should be. We have other priorities, such as 'getting ahead'. We barely talk. We abandon our elderly to nursing homes, and children to strangers. Our most vulnerable are left to feel we don't really care for, or value, them. We pollute the world to the point it threatens our very existence.
Now contrast this to Aboriginal societies all over the world, especially in Australia.
Here we find a wealth of rich stories that spoke of how to treat each other, and the land. Not only did Australian Aboriginal stories -- as an example -- provide a way to navigate a dry and unforgiving country, they also taught us how to unite as a people as well as prevent loneliness, social unrest, and constant fighting. They even taught us how to respect the plants, animals, and land we are part of that sustains us.
It is worth remembering, when Captain James Cook arrived on Australian shores in 1770 he wrote in his journal that the natives were 'happier than [we] Europeans', and lived 'in tranquility'.
When Governor Arthur Phillip arrived on the first fleet he didn't find a waring folk wanting to fight everyone, he found a welcoming people -- on a Broken Bay expedition natives helped the English light their fire.
There can be no doubt, Australian Aboriginal people had developed, at the very least, amazingly sophisticated and functional stories. How else could they have thrived on an isolated continent for over 50 000 years and not destroyed it? And they even found ways to get along -- for the most part -- and be happy.
We come from a European culture of war and conquest. Europe has been riddled with war for over 2000 years. We seem to think that just because one culture overpowers another it must be the superior culture.
Not in this case. Not when we judge its superiority according to the functionality of its stories.
Compared to our Aboriginal cousins we are but naive and ignorant beginners. We may have complicated scientific and philosophical stories, even different stories we know as beliefs, but we are yet to find what they did; functional stories and ways of living that worked -- that offered us the depth of human satisfaction we all crave.
If any group has earned the right to feel superior it is the world's Aboriginal peoples. They have more than earned our greatest respect.
The recognition of the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Australian Constitution is long overdue. It is an important step in reconciliation, but shouldn't we also be working to reconciling our stories too?
We can learn much from our history. By learning from Aboriginal wisdom and stories we can not only help our traditional native cousins feel valued and respected once more, we can also help ourselves find deep, lasting, life satisfaction, and improve our mental health and wellbeing.
Perhaps it is time we reconciled the stories of old with the stories of new so we can all finally be united – as true equals – with common goals and vision.
What stories do you live by?
How truly satisfied does your life feel for you?