There’s no graduation from help

Published in the Courier Mail 29 November 2010

Standing in the Ambulance Triage Centre, during my fifth year volunteering at Schoolies, I surveyed the young men and women littered around the place.  Their dishevelled and distressed state was evidence of too much alcohol consumed and too little wisdom used.

I marvelled at the efficient and tireless work of the emergency services and the willingness of men and women to place themselves in the midst of human misery to serve and to mend.

Schoolies is one of those surreal occasions in our nation, when 30,000 underage young people drink too much in a largely unsupervised environment. Parents or other adults, who should be responsible, supply much of the alcohol, which is unsettling.

While the safety response and the increasing presence of community volunteers has seen Schoolies become less destructive over all, young men and women are still walking away from a celebratory week with physical and emotional scars.

Of course boozing isn’t limited to graduating students. It is unhealthily ingrained within much of our society and it’s celebrations. It’s not just Schoolies who misbehave when intoxicated and they’re largely only doing what we have shown them.  Drive through any nightclub precinct on Friday or Saturday nights for evidence of this.

What is often striking during schoolies week is that in their rush to show us how grown up they are, the vulnerability of school leavers is often glaringly evident.  As I sat with those who had friends being treated in the Triage centre, they were often fretful, yet incredibly grateful for the help offered them. The irony that their celebration of adulthood needed adult assistance wasn’t lost on me.

However, at much the same moment I realised that none of us can live without the support of our community. Whether it’s through unwise choices, misfortune, abuse, crisis or illness, we all find ourselves in need of support at one time or other. While we often see autonomy as a badge of honour, the idea that we are, or can be, self-sufficient is a delusion.

Writer Henry Van Dyke said, “In the progress of personality, first comes a declaration of independence, then a recognition of interdependence.”

For some of our recent school leavers, that progress happened very quickly, but perhaps Schoolies aren’t that different to the rest of us?

When we see poor decisions being made, we can create awareness, begin to educate and put safety measures in place. All of these are appropriate, but it behoves us to also show compassion and to respond to the crisis of the moment. This is what it means to be a community. Thomas Merton, an author and monk, exhorted us in this when he said; “The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.”

We are all involved in one another, whether it’s immediately apparent or not. When our nation’s future leaders decide to gather on the Gold Coast and party, it is a wise investment to safeguard as many of them as we can.

In similar and different ways, we all need each other. While it’s right to ask questions about Schoolies celebrations, perhaps we need to remember what we share in common, before we stand apart.

~ Ruth Limkin