be good to yourself.


September 2013

“Am I on glue?”: Spiritual Health in Australia

A couple of weeks ago, I attended an event for young activists and social changers to meet the new UN Youth Representative, Adam Pulford. It’s one of the interactions I’ve got to have with the vibrant team at OurSay, who empower young people to get smart about voting and politics! The idea of the event was to meet Adam and express to him, as samples of the Australian youth he’s representing, what issues matter to us! May I just say, the guy is pretty cool and willing to hear a whole bunch of perspectives instead of sweetening his own agenda by finding kindred spirits to join his bandwagon. Awesome!

When the time came for him to write up all our passions on the board, the responses came thick and loud: gender equality, poverty, nuclear energy, Asian relations, environmental sustainability. And then, keen as mustard to share what matters to me: “spiritual equality”!!

You could’ve heard a pin drop. And if it wasn’t for the guy promoting the benefits of going nuclear as a renewable energy source, I think I probably would’ve been the most unpopular person in the room.

But thankfully, I had a few minds in the room open and inquisitive enough to ask me what ‘spiritual crisis’ was and allow me to get through the night unscathed. But it made me realise the truth of what kind of uphill battle I’m facing, trying to put these issues on the agenda and ensure that people struggling with their spiritual health are provided for in the health sector.

There’s an interesting phenomenon that occurs whenever I get the chance to talk about it further; when I get to share stories of people I’ve met, and circumstances I’ve heard about, and research I’ve read; when I draw the links between spiritual health and issues like Islamophobia, Indigenous empowerment, equality for gay people, imbalances in education, fundamentalism, workplace discrimination and even criminal behaviour. I find that people look at me with big eyes and say “oh yeah!”. They often then remember that fundamentalism was never cured by fundamentalism, fighting fire with fire created nothing but empty landscapes, and indeed most of the positive changes that have occurred in society are from protests-times when we fought for something, not just against it. I feel like finishing these discussions with ‘am I crazy? Seriously, am I speaking English?”


I could go on for hours about why when two parents whose pram is set on fire, the reports are always “Muslim couple attacked by Australian youths”, and not “Young couple attacked by Catholic gang”? And we wonder why these people go crazy or become so defensive in our culture? Seriously, am I on glue? I’m sure I’m onto something! When the red string connection is drawn between social happenings and religion, many are quick to blame the religion, but more and more people are seeing a health problem at the root of all of these struggles, once it’s explained to them, once we get the chance to share deeper feelings and beliefs.

How can we call the extremists ‘atheists’ and the rest ‘agnostics’? How can we allow priests into AIDS wards to encourage end-of-life conversions to Christianity? How can we speak out so violently against Shari’ah law in Australia without making any reference to how we imposed Anglo-Saxon laws over Indigenous tribal punishment? How can we turn away gay and lesbian refugees over to countries that will imprison or kill them? How can we allow sexual education to be so poor in our schools that there are no answers for religious students needing more specific coaching? How can we be a multicultural nation if we remove all religious education, both institutions and within curriculum? How can we do, and see, and allow, all of these things and think there will be no personal ramifications, no psychological or cultural consequences? Let alone backlash from those involved? Am I on glue?

What I’m hoping to create is connection. Between those who agree with me, those who don’t agree me, those who know what I mean and are seeking the kind of support I’m speaking of. It’s out there, and I’m hoping to connect those people up to. Can I do it alone? Perhaps I’ll have to. But I have a feeling that some people who read this can’t work out whether I’m a genius, or absolutely off my rocker. But if you don’t know, then my mission is clear! It’s possible that I’m right. Then it’s possible you could re-approach that discussion when you come across it again.

If you want to connect, or disagree, or just let me know what you’re doing to support, email me or tweet me @papabayj.

My Facebook thoughts on the election result. Discuss

It may be hard to swallow now, but what has now been created is a public whose opinion was ignored and affronted. Fights are only just beginning and maybe now we won’t have a latent Australia who allows government to just do as it sees fit. Pay close attention to everything Abbott does. Write to your local Member EVERY TIME he acts out. Write to his daughters about misogyny, to his Comms staff about bigotry, and to his representatives in other states about the humility they must have around our protection-not domination. If we thought equality would be easy, we were wrong. But the battle for it, where we see who really wants it, begins now. To flee our country sounds like nothing more than cowardice and admission of defeat. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one….

Who will make history now?

Lately it seems like everyone is noticing a pattern in the weave of society. We have the same Prime Minister again, Russia are extolling alarming edicts, alternative culture is turning back the clock on technological advances in music, culture is re-homogenising, diverse sexuality is once more a virtue, and Chanel monochrome is back in fashion!

Is this just another case of history repeating? Is it truly the same shit, but on a different day?

What I’m wondering is what all of these cyclical trends means for spirituality and religion as a civic force in the very near future? It wasn’t too long ago that social scientists and anthropologists were unwavering on the fact that religion would be subsumed by scientific thought and spirituality would cease to influence masses. Many said that before too long, medicine and chemicals would be able to answer all the questions for which we’d previously looked to God, Buddha, Allah, Aphrodite, Mother Nature, Huna, the Inner Child and so on and so forth. We would be liberated from mystery, fundamentalism would be undermined, and Truth would be an open-access resource.

None of that has happened, and I strongly believe that the reason why that is, is because in the face of failure or humiliation-those social commentators and culture creationists by making their cutting statements, created simultaneously a taboo and a challenge to believers. Whether they meant to or not, but those who so eagerly tolled the death knell for faith (blind or not) sounded a tune to resurrect all belief, virtue and spiritualism across the globe that divided the modern world into those that raised their voices louder than the echoing din and those who went silent and let their passion bubble in their throats- you tell me which of the reactions you think more dangerous!

When I was fifteen, all I really wanted to do what whatever my parents told me I couldn’t. And if I felt that per their authority, that I was put in a position where I actually couldn’t, boy was I mad, and upset, and confused, disempowered. I did not like the feeling of impotence. I imagine you can appreciate this coming from a teenage boy, so can you expand your thinking to wonder how many religious people felt when told “you can’t believe. Society will destroy your reason to, and call it progress”.

The beauty of the academics affiliating abject secularism with modernity is that pastoral, rural, digitally disenfranchised, politically demoralised and traditional individuals and cultures become further detached from their counterparts, socially degraded and in some cases vilified simply for retaining their faith. Sometimes this faith is the one their grandmother had, was born into, lived by and perhaps died by. Once again, the first world asks for change at a genetic, physiological, habitual, mental and cultural level within one generation-that we forget in one generation what was built over hundreds of generation.

But then, this is a case of history repeating too, because it’s what today’s big religions asked of the world’s population when they demanded allegiance and conversion for the sake of unity for political and cultural solidarity. I’m not saying it’s right, like at all, but nonetheless if you’ll allow me a lot of boiling-it-down, this fact exists. Religious leaders and followers, up until very recently were in charge of making history and charting the course for emerging individuals, communities, cultures, and countries to navigate futures by. The difference is of course that religious groups did not-and still do not-forget the power of masses who do not flock to metropolitan centres like moths to carbon-emissions.  So long as any fire on the spectrum of spirituality burns anywhere from mountain sects and monasteries, to inner city churches then we will find that when any kind of “cure” is introduced, we will be treated to a frightful epidemic, immune response. As we have in the Sudan, Egypt, India, Tibet, Palestine, Iran, Ireland, and even in our own backyard where the spirituality of the custodians we welcome at every official ceremony is continually ignored as a tool to close that gap we keep promising we will.

Indeed, who do we look to now to make our history? Religious followings seem to have all the power of high school cliques-completely overpowering in the arena they’ve commandeered and outside of those, the rest of us zip around oblivious (think Mormonism, Scientology). Politicians and presidents might like to think it is them who make our history now, but all I see in my country is policy Indian-giving and backtracking until everything is half-done. Every decisive action is met with protest until the media ignores it. The media might also like to think it’s them who make history, and they’d be right because the fabric of the agenda is more and more related to what they weave. One might suggest that our history-makers now are nothing more than a bunch of faceless boardroom-dwelling dictators who found a better place for their totalitarianism than public service. They indulge the science, they endorse the celebrity, they raise the suspicion, they pitch the language. And in that essence, have we not just prescribed to a new form of biblical worship? I mean they provide you a newspaper in every hotel, and daily I am faced with adolescent guardians of my train platform shoving publications into my hands.

Maybe the cycle of religion will not turn a revolution as fast as fashion, but as we begin to fear the power that has been invested into the current pillars of society, perhaps generations to come will use their devices to rediscover that ignorance is bliss, or at the very least you can use it to keep the world out.


Who do you look to for leadership? Who makes history for you, if anyone? What do you think about the part that spirituality, the metaphysical has to play in the forward movement? Email me or tweet @papabayj

Leadership and Pillar-ship: How Many Followers Do You Have?

My favourite shape has always been a circle. Strong, because there are no weak corners; perpetual because there’s no beginning or end; beautiful in art and featured in architecture. Many people extol the virtue of the circle-we sit in them to share, we stand in them to ensure everyone can see each other, we even relate them to life itself!


It comes as no surprise that the circle is used quite commonly to talk about leadership-I know when I attended youth leadership events that circles, hoops and rings were used to demonstrate the need for leaders to understand the value of an entire process and ensure that the rewards of the efforts they put out are cyclical and come back around to feed their passion.


 As time goes by, though, I’m starting to appreciate the triangle a lot more (bear with me, I have a point). Triangles are also strong shapes; they can brace, and tessellate, and facilitate many an equation of relativity and measurement. Although my view might be unpopular (no surprises there), I think that the act of leadership is far more triangular in nature. Or perhaps, I mean pyramid-shaped. Essentially, you lay a base of social responsibility or product options and use staff, resources and exposure to brace the position of the leader. The leader(s) is then elevated, able to look over their work with a bird’s-eye-view and be recognised as the pinnacle of the endeavour. I feel that this model of looking at leadership gives much more credit to the wider group than a circular, flat-model does. It appears that everyone wants to believe that we’re all leaders, and if there’s no real management hierarchy that we can claim equal-opportunity and sing songs to victory.


If you ask me, working as though we all exist on a continuum that doesn’t begin or end, and the organisation shouldn’t be distinguishable in terms of leadership does not speak of effective functionality, but of muddied waters and confused roles-never mind the fact that it is a fantasy no-one actually lives by. The essential truth is that the CEO is the Captain, the Fearless Leader, and all other planets operate by their axis (and do so quite happily), because we all like to have a set purpose; if we don’t have that then we can’t find fulfilment, nor satisfaction, nor thirst to improve and ascend through the ranks!


As a young person being coached on leadership, I have to admit I found myself feeling somewhat impotent-because I felt like these camps and workshops and conferences weren’t painting us a whole picture. And I’d look around at these rooms packed to the rafters with young people, and call me nasty, but I genuinely considered what percentage of those people would actually achieve this leadership we were all salivating over. All keen for a sense of celebrity, and validation of people wanting to hear about our lives, and of course above all that hoping we could make positive change and give meaning to our own experiences in this particular incarnation. It was likely that post-conference/weekend/camp/workshop that reality would smack us in the face (if our parents didn’t) and we’d return to smaller dreams. Perhaps that’s the point of these events-to help you distinguish if you are capable of pursuing roles of leadership in spite of all the odds.


Nonetheless, I felt at the time, and continue to feel today that there is no-one out there running the kind of workshops and camps I’d love to attend: how can you be the best follower? How can you best use your skills to attach to a valuable leader and social cause to give it the best chance of success in this modern world of changing technology (and heavy competition from the thousands of other kids who took the same leadership workshop!). It’s an age-old class divide between the manager and the operator. Each needs the other, but it always seems that the manager gets the fun, creative opportunities to expand their experience of their role, whereas the rest of us take professional development days that seem more designed to convince us that what we’re doing matters, as opposed to allowing us to expand our horizons and maximise our role in organisations!


I’m all for courses in youth leadership, but what about courses in youth pillar-ship? Learning how to be the backbone of an organisation, so the leader can sit as a skull at the top? Where is the space between tall-poppy syndrome and being a mindless drone? Is it bad for me to be proud to administrate or facilitate? Wouldn’t the instinct be to make me the best “mama bear”, or make me an amazing advisor or assistant, or typist or left-hand man? It is no secret that a leader is only as good as their following: we all know it when we play Jenga!


What I’ve discovered is that leaders are of the constitution to create cars: billowing vehicles to move us faster, or to better locations, or maintain safety. It is the role of Pillars to put the engine in place and maintain all wires, belts and cogs so the Leader can best drive the thing. History has shown, that often Leadership can only be a one-man job. We saw partnerships crumble in The Supremes and Facebook: right before things took off the truth about who wanted to be in charge came out. We certainly saw it in the recent Australian government scramble. We notice that the reason why these ventures still continue after crucial parties are unceremoniously axed is because of the Pillars-the people who direct support and are- in their skills and number- able to mobilise a great deal of power very quickly.


I’m not saying we have to be threatening in order to be recognised. What I am saying is the role of the Pillar is one that should be far more encouraged, resourced and exemplified to young people as a future for which they can gain skills and lend them to the best causes. If we breed a generation of leaders, we also breed a generation of cannibals and scattered dispersion of positive change. I might even suggest that we set up a large portion of the emerging population for failure and dissatisfaction, particularly if the only options they are shown are those of leadership, or pursuit of money.


Teach young people to be administrators, relationship managers, fund-raisers, program designers, public speakers, avid readers, researchers, event managers, suppliers, and socially conscious businesspeople! Teach them to be those who give the leaders their power, and influence the causes that matter most.


I will use this moment give a shout-out to twitter, for bringing the concept of valuing followers back into the consciousness. Blind following is no laughing matter, and follow-ship should always feel like fellowship in order to really impact the perpetuation of the cause or message. Suddenly the amount of followers you have speaks of your influence, and the retention of those followers relies solely on how engaging you are. And being a leader is hard work, because attracting a following is a process requiring frequent interaction, salacious statements and connecting with leagues of people in spite of varied interests, experiences, language barriers and cultural factors impacting their ability to connect.


You know what makes the process of retaining a wide following is, both on twitter and IRL? You guessed it, the allegiance of certain accounts/people who loyally carry your message into their followers and reference you ongoing, those who connect back with you in a way that demonstrates your value. It’s the same as high school: the trick to being cool is having one person of particular recognisability make a statement, and then once the key people fall in, then everyone catches on.


And maybe there’s something to be said for standing out, speaking your own mind, not confirming, be alternative! But I genuinely believe that true individuality comes back to the ability to make our own choices with the way our voices are heard. And it is up to us to find modes of expression, within the framework of a cause we participate in.    


I’m proud to be a follower, and my only qualm about running some kind of workshop to empower others in being Pillars is that leading such a workshop seems kind of counteractive to my whole philosophy! 


If you read this, let me know what you think by shooting me an email or tweet me @papabayj.

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