Opinion: bushfires bring need for community care into focus

By Judith Leeson AM

The tragedy of the Australian bushfires, which have unfolded during the past few months, has left us gasping at the unprecedented scale, ferocity, and devastation.

We have brought this tragedy into our homes and workplaces using the media, and we are all experiencing grief.

The heart-breaking loss of life, homes, properties, businesses, domestic animals, wildlife and beloved bushland has already left an indelible scar on us all, with more pain to come.

I have been reflecting on what are the key elements for individual and community recovery from a crisis of this magnitude.

We have been inspired by the incredible courage of the volunteer firefighters, the emergency services, police, ambulance personnel, the defence forces, and individuals who have risked all for their neighbours and friends.

The same winds that have driven much of the spread of the bushfires, have changed our landscape, but also stimulated a groundswell of support within community, and rekindled what it means to be Australian.

While the three tiers of government are providing significant practical and material support, which allow people who have lost so much, to access food, water, shelter, clothing, and meet their immediate physical needs, the elements that transform all these interactions are those of kindness, compassion, care, and empathy.

Caring Futures Institute ambassador Judith Leeson AM.

Unexpected acts of kindness and caring are highly motivating to both the giver, and the recipient, and reveal how much we value the uniqueness of each individual, our neighbours, our communities and our fellow Australians.

We all have the capacity to inspire, encourage, and assist in the healing process by showing that we care, especially if we acknowledge our interdependence, and common humanity.

I am honoured to be working with the Caring Futures Institute which has been established to study the benefits of self-care and caring solutions, to support better lives, better communities, better care and better systems.

Already its research is contributing to many aspects of enhanced living for people in the community who are experiencing disadvantage.

The bushfire disaster has provided us with the opportunity to invest evidence-based interventions with care, kindness, compassion and empathy, and to ensure that people are assisted in a way that meets their needs and enables them to be the primary decision makers.

As they recover from the initial impact and shock, they will gradually regain a sense of control, recover their sense of resilience, and resume their roles in the community.

An Australian Rural Firefighter observes the damage caused by bushfires in Queensland. Source: Getty Images.

We all have a challenge here; to question if we would like to do things differently during this long recovery period.

We can certainly continue to embed kindness, care, and empathy in our interpersonal relationships, and carry the work of the Caring Futures Institute forward as a leader in quality care.

Our lives are shaped by love and loss, but we all need to know that we are part of a family, a community, a nation.

John Donne’s words in Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, circa 1624, during the Great Plague, continue to resonate.

“No man is an island entire of itself: every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls: it tolls for thee.”

We are bound together by this tragedy. Let us all find caring solutions.

Judith Leeson AM is a Caring Futures Institute ambassador. A Director of Vector Consultants, Judith has worked in early childhood, career development and transition services for disadvantaged groups for 60 years. A former Flinders University lecturer, her post graduate qualifications are in education, counselling, and a Master in Career Development: Counselling and Coaching within the School of Business and Law at Edith Cowan University. In 2019, Judith was a judge on Flinders University’s Care Hack, where participants gathered to re-imagine aged care.

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