risk

Joining the dots

I’ve been following the NZ herald series on suicide, not closely, working as a school counsellor gives me some insight to the phenomenon but I am always cautious about my own understanding, even with close to 15yrs experience. But the Herald series is a bit like throwing out a series of dots from which people can join to form a picture. Here is where I’m a little unsure just which dots are standing out, how they are being joined and what picture/s are emerging. It’s tragic, compelling, emotive and unfortunately political. The dots could be seen as key ideas, some backed by research, others personal experiences, experts like (Sir) Peter Gluckman are mixed in with Mike King. Much like a join the dots activity I did as a kid, if there are just a few dots they have to be joined carefully and in the correct order to get the picture, more dots gives more detail. Sometimes you didn’t need to see the numbers to join them correctly – but at other times connecting the 2 with 8 really threw things off and you got a duck instead of a bunny. And this is where I think some of the discussion on suicide has gone – into duckbunny land.

I’ve read Gluckman’s report, it’s worth reading but how many people will actually bother to pick up his dots? He suggests the key work needs to be done much earlier than secondary schools, but also that adolescents is a vulnerable period regardless. There is a link between communities that have a low sense of worth, less hope for a future. I am saddened at the risk for Maori and other communities such as LGBTQI+ youth, this is where I think schools continue to ignore the dots and avoid responsibility for creating safe, genuinely inclusive (including bi-cultural values) environments. When principals deny queer young people safe places to meet (i.e. not allowing students to form gay-straight alliances), be valued members of the community– they increase risk. When schools fail to provide trained, qualified counsellors because pastoral care is not seen as valued – risk increases.

You see a couple of dots that people keep ignoring or leaving off the page, is the spike in suicide with the rolling out of ‘Tomorrows Schools’ when secondary schools could opt to not have counsellors in favour of the rather vague idea of ‘providing adequate guidance’ – and there are so many weird, vague interpretations of this. Key also is the gradual rising of the school leaving age, with university entrance now requiring completing level 3 (7th form for old school people). So if a young person is able to consent to their own medical treatment at 16, surely we should be enabling them to access mental health support as well, and schools that do not employ trained counsellors deny young people a potential lifeline.

Because every day, I talk to young people who have lost hope, who feel adults they have turned to have freaked out, got angry, dismissed, not believed them or blamed them for what is going on. They have thought about suicide, might be ready to die, but they somehow managed to get to my office. They aren’t making this shit up, they are survivors of bullying, sexual abuse, rape, family violence, they are from all cultures, they are LGBTQI+ and they had a free resource available, a fence at the top of the cliff – a trained, qualified, professionally affiliated counsellor.

It’s election year though, so I say this to all politicians – Stop ignoring these dots because they do not fit your convenient picture. Make a commitment to resourcing schools and agencies at the coal face of this work. Stop political point scoring around education, especially with vulnerable populations. No more dots are needed, just draw the lines FFS.

docile rating

I’ve never been a huge fan of the decile rating system of schools in New Zealand. So when the government announced it is considering doing away with them I was a quietly optimistic for about a 10th of a second. Decile ratings are divisive and should be reviewed.  But I’m not convinced the idea of individual risk factors being used to target funding on an individual level is going to turn the tide of under achievement. It is yet another move to distance the stated intentions of economic and social policy from its effects. It’s another clever example of neo-liberal policy wrapped up in rhetoric around targeted funding. There are some pretty interesting criteria being proposed for defining those students ‘at risk’. Some are a little baffling, but probably are statistically accurate as I am sure there have been people crunching numbers in order to bring us such revelations.

Even if the decile rating system is disbanded it won’t change socio-economic segregation and stigmatising of particular schools based on demographic and dare I say it assumptions based on ethnicity. Education is precariously place in the society and the landscape of political manoeuvres.

However I wonder if we could replace the decile rating with a docile rating. Schools that teach to a 19th and 20th century curriculum and maintain a ‘bums in seats’ compliance model of learning would rate highly for docile learning. Those taking risks, enabling all kinds of energetic expressions and the presence of emotions with a valuing of novel and unique approaches to relationships would rate low in docile.

Businesses and employers would know what kind of ideas young people had experienced and how their thinking and ways of relating to diversity might have enabled or constrained their perspective. Docile ratings would be independent of the incomes of families and would reflect the commitment of a school to break free of traditional models and modes of learning.

Extra negative points for not having a uniform and having a play-ground at high school.

Drowning sorrows

About a year ago I wrote a piece about the need for Kiwis to move on from the ‘she’ll be right’ attitude when it comes to water safety. I’m talking adult responsibility here, and I might even add driving, drinking and sex to the list of things we’d rather not talk about or simply assume this thing called ‘common sense’ will offer some guidance and protection. I’m wondering what all these things have in common and what aspects are unique or perhaps not so easy to make sense of. With four possibly five people drowning in just a single 24hr period it’s more than a personal tragedy it’s a question of relationships that go beyond individuals and notions of responsibility.

In terms of a philosophical shift in ‘where the buck stopped’ the move from God to the individual happened a while back (more commonly referred to as the Age of Enlightenment – although there are always shadows) and we’re still trying to figure out what that actually looks like in practice. We’ve made some reasonable steps in terms of recognising what chronological age might limit and we probably over cooked the gender thing at times. But the idea of connection and taking care of others has mutated into a ‘them and us’ separation with ‘them’ also incurring some form of repellent type shield protecting ‘us’ from any sense of care or even interaction. The emerging apathy becoming more a form of collective sociopathy. This is what concerns me and I don’t think we need another advertising campaign, or philanthropist chucking money at it.

What I do think (for what it’s worth) is if people can reconnect with a sense of community and connection regardless of the amount of length of time that community remains together, then ‘care taking’ might take on a more active and interactive form. A group at the beach, a line of traffic, a park, dance party, festival, these are ‘pop-up’ communities. In a way what probably needs to happen is something similar to what has occurred with technology where relationship have adapted and changed. Part of the hang up is about the meaning of ‘individual’ and ‘response-ability’. The idea of caring about others needs a 21st Century reboot, a decent ‘control-alt-delete’ jolt from Western metaphysical defaults – especially the Cartesian split.

Keeping others and ourselves safe from harm is an ethic, one that is sometimes a matter a life and death. Let’s talk about it and say hi to each other as a first step. Be safe out there – I care.

Flippering Out

Helmet fastened securely and body poised to dance with the mechanics of movement. Determination etched on the young face before me. Nervous moments as muscles tense and the single wheel beneath responds, Newtonian physics is unforgiving. And the incongruous footwear of flippers on pedals turns mastery into exploration and uncertainty. The part of me that wants to say ‘you can’t ride a unicycle in those’ is gagged internally with a quick risk analysis – which inevitably suggests the real risks probably do outweigh the perceived, but the balance of that is the exhilaration of the unknown. Awkwardly wobbling with delight and joy. She just might be a fish on a bike. We got it wrong, it’s not about what a fish needs, it’s what a fish is free to experience.

Packing it in

I’ve been thinking about who comes and goes in our lives. What ‘sticking around’ looks and feels like. I suppose I’m exploring my own understanding of what draws me toward or away from things in life. I’m also interested in what generates movements and momentum in groups or how ideas gather support, take shape and gather energy and become dominant forces – not necessarily for any particular purpose but nevertheless have social and cultural effects. I was pondering this while riding to work and realised cycling was the perfect analogy (no surprises wheelie). So here’s a wee story/narrative, let’s go for a little spin.

I’ve never really been one for staying with the pack. Going it alone is fine and I generally prefer to ride on my own. It can at times feel a little vulnerable and lonely but I’ve found ways to feel the presence of others or to become part of the wider world while travelling or training. Riding in packs gives a sense of power and presence on the road. People in cars tend to notice a big group – even if they don’t like it – it’s hard to ignore. Being in the pack affords you space so long as you play by the rules. But you can also conserve energy and stay hidden, it’s easy and being swept along without a thought of where and why we are. But it can become a trap of comfortable unconsciousness. The question is then do I want to be here and how do I get out? Getting out of a pack depends a bit on where you are located and who is around you. Sometimes it’s as small gap, a change of pace, and a signalling to others around you. Going too quickly or with sudden moves isn’t always the best even if you desperately need out. Moving to the edges or finding a break through point becomes easier if others come with you. Once free it can be a bit of a shock as the wind hits and your awareness of how closed in it had been becomes obvious. But you can also see more, and have the ability to swerve and deviate from the line and not risk pissing someone off or taking others down.

Making a break on your own is tough, but sometimes necessary and others might chase and join. Then you could be caught but a big bunch. Riding with people that want to ride at a different pace or cover different territory could see you take different routes but meet up at a later point having arrived but having very contrasting experiences. Sometimes people drop off the back, you want them to stay with you and to keep up but they just aren’t able to. There could be a chance for them to catch up on the downhill but keeping up your own momentum is also important. Packs are not inherently bad in fact, it’s fun to join the back of one from time to time but I like to know that I am still travelling somewhere I want to go. But beware of large packs and mass movements. Just because they are moving fast doesn’t mean they are going in your preferred direction. They create lots of pull, and seem to move with purpose but they don’t necessarily care about sharing space with others. In fact some packs can blow right through other smaller ones fragmenting and disorienting those riders without stopping to look over their shoulder.

I like riding out of my comfort zone, with people willing to get a bit lost, but know how to read a map and navigate. Get off the beaten track and explore some back roads from time to time. Just so long as there is coffee somewhere along the way, otherwise I will pack a sad.

Having a Ball

It’s that time of year again. The school uniforms are ditched for suits and frocks. Forget no nail polish and jewellery it’s a chance to flaunt every rule schools have on hair, make up and shoes. So I still feel a bit like the school ball is a bit of an archaic ritual. I wrote about my feelings last year therefore I want to change tact, because last night I did the 10-12 shift at the ball and recognised the importance of these events as a kind of social rupture.

The opportunity to express an alternative identity for a night is like time travel or a dimension shift. Young people can decide how to present themselves and might even choose to express cultural or gender challenges that signal to others a sense of unique identity in contrast to the sameness school uniforms imply. I enjoyed the game of ‘who was that who just said Hi Miss Grant’? As I tried to do my own cumbersome version of facial recognition software. Sometimes it came down to voice before a name would drop in. The fact that the oldest song I heard was from the late 90’s helped me to acknowledge that I am finally awkwardly aware of my age.

Who knows what happened after the ball, and actually – it is none of my business. That is the door that needs to be shut once and for all. School staff and to some degree parents of 18 year olds might do well to remember we were once that age, and we need to play our part in the ritual ‘ignorance’ of the other ‘right of passage’ (post ball shenanigans) that might be a little less formal and perhaps a lot more messy.

Of course no-one wants anyone to get seriously hurt, but some will take more risks that others and expect it as part of the package deal. Cinderella lost her glass slipper and I saw a few young women learned from that – exiting the building one arm linked with her date, the other on her shoes, and on her feet a pair of jandals.

Oh the simplicity of a layer of rubber and the wonder of double entendre.

Sink or Swim? It’s a current affair

It’s tragic. Another life lost in the waters off the coast of NZ, it’s almost a daily occurrence at the moment. Kiwis have an affinity with water that runs deep. It represents so much of our identity as a nation. It feeds us, we play in it, compete on it and in it, enjoy it’s sounds and being an island nation, there is quite a lot of access to it. Do we respect it? Do we have a collective arrogance or sense of entitlement around our water ways?

The few times I have ditched my preferred agnostic spiritualist beliefs and fully embraced Jesus have been in the sea, usually the west coast. I’ve had a couple of ‘OMG I’m going to (or someone I know is going to) die – moments’. Panic is perhaps one of the biggest risk factors, that and a lack of ability and competency in the water. Personally, I believe we have a tendency to confuse water ‘confidence’ with ‘competence’. I think being a ‘strong swimmer’ is a very lose definition that can range from ‘I can doggy paddle across a pool so long as I can touch the bottom’ to ‘I can swim a couple of km while carrying a sack of bricks’.

But what about the organisations charged with providing the information to help people understand the risks? Well I checked out the Water Safety New Zealand site and I have to say it’s a bit wet. The Water safety code gives 4 guidelines that are in my opinion pretty weak and non specific.

1: Be prepared – simply learn to swim, survive, set rules, use correct equipment and know conditions
2: Look after yourself and others – play ‘close’ attention to children, swim with others and between flags if patrolled. We could do better NZ supervising children in the water.
3: Be aware of dangers – enter water feet first and obey signs, don’t swim if drinking alcohol– that’s it?
4: Know your limits – probably the most subjective and problematic guideline

So what is it exactly that people just don’t ‘get’? Well I have a hunch that many people rarely consider the hydrodynamics (beyond rips) of water to be lethal. A lot of the worry and fear about swimming in the sea is about sharks or sting rays, when realistically the chances of death by shark pale in comparison to drowning. We should just break water safety down into pure science. Here are my personal choices for addition info:

1Litre of water weighs a Kg (roughly…there are a few variables to consider). Extrapolate that to 1cubic meter we get 1000kg or a metric tonne. So when water moves it has momentum – mass x velocity. I think Tsunami are perhaps the best example of the concept of inertia to devastating effect. I’ve struggled to keep my footing in water below my knees at Piha, and I am not lacking mass, imagine how a small body would fare. Now if you are struggling to visualise that you could think of the ocean as a sea of vehicles. Some have heavy traffic-heavy trucks for example, some light-cars, motorbikes, some just bikes and skate boards. If you heard someone telling kids to go play in front of the trucks or on the train tracks, I’d hope most people would find a way to politely suggest it isn’t safe. Unfortunately it’s not always easy to tell from just looking.

Then there is the density of water. There is a curious thing about water, when it is full of bubbles (aerated) it loses it’s ability to keep things afloat like bodies. So when the surf is pumping and there is lots of white water – it is bubbles and so you sink due to the temporary lower density! Those not wearing a wetsuit or using a board of some kind will definitely find themselves struggling to keep on the surface. This little piece of info is sorely lacking and probably explains why those who are generally ‘strong swimmers’ come to grief especially if alcohol is added in.

Alcohol and swimming do not mix at all. But I need to put my hand up and say ‘I’ve done it’. Aside from the decision making impairment, alcohol does interesting things to blood, but specifically it reduces its ability to carry oxygen efficiently. This is kind of important if you need to do some serious swimming.

More explicit information needs to be available in many languages…including drunken westie. Ok enough making waves for today.

Going To Great Depths

Dark, silent, alone, de-pressed, it might sound like the start of a story about depression but William Trubridge is man who took himself intentionally into a deep dark hole, on a single breath of air. Not just any hole, a yawning orifice in the Bahamas over 200m deep. Looking down through the crystal clear blue waters I had the impression of him entering the pupil of a giant eye. Watching him pack air into his lungs, like some poor fish gasping for air before he attempted the world record immediately sent shivers down my spine, this was a huge physical and mental challenge. We are mammals and our physiology is definitely not adequately designed to cope with the immense hydrostatic pressure water packs on the body, whilst starving your brain of oxygen.

He was attempting a world record, most of us in NZ will have seen the Steinlager Pure advertisements over the last month or so, giving us a sense of what he would be putting himself through. Somehow, I don’t think he would be reaching for a Steiny after holding his breath for nearly four minutes, more like ‘pass me that regulator’ and sucking on some sweet air. He was oh so close to making it. I watched live this morning and seemed to hold my breath…well…at least for 5 seconds at a time just mesmerised by the slow, graceful descent into darkness. I admired his beautiful technique and for a moment it seemed like maybe he was an aquatic mammal. At 102m he had made it, but like those who climb mountains (only in reverse) the ascent was yet to be completed. With 20m to go, he made the call to his support crew – a simple shake of the head, the grabbed him and assisted him to the surface, the record missed.

It was the perfect miss. I was quietly celebrating this courageous surrender. Here was a man who did not ‘macho’ it through to unconsciousness. When thinking about the relationship between masculinity, and sport this could be seen as refreshing alternative, a new relationship with physicality, risk and a strength that comes from respecting limits, and leaving ego at the surface to get to the deeper qualities of being that invite patient, gentle wisdom, and confidence to let go.

As for Steinlager being the sponsor for William, I don’t think the need to worry about their product image being diminished, if anything they got a pure result – and it isn’t always perfect. I hope William doesn’t suck on any of their product unless it’s the pure version, not unless he wants some dry land practice at having his head crushed in a vice. Anyone else experienced the ‘Steingrenade’ effect? Hangover doesn’t even begin to describe the pain and suffering…

You might want to climb into a dark hole after a night on those.

Bring back bike sheds

It doesn’t matter if no-one rides a bike to school anymore, schools need bike sheds. If you are nodding your head while reading this then you are probably are of a generation where the ‘bike sheds’ is code for other things.

Some of the best and worst bits of learning happened at the bike sheds. People tried stuff for the first time, talked about stuff, planned things and some of us actually parked our bikes there. The conversations and activities that took place you hoped you weren’t caught for (although…parking your bike isn’t exactly ‘bad ass’). It was an exciting place where risks were taken.

Some of those risks involved gossiping and talking about others. After emerging from the sheds the unspoken rule was not to speak about it. Eventually the conversation would move on to something or someone else, the outcomes and power of the spoken word dissolved and was replaced with other things. This is in stark contrast to the online generation.

When there is talk about things being ‘worse’ I think what could be happening is an unfamiliarity with the context and the effects on the meaning and intensity of expression via social media and the digital age. You can go back to a conversation, add to it, exaggerate, share, create images add pictures – so the story grows a life of its own. Then of course the audience grows and all within a few minutes! The personal and private has become a public performance for popularity.

Back at the bike sheds, about the only thing written was the odd scratched love note, insults were generic – occasionally personal but were painted over, or obscured by more angsting. Getting ‘caught’ was a real possibility and that awareness was an invisible safety bubble as the fear told you instinctively that ‘if you had to talk about this behind the bike sheds you probably shouldn’t be talking about it.’

I’m hoping riding to school will make a come back for many reasons including the building of sheds. Bring on the next generation of shenanigans!