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Monday, November 26, 2012

How did we become an angry society? A personal confrontation...

Over the weekend two incidents occurred that have affected me to the point that I spent a sleepless night pondering where we have come to in our society. 

I read with horror the story of the two young French girls on a Melbourne bus who were subjected to a tirade of vile, racist abuse by a man pushing a pram. It went worldwide You can read about it here. Not a proud moment for my hometown. This was awful but it was something that happened to "someone else".

I am going to out myself here. I am "practicing" member of a small Anglican church in the western suburbs of Melbourne. When we first moved here, thirty years ago, it was sleepy hollow but alas it has now been discovered and it only takes a warm day and the hordes flock to our foreshore to either dine in the cafes or enjoy picnics in the parks. It is so bad that at 6.30pm on Saturday night as we were heading out of town, there was a jam of vehicles trying to access the waterfront.  Weekends are becoming a nightmare for us as we live close to the waterfront and if I move my car I inevitably return to find my car space taken as parking becomes a premium.

Our little church is right on the foreshore and we are currently in the throes of a property development which has entailed the building of a private road behind the church and the construction of car parks that are clearly labelled "Private Property No Parking". Yesterday afternoon, our vicar wandered out of the vicarage and saw a bloke parking his car in our car spaces. He politely pointed out the signs and he was then subjected to a torrent of vile abuse, to the point where he thought he was in danger of physical attack. Now our vicar is not easily intimidated but when he arrived at the social event we were having in the garden, he was clearly shaken. 

The second incident occurred later that afternoon. Our church runs an Emergency Relief lunch program on Mondays and Fridays. While we build a new parish centre, the program is currently run out of another local church hall. We are blessed with the generosity of the local traders including Woolworths who donated a double refrigerator to us for the use of the program. Another trader donates all its left over cupcakes on a Sunday afternoon for use at the Monday lunch. We have a roster of parishioners who pick the cakes up and deliver them to the fridge. In fairness to what follows,  the fridge isn't labelled - although it will be from now on!  

It just so happened it was the turn of my husband and I yesterday. We collected 4 boxes of cakes and arrived at the other church to find a children's party going on in the church hall. When we opened the refrigerator we found it occupied with beers and drinks. 

An elderly gentleman came in to the kitchen and told us they were the property of the party. We explained the fridge belonged to the Emergency Relief and we needed to refrigerate the cakes. He was on the point of removing the drinks (we could have worked around them)when a younger man came into the kitchen.
"We are not moving anything," he told us. "We've paid $200 for this venue and we were told we could use the fridge."
"But it's not the church"s fridge," my husband said. 
"I dont F^&** care whose fridge it is, we were told we could use it and we're not F@#$#% moving anything. We've paid to use the fridge." 

He was a big man, taller than my husband who is six feet and bulletproof. The older man then took the younger man's side but you could see in his eyes that he was not comfortable with the arguments being put so forcefully by his companion. Things were escalating as my husband tried to explain we could put our cakes in and then move the fridge around to accommodate their drinks. The young man was having none of it. He felt he had paid to use the fridge and he didn't F%^&*&* care, they were not moving anything out of it.

The situation was diffused by my suggestion that we the cakes on the bench with the promise they would be put in the fridge at the conclusion of the party. It was like watching a balloon deflate but it will be interesting to see if the cakes are in the fridge and indeed (given the tempting nature of them) if any are left! Needless to say we were both rattled by the reaction we had received. Two such incidents in one day?

I'm not going to racially stereotype the gentlemen involved in both incidents, particularly as the monster on the bus is clearly a "skippy" (a dated but derogatory term for an Australian of white anglo saxon origin). It's about an angry society and I don't understand when did we become such an angry society? Is it to do with entitlement?
  • I drive a car. I am entitled to expect to find a car park. You have a car park therefore I am entitled to park in it.
  • I paid $200 for this hall hire. This hall has a fridge. I don't care if the fridge doesn't belong to the hall, I am entitled to use it .
I'm not a sociologist and I'm sure there are many, many erudite articles that have been written on the subject (particularly following incidents such as Cronulla) but this was personal and it is only when things affect one personally does the reality come home. Lack of respect? Belief in entitlement?