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The Threats to Social Cohesion – The Granny Next Door Solution

As the Australian community reeled from the horror of attacks in Sydney and the threats this posed to our coherence, an unrelated conversation with a stranger provided unexpected solace and hope. We were engaged in the ordinary unfocussed chat that occurs while waiting where one matter seamlessly leads to the next. “It’s just like Granny next door“ he said and went on to speak of his 98-year-old neighbour who had lived beside him for 20 years. ‘Granny next door’ had migrated to Australia as a young woman and now lived alone, with her own children living in other states. He spoke about how his children would visit her when they were young, and she would cook meals from her homeland with them. In exchange he had taken her bins out and now if she were unwell would call an ambulance and ensure she was safe.

Who Are we?

The attacks have shocked us with one witness saying ‘This is not who we are. We don’t behave like this in Australia.’ The authors of the Mapping Social Cohesion 2023 report conclude,  ‘Social cohesion in Australia has been remarkably resilient through the challenges of recent years. However, we continue to face difficult national and global circumstances, global conflict, economic pressures and uncertainty and division over issues such as the Voice referendum.’ In 2022 the authors warned that social cohesion was ‘at an important juncture’ and that while there were positive signs of recovery following the pandemic there was also evidence of  ‘declines in our sense of national pride and belonging, increasing financial strain and a weakening sense of social inclusion and justice’.

What Do we See in 2023?

Sadly, the results of this year’s survey which involved 7,550 people, and included targeted surveys of people from India, Middle Eastern and African backgrounds  only serve to reinforce these concerns. The Scanlon-Monash Index of social cohesion has declined by 4 points to 79, being the lowest ever recorded.

What is Social Cohesion?

Gough Whitlam used the term when he launched the Labour party’s 1972 election campaign and since then it has become widely adopted by public officials, policy makers and researchers. The descriptor, ‘strong social bonds infused with a sense of togetherness’ makes sense to most people and draws together multiple and sometimes debated definitions.

How Do we Grow it?

A key tenet of work done at Bower Place is the understanding that reciprocity, give and take in relationships is the basis of compassion and empathy that fuel strong, safe connections between people in families and communities. This construction has been developed by Malcolm Robinson in work with dysregulated young people whose neurobiology and social circumstances have deprived them of the repeated experience of reciprocity over ordinary and everyday exchanges. This lack leaves them vulnerable to their inability to appropriately empathise, with the attendant risk of dysregulation both in relation to others and themselves and the possibility of serious harm. Restoration of appropriate give and take provides the experience to learn proper empathy.

In Conclusion

Building social cohesion for a whole society feels like a mammoth task but repeated experiences like those of ‘Granny next door’, where genuine and natural reciprocity appear, give hope that we can become a safer and more generous community.

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