Public Indifference?

A few weeks ago, two connected but unrelated news items caught my attention. The first concerned the death of an elderly man, who froze to death in plain sight on a busy city street. The second, published barely 10 days later, reported that the mummified body of an elderly woman was only found two years after she died. Much of the commentary surrounding both stories talked about public indifference (even callousness) and lack of concern for our neighbours, especially those who live alone.

I suspect that two years of pandemic, lock-downs and isolation have only amplified preexisting conditions. Depending on our perspective, we may choose not to do or say anything in these situations because: we don’t want to get involved, we don’t want to interfere, we don’t want to risk infection, we don’t feel adequately trained to deal with these situations, or we simply don’t have the time.

Scenarios like these can often make us think about how we might react in similar circumstances – the thing is, we won’t know until it happens. But equally, acquiring some basic skills or adopting some common protocols might help prevent future individual tragedies.

In my inner city suburb, during the pandemic, there has been a sense of “looking out” for your neighbours – some enterprising folk even organised local soup deliveries, and unwanted home produce was left by front gates. It was all totally spontaneous, but largely driven by existing relationships. If we want to do this properly, by fully respecting older neighbours’ independence whilst not interfering in their daily lives, we need some different community models.

One positive example came from the ABC’s inspirational documentary series, “Old People’s Home For 4 Year Olds”. Although a large part of the outcome was to help older people in building up their physical and cognitive skills, by also framing it about boosting pre-schoolers’ social development, it underlined the longer-term community benefits of such initiatives. It also showed that in raising mutual awareness of the need for social interaction, and by creating a level of co- and inter-dependency, communities can find practical solutions and achievable outcomes, often using existing and available resources more creatively.

Next week: Ask an expert…