The lost sense of community that can prevent youth suicide

Some races, like the Pacific Islanders, have never lost their sense of community.

Family food and conversation

My local commonwealth bank did something very scary today.

As I walked in the front door, a cheery employee asked me if I needed anything and then I met Cassie, the bank teller, who engaged me in a very interesting conversation, while banking my cheque.

I wasn’t ready for this and it really took me by surprise.

My wife has often warned me not to talk too much to the shop assistants because “they will get into trouble for talking.” She is usually correct.

But at the bank, these weird bank people had turned the clock back a full 50 years to a time when we all enjoyed a sense of community and I am still trying to get over the experience.

An hour later someone called Kerry phoned and ran me through a quick survey. I was fully like soft clay by this stage.

“What was your experience at the Bank like today and how can we improve on it?” she asked this astonished writer.

Firstly I wanted to know why the bank people wanted to conduct small talk, and then follow up with a phone call.

“Well each day we pick a customer at random and you are the one for Thursday.”

I told Kerry I had been writing on a 21st century phenomenon, our lost sense of community.

I warned her that, if the bank kept up this friendly approach, people would come to expect friendly conversation at all times.

I gave her my crazy request for a coffee machine in the bank’s foyer, and the one about providing seating for people in the queue, in case people have back pain.

I don’t expect a coffee machine to turn up any time soon. Chatty staff are enough for me.

No one knows we have lost this ability to connect

Now this is the scary part: Most people don’t realise they have lost this sense of community.

Westernised people and notionally Anglo Saxon peoples have lost it however if you have a Mediterranean background, or a Pacific Island origin, you may still enjoy chatting to everyone around you.

Chatty people can really annoy their work colleagues however. Take the case of my good friend Ruth who works in the public service, a very Anglo Saxon public service. Recently they were thinking of sacking her for being too friendly. Years of cold, rude, standoffish treatment had not dented her warm south American heart, until they gave her the first warning for being too friendly.

“Tell them you have an editor friend that is writing extensively on this subject, and he wants an interview will all of them,” was my excited request.

Ruth passed it on and the cold public service tsunami subsided, turning into a mere ripple.

I used to work in the public service so I knew what ethnically challenged people are like. An interview with politically correct grumblebums was like being able to enter communication heaven. Maybe I didn’t use enough tact.

It separates us from the hairy animals

When I was young, 50 years ago, country towns and cities had plenty of seating on its main streets. Civil planners considered that people had a right and an inclination to sit and talk in an extended fashion. Hairy sweaty animals don’t do it so we should do so.

It was a glorious time when people listened to stories and retold rubbish of their own. It was better than television. It was direct communication art, part of being in a living play, which the participants may have taken all for granted.

So if you have migrants in your community, you may be very blessed. Why are the friendly shopkeepers so popular?

If you have a Greek butcher, he will talk to you; or a Turkish baker or an Italian grocer, they will all listen to your stories and give you their ideas, totally free of charge.

It was a sense of community, making even the most unusual folk, feel they were worth something.

In many English speaking communities, you can’t pay money to be listened to, so many go to their local doctor and whinge and waste his time.

Surveys indicate that if more than 50% of people in doctor’s waiting rooms had someone to talk to, they wouldn’t be there and would probably not be ill.

People vote for rudeness

In Australia, England, Germany and France to mention just a few, political parties have sprung up based on the fear that migrants will change the local way of life.

Politicians have been elected to parliaments as a reward for parroting things like, these migrants stick together and won’t assimilate.

Anyone that cared to make friends with Asians peoples, Indians, Sri Lankans, Pacific Islanders and many other groups, might have appreciated the variety of food and the sense of community that comes with it.

Lets make this easy to understand, and join the dots, because it forms an unbelievable picture.

Peoples that love variety in food, enjoy cooking and eating together, usually include good wine, beer and extended mealtimes with plenty of communication, have the lowest youth suicide rates in the world. This is fact and it comes from the UN’s World Health Organisation.

There is much less depression among these folks. They are not totally devoid of problems however there is always someone around who can share the problem and a problem shared, is a problem halved.

I must admit my growing up years were very strange. I felt like an ethnic that was raised in a totally Anglo Saxon country community of Queensland. People I knew were suspicious of Australia’s first inhabitants, the Indigenous Aborigines, and also any migrants that usually ran cafes, restaurants and grew and sold fruit. You didn’t talk about these groups, unless you threw in a joke.

Number one Aussie complaint: they spent too much time talking to their relatives. While Aborigines pass their stories on to their next generations, Australians generally don’t.

In fact some of our most celebrated explorers, Burke and Wills, perished from hunger and thirst in the Aussie outback, because they were suspicious of the local Indigenous people, and didn’t wish to talk to them. That’s a bit like a suicide, emanating from prejudice.

Masterchef can fix some things but not everything

Now if you take an old fashioned concept…………people with great produce, cooking and talking and eating together; what do you get?

You get an incredible social reaction that is most amazing in notionally Anglo Saxon communities.

Basically you are encouraging people to stop buying takeaway junk food by going back to the old days of cooking, talking and eating together.

This website has already run a story on the Masterchef phenomenon and how it gained higher television ratings than for the grand finals of any of Australia’s football codes. We strange, non hairy, non communicating types, shocked ourselves that it could be more fun to buy exciting produce, collaborate with people on new recipes, and cook and eat together and communicate in a talking kind of way.

Way to go dudes. Hello out there……………..most non Anglo Saxon communities have never lost their sense of community and have been doing this for thousands of years. In my next post, you get the WHO youth suicide statistics and it is a scary picture.

Just hug the next chatty stranger that wants to connect and talk to you, with no ulterior motive. My next major writing will be on the value of eccentrics, and what vital public service they provide.

Will it solve everyone’s depression problems? Probably not, but at least the Anglo Saxon empire can at last see where it was severely lacking. It’s not a total solution but it is a start to the solution. We can at last see why migrant ladies love to cook  a fancy dish and share it around. Should depressed people start cooking in earnest and begin sharing the food around? It wouldn’t hurt.

About John
John started out as a cadet in 1970 at Bundaberg News Mail, continuing as a feature writer at Rockhampton Morning Bulletin, then began producing regular freelance articles for the Sunday Mail and New Idea. Later he took up science writing for Qld climate, water and soil scientists. Whimsical stories and humorous bush poetry is his current passion.