There are very few things that keep me awake at night, these days.
I manage to sleep even with the growing burden of obesity around us and the nonsensical insistence in our societal and political rhetoric that despite two-thirds of us being now affected in Australia (combined with overweightedness), it is still pushed as a problem born in individual laziness and ignorance. Blind to the broken system we inhabit.
Or the fact that climate change is real (yes, I said it, it is real) and playing out around us - yet the one remaining, vocal, pseudo-scientist who bangs on against its validity gets 50% of the airtime and the media attention.
That we build cities where healthy living is becoming harder and harder, but then wonder why we have a growing burden of heart disease and diabetes.
Despite the fact that we are pulling funding from preventative health in a time when many would argue we have an epidemic of preventable, costly, chronic disease.
I even sleep despite our near-obsession with ‘Americanising’ our education and healthcare systems at the cost of marginal and misguided tax cuts, and when our reference point is an education system heavily backed by a philanthropy culture we do not have, or a healthcare system that costs double and delivers less.
Or the concerning fact that 20% of Australian households (that’s 1.73 million households) now hold less wealth that the 7 richest people in our nation. And that this divide is widening. And that our politicians seem unconcerned.
I could go on, but I begin to sound like one of those old Muppet men characters.
What I can’t help but wonder about though, as the clock strikes 2 and the city outside sleeps. What keeps me awake at night. What really keeps me awake at night, is not actually these major challenges themselves, or that we largely created these challenges and therefore can fix them… Or the bigger question of where we are heading as a society. Or who we are becoming as a collective.
What really concerns me, is a general lack of concern itself.
Or vocal concern.
In 2015, I truly believe our community, our nation and our planet are at crossroads. Now maybe every generation thinks this, but I have some numbers to back it up. This year will see a new global development agenda outlined by the United Nations, replacing the Millennium Development Goals and setting the priorities for investment and focus for the next 15 years. Miss this boat, and important agenda items might be left behind. It will also see a World EXPO focusing on food sustainability and how we feed 9.6 billion people by 2050, without ruining our planet and without taking food from the poorest. It will also see a defining (some say our last chance) climate change conference of global governments and the UN, in Paris this December.
This is a crucial year for us all, and could well set the trajectory of our planet for the coming decades.
So why aren’t we talking more? Why aren’t we having that talk?
Instead, this is a time when our governments seem to be systematically dismantling platforms that allow and promote these very discussions. Opportunities where we can question where we are collectively heading and have a chance to table big issues like climate change, social policy, healthcare financing, societal trust and contract.
Even worse, we seem to be laying down and letting it happen.
I don’t buy the argument that young people are lazy or that older people don’t care. Or that we have just all become selfish, conceited and no longer concerned with the collective. But I often say that we once offered our dinner party guests coffee to give them the hint our night together was coming to an end and that it was time for them to head for the door. Nowadays we just need to bring up climate change or politics and the door is already swinging from the speediest of exits.
When did our biggest conversations, become conversation killers?
With this in mind and inspired by the discussions I am having with students in Brisbane this week, I am setting you all a challenge. As readers of my column and The Conversation, I challenge you to start one. Over the coming week, I want you to begin one conversation about a big issue in our society, that you want to see discussed and addressed. Table those challenges and begin to ask why - and how, who, where and what can we do? Tell me about it through twitter using @SandroDemaio, or via the feedback below.
It’s time we had that talk. Let’s get a conversation started.
This article is dedicated to Marina and the Public Health team at the University of Queensland.