A Precious Chance

© Shelley Hansen

Winner, 2020 Sutherland Shire NSW Literary Competition – Traditional Verse Section.

From the outback to the city, swept a wave of grief and pity
when we heard the tragic news that yet another life was lost
in the prime of springtime season – and it seemed beyond all reason
that the future of a child should seem too bleak to face the cost.
Then we gained the information that brought rage and consternation
when we learned the cause of suicide was cyber-bully threat.
Though its venom is untruthful, to our kids so fresh and youthful
it presents an anguished challenge that at times cannot be met.

So we stopped at last, and listened – and our tears of anger glistened
as we came to understand how many children are involved.
Then committees formed for talking, but they found that they were baulking
as they struggled with the strategies to get this problem solved.
Is the issue with our schooling?  Should we try to make a ruling
to enforce a change by punishment for those who may transgress?
Can we pass some legislation that requires co-operation?
Should we drag these perpetrators to the limelight to confess?

What has caused this strange obsession with unbridled rank aggression?
We have always had our bullies, but the plague’s become a curse.
Now antagonists are faceless, and their accusations baseless,
yet designed to generate a tide of ridicule – and worse.
Are we satisfied with blaming social media, in flaming
indignation that these posts are not deleted, stopped or blocked?
Can it be that we’re ignoring reasons firmly underscoring
what the issue really is?  If we were told, would we be shocked?

In my mind an ancient saying seems to often keep replaying –
that a workman, poorly trained, will always castigate his tools,
so our tendency of railing at the internet for failing
us, might have the same effect – and even make us look like fools.
For the cause is so much deeper, the descent of conduct steeper
than the rise of cyber-space, which is a platform, nothing more.
When did manners start to falter?  When did values start to alter?
When did people cease respecting rights of others – rich or poor?

We have built this land together, and it doesn’t matter whether
we inhabit open space or we have walked the coastal rim.
For our “mateship” should be binding and uplifting when we’re finding
that a helping hand is offered during times when things are grim.
But that way of life is shrinking.  Have we stopped and done some thinking
that we hold a deadly weapon of destruction in our hand?
It’s reflected in our choices and the way we use our voices.
This is how we’ve been brought up.  Do we no longer understand?

Once we tempered speech with manners and avoided waving banners,
and we often kept opinions to ourselves, lest we offend.
Now we have a strong compulsion that has overcome revulsion
to declare our thoughts aloud, online, insistent to the end.
But with many paths to travel, life can easily unravel
if we use our words to turn a reputation into dust.
We may rightly speak with candour – but the tentacles of slander
can untie the bonds of friendship and can break the hand of trust.

We might think we’d rather perish than give up the things we cherish
like the right to our opinions, and the freedom of our speech;
but with right comes obligation, and the fabric of our nation
has been woven with “fair dinkum” in the values that we teach.
We must think before we utter speech belonging in the gutter.
There is no way to recapture hasty words that we release,
and such words, once harshly spoken, can destroy a heart that’s broken
just as surely as a dagger thrust can cause a life to cease.

So let’s set the right example, let our conduct be a sample
showing how we treat our mates is how we hope that they’ll repay.
Practise bullying no longer.  Prove that being kind is stronger,
and perhaps our kids will follow us, to seek a better way.
If we choose to be uncaring, then we’ll have to be preparing
for the tide of youthful suicide to steadily advance.
Then the nation will be weeping, and the guilt will haunt our sleeping
as we blame ourselves forever that we lost a precious chance.


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