September 2023

Finding my voice

Our world depends on all people having the opportunity and the courage to use our collective voices to discover our common humanity, writes John Haren, winner of The Good Oil 2023 Writers’ Award.

Finding my voice is a lifelong search. Not just for me, but for all of us. And yet the state of the world demands that I find it and do so quickly. Enough research. Enough rumination. Enough contemplation.

Climate change. Poverty and inequality. Human rights. Racism. Indigenous peoples’ displacement. Homelessness. Rampant neoclassical economics. Artificial intelligence. The Ukrainian war. These issues and more are the product of human activity.

Finding my voice, finding your voice. These are imperatives of the Gospel. Jesus did not desist from using his voice. He used it to teach about love. He used it to dismiss the merchants in the temple. He used it to support the Samaritan woman. He used his voice from the cross to forgive.

These are messages for all of us. They are an inescapable call to our humanity. To resist this call and be silent is to acquiesce to the forces that put the power of a few before the human dignity of all, economic development before the environment, corporate profits before people.

I can no longer stand on the sidelines as if watching a sporting contest. I am a participant not an observer. My place is on the playing field and not in the stands. Democracy is an open invitation, indeed an obligation, to find our voice and use it. Accountability is the antidote to corruption. Unfettered activity in government or private enterprise is the Petri dish for corruption. The PwC scandal concerns us all as a stark example of the inherent wrong that can be inflicted when status and power are misused and profit overtakes ethics.

In a democracy, the voice of the people is not to be restricted to the ballot box. A healthy democracy depends upon all citizens finding their voice. Asylum seekers can only be incarcerated when people remain silent. Affordable housing will always remain scarce until politicians are persuaded that this is a serious concern for the populace. The imbalance of defence spending versus poverty alleviation programs changes when people challenge the rhetoric around the imminence of war.

Humankind is under threat. Make no mistake, planet Earth will survive. It will be a different planet with many extinct species and a severely compromised landscape, but Mother Nature will find a way. But humans face an existential threat. The human species may well be one that does not survive. The time for debates about the impact of humans on the planet is over. Vested interests and political obfuscation obstruct clear direction.

The science on the impact of humans on the climate is well established. There is no time to lose. Those in the developed world, as the most potent contributors, have to lead change at both the macro and micro level. Coal is no longer a viable option. Food waste needs to be addressed on the farm as well as in each kitchen. There is no more powerful voice than the one we use to speak to our friends and our peers. Finding ways together to change from a materialist, asset accumulation mindset to a sustainable future ethos for our children and grandchildren is critical.

Aboriginal people inhabited this land we call Australia for 65,000 years before their voice was extinguished. Using my voice and our collective voices to reinstate the voice of the original inhabitants of this land is essential. Our nation cannot be whole or even democratic until we find the voice to address the wrongs of the past, and until we find our voice to enable a pathway to the future.

This is not a time for equivocation. Too many depend on our voice to bring about the change that will see the rights of Aboriginal people upheld and translated into cultural recognition, health outcomes and housing conditions commensurate with the rest of society.

This is a voice that non-Indigenous do not need to find. Non-indigenous people already have it. We need to use it in a way that gives voice to the movement that speaks of respecting each other’s humanity, regardless of race, ethnicity or religion.

I can find my voice in a supermarket when a customer in front of me speaks abusively to check out staff. I can find my voice by acknowledging a person with a disability with a smile. I can find my voice by writing to my Member of Parliament about the rights of refugees. I can find my voice by joining a social justice group that advocates for the rights of people suffering mental illness. I can find my voice by banding together with people in my street to help those who might be lonely.

Importantly, I can find my voice using it to give voice to others. Our world depends on all people having the opportunity and the courage to use our collective voices to discover our common humanity. Giving voice to the voiceless is a human project for all of us to be engaged in.

Further reading: ‘Prize-winners of The Good Oil 2023 Writers’ Award announced‘, The Good Oil, September 2023.


John Haren

John Haren is engaged in the community sector, previously as CEO of the St Vincent de Paul Society in South Australia working with the homeless, refugees, people with disability, and those with mental health challenges. John writes on contemporary issues and is working on his second novel.

If you would like to republish this article, please contact the editor.