A question of sanity: reflections on the Bourke Street terrorist attack

Cynthia is a counselling educator and psychologist working in private practise. She is the author of the book, ‘Return to the Soul’. Here she comments on the latest incident in Bourke St, Melbourne.

Another incident of terrorist violence on Bourke St in Melbourne, Australia. Another death, another round of sorrow. Another inquiry into the state of our society. Another set of bollards added to the city streets.

Two blocks from the attack a customer harangues a shopkeeper about the minutia of the sale, haggling for a tiny discount, cross when it isn’t forthcoming. To move from one event to the other quickly brings perspective.

Daily people step into my psychology counselling rooms questioning their own sanity. But even more urgently they question the sanity of our city and our world where someone yet again attacks citizens in a city street. They are concerned and they are anxious.

People come to see a psychologist. Are they mentally unwell? Or are they actually the sane ones? More sane than those who do not knock on a therapist’s door and who carry on as if all is okay.

Isn’t it a form of psychosis to operate as if all is well when there are alarm bells sounding off in so many quarters?

In one quarter there’s the state of our health with illness rates bankrupting our health system. In the education quarter there are students acting out in more and more extreme ways, sounding the alarm on the hidden pain in our society.

In another quarter there are families full of dysfunction and pain – as indicated by the current suicide rates and the domestic violence statistics. Then in the global quarter we have terrorism, refugee misery, political absurdism and ecological breakdown.

Shouldn’t we be anxious and alarmed? Shouldn’t we be sad, concerned and perhaps even depressed? Wouldn’t it make sense to feel overwhelmed because where do we start when systems are breaking down on so many fronts?

But hey, lets watch Netflix over a bottle of wine and order some products online. Rome is burning and Nero fiddles on his mobile phone.

Psychosis means disconnection from reality. But we don’t consider it a disorder when the majority of the population has the same symptoms. We can’t see the disorder when everyone has it. Psychosis becomes normal.

We should all be shouting, we should all be crying and we should all be having breakdowns. That would be sane.

Someone, lots of us have to say, “stop, just stop”. We need to halt this whole thing and push the restart button. The program we are running is obsolete.

We have become empty and devoid of humanity. Profit and products trump humanity and care.

Compassion has no traction in a corporatised world where our civic duty is to spend dollars not spend time, where a ‘like’ button passes as a form of connection instead of meeting another’s gaze or exchanging words of care.

The wealthy on their super yachts think they are immune. But they are not. Happy families in their cosy homes think they are immune. But they are not either. The symptoms catch up with us all.

Violence on our streets affects all of us whether we are there or not. The suffering of a refugee or domestic violence victim affects everyone. And as the planet groans under the weight of our greed this affects us all too.

The human psyche registers the collective grief and is burdened by the collective pain. There is truly nowhere to hide. We all feel it even if we medicate the signals with our various over the counter remedies – our coffee, alcohol and entertainment.

Acknowledging our interconnection is health. Ignoring it is illness. Taking tiny steps to heal the cultural disease is health. Living out the status quo is sickness.

So are you one of the sane ones who need to see a therapist. Or are you part of the psychotic epidemic? We are all affected by your answer.

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