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Disempowerment is the Cancer of the 21st Century

Updated: Oct 1, 2022

I've been working with the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in recent months, and paying attention to the conditions around why a person might refuse to take part in a survey, even if it's against a law to refuse.

You see, the ABS is authorised under the Census and Statistics Act 1905 to randomly select dwellings and ask residents questions relevant to the continued wellbeing of the nation. If you're selected, you could be "directed" to take part, and that's a sticky tricky situation.

While most people are happy to take part, because they realise their contributions help all of us, a small few will refuse.

When asked why, some will say that they "just don't want to do it", meaning it's not important.

Others, though, will ask how the data will be used, or say it's a waste of time because it won't change a thing.

It's those in the second group of refusers I'm interested in. That's because it doesn't take any effort to drill down to the next level. What do I mean?

Once they say it's a waste of time, they'll often pour their heart out. These are the people who are doing it tough.

They suffer relationship breakdowns, custody battles, financial insecurity, food insecurity. They have work responsibilities as well as family, and are often caring for another while dealing with their own chronic pain. Loss and bereavement are parts of their lives, whether or not someone has died.

These people feel frustrated and disempowered.

They need someone to talk to, who will just listen without judgement. Sometimes, they might not feel like they can tell family, friends, neighbours, or workmates. It could be that they feel like talking is a burden for the listener, or maybe they don't want anyone seeing them differently and pitying them.

And yet, when a stranger knocks on their door, they answer, and within minutes will share what has weighed their heart down for so long.

For my part, it is an honour to be that person. While I can't change one single thing that is causing their feelings of frustration and disempowerment, they give me their trust. I don't need to coax it out of them or coach them. I am who I am, and they are who they are, in that moment.

And that's an empowering thing.


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