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After a recent close head-on encounter with a large SUV on my side of the double lines, I found myself wondering about the other driver’s style: was it by choice or inadvertence? Was the over-large vehicle on a narrow country road a matter of choice? If so, why? After my moment of terror, I began to ponder the much larger question: the process of making choices in life. We have been persuaded as a society that autonomy and freedom of choice are essential for our wellbeing. We live in an era where we have more choice than any other generation of Australians, but we are not altogether happy about this.
We may be suffering from ‘over-choice’, a phenomenon identified in 1970, in a book called Future Shock, by Alvin Toffler. He was a futurist and a dropout whose work is worth revisiting. In such circumstances, making
a decision becomes more difficult due to the many potential outcomes and risks that may result from making the wrong choice.
Think of today’s small cars. They are all richly optioned, and all similarly priced. Once we have made our choice and driven away with no more to pay, we may be struck by ‘buyer’s remorse’. We are stuck at one end of a spectrum ranging from no choice – the managed, or communist economy model, where the only car is the Lada – and our free-market range of possibilities. Which can of beetroot? Which university? Which make and model car?  Which date? Which life partner?
In a market economy where competition is a major driver, there is
a subliminal industry whose task it is to condition your choice.
The range of products from which we might be induced to make a choice is constantly changing, expanding. And more room must be provided to house the range of objects of choice. This is evident in the hardware cathedrals aimed at displaying more products and increasing market share.
Buy here! Buy me!
I have just seen a full-page advertisement in a prestigious food magazine which lists 20 different colour options for a popular American food mixer. Colour is the only difference: beneath the skin, every machine is identical.
Is this freedom of choice? One major Australian hardware store has 29 different versions of the common spade. This is choice carried to the extreme. There are many factors which influence buyer behaviour: marketing campaigns, apparent economic conditions, personal preferences, peer group influence, and purchasing power. Emotions are brought into play, and rationality kept at
a distance.
If you are poor, you choose cheap and filling, not necessarily nourishing, food. If the purchaser is
distracted by background noise, uncertain lighting, time pressures, or nagging children, then choice may become less rational, more easily influenced by shelf placement, reach, and other subliminal factors external to the content of the objects of choice.
In some environments choice may be deliberately restricted or inhibited. The whole object of combat training is to condition reflexes in which speed and consistency of response is required. If you are shot at, you seek cover. You don’t have time to make
a choice about where the fire is likely to be coming from. This is also, paradoxically, a relatively simple context. In law enforcement the options may be much more subtle, with greater room for error. Is this person coming at me ill, or armed? With what?
In need of help, or bent on malice?  Am I making a decision just for myself or will it have implications for others?
Even in medical matters, there may be too much choice. An elderly relative is being gently pressed by her GP, whom she trusts, to embark on
a five-year program of bone density enhancement by way of a drug not long approved by Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration. She feels that she does not know enough about the recommended treatment to make a choice. Her doctor of course, has a view, but it may not be an objective one. In the pharmaceutical industry, a great deal of money is invested in the promotion of individual brands and products, and there is pressure on GPs to recommend one drug or treatment over another.
Decisions in this context are more critical than those made in a supermarket, and it is often left to the patient to choose. Is this good policy? I have been prescribed blood thinners since 2008 and now, apparently, there is a new type that is said to be more stable and less susceptible to being rendered ineffective by, of all things, broccoli, which is apparently rich in vitamin K, a coagulant.
Am I going to make the switch? I have no idea. I am moderately literate, and at ease with search engines, but I can’t find a compelling argument either way. Back to tossing a coin?
John Fleming II

Battling the bullies
What a way to start the new year – a report on bullying, and what to do about it. Most people have experienced bullying at school, so it’s no surprise to find that it remains a serious issue. Now that the internet enables faster and wider communication, bullying online is surpassing, but not necessarily replacing, face-to-
face bullying.
Sometimes bullying occurs even in our adult years. We see it expressed in many ways, including through gossiping.
I do not care for social media.
For many years, I have decried it as a faster way to gossip, or, bully. The recent suicide of 14-year-old Queenslander Amy ‘Dolly’ Everett, who once ‘starred’ in an Akubra ad campaign, has led to a  bullying expert making the sensible suggestion that no child under 12 should be on social media.
Dr Michael Carr-Gregg is a youth
mental health expert, known for writing books like Surviving Adolescents; The Prince Boofhead Syndrome; Strictly Parenting; Beyond Cyberbullying; and When to Really Worry. Dr Carr-Gregg has credibility in his field – in 1985 he founded CanTeen, the acclaimed cancer patients’ support group for teenagers in New Zealand
and Australia.
Perhaps it would be best to follow the maxim: “You can’t use it until you can pay for it.”
That’s a radical one! I don’t think it will catch on.
The cyber struggle
Such tragic cases as Amy’s are inevitably followed by a public outcry. Some say teachers should identify students who have a mental illness or are being hounded by other kids. Here we go again – more onus on the poor teachers.
How about teaching kids to turn off the internet/phone, block the caller and say, “No, I’m not going to take it”? Of course, it is a big ask to expect a child to have that strength, especially in the face of peer-group pressure to be in with the in crowd.
Another problem is ‘FOMO’ – fear of missing out. Poor kids. Where is Kermit the Frog? We could do with a song: It’s Not Easy Being Teen.
Bullying. No Way!
The urge to hunt out a scapegoat is not surprising, but there are strategies in place to
counter bullying.
The Bullying. No Way! program has the support of government in every state. The FAQ section on its website is very useful.
The website explains that bullying really is something to be worried about: “Bullying affects everyone involved, including people who witness it. It can have serious and long-term emotional or psychological consequences in addition to the immediate harmful effects.
“Communities which condone or ignore bullying may create an environment where more serious anti-social behaviour is condoned. Bullying undermines key values that schools aim to promote in students: respect, trust and honesty...
“Bullying is not a normal stage that all children and young people pass through, and it is not just something to put up with as part of life. Behaviour that is intended to harm can impede healthy
How to deal with bullying
Combating bullying is something that children and parents don’t need to go through alone.
The FAQ section of the Bullying. No Way! website provides useful advice to parents and students, and summarises contemporary approaches to bullying in Australian school communities.
Parents and students can contact other organisations for help, such as Parent Line Tasmania (1300 808 178) or Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800 or www.kidshelp.com.au). Consider reporting online bullying (cyberbullying) to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner (see www.esafety.gov.au) or to the Australian Federal Police (www.afp.gov.au) if it might involve a crime. There is also Reach Out (www.reachout.com.au); Beyondblue (www.beyondblue.org.au); Headspace (www.headspace.org.au); and the Australian Psychological Society (www.psychology.org.au); or the Australian Guidance and Counselling Association. Good luck and be safe online.
Merlene Abbott

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