I went for a routine blood test last Thursday.
This pathology clinic is usually a busy place, so a ‘take a number’ card system is in place to ensure that an orderly ‘first in first served’ process transpires. People who don’t know each other in waiting rooms tend to sit apart from each other and most often wait in silence.
Two others, around my age, were already seated in the waiting room. They sat a few chairs apart, so it was apparent they had not come in together. A third person, a young woman perhaps in her very early 20’s, sat on the other side of the waiting room. So my guess was that the three women did not know each other. As I took my number card and sat down, I looked over at this young woman and saw that she had a bunch of number cards in her hand. I couldn’t think why and was unable to make sense of the few words she was in the middle of exchanging with the two older women already seated in the waiting room.
Realization dawned on me as a minute later the young woman took out her mobile phone and asked, in a loud annoyed voice “Where are you? Others are in the waiting room and you aren’t here yet!”
Soon after, a stream of young, unkempt men and women entered – no barged would be a better word – one by one. The sassy queue holder, the first young woman in the waiting room, set the tone by calling out to each of those entering the waiting room. Shouting, rather than talking, they exchanged short quips with each other in language most would consider more appropriate to a back yard party attended by those who knew each other intimately.
In between the entry of this mob, an older couple came in, took their number and quietly sat down. Soon after, an older gentleman also came in. Then a mother and daughter. Within a short time, more than a dozen of us sat in the waiting room. Those of us not in ‘the group’ sat in silence watching but not commenting as these young people swore and shouted at each other – not just inappropriately, but about inappropriate topics – or talked to unseen voices on the other end of their mobile phones, as they stomped around the waiting room, as they loudly crunched on apples, chips and other food, and as they trudged in and out of the door which was adjacent to the outside street to puff on e-cigarettes.
I felt mortified watching and hearing them. A brief eye connect with one of the older women said she felt the same.
Finally, after what seemed like a very long time, they were gone. My number was called next.
Polite chat with the male nurse attending me transpired. He asked me if I had a busy day lined up. As you do, I replied with scant details and finished with a comment that his workload for the day seemed heavy. Looking up at me, I was surprised to hear him quietly whisper to me that he did not like the young people that come by in the morning. Of course, intrigued, I asked for clarification. Clearly I am very naive as his response shocked me. These young people were all on drugs he told me. They are required to attend the pathology clinic so they can get clearance for their Centrelink payment – their Australian social security payments. Still bemused, he spelled it out for me. They had to present for a urine test. Because they would ‘cheat’ he was required to watch them pass their sample so he could verify that the urine sample was in fact theirs. He hated having to deal with them he quietly and sadly confided to me.
I was left speechless.
For days afterwards I’ve mulled over this whole experience. The young people who came into the pathology clinic may have been no more than two or three years out of school. And here they were, on drugs, unemployed, living a life supported by workers’ taxes. The way they dressed, spoke and acted certainly didn’t place them into the category of needing social security payments to get by. While they were unkempt, they looked reasonably clean and were dressed fashionably, kitted out with more than respectable footwear. They seemed healthy and when overheard speaking to the attending nurse on a one-to-one basis, they spoke politely and seemed well educated. It struck me that they were quite similar to those students in the back of many a high school classroom, the ones who rejected authority, thought they knew it all, refused to comply, think most of what adults have to say is of no relevance to them – those who have scant regard for the world around them and instead put ‘me’ before all else.
What’s gone wrong? Why are they living this lifestyle? How can they think their behaviour is justified, correct, acceptable? How can they imagine it their right to drift through life being supported by others? How can they be so rude and disrespectful to those around them in a public space?
These young people were in school not so long ago, schools that most probably were very similar to the one in which I teach. What did we do wrong? What didn‘t we teach them? What could we teachers have done differently to ensure they left the gates of our schools more independent, more responsible, more respectful, more aware and caring for those around them?
It’s obvious I’m not a Millennium nor am I of the X or Y generation. When I grew up, good manners and appropriate behaviour in public were instilled in me. Whether I agreed or disagreed with opinions expressed, respecting elders was and is the norm. Taking responsibility for my own actions and destiny wasn’t a thought that surfaced. I’m not meaning to sound as though I’m a ‘goody two shoes’. I’m not perfect. Nor are and were all my peers back then. But the line between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in public wasn’t, I think, so blatantly and easily crossed.
Despite these young people most probably being of the Gen Z generation, shouldn’t some of yesteryear’s societal rules and expectations be a part of their education?
Tell me if I am totally out of touch and have delusional expectations of how young people should be behaving.
Something is amiss.
Maybe this is why our curriculum is being required to incorporate new programs such as ’emotional intelligence’ in which students are taught the kind of skills that used to be picked up incidentally in their homes or just out in public. I guess this is a slippery slope kind of question, but do students need to be taught these skills at school or do parents need to be taught how to successfully parent?
Yes – I know. Times have changed. Society has shifted. Social mores have altered and evolved. Technology has had its impact on what we do and how we do it.
But – does this mean such a dramatic shift in how we relate to each other and that we now need to be taught how to do what used to be basic social behaviour?
Clearly it must.
The next day I was indulging in a secret passion of mine – browsing through the myriad of goods in a stationery store. With avid amusement I leafed through this Kikki K book: Go Offline and Be Inspired which lists 135 ways, in case we’d forgotten, on how to get more out of life by just living the minute and connecting directly with each other. Having been swept up into this new century with all the excitement that technology has to offer, many of the tips for better living spoke loud and clear to me!
Then I came home to relax with the morning paper. Suzanne Carbone’s article Cafes put a lid on customers ordering coffee while on their mobile phone (The Age, February 5, 2016) hit me fair and square in the face! Cafe owners are rebelling against the anti-social behaviour of some of their patrons who talk on their mobiles while ordering their coffee. It wasn’t surprising to see this article screened on that night’s TV news report.
Where are we headed? Where is society heading?
I’m left feeling a little sad.