The True Meaning of Tragedy and Disaster

As I listened to my own spoken complaints, frustrations and whinges of late, I was reminded of a lesson from the late, great Richie Benaud. Around the time of his death in 2015 the ‘younger’ commentators who eulogised the man with six sports jackets in various tones of almond ivory, recalled what he had taught them.

Apart from avoiding throw away comments such as, “you know … ” and, “of course … ”, their mentor and general council’s best advice, I think, was to command they avoid using exaggerated descriptions. Benaud reminded them to preserve their perspective. He made it clear, “Never say that’s a tragedy or a disaster,” when speaking of the play unfolding in front of them. “The Titanic was a tragedy, the Ethiopian drought a disaster, and neither bears any relation to a dropped catch.”

I recall this wisdom (from an admittedly odd source of inspiration), because I consider it to be remarkably relevant in the times we Victorians are living with and through.

A year ago (2020) I had learned not to say, “at least we have a job”, or something similar, when visiting Bowens’ timber yards and chatting with our team. My reflection of gratitude had become tiresome. From March to early June such observations were relevant and abundantly true. So many of our family and friends were sitting at home, while a growing volume of businesses had closed their doors, with no sense of when they would be able to trade once more.

As the shock of living with a pandemic and the adjustments it caused our previously unaffected lives wore off, it became clear the cliches one might use for encouragement required adjustment. By June the general population, not just those who worked at Bowens, were exhausted by the impositions Covid-19 was causing. And here we are, a year later, with little alteration to the way our lives are being led. We are just more tired, more irritable and, progressively, more solemn.  

In March 2021, around the time of our third (or was it our fourth?) lock down, I thought it was time to fire up one of my oldest maxims, “At least we don’t live in Kabul.” For twenty years I have dealt with any stresses in my life by remembering just how lucky I am, we are, to have our lives anchored in Australia. The freedom to roam, the freedom to speak or remain silent. Even the idiots who assemble en masse in our CBD to protest Covid-19 restrictions are given a voice. We don’t fear our army, or unmet neighbours. We have access to an endless supply of modern technologies and are able to canvass all opinions. 99.9 per cent of us do not go hungry or miss quenching our thirst within minutes of thinking we might be a little dry. Our public parks are maintained, trains run on time (more or less) and we can change our governments at organised intervals.

Appreciating our good fortune by comparing us to a nation that (seemingly) has never known peace felt right. I’m not sure the recent mayhem across all of Afghanistan makes my saying more or less appropriate? For now, I’ve shelved it. The images we see each night are too raw. Even so, I believe the contrast has merit, which makes my complaints of our Victorian lives under Covid restrictions shameful.

I am aware the best evaluation of ourselves is achieved by appraising our own, personal experiences. If we’ve seen it, or done it, we understand. Wars in far off places and the trauma they create are too detached for most of us to comprehend. Kabul, Yemen, Syria … they are images on tv, only. 

My safe, well fed and healthy family complains of entering another “groundhog day”. My year 11 & 12 kids are missing out on a volume of amazing experiences, while being asked to display ‘incredible resilience’ by remaining attentive during online classes. I speak frustratingly of the weekend in Noosa we cancelled, the Innovation Expo Bowens has postponed four times and the need to wear masks in almost every setting.

“What an Afghani would give for my list of problems.”

Of course, our industry is beset with distress because we cannot source enough timber to keep pace with surging demand or find staff to fill vacancies. I wonder how the construction sector is rolling in downtown Kandahar?

I get it that comparisons with war torn states and our cocooned Australian lives are inappropriate. I would furiously agree with anyone who suggests I am trivialising the issues being caused to homeowners, builders and material suppliers. Never to forget the families reeling from government enforced closures of travel related businesses, shuttered restaurants and those involved in live entertainment. I see the effects Covid restrictions are having on the wellbeing and mental health of individuals every day. Truly, I get it.

I am mostly attempting to remind myself, again, things could indeed be much worse. I have a great family, we are well. My business is open and mostly in very good shape and I live in a safe and prosperous country. 

“While prioritising our own welfare and looking at ways of clawing back the lives we were leading eighteen months ago, I still think we can open our minds to the pain of others. It sometimes helps put into perspective what we consider to be our own, unfixable issues. Of course, in the end, I can only speak for myself. And there is no cause for me to complain.”

Prioritising my worries is possibly a more appropriate place to begin. Missing a dinner with friends or a weekend away is okay to dismiss. In the scheme of things, they are not of grave concern. A staff member being abused for not being able to supply 90×35 MGP10 requires my full and deliberate attention. As does a friend who is unable to see how he will feed his family or retain his home after Covid has closed his business down.

If you are interested in a different perspective, I encourage you to listen to a New York Times podcast, The Daily, from 16 August. It follows the unpleasant transfer of power in Afghanistan to the Taliban over four days, through the voice of a 33 year-old Kabul woman. To contemplate such fear is beyond me. I think Richie would allow this bloody mess to be described as both a tragedy and a disaster.

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