Wednesday Words and Critical Thinking

There was the time recently trying to link my various government accounts – MyGov, ATO, Medicare – when I became quite frustrated.

Despite my very good understanding of what was needed, I still struggled to make it all work. That I have two middle names and an apostrophe in my surname didn’t help.

Eventually I made it work, thanks to a lovely woman on the MyGov website who appreciated my difficulties, said my problem was common, and simply said, “Let’s just start all over again”.

The problem, by the way, involved the two middle names and the apostrophe, but not only that. The key issue is that I had set up MyGov using my ATO identity which didn’t include the second middle name, making it difficult to link it with Medicare which included only my first name and then only the initial of my first second name. You get the idea? You need to make sure all of your identification is consistent across all of the government departments.

That I couldn’t work it out myself, though I had a hunch, was a real dent in my self-confidence.

Throughout life, I have always been “the smart kid” in my family, and amongst my peers. I have always been at the top (or close to the top) of my class throughout high school and university.

Even now, I am the “go to” person for a bunch of things for my family, friends and at work. “I asked you because I thought you would know” is a recurrent thing I have heard.

In contrast mum and dad, who were born around 1920, who grew up in the country left school at about thirteen, had poor literacy skills. Dad could barely read and write, and mum was close to being totally illiterate. I was always the one who would read things out loud for them, and was usually the one who wrote the notes for various things at school, which they copied.

In just a few decades between their experience and my own, I became the first in my immediate family to go to university, and to learn critical theory, and conceptual thinking, and always to question things. But to recognise a fact, and to move on, once you had established “truth”.

But it continues. In the last week or so I have also helped a family member with some of her children’s home-schooling requirements. Though only a few years younger than me, my relative does not have the required literacy or computer skills, and was struggling with what she was asked to do.

I was amazed/appalled at the complexity (and lack of integration) of the home schooling offering. “If I find these things difficult, God knows what it must be like for other people”, I’ve told friends and family.

These incidents have reminded me how lucky I am, and how much of a gap remains in Australia, even in this day and age.

Conspiracy theories at the phone booth, near Woolworths in Lismore.

So whenever I see someone in public – a politician or media – say something like “you can find everything on our website”, I am consciously aware there are many people out there who have no idea what they are talking about, or what they need to do.

And when some politicians react with incredulity at the seemingly
unfathomable reactions around some of the messaging around things like COVID, they fail to recognise not everyone has grown up in an education system based around “critical thinking”. They’re far more likely to believe the stuff friends and family (who they trust far more implicitly than politicans) post on Facebook.

I was mindful this the other day as I was walking along the street. “People aren’t clear about the messaging” I heard someone say, as he spoke on his phone. The man, wearing a mask and pushing a child in a stroller made a very good point.

Politicians and officials think they are “cutting through” with their messages, but very often they are not. And it’s not because people are “stupid”, as is often thought.

“Don’t believe everything you read on Facebook, just because someone you know has posted it. Always ask them how they know it’s true, You can always use Google to check things before you simply repost them without question”, I’ve said recently to a family member.

Spotted in Lismore today, with the number plate blurred.

Author: James O'Brien

Born / Currently : Lismore / Widjabul Wia-Bal - Bundjalung Live : Sydney / Gadigal - Eora Also : Brisbane, Bourke, Renmark, Wagga, Perth Pronouns : He/him/his.

2 thoughts

  1. I had a crack at My Gov a few years ago and gave up in frustration. Because I had to inform the tax department that I would no longer be filing a tax return, I made another attempt a couple of weeks ago and really, I didn’t find it too bad. I think it took me about twenty minutes to feed the information in and I linked the tax office. I didn’t link Medicare. I will think about that but if I need a vaccine passport, I expect I will.

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