How is SSI responding to the Israel and Gaza crisis? SSI statement here. For new arrivals and host families contact us here.

11 Dec 2023

Opinion

From the CEO: Coming together during a year of division

The holiday season is a chance for family to come together. One of the absences I feel at this time of year is the loss of my dad, who passed away in his sleep in 1990 when he was 64 years old.

CEO Violet Roumeliotis at SSI’s 2023 AGM

He was a man of great values and integrity. That didn’t mean we always agreed. He was a captain in the Greek National Army during the civil war and that experience of fighting against communists influenced his views. In our current world, where we wear our political affiliations like football jerseys, I think he and I could have been on opposing teams.

This year has been incredibly divisive, with many events pushing our community into opposing camps. That has played out locally, with the Voice to Parliament Referendum, and globally in conflicts like what we are seeing in Gaza and Israel.

I talk about my dad here because it was a foundational relationship that showed me the many shades of grey that are often absent in our current social and political discourse. He was very conservative, he also believed in ‘little l’ liberal values. He lived honestly and with integrity. He cared greatly for others and contributed quietly, without seeking personal accolades.

I now have many friends and colleagues whose views are both more and less socially and economically progressive. What’s important is that we have found common ground, engage in mutually respectful conversations, and are cognisant of our shared humanity.

I’m sharing this because it is easy to think that the world today is a darker place than it was a year ago. How can we celebrate with friends and family when we have just concluded a very public and divisive referendum campaign that pitted us against one another? How can we celebrate when we just have to pick up our phones to live stream the deaths of thousands of women and children in the conflict in Gaza?

I’ve seen a lot of advice about how to protect our mental health during times like these. The most common advice is to stop doom scrolling. This isn’t about placing our heads in the sand and hands over our ears– it’s about striking a balance between remaining engaged in events as they unfold and switching off to avoid feeling overwhelmed.

In reading the news, I do often find myself struggling with feeling helpless – and a bit hopeless. I can donate, I can advocate, I can use my ethical purchasing power. In a nutshell, I can contribute, but I can’t control the outcome of these events.

In trying to process this sense of hopelessness, I’ve been re-reading some of the work of researcher Brene Brown, who talks about hope as something you earn through struggle. She says: “we develop hope not during the easy or comfortable times, but through adversity and discomfort”.

Of course she’s speaking in a personal sense, not of the magnitude of global struggle and distress. It’s not advice I would give to the people of Gaza, but it is advice that has helped me to find some peace, in my small corner of the world.

It’s not a panacea for global distress, but it offers a guiding light in our personal spheres.

As we gather with loved ones over the holiday and Christmas season, my hope is that we can use this time to celebrate the unity found in respectful dialogue, common ground, and the shared pursuit of a more compassionate world.

Violet Roumeliotis

SSI CEO

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