Aspiration appears to be the new buzz word in Australian politics. It is being used to convey the idea that the foremost aspiration of most Australians is greater financial security. If it is not it should be. It is almost certainly the case that many do aspire to the presumed security of substantial wealth, but the strength and security of Australian civil society is dependent upon very different aspirations from most of its citizens.
We heard it said by the Prime Minister in parliament that a sixty something aged care worker in Devonport should be aspiring for a better paid position. Wrong, he or she should be able to expect that the position currently held is fairly and appropriately remunerated. Unless a significant number of citizens aspire to be exceptional aged care workers, the future will ultimately be very bleak for all members of the population when they reach frail old age.
Society expresses relative value through the remuneration it offers its diverse workforce. It is hard to imagine a more important profession than teaching. We need our most able young men and women to aspire to be teachers, not hedge fund managers or defamation lawyers. Australia is slipping behind on one of the most important benchmarks of a healthy civil society – education. Based on remuneration alone, it is unlikely that the most talented will aspire to be teachers in the future. Relative remuneration indicates the teaching profession is not highly valued, at least not in comparison with those who work, often with the most meagre of qualifications, in the finance industry.
It used to be the case that some professions were called ‘vocations’ to indicate that motivation for the chosen path was service, not financial reward. Nurses, ambulance officers, many medical professionals, carers of various descriptions, youth and children’s workers, were all thought to be vocations.
It is a sad commentary on Australian political life that aspiration is associated by our political leaders with the size of the house, the depth of the bank balance or the breadth of the investment portfolio.
Society first needs men and women to aspire to be the very best fathers or mothers, grandfathers or grandmothers, husbands or wives, spouses, neighbours, friends, that they can possibly be. It is a truism to say: “in adversity your job will not save you, your family will”.
Secondly society needs men and women to aspire to professions that benefit the common good. It is not hard to make some jobs quite lucrative while at the same time contributing little if anything to the common good of others. Clearly many financial advisors have made a lot of money at the expense of others.
There is little if any evidence that wealth adds anything to personal wellbeing or happiness. So why would anyone simply aspire to be wealthier? Obviously, those who are poor, those for whom the necessities of life are a struggle, aspire to be lifted out of their poverty and society has an obligation to assist them on this path. But there is likely to be no measurable difference to the happiness or contentment of someone on a middle income to someone on a high income, in fact there is evidence the trend is in the opposite direction.
Happiness or contentment is not fed by wealth, but by other more personal factors:
· Strong bonds of affection within the immediate family
· Being engaged in activity that is meaningful
· An attitude of gratefulness
· Knowing a worthwhile contribution is being made
· Knowing that enough is enough
If our politicians strive to deliver policies on the false assumption that greater wealth is the primary aspiration of most, or indeed that it is the most important aspiration, they will deliver a society that is even more self-focussed, discontent, and far more likely to suffer the fate of humpty -dumpty who, facing an inevitable fall, could not be put back together again because the vision that put him on the wall in the first place turned out to be an illusion.