TUMBY BAY - Do we older folk need to apologise to our children and grandchildren for the sorry state of the world we are bequeathing to them?
I guess the answer to that question depends on how culpable we feel and how complicit we think we have been in bringing the world to the edge of the catastrophe so many scientists believe it faces.
Of course, the historical events that started the greedy over-exploitation of the planet’s resources, and the pollution of our atmosphere, began long before we were born.
So the entire responsibility cannot rest with us.
And, anyway, how were we and our ancestors, as humble individuals, able to do anything about it?
Isn’t it those powerful forces of greed arraigned against us, and who still don’t think there’s anything wrong, who should shoulder the bulk of the blame?
History is replete with examples of people who should have acted but who stood by placidly as bad things were done in their name. Why should we be any different?
Just think about the holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis on the Jewish people or, more recently, what the Chinese government is doing to the Uighur Muslims. In both cases people knew what was going on but didn’t react.
Although in both cases the penalty for reacting against an authoritarian regime would have been severe punishment or death.
Sometimes it is too difficult to act.
But what about atrocities that our ancestors committed a long time ago before we were born. Should we act? Because we weren’t there are we absolved of collective guilt?
The Australian people of today were not personally responsible for the treatment of the Indigenous people of this land who were dispossessed.
But do we not bear responsibility for failing to deliver a position in our Constitution that would recognise the original inhabitants who spent upwards of 40,000 years here?
It was our forebears who were culpable; but it is we who have the opportunity to make restitution.
At a global level, should we feel guilty about the appalling lack of action on climate change that successive governments in Australia have failed to properly address for decades?
Should we feel guilty for ignoring the rampant corruption of our leaders which has led to serious breakdowns in essential services like health and education and aged care?
If so, how do we measure our complicity and guilt?
As citizens, what have we done that might have enabled such huge flaws in the fabric of our society?
We might not have built the factories or the coal mines but we’ve been enthusiastic supporters of excessive and needless consumption.
We might not be corrupt ourselves but we’ve quietly tolerated it in those who are.
If we recognised our own failure to act and offered an apology to our children and grandchildren, would that be useful?
Can a new world order emerge from an apology?
Under the Rudd Labor government, Australians delivered an apology to Indigenous people in 2008.
It was an enormously significant moment. Not the end of the matter but recognition of past sins and excesses. It was a crucial symbolic gesture and desperately needed. A step along the way.
Apologising to our children and grandchildren could be a similar hinge point for change. One cannot fix anything without recognising the problem.
An apology will not produce immediate change but it might set out the pathway towards change.
Giving our children and grandchildren a bearing out of the mess the world has descended into might, along with taking action to influence our society to do better, be a useful mechanism.
And we can begin that with an apology.
It need not be formal. Not hopeless. Not dismal. That will only embarrass them. Simply stating the remorse we feel and providing some guidance will suffice.
We could see what was happening. We didn’t do enough to stop it. We should have done more. We didn’t.
Child, grandchild, you know what needs doing. It needs to be done. By you.
Good luck kids.