EDUCATION: With Peter Clague, Kristin School
Kristin School's Executive Principal, Peter Clague, challenges the culture of accepting and even admiring excessive inebriation.
I remember once hearing a story about an early contact between Australian Aboriginals and a ship of English sailors in the late 1700’s.
The ship had anchored on a remote stretch of coast before reaching its final destination of Sydney, for the purpose of dispensing justice to two men on board who had committed some crime. A suitable tree was found and the men were summarily hung as punishment. A local tribe of Aboriginal people gathered to watch the proceedings with growing amazement.
When it was over, they approached the European sailors and asked “Why have you wasted these men?”
Today of course, that question might not have seemed all that unusual. Thanks to Hollywood, our modern culture often uses the term “wasted” to mean killed, usually violently. But to the sailors, it was an odd concept. They had simply been dispensing justice.
In the eyes of the locals though, for whom every person had a contribution to make to the health of the tribe, the deliberate killing of anyone was definitely a waste of resources. No matter what they had done, why would a society deliberately squander the potential of a human being?
My intention however, is not to make a case against capital punishment but rather to draw attention to another equally ironic modern meaning of the word “wasted”. That is, using the word to describe a person who is incapacitated by drugs or alcohol. Although we probably don’t think of it in those terms, excessive alcohol or drug use, particularly by young people, does indeed leave them wasted. It wastes their potential, their emotions, their chance to mature. It also wastes their financial resources, their time, and sadly sometimes, even their lives.
As someone who works amongst young adults every day, I am growing sick of hearing the word “wasted” used as some sort of accolade. Next time you hear someone describing with perverse pride that they or an acquaintance got wasted, challenge them to tally up exactly what got wasted. How much money, how much memory, how much time lost to hangover and illness? Whose car, relationship, liver or sexual health was irrevocably damaged? Was what they wasted worth what they gained? Can they even remember what they got for their over-indulgence?
There is nothing admirable about being wasted, the word itself is a mockery of the condition. From teenage binge drinking to politicians normalising cannabis use, to the insidious arrival of “P” and other methamphetamines, we have an ever increasing battle to stop the waste of our children.
I wonder what an outside culture would make of our practice of getting so drugged or inebriated that we could not function, let alone fulfil our potential. Like those Aborigines on the coast some two hundred years ago, they would probably walk away, shaking their heads in disbelief, muttering “What a waste.”