Thursday, February 4, 2010

It’s Not The Alcohol, It’s The Attitude

In evidence given the government’s Family and Youth Committee, representatives of the Australian Hotels Association have suggested that alcohol consumption is not to blame for the apparent increase in violent and antisocial behavior. While it might be cynically suggested that the Association has a vested interest and could be expected to deny the dangers of alcohol, it is worth considering the points they have made. Association President Thomas McGuire said “We are getting people… going out having showered, shaved, and slipping a knife into the posket, which is a very strange attitude to going out and having a good time.” He described it as a “significant change in social concern for one another” and he believes that this is the root of the problem. In other words, it’s the attitude, not the alcohol, that’s to blame.

The CEO of the Association, Bill Healy, gave evidence that the increased concern about alcohol violence was at least in part driven by greater visibility thanks to the proliferation of security cameras. Even though the actual numbers of violent incidents have not increased over a period of ten years, there is a much greater likelihood of the video ending up on Today Tonight or A Current Affair. But it is more disturbing to note that Mr. Healy also described a notable rise in the level of viciousness. This is something that he ascribed to a combination of exposure to more violent material on television and in video games, along with a more sheltered environment in schools. He said that “they have not actually experienced a lot of pain. They don’t get kicked at school, the empathy factor of knowing how it feels.”

Now that’s a pretty radical thing to say, and it should not be construed as suggesting that fighting and bullying in schools should be condoned. But it does suggest that there could be a whole range of factors in childhood development which contribute to what appears to be the “significant change in social concern for each other” that Mr. McGuire described. And it should be obvious that this change in attitude has become pervasive in our society. We see it in road rage, we see it in car park altercations, supermarket confrontations, and just downright rudeness, discourteousness and disrespect every day. And that’s something that occurs with people who haven’t had a drop to drink, but are just obnoxious by nature.

Of course there are people who become more aggressive, more hostile and more violent when they drink. But they are most likely to be that way inclined anyway, and there are plenty of other people who are happy to have a drink or three, and who become more cheerful, more relaxed, more exuberant, or just more quiet. Then there are those who are mixing their alcohol with illegal drugs, and in some cases those really are substances which can dramatically alter your behavior. But in most cases, it’s not the alcohol, it’s the attitude. The truth is that blaming alcohol alone is too simple, too easy, and too much of a cop out, when the real issue should be about personal responsibility for our behavior, our wellbeing, and the wellbeing of those around us.

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