Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Confessions of a Bleeding Heart

I was called a "bleeding heart" on a blog commentary the other day. That's nothing new. The epithet is often used by right wingers when they run out of ideas. This happens with monotonous frequency, so the word pops up often.

The context was a response to my post pointing out that compassion had taken a back seat to political wedging around the asylum-seekers issue.

I'm not sure whether I should be chuffed or insulted. It's an interesting use of language and originates, apparently, from the other side of the Pacific, and from well to the right of the political spectrum.

Like so many other neo-political memes, it has wormed its way into usage in this country via the electronic media.

So we're probably stuck with it.

For me, the term elicits a variety of responses probably unintended by the person using it as an insult.

It started early - back when I was at primary school.

I have strong memories of my mother taking in under privileged kids and feeding and clothing them. Mum was an old-fashioned infant teacher, a very effective one, recognized for her pioneering work in teaching maths to kids in the lower grades.

Alongside her enthusiasm for teaching and learning, mum had an allied sense of social justice, long before it became fashionable. For her, it was simple. If you saw someone in trouble, you helped them if you could. She could and she did - sometimes at my expense and that of my five siblings.

I recall being more than a little miffed when mum sent an indigenous kid home kitted out in my clothes, including a pair of shoes that I treasured. When I complained, she told me not to be "silly". She could afford to buy me a new pair, after all - and she did.

So if I'm a "bleeding heart", it's probably in my DNA.

At age 13, at boarding school 1600kms from home, I was on the receiving end of some schoolboy compassion. I was small and weedy, and away from home for the first time in a pretty tough all boys environment, so I copped my fair share of what would be called "harassment" these days.

Another boy from the bush, who was also away from home for the first time, stood up for me. He was not small and weedy, so the harassment stopped. To this day, I'm not sure why he protected me. I will never be able to ask him why or thank him, as he was killed in the first few minutes of the battle of Long Tan. I wonder if he was a "bleeding heart".

Years later, as a consequence of a random series of events starting with my birth date being drawn in a conscription ballot, I found myself in Vietnam in uniform. The activity I was part of at that time was far from compassionate in nature. I was supposed to be killing Viet Cong. This didn't sit easily, but fortunately the opportunities to kill were few and far between. In any case, I always believed that my priorities were keeping my mates and myself alive.

This didn't seem too far a stretch from compassion.

On a TAOR1 patrol one day, we encountered a group of Vietnamese wood cutters who were in a free fire zone. We were obliged to detain them, and guard them until the local police turned up. This situation developed into a day-long affair, as the police took some finding, and when found, took their time getting there.

There were women and children in the group, and over time, a fair amount of interaction developed. It was stinking hot (was it ever anything else in Vietnam?) and I was sweating profusely. One old woman in the group was watching me closely. Her attention made me feel uneasy.

Suddenly, ignoring my SLR2 and any suspicion of hostile intent, she reached forward and mopped the sweat from my face with a cloth I was wearing around my neck. I guess she simply fell into a mothering role, and saw a distressed twenty-two year old, rather than an armed and hostile foreign soldier.

Would you call her a "bleeding heart"?

Returning from Vietnam, I almost accidentally fell into a job teaching children with severe disabilities. There was a shortage of males working in the field (still is) and actually getting the job was easy. Staying in it wasn't.

For the first month or two, I really struggled. I'd had no training, was dropped into the deep end with a very difficult class, and was floundering. Fortunately, I had consistent and generous support from the school principal and staff, and they helped me until I found my feet.

These people were in this work, of course, because they had a strong sense of compassion. Were they "bleeding hearts"?

For the last 40 years I've continued working in this field with lots of other people who no doubt qualify for the label. Strangely perhaps, I still enjoy the work.

Perhaps I've been steadily brainwashed over the years and need to spend time at some kind of re-education camp. Maybe a week or two locked in a room with a couple of radio shock jocks would do the trick.

It's fitting, perhaps, that the boarding school referred to above was run by the missionaries of the Sacred Heart. The icon is displayed at the top of this post.

So if you want to tag me as a "bleeding heart"' go right ahead.

I'm content to take it as a complement.

1. TAOR - Task force area of responsibility.
2. SLR - Self loading (automatic) rifle


1735099 said...

The acronym can be interpreted as "Task Force Area of Operational Responsibility", "Tactical Area of Responsibility", "Task Force Area of Responsibility" or "Tactical Area of Operational Responsibility".
Take your pick. You wouldn't know what the acronym denoted in 1970. You were probably still in nappies, or a gleam in your old man's eye back then.
"wax lyrical about the military"
Surely you jest. I would never do that. There's plenty absurd, but nothing vaguely lyrical about the military. Irrespective of how I got there, I was in the army to do a job - not to get a job.
"The bottom of the food chain" - yep - cannon fodder, political collateral - do you know an acronym for that?

Richard Sharpe said...

Point proven, you think you know the meaning of those words, but you don’t.

1735099 said...

The only point proven is your obsession with inconsequential military minutiae.
Nobody cares.....

Richard Sharpe said...

That’s just feeble, a whiny teenager’s response that’s unworthy even of you. I’m not surprised though.

I had written a longer piece explaining it, but you don’t care, so I shan’t bother. Be happy in your ignorance. It’s never held you back before.

1735099 said...

"you don’t care"
You're absolutely correct.
"so I shan’t bother"
You're sulking.
You obviously couldn't find anything to critique with the substance of the piece, so you used your obsession with military acronyms to nitpick.
It reminds me of a few eight year-olds I've taught over the years. Fortunately, most grow out of it.

Anonymous said...

Gee I thought that the commonly referred to SLR was the L1A1, a gas operated semi-automatic rifle, not automatic unless the seer is fiddled with or the safety catch is replaced (not in accordance with sops) with a very similar one but from an L2A1 (the heavier barrelled weapon with fore-end grip doubling as a bipod not on issue to your battalion during your time. Please correct me if I am wrong.

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