Queensland Student Leadership Forum, keynote address
by Ms Quentin Bryce, Governor of Queensland, Brisbane

Young people, ladies and gentlemen

Thank you for your warm welcome. I feel privileged to be part of the first Queensland Student Leadership Forum on faith and values.

I know of the respect, acclaim, and following the National Forum has earnt since its inception eight years ago — giving young people from across Australia and the South Pacific an exceptional opportunity:

• to talk honestly and deeply with each other about what motivates them, their dreams, the values that underpin how they hope to live;

• to bring about change within themselves, allowing them to lead change in their communities.

And now, in 2005, I praise your vision and initiative in bringing this opportunity to Queensland, for young Queenslanders — the aspiring and developing leaders among them — who, by virtue of their backgrounds, cultures, and geographies will bring richness and diversity to the discovery and debate of ideas and feelings over the next four days.

Young people have always been close to my heart and the focus of my efforts.

Over the last four decades — as a mother, a teacher, a human-rights lawyer, a leader, a mentor, a grandmother, a friend, and now in my role as Governor — I have found myself thinking more and more about the issues affecting young people — their sense of happiness, self-esteem, wellbeing, hope and optimism about the future.

I delight in being surrounded by them, part of their lives — I love their wit and wisdom, camaraderie, watching the shyness fade as assurance grows; I envy their high spirits, noisiness, imagination, and fresh approach to old problems.

I know too that these are tough times for young people — dealing with the physical and emotional demands of adolescence, tackling the challenges and constraints of education, facing a changing society, and establishing for themselves an identity, a unique sense of self.

At an early age — when we can only sense, not articulate, things existential — the questions fasten to our core, inhabit our being, take hold of us for a lifetime: what am I? what do I believe in? what is my purpose?

As we live, those questions surface and fall away — often in time with our failures and our successes.

Occasionally, they stay screaming in our face until we’re forced to respond, and as a result our lives change irrevocably. More often, we trip over them, by accident, regarding them momentarily before we return to the frenetic minutiae that fill our days. And most often, they retreat through fear or lack of attention.

But they never vacate, and, left unanswered, will forever plague us.

For some, it may take a grave illness; a death; a birth; a job that saps them of everything but the endless grind of the day-to-day — before they are able to stop, reflect, collect their thoughts about whatever drives their existence, be comfortable enough to sit with themselves, alone in silence.

For a few women, who will call New South Wales’s Mulawa Prison home for many years yet, it took crimes they can’t speak of, and a progressive Christian chaplain, before they found the courage to look within themselves, to see who they are, to learn to live with their isolation and guilt, to relax and be still, to meditate in peace on the grass.

For the young people chosen to participate in this year’s forum, you are, in the days ahead, compelled — yet wonderfully free, and unencumbered by the baggage and self-neglect that accrues with age —

• to seize those questions, confront them, ponder them, seek to answer them;

• to be with other like-minded young people who share your desire for reflection and discussion, your desire for answers; and be nurtured in the safety and support of experienced adults;

• to explore your own spirituality — your ability to access and pursue meaning, vision, value, and deep purpose in your lives.

This search for spirituality you are about to embark on will be slow and often painful — requiring you to go into the dark night of your soul to face and voice your fears, your failures, what makes you uncomfortable — it will be deeply humbling; the most difficult thing you will ever do.

I urge you however not to shy from the challenge, but to cherish it, learn from it everything you can, carry it with you in your toolkit — for without meaning and belief systems, we have no framework for managing our lives, tackling the unfamiliar, resolving the ethical dilemmas, surviving the heartbreak and tragedy that will inevitably graze us all.

“The need for meaning is what brought us out of the trees two million years ago; the need to articulate meaning is what gave rise to human language; the use of meaning, the access to meaning, is necessary to our being healthy, to our functioning at all; and the pursuit of meaning is how the brain binds together our rational intelligence, our emotional intelligence, and our spiritual intelligence…We are indeed‘wired’ for spirituality.”

The spirituality I speak of is not anything essentially connected with religion, it can and does exist comfortably and positively outside the realms of sectarian theology and faith.

It’s what David Tacey, a teacher in spirituality at La Trobe University in Melbourne, says, remains for young people today to believe in and be liberated by, now that the passion and political debate of the 60s and 70s has apparently passed.

He suggests that:

“…what we’re experiencing now is not something trendy or fashionable…but something to do with the course of civilisation itself that began with the era of the Enlightenment in the 16th and 17th centuries…

A great many theologians don’t like the new youth interest in spirituality because they think that it’s saying “we don’t need any traditions, we’re going to wipe the slate clean and start again from hugging trees, or looking at sunsets, or smelling aromatherapy”…but I think what we are really witnessing is the turn of the civilisation wheel, that in fact society is tiring of its own materialism.”

And so in tiring of materialism and its excesses and anxieties, we look for something else, something more nourishing, more sustaining — we begin to focus on the universal, essential qualities of love, compassion, tolerance, and forgiveness; we begin to see what connects us, what we have in common.

It is only at this point, having plunged from the bright, shiny lights into the darkness, having identified some broad, vague notions of goodness, do we emerge with any awareness of the values that currently define us and our behaviours; and a sense of whether they are values we like or ones we will work hard to change.

Stephanie Dowrick, a distinguished writer and observer of the human condition, calls this sense of ourselves, this alignment between our words and our actions: our integrity —

“our ability to act as an integrated, emotionally mature person whom others can trust, and who we ourselves can trust to know right from wrong and to act accordingly.”

With integrity, you cement your core, and thereafter you are able to open your heart and mind to endless possibilities.

Young people, you have chosen leadership — or perhaps it has chosen you — as your possibility, your opportunity to exercise your spirit, your integrity; your faith, your values

in a positive way, for yourself and your community.

What is your understanding of good leadership that transcends charisma, and the usual trappings of hierarchies, authority, and power? Why does society need it? What is it about you that will allow you to empower and lead others?

My friend, Hugh Mackay — a psychologist, social researcher, and author, who has spent over 40 years studying the attitudes and behaviour of the Australian community — says:

“Australian society is in the throes of redefining itself, and it urgently needs a sense of vision. It is a society deeply unsure of itself, and it needs inspiration. It is a society suffering the pangs of a deep-seated insecurity, and it needs an injection of confidence.”

He continues:

“Perhaps the real yearning is for a ‘guiding story’ that connects leaders and people: a set of coherant ideals, values, and beliefs that give us a framework for making sense of our national life…

Our leaders need to tell us our story; explain us to ourselves; help us weave some meaning and purpose into the fabric of our lives; explain the gap between the values we espouse and how we actually lead our lives; encourage us; open a window onto the possibilities of a better life; show us how to be who we truly want to be.”

This, of course, is your journey: for without first understanding the story, and gaining the vision, inspiration, and confidence yourselves, you are ill-equipped to lead others.

What a huge journey it is you have in front of you.

Be heartened, though, by my assurance that the hard work you do in cementing your core, will be a solid and enduring foundation for developing your leadership potential. The excitement and energy will come from your continual discovery of hidden reserves of strength, talent, and creativity within you.

Young people, as adults, we often think of you as representing the future, but I know too that you are active in influencing the present. I am committed to:

• engendering your sense of public ethos;

• encouraging your involvement in community service for the common good;

• bringing you together to toss around ideas, build powerful, influential, culturally inclusive networks, form friendships;

• giving you the chance to participate, to harness your power, and tap into your leadership qualities.

Savour the conversations and experiences you have over the next few days. Talk honestly with yourself and with others. Protect yourself from shallow impressions. Allow yourself to be the individual you are and to find the answers you need.

Susannah Tamaro, in her beautifully crafted meditation on existence, Follow Your Heart, writes, in words from an older to a young woman, of the ultimate journey to the centre of oneself:

“Take care of yourself. Every time you see a wrong you want to put right, remember that the first revolution — and the most important — has to happen inside you.

To fight for an idea when you have no clear idea about yourself is one of the most dangerous things you can do.

Every time you feel lost or confused, think of the trees and how they grow.

Remember that a tree with a great leafy crown and shallow roots will fall in the first gust of wind, and in a tree with abundant roots and a scanty crown, the sap cannot flow freely.

And when you come to a meeting of many ways and do not know which to choose, do not choose at random, but pause and reflect. Breathe with the trusting, deep breaths you took when you first came into the world; let nothing distract you, but wait and go on waiting.

Be still and listen in silence to your heart. When it has spoken to you, rise up and follow it.”

Young leaders, your heart — your spirit — will never cease to astonish you and the people you inspire. Always pay attention to the questions that reside at your centre. Be open and courageous.

I salute you.

Return to Shreddergate