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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Cuffs and Candor


You’ve probably never heard the name, Don Ritchie.  You’ve probably never heard of a place in Australia called “The Gap” either.    Once you hear the story, however, it’s hard to forget both. Don Ritchie died in 2012 at the age of 86.  To say Ritchie left a lasting impact on those he came into contact with would be an understatement.  He left his impact with a simple gesture. An invitation for a cup of tea.  

    The Gap is a cliff in Sydney Australia that is known for its large number of suicides.  Measures such as security cameras and fences were put in place to help reduce these attempts.  None of the measures would have the impact that Ritchie would have.  Ritchie lived at the location across from the Gap for over forty years.  During that time, he began to see people walk near the cliff and simply disappear.  What Ritchie did over the course of these years is a noble example of human compassion.  Ritchie would approach people near the edge of the cliff and engage them in conversation.  

“Why not come over and talk about it and see if we can fix it?”

    Ritchie would then invite them to his home nearby for a cup of tea and further conversation.  Through this simple act of kindness, Ritchie saved the lives of many.  Initial estimates put the number at 160.  That number has grown over the years toclose to 500.  Ritchie was soon given the nickname “The Australian Angel”.  A nickname well deserved. Ritchie was apparently on to something with the idea of engaging people in conversation.  A 2014 BBC study showed that talk therapy helped reduce suicides in Danish people by 26%.  The success was contributed mostly to those seeking therapy having a safe confidential place to talk.  Much like Ritchie provided in his home. 

     What we can learn from Don Ritchie is that we can all impact a life.  We all have the opportunity to help someone have a better day.  Regardless of our job or economic status, everyone can listen.  It takes just a few minutes out of a day to help someone cope with something that has been bothering them for days, months, or even years.  We have to do better.  From 1999-2016 suicide rates in the state of Arkansas rose 36.8%.  We all need to do our part in helping with this problem.  As Don Ritchie demonstrated, simply lending an ear is a great first step.

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