Posted tagged ‘good stories’

You’re blocking the sun

October 18, 2010

When Alexander the Great passed through Corinth, he visited the philosopher Diogenes and found him sitting under a tree, dressed in rags, with no money to his name. Alexander, the most powerful man in the world, asked if he could do anything to help him. ‘Yes’, replied the philosopher, ‘if you could step out of the way. You are blocking the sun.’ 

(From ‘Status Anxiety’, by Alain De Botton, 2006)

In an age focussed on acquisition and comfort, what we often fail to recognise is that a decrease in possessions is not such a sacrifice as we might imagine. In fact, the opposite seems to be true, and folks who are deliberately choosing another road find some freedom that for others is hard to locate. 

The search for a life more simple is not without it’s complications and dilemmas. But the seeking of personal comfort and the piling up of ‘stuff’, as gratifying as it might be at the time, is in the end a pathway towards emptiness. If the unfairness and environmental degradation brought about by over-consumption is not enough to make our generation come to its senses, perhaps a realisation of the resulting hollowness might be. 

The hard part is seeing past our reality – to step out of the shadows of those piles of goods and into the sun.

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The bus stop

September 24, 2010

At the bus stop on Friday I had an extra cause to smile. There was a young lady singing. Not so much singing to herself quietly, just singing. And not necessarily singing to those around either. Just singing and singing well – and it was a very pleasant Irishy* sounding ballad. When I commented that it was nice to here someone singing in public in such a way, she said she did it because it was a good way to finish the working day. The ballad was a most welcome counter to the drone of the passing traffic. She stopped when she got on the bus – perhaps the singing is reserved for walking along and waiting at the bus stop.

I liked the freedom of it – the thought that we can do things just for joy, not for recognition, or payment, or for attention. And it wasn’t offensive and it didn’t exploit anyone or make someone else feel smaller.

Just joy in a public place, unrestrained.

* I’m not sure ‘Irishy’ is a word, it just came to mind at the time

A handful of sand

August 16, 2010

Today, 16th August, marks the 35th anniversary of the day Prime Minister Gough Whitlam poured a handful of sand through the fingers of Gurindji man Vincent Lingiari, to symbolise the restoration of land ownership to the Gurindji people.

Source: National Library of Australia.

 

The story began on Wave Hill station, a large cattle station about 600 km south of Darwin in the Northern Territory. For many years after European settlement it was run by the British pastoral company called Vesteys. Vesteys employed the local Indigenous people, the Gurindji, to work on Wave Hill, but working conditions were very poor and the Gurindji people were paid much less than the other workers.

In 1966, Vincent Lingiari, a prominent Gurindji man who worked at Wave Hill, led a walk off of Indigenous workers as a protest against the poor pay and conditions. The protesters established the Wattie Creek Camp and demanded the return of some of their traditional lands.

The strike lasted for 8 years – “We know how to wait”, Vincent said. “We want them Vestey mob all go away from here. Wave Hill Aboriginal people bin called Gurindji. We been here long time before them Vestey mob. This is our country, all this bin Gurindji country … We want this land, we strike for that.”

Vincent Lingiari travelled all over Australia to address meetings and raise support for the strike. The protest eventually led to the Commonwealth Land Rights Act of 1976 which gave Indigenous Australians freehold title to traditional lands in the Northern Territory and powers to make decisions about mining and development on those lands. 

The story is told really well in “From little things, big things grow” by Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody

An act of patience and bravery well worth remembering.

bricks and fire

July 29, 2010

If you like fire or bricks or pizza, and especially if you like building your own appliances in the backyard, I commend to you some work by a mate of mine. Sev’s Oven gives comprehensive instructions about the building of his second backyard oven, as well as the odd good thought on neighbours, food and his dog Clancy.

I doubt there would be a handier guide than this one.

Sev's photo of his oven at work

A pair of shorts

April 8, 2010

Last year I did some research about simple living – what people do, why they do it, and what difference it makes. One of the best parts of the research was listening to all the stories people told about their endeavours – their hopes and fears and ideas.

One a bloke told me a beauty from his time living in a remote community, out in the central desert near the Western Australian border:

I always remember this guy, one of our neighbours, I saw him get into a truck one day with a pair of shorts on and the truck was going to Kalgoorlie. And that’s all he had, a pair of shorts. He jumped on the back of the truck and we never saw this guy for 3 months, and then later he came back from Alice Springs and he’s done this big circuit from Wingellina to Kalgoorlie, across to Port Augusta up to Alice Springs and back to us. And I’ve often thought about that and thought, in one sense it was a good little reminder of simplicity and I thought well, extended family helped out and all that …

This story is far removed from the experience of most in modern urban environments, particularly in Australia. Still, it brings new meaning to ‘travelling light’. In a sense, travelling light is a useful metaphor for simple living. Those who travel light have less impact on the world around them, they take up less space and use less resources. Travelling light also holds possibilities for reliance on others, for sharing and the fostering of relationships of all sorts, within families and between strangers.

 * * * * *

 The research project about simple living yielded some wonderful stories and lots of ideas to think on more. It’s long, but the full document, “More or Less” is available here.  

Your own idea

March 30, 2010

Talk about ‘community development’ is often littered with buzz-words. Terms like empowerment; grass-roots; community-based; participation – they seemingly get tacked on to any new policy or project to give it a bit of legitimacy or power. Sometimes true meaning gets lost.

I like this from a George Davies interview I was listening to, talking about a project he was part of:

“it is a network, it is a creating place where you can have a go at your ideas … rather than seniors in the church running an op shop and collecting money and making up food parcels to give to the poor, we made the space for people to have a go at their own idea.”

Now there’s a good thought to hang onto – making space for people, especially folks who are usually not listened to or don’t have much power, to have a go at their own ideas instead of getting told what they need to do.