Posted tagged ‘hoping for change’

Some sense

April 5, 2011

The storm surrounding Kevin Rudd and his admission about ETS negotiations within the Labour Party has drowned out the good sense he talked about refugees last night on Q & A. Asked a question about asylum seeker policy, Kevin’s reaction was to say “let’s put this into context …” And he did – 42 million people worldwide who are refugees, people fleeing violence and strife, with no home.

Let’s repeat those – no home, 42 million.

He called it what it is – a humanitarian emergency that we need to deal with as a global community, where we work together to protect and serve the members of our human family who are most vulnerable. If only we heard this more often from political leaders, our community attitude towards refugees and asylum seekers might not be so bogged down in fear and untruthfulness. The context, the real issues, and the human stories get lost in the barrage of insults about queue jumpers and border protection and let’s face it, plain old selfishness and xenophobia.

As is often the case, it is those who are most vulnerable who very often get hurt the most, and in Australia, we are a long way from a mature public approach to migration and people movement. I wonder if we’ll ever get there?

Others following the former PM’s lead on this one would help.

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Slogans and bumper stickers

August 6, 2010

Sick of ignorant slogans, bad policy and blatant lies by national leaders, a mate and I have written some slogans of our own in an attempt to add our voice to the current public discourse, if you can call it that, about asylum seekers and the Australian community.

I am appalled at our nation’s leaders inability to speak fairly and compassionately about refugees and displaced people. Australia has the resources and the responsibility to take a lead in helping some of the most vulnerable people in the world. As the third wealthiest country on the globe, the wealthiest in our region by a substantial margin, and as a country that has been continually strengthened by various waves of immigration, a welcome rather than a rejection is entirely reasonable.

The bumper stickers are now printed and ready to go, and welcomerefugees.org is up and running.

As well as a place to order bumper stickers, the website gives a valuable perspective about people who are refugees and the way we can respond as an Australian community. The fact sheets provided by GetUp or the Edmund Rice Centre for Social Justice are a good place to start in being more informed, and so are the stories on the SBS “How far we’ve come” website.

 

Sorry

May 28, 2010

It was Sorry Day on Wednesday – the day in Australia we remember the sorry business that was the forcible removal of Indigenous children over many generations. We had a festival here in Perth to mark the moment.

Despite its roots being in sadness, it was a wonderful day – beaut music, some storytelling and speeches by some Nyungar elders, a smoking ceremony, and lots of activities for school kids to join in on too. There was a fantastic turn out of schools, which was a real positive of the day – a young generation that is hearing lots of honest talk about some of Australia’s darker history, learning some Indigenous culture – both old and new, and sharing ideas about walking along together and healing hurts from the past. I was struck by the gentleness of many of the people who spoke, people who have felt much pain in the past, but who show an enormous capacity for forgiveness and wisdom.

I was reminded though, that for many Indigenous people in Australia, life continues to be a struggle for all sorts of reasons, and that the ongoing feeling of being shafted, of being treated second best, is still ever-present for many. There is still a long road ahead, and days like Wednesday can be an enormous force for good. These public occasions have their limits though. The everyday actions and words exchanged between us and our neighbours, and whether government policy can be genuinely fair, will determine how well we can walk along together as a society too.

A while ago, I visited a friend in Alice Springs who has a close up view of life in a number of Northern Territory communities, and what impacts the 2008 Federal Government ‘Intervention’ has had on the life of people it was designed to help – from where she sits and especially for many of the Indigenous ladies she knows and works with, it’s been negative.

Like a lot of knee-jerk, politically motivated major policy changes, it just alienated more people, peddled misinformation about the nature of many Indigenous people and did little to provide any help for the many deep rooted problems that these people face. There were lots of new blue signs though, on many of the roads leading in and out of town, detailing the perils of bringing in alcohol and pornography – pity most of the writing was so small you couldn’t read it from the car, and that many of the folks from the communities wouldn’t be able to read most of it anyway.

Long-term, patient projects that are based on listening and respect are sometimes hard to find, and don’t get talked about all that much anyway. A comforting thing is that there are many people, Indigenous and not, who do great work in communities to bring about positive change. If only they were given more support.

Still, Wednesday was one of those special days – a background of sadness, but an inkling of hope. Worth holding on to.

Part-time work

May 24, 2010

 

watching the waves

 

Recently I found a poem that my then eight year old daughter had written to me for Father’s Day a couple of years ago. Most of it was heart warming and predictable – “he tickles me, I love him, he fixes things.” I remember though, it was the last line that caught my attention the most – “my Dad works part-time and I love him”.

I know people who regularly work at least 60 hours a week, often on Saturdays and Sundays and only ever see their children on occasional days off or for a quick sleepy cuddle at night if they’re lucky.

They are not alone. According to Australian researcher Hugh Mackay, more than one fifth of Australian workers work more than 50 hours a week, and about a third work regularly on the weekend. Australia is second highest on a list of industrialised countries who’s citizens work consistently long hours.

I remember another piece of research, from the Australia Institute a few years ago, which interviewed children about family life and parent’s work hours. They seemed to understand that parents need some paid work, but also expressed a longing for more time together, rather than to be compensated with having money spent on them. The wonderings of a young bloke called Eddie, aged 12, said it best:

 He misses out on seeing us. He wants to see us heaps and heaps and to make up for it … he buys stuff and he can see you feel sad”

 A cycle of pressure to earn and spend, to provide bigger houses, more up to date gadgets and fancier holidays could well play a role in the sad end result. As wealth and income increase across a society, the ability of people to derive satisfaction from their economic gain is reduced – a bit like the way a $100 is worth much more to someone who only owns $100, rather than to someone who’s income is much higher. Therefore, those seeking satisfaction from material wealth need to accumulate more in order to be satisfied – feeding a cycle of acquisition as well as dissatisfaction. In a society such as ours where material acquisition is a major goal and pastime, this rings particularly true, and makes the need to find ways to scale back consumption more urgent.

Just this week, the Australian Institute of Family Studies released a study about the time children spend with their parents. This included research about time fathers spend alone with their children, and it showed that Australian fathers spend on average less than hour a day with their children, and often as little as half an hour. Even on the weekend, the time alone with a father was still fairly low – on average about an hour and half.

There are complications of course, like family structures and changing work demands. However, it is also true that many children are spending less and less time with their fathers, and in many cases they’re unhappy about it.

Not everyone can work part-time. Not everyone can share parenting and household duties. Not all children can have a dad at home. However, there is wisdom in a little girl’s observation that something good is going on when a dad chooses time with them over other pressing demands, and keeps on doing it.

I wish …

April 9, 2010

 

 

I wish more people rode bikes.

 

 

This beaut photo was taken by a mate of mine from Sydney called Geoff.

Headlines

April 9, 2010

Villagers massacred by Ugandan rebels … Chinese waste problem growing as fast as economy … suicide attackers strike peak hour metro …

As usual, I am struck by the tragedy of the headlines. Not just that they are very much full of strife, but the scale, the depth, and the variety of tragedy can be mind-boggling if I let in sink in. I am in no way the first to feel this, to feel the hollow resignation that comes with powerlessness. What can I do? Well … nothing.

I am not a resistance leader, aid worker or politician. Anyway, I suspect they too are wracked by many of the same feelings. Even so, my mind searches for what could be done – send money, political action, hope and pray, support the work of others, keep telling the stories, give up …

Actions and intention either never seem enough or they are some how out of reach. Still, feeling powerless is no excuse for ignorance – that would be giving up completely

Rusty brown dog?

March 26, 2010

I do have a dog. He is rusty brown and his name is Arthur. And he is a good companion on our late night walks together.

My rusty brown dog is reliable and friendly. He listens in to me, seemingly without his own agenda in mind, and he is easy to please. One thing about dogs is how content they are. They make a big deal about small things – a stick, a biscuit, a trace of a smell they sense in a prickly bush. They don’t worry about what other dogs think of their body shape – they don’t mind being fat or skinny or not having curves in the right places. They don’t watch television, they don’t ask for lollies. They don’t gossip about other dogs and they don’t have hip clothes. They don’t check the price of their shares, plan for retirement, or search for friends on facebook. They are glad to see us when we get home.

I read a book once which listed all these things we could learn from dogs, like being loyal and never pretending to be something you’re not, like not passing up the chance to go for a joy ride, and that when someone’s having a bad day you should just sit quietly by, and nuzzle them gently.

I was also reading another book about dogs and humans, and how we ended up forming such an alliance. Who needed who first? It may well have been that the dog-human relationship was based on mutual survival. In early human times, we needed each other. They needed us for protection. We needed them to help us hunt. And having some closer affiliation with another member of the animal kingdom was comforting, and the alliance with the dog became relational as well as practical.

In a more modern world, maybe we still need each other just as much, but for survival in a different way. From where I sit, much of the modern world endures what some call a ‘social recession’ – broken relationships, outrageous consumption, financial stress, greed, depression, fear of strangers. 

A fascination with wealth and continual gathering of possessions is a central part of our culture, and it makes me terribly uneasy. The uneasiness is compounded by the knowledge of a world in which so many people suffer from not having enough of the basics for survival – food, water, shelter and medicines. It is an uneasiness that surfaces at children’s birthday parties, on reluctant trips to suburban shopping complexes and not surprisingly, emerges a lot at Christmas. There is a nagging inside that searches for a simpler but better life that might have been lost somewhere and a wariness of an overriding greed that is seldom recognised. I suspect that not only is too much consumption unfair, it erodes many of the good things about human life and living in community. In a way, we all miss out.

The apparent contentedness of the dog reminds me of that inner struggle, and how it might be different. Can we take a dog for a walk and learn from his contentment – he smells the air and plants. He wags his tale and gives a doggy smile to his family, and then he does the same for strangers too. When he comes home and sleeps, he needs no hi-tech entertainment or alcohol, just some companions and a home.

And rusty brown? Brown does not belong only to my dog Arthur. Brown is the colour of long dusty roads, the earth, of skin, and brown paper bags. It is the colour of rust, of chocolate and bread and brewed tea, of old bottles and tree trunks, of worn out and old things. And it’s the colour of recycling and nature. It is a good companion for green in the symbolism of sustainability.

We are different species’, but the simplicity of my rusty brown dog reminds me of what life could be. The people I know who aim to live as simply as they can – to use less resources, to focus more on relationships and justice and compassion than on material acquisition, contribute more to a saner world than they could ever imagine. Often they have more time to be with neighbours and families, and to help out at local schools and community projects. They use less resources and create less waste. And they give things away – money and time, to projects that alleviate poverty close by and far away. Often they seem more satisfied too, more content, more aware, even as they live honestly with the limitations of their own actions and the knowledge of a world in strife.

It makes sense really, that simple living has a lot to offer our current times. Our world is faced by an environmental crisis requiring massive change to the way we consume resources, and poverty and inequality are a persistent reality. If we are critical enough, most modern western societies are diminished by genuine concerns about health, well-being and community. That social recession just won’t go away. The actions circling around simple living bring some genuine alternatives on a number of fronts  – less resource use, generous sharing, more time and intent for rebuilding often fragmented neighbourhoods. No doubt these actions and attitudes also involve struggles and dilemmas, and it seems, an amount of courage. It sounds like a movement suited to our times.

My rusty brown dog reminds me of these ideas and actions and hopes. Perhaps they are just what we need, not only for survival, but for a life worth living.