Compassion and discomfort

Tomorrow night Get up is organising a candle vigil for the refugee crisis in Europe.  I desperately want to support this cause and so my first thought of course was, great, I will go. But then something happened, practical considerations crept into my mind and I started thinking of several reasons why it just would not be convenient tomorrow night. It was in the city, a long way to travel with kids at that time of night. I have a busy week and have work to get through. I then  thought about how cold it would be sitting out at night in Perth’s chilly spring winds. This is when it struck me….the absurdity of my thought, my concern about being a little cold when all those people are sleeping outside, with no food or shelter, no homes to go back to. And it was then that I decided I had to go. I had to make some sacrifice in their name. It is in the grand scheme of things, a sacrifice so small that it could be seen as tokenistic, but ultimately our habits, routines and everyday comforts are often the ones we do less easily without.

Supporting human rights involves much more than the process of memberships and financial contributions, though of course these are essential elements. What such causes need from the world is also for the privileged to confront their privilege and in doing so find an opportunity to voluntarily sacrifice a measure of the comfort we take for granted every day. It is only by doing this that we can grow our compassion for the people that suffer in the world, in circumstances where their reality is so removed from ours.

 

 

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On seeing ourselves in each other!

I was reading Matthew Sharpe’s wonderful article on the film ‘Far from Men’ based on Albert Camus’s short story, L’Hote (https://theconversation.com/loin-des-hommes-we-are-all-first-men-camus-algerians-and-oelhoffens-camus-47005 ) and my mind turned to the powerful sense of connection we can often feel with writers who have lived in completely different times, places and circumstances. (The Italian writer Elena Ferrante is also one who brings this sense to me with her powerful narratives of women, friendships and motherhood).

Although writers who grapple with their existence have always resonated with me, it is only now at this stage in my life, lets call it “middle age” that I  seek to look around me with increasing urgency to consider in depth and with interest, what existed before. I seem to have an unceasing yearning to understand the world and the thoughts which have sustained the greatest minds, as well as finding companionship in the thoughts of those others who too have experienced the existential discomforts of our existence.

Navel gazing it might be, but what could be of greater meaning than to understand who we are and where we sit in this lifetime of ours and others. It might be regarded as a mapping of the human mind, for which borders, time and geography do not exist. In such a world, what exists is simply those who have felt and shared and in doing so have participated in the universal experience of living. I have also a particular hope that we can find some answers in the problems of the world and humanity that we still face on a daily basis.

What struck me from this thoughtful consideration of Camus work was how we might be able to use it to think about the tragic situation of those trying to escape brutality and extreme violence in their lives, only to find that the rest of the world is holding fast to a concept which is fast becoming outdated, that of of a country’s physical and economic borders.

As Sharpe eloquently puts it:

“We live in a world wherein, amongst other things, the numbers of real refugees flooding the first world (including many Moslems from Africa) grows every hour. Increasingly like Camus’ Daru and Oelhoffen’s Mohamed – and whether we like it or not – we too are every day being cut loose from the moorings of our older, more impermeable cultures.

Our territorial and cultural boundaries in the period of ‘globalisation’ have been rendered increasingly porous not only to flows of moneys and capital. There are also the floods of exiled peoples, as welcome to most of us as is the rope-borne Arab, at first, to Camus’ or Oelhoffen’s Daru.

If we in these circumstance are to become not “men on the wane as they shout in the newspapers, but men of a different and undefined dawn,” as Camus could still write of his warring countrymen in 1959, it is to the extent that we become able to see in figures like Far From Men’s Daru and Mohamed not strangers to be taken hostage, traded on or turned away, but uncanny images of ourselves.”

With so much of our humanity resting on our ability to connect with others despite our differences, the wisdom of this thought rests heavily upon us.

 

 

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Small talk and the common experience

“The deeper, macro answer of why a closing bookstore is a loss to freedom, is that free-market societies—at times by compensatory instinct, at times by compulsory instruction—have built, alongside the responsive market with its unending appetite for change, smaller institutions where people can exchange ideas, share spaces, be in contact, feel at home, without any particular institutional endorsement from higher authorities. Restaurants, bookstores, cafés—on a grander scale railway stations, on a lesser one chessboards near park benches—are the sinews of civil society. The great German post-Marxist philosopher Jürgen Habermas, as I wrote in my book about the history of eating at restaurants, believed that those intermediate institutions were where the real work of eighteenth-century mind-making got done. Enlightenment happened more often in a café than a classroom. It still does. It’s an idea that’s been given a more empirical, pragmatic life by the American Robert Putnam, whose best work seems to suggest that the smaller instruments of social capital, like volunteer fire departments and amateur opera societies, are among the most robust predictors of success at honest, democratic government. By atomizing our experience to the point of alienation—or, at best, by creating substitutes for common experience (“you might also like…” lists, Twitter exchanges instead of face-to-face conversations)—we lose the common thread of civil life.”

As reported by Adam Gopnick in the New Yorker. The point he makes is a salient one, conversations and exchanges of ideas happen mostly in intimate settings. Creating spaces in which this can happen is crucial if our social existence is to be successful. Small talk, which often becomes the norm of conversation in large group settings, purely because it is difficult to sustain an in-depth conversation whilst “mingling” is the appetiser to the main meal. Unfortunately at such occasions, we are often left hungry.

To read the whole article go here: http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/when-a-bookstore-closes-an-argument-ends?mbid=nl_061215_Daily&CNDID=32418132&mbid=nl_061215_Daily&CNDID=32418132&spMailingID=7821537&spUserID=ODkxMzkwMTk1MTUS1&spJobID=701585506&spReportId=NzAxNTg1NTA2S0

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Let there not be another Sorry Day

It is Sorry Day today, the day set aside for Australians to recognise the past wrongs done to the indigenous people of our land. In thinking about this day and its recognition of the wrongness of political decisions made, ostensibly for the “right” reasons on behalf of the nation, but which had devastating impacts on a certain group of people, people who were unable to fight for their rights at the time, I wonder how many non-indigenous Australians at the time knew or suspected that these policies and actions were wrong and harmful but did nothing about it.

There were no doubt people who truly believed they were making the right decisions, however would there not also have been many who questioned the brutal impact of removing children from their families, who shed private tears and shuddered at the thought of their own children being removed in such a way, but who did not speak out and remained silent whilst the country’s representatives carried out their mandate.

In the Garden of Beasts, Eric Larson’s compelling history of the rise of Nazi Germany tells a similar tale of a simmering pot of brutality, force and discrimination steadily growing over a period of many years, whilst those not targeted, both domestically and internationally, looked the other way. One wonders whether the course of history could have been changed, many lives saved and atrocities avoided, if only those who sensed their concerns with what was occurring were able to speak out against it. Of course one understands why in many cases this did not happen………… fear is a powerful enemy.

This brings to mind the present time, a time when yet again political decisions are being made, ostensibly for the “right” reasons on behalf of the nation, but which are having devastating impacts on a certain group of people, people who are unable to fight for their rights. In case you haven’t guessed, I am talking about Australia’s treatment of refugees, and again, I am wondering how many Australians know or suspect that these policies and actions are wrong and harmful, but are doing nothing about it.

When we believe, or have serious concerns that our government is not acting properly in regards to serious issues, we have a civic duty to speak out. The consequence of not doing so is that unspeakable wrongs can be committed in our name. In a democracy, a political machine is only as powerful as the people behind it. If a large part of the population chooses to abstain from participating or chooses to abstain from speaking out against decisions, that leaves the power in the hands of the few. As history has shown us, that is a dangerous proposition.

There is no doubt that Sorry Day belongs to the indigenous people of Australia as a recognition and apology for the wrongs done to their people. It should also however serve as a brutal reminder that evil can happen, not only by the hands of powerful dictators or machine gun wielding forces, but also by the slow hand of apathy and the turning of a blind eye to cruel political decisions made in the nation’s interest to minority groups which we see as “others”. In the spirit of Sorry Day, let us not take refuge in the comfort of silence and let us learn our lessons from history and speak out when we sense that something is wrong.

To see what you can do to speak out, get information updates or to contribute, go to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre  http://www.asrc.org.au/

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From boys to men

“There were two key reasons why every indigenous community developed rites of passage for their boys and girls. The first was to create a shift from child behaviour to healthy adult behaviour. So child behaviour in a boy is what you typically see in a six to eight year old. “I want to be the centre of attention and I need acknowledgement all the time. Look at me.” You know what? They also want all the power. And they have no responsibility and take no responsibility for their actions. It’s always someone else’s fault. They’re ruled by their emotions. So if they don’t get what they want, they have a temper tantrum. They want their mother. And that’s fine in an eight year old. But when you get a man who still wants to be the centre of attention, still wants all the power for himself, doesn’t take responsibility for his actions, has a temper tantrum when he can’t control his emotions, becomes physically or verbally abusive and wants his mother – that’s really not okay.”

(Arne Rubinstein, founder of the Pathways Foundation, interviewed in Dumbo Feather, March 2015)

Driving a car, voting in an election, having sex, drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, going to night clubs and casinos, all these “adult rights” sit as a byproduct of the things society deems only acceptable for those who have become adults. The trouble is, most children are not being taught how.

As Arne Rubinstein explains here, part of the process of becoming an adult is the psychological shift which needs to occur during the transition (be it boy to man, or girl to woman). An adult who still lives with the mind of a child, engages where there is no need to engage, seeks attention and cannot distance themselves from the emotional patterns of childhood and as such, is unable to fully participate in the emotional world of the adult.

Viewed in this way, the rituals we see around us which represent the move to adulthood, especially those which centre around alcohol, fail dismally in what they need to be achieving.  Although this psychological shift will take years, if not decades to fully achieve, depending on one’s hurdles along the way, the rites of passage of which Rubinstein speaks commence and shape the process as a guide for the passage of life. They seek to focus attention on the transition which must occur within before the right to adulthood is claimed.

This can only be a good thing.

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For those moments of self doubt….

Watch this……

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Timeline of women’s fight for equality in Australia

This is a great resource for parents and teachers and a good reminder about how relatively new, equal rights for women (especially indigenous women) are in Australia. I would love to see this in poster format!

http://timeline.awava.org.au/

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