A Fair Go for Whom?

As Australians, we have been brought up on stories of giving everyone a fair go. It’s part of our culture and is a value that we hold most dear.

My European ancestors came to Australia in the mid-nineteenth century looking for a fair go. They came from times of hardship, unemployment and poverty. They hoped that in this new country they could make a reasonable life for themselves and their children. Their descendants are now spread far and wide, leading by comparison comfortable lives in middle Australia. Someone gave them a fair go.

There are historical examples that support our belief.  The miners fought for a fair go at the Eureka Stockade, some of them giving their lives for it. A few decades later, Australia was the first country to both give women the vote and to grant them the right to stand for election.  We were brought up on stories such as the bravery of John Simpson and his donkey, bravely providing first aid and carrying the wounded until he himself was killed during the Gallipoli Campaign at Anzac Cove. Heart-stirring stuff.

1856 saw the introduction of the 8-hour day for stonemasons in Victoria, granting them Saturday afternoons off.  This was fought for on the basis of not sacrificing health and shortening the duration of human life; allowing working men the time to develop their minds through education; and allowing tradesmen to be better husbands and fathers.  In time, these working conditions spread throughout the workforce.

We have believed that education is the right of all Australian children and that access to affordable health care should be given to everyone. We like to think that if anyone puts their mind to it, they can do anything.

Post WW2, there was mass migration to Australia from war-ravaged Europe.  Those people didn’t always have an easy time of their re-settlement, but they and their children have helped to make Australia the multi-cultural society that it is today.  In spite of calling them Wogs, Eyties, Ethnics, Poms and various other names, we like to think that we gave them a fair go and often use those names affectionately today.

It is true that our concept of a fair go was often biased. Our indigenous Aborigines rarely got a fair go and many struggle to do so today. Immigration policies restricted Asian neighbours from migrating here, although early Chinese migration played a significant role in the development of nineteenth-century Victoria.

Common sense and a review of history tells us that the concept of ‘fair go’ is very subjective. It is reserved for PLUs – People Like Us.  We are the ones who deserve it and as for the others – they just have to buckle down and earn it or else learn to change their ways and to become PLUs – if we let them of course.

In recent years, even the righteous and deserving are questioning what has happened to the fundamental value which underpins our way of life.  We have seen government and commercial actions which have threatened our Australian pride.

We imprison people who have fled their homelands as conditions there have become untenable or worse, life-threatening. We deny them adequate health care, education, and the opportunity to lead a meaningful life and to contribute to meaningful society. Even worse, we deny them any form of hope for the future. When we are being particularly scornful, we accuse them of being just ‘economic refugees’. Since when is that a crime?  So were my ancestors economic refugees, and one of them even jumped ship to remain in Australia.

We erode the benefits and working conditions of the most vulnerable of our workers. We also have begun the process by which penalty rates are reduced, a move that will spread to many industries. It seems that we no longer deserve compensation for giving up our evenings or traditional family time.

We are increasing the cost of education, ignoring the fact that for us to truly be a lucky country, we need a skilled and educated workforce. We need our scientists, our teachers and our technicians. We need to invest in our people if we are going to innovate, to develop industries, and to keep up with other nations. The return on this investment is a clever society and dare I say it, a fairer society. It is one in which everyone has the opportunity of developing their skills and talents for the benefit of us all. Increasingly, only the wealthy are able to educate their children.

We refuse to pay our job-seekers a livable sum of money, choosing to label them leaners and bludgers in spite of the fact that changes in technology and the economic environment has seen many jobs disappear.  Some are too inexperienced, some are over-experienced, some are too you and some are too old. Some no longer have skills in demand and others have never had the opportunity to develop them in the first place.  Whatever the reason, it is their fault that they can’t find a job and they don’t deserve our charity.

Just to make sure that life is really difficult, we restrict their eligibility to social security benefits on the theory that this will make them try harder. Bad luck that they can no longer afford the costs of applying for work, nor can they afford to pay rent or keep up the mortgage payments while they search. They just need to try harder.  We also reduce the number of staff within Centrelink and make it more difficult for those who need social security assistance to access information and accurate advice.

We hound our social security recipients on the theory that they are all out to defraud the government and therefore the tax-payer of valuable funds. We use poorly defined algorithms to decide just who is a miscreant and put the onus of proof on them in establishing their innocence. We then use bullying tactics and private debt collectors to enforce payment, whether they actually owe it or not.

Our political leaders, with the self-assurance that they are acting on behalf of us all, explain that it is a system that is working well, regardless of any evidence to the contrary. In the meantime, their colleagues are caught out rorting their entitlements to the tune of thousands of dollars. If they lose their parliamentary seat, they can seek comfort in the knowledge that entitlements and a comfortable superannuation payment will follow them into private life. After all, they deserve it. It’s only fair.

So what does a fair go meant today?  On the evidence available, it means to strongly define who deserves it and who doesn’t. Those who deserve it are the ones who get to decide who don’t. Those who don’t, only have themselves to blame for their situation. If only they were a PLU (employed, educated, and fit) they might be deserving also. That’s only fair.

Do you think that we still abide by the maxim of a fair go?

A slowing down – sort of

Last night I watched a program on the ABC on the slow movement.  Titled Frantic Family Rescue, it detailed the efforts of three families to slow down the frantic pace of their lives, guided by journalist Carl Honoré.  Honoré is the author of “In Praise of Slow” and an advocate of the slow movement.

Slow-Life

 

The pressures of my frantic life are not a revelation to me, nor are my regrets about the toll on the life of my son during his formative years.  For financial reasons it seemed that I had little choice as I tried desperately to support us in the face of inadequate employment and compensation.  Perhaps I didn’t try hard enough, or explore alternative options but I am not interested in beating myself up over something that I can’t change now.

I am interested in making positive changes from here on however and am considering how I can make that happen, whilst still doing what I need to do.  A key component of the experiment that was shown on television is the reduction of screen time.  At a time when I am in the process of establishing an online-based business, that would appear to be a challenge, as of course is the whole concept of slowing down.  I’m not prepared to put it in the too hard basket though.

Looking realistically at my day, I haven’t been using my time very effectively.  Working from home can be an easy way of losing focus and succumbing to diversions.  So … I am planning my day the evening before, making a realistic list of what needs to be achieved and am blocking out the time for the various tasks in my Outlook Calendar.  I know that one can use Tasks for tracking but I have never found that it worked well for me.  If anything I get irritated by the pop-ups, so Calendar it is.  I’m starting each day with one of those irritating phone calls that I usually need to make – to banks or utility companies or whatever where you know that you will be confronted with layers of confusing menus and then put on hold for ages.  Getting those calls out of the way early in the day and spreading them out over the days in the week is a sanity-saving strategy.

I am also scheduling some time away from the computer – i.e. weeding a patch of the garden, raking up the leaves, going for a walk.  I am not blocking out 9-5 totally, as there needs to be flexibility in the day to allow for the unexpected, or tasks that arise during the day (thanks email).  I am also alternating tasks so that I don’t get bored with the tedium and become less effective.  I figure that if I can maximise my productiveness during the day, I don’t have to work on the business at night.  I can read or joy or joys, I can work on the next novel manuscript.

An important part of my regime is going to bed at a reasonable time and this is going to take some working on.  I know that I would benefit from more sleep.  Supporting that goal is turning off screens at least half an hour before that so that I have wind-down time.  OK, I know that there should probably be more screenless time, but I’m working on it – okay?  It will just be checking emails and of course if I am working on the manuscript then probably I will have been typing.

Even more radical will be giving myself guilt-free weekends.  In all of my home-based businesses in the past, I have worked on them every day, and have felt incredibly guilty when domesticity has taken me away from those tasks.  Taking my weekends back feels incredibly self-indulgent but that’s what I am doing from now on.

My diversionary activity through the day is typically scanning through online media sites.  When there is no water-cooler activity happening in your workspace, there is a craving for some interaction and information about what is happening in the world.  My very first time block therefore is for reading the various sites.  I am not going to stop doing it, but I’m going to contain it to a reasonable time slot.

The other activity that I have introduced is walking and no, I am not actually scheduling this one.  This is first thing in the morning to blow away the cobwebs and to make a good start to the day.  With our recent wintry and drizzly weather, gloves and raincoat are my friends but I am still walking.  Sometimes I combine it with a supermarket trip so the car gets to stay in the drive.  Saving fuel – woo hoo!

This is a time of transition for me and I think that my recent redundancy has probably given me a gift.  What are your slow living strategies?  Please share them here.  What have the benefits been to you? I am interested in any tips you might have.

 

 

Children born through IVF have no souls

An acquaintance reported recently that another guest at a BBQ was loudly critical of people who used IVF services and declared that children born via IVF ‘have no souls’.  As my friend (unknown to the gathering) was mid-cycle with her latest IVF attempt in conceiving a child, thins was highly distressing to her.  As the mother of a child conceived via IVF, the comment was insulting to my son and I was understandably indignant .  You don’t know whether to laugh or cry at dim-witted comments like that.

Young Donald is now 21 so I have had plenty of time to observe the soul-less creature.  He was a fairly conventional kid really.  Baulked at eating vegetables, had too much screen time, thought that I nagged him too much and protested at being made to walk or ride his bike when surely it would be much quicker for me to just drive him.

Admittedly he didn’t have much of a religious upbringing – well none really.  I had to attend a church service in an official capacity when he was about four and took him with me.  We sat up the front with the dignitaries.  During one of the hymns, all in attendance standing of course, I looked up from my hymn book to realise that he was standing on the pew along side of me, conducting the rest of the congregation.  I don’t think that we have attended a religious ceremony since then, except for a recent wedding in Japan in a Buddhist temple. I guess there wasn’t the need for someone without a soul.

When small Young Donald loved cuddle time (and still gives me beaut hugs), is always ready to give his mates a hand, and is very generous – especially for a soul-less person.  He has morphed from at times being a morose and moody juvenile to being a socially adept young man who charms one and all with his conversation.  It gives me a frisson of pleasure when people seek me out to tell me what a personable young man he is and how much they have enjoyed their conversation with him.  What a pity he doesn’t have a soul.

I am reminded of a Valentine’s Day a few years ago, when Daisy was very much a feature in young Donald’s life.  He took her out to dinner, selecting a cuisine the he knew she would enjoy.  When he brought her home, he had set up my massage table in his bedroom and scattered the whole room with red rose petals.  When they arrived home, she was greeted with soft lighting and massage oil.  Whatever else she was greeted with, I as his mother don’t really want to know, but think what he could have done if he actually had a soul.

I started to wonder just what might have been intended with the reference to ‘soul’ and resorted to online sources for interpretation and definition.  There were many, all much of a muchness and Wikipedia captured the essence with this explanation.

    “The soul, in many religious, philosophical and mythological traditions, is the incorporeal and in many conceptions immortal essence of a living thing.”

I’m not going to debate the presence or otherwise of a soul, whether from the religious, philosophical or mythological perspective.  In my son however, I can see and hear the essence of many who have gone before – my parents and probably their parents and it is possible that his essence will be reflected in those who are to come.  I see mannerisms, I hear laughter, I see reasoning, I see a sense of social justice, I see an observant young man – and I see an individual.  This individual has a resonance that impacts not only on myself, but also on his mates and those he holds near and dear.  Does not that impact render one immortal and if so, is that the influence of a soul, that incorporeal essence of being?

Whether or not my son has a soul is irrelevant really.   What that man was insinuating was that my child, and others who were conceived via assisted reproductive services, is somehow deficient and not a complete human being.  It’s that sort of bigotry that has fuelled the justification of those who would impose segregation on others, and worse.  I just hope for his sake that when the time comes that he wants to reproduce, that his swimmers are up to the task. How would he cope with fathering soul-less children of his own?  That would be karma.

Scientific Justification for a Wandering Mind

I’ve always thought that I had a major problem with concentration – or lack of it.  It started in school which I would zone out during history or science, and lose myself in daydreams about endless what-if options, or whichever fantasy was top of my list that day.

Woe betide me of course if the teacher noted my blank expression and asked me a question.  How to be shown up and humiliated before a class full of peers.  I soon had a reputation and it wasn’t for my brilliance.

Then of course there are those team meetings at work.  Over an hour or so, the team discusses goal definition, project progress, moments of brilliance and safety issues.  It’s scintillating stuff. Where is my mind?  Not on the meeting, that’s for sure.

I’m doing a Walter Mitty with my head in the clouds, or dreaming of the next lotto win that will take me away from all this – or would if only I had bought a ticket.  I then have to ad-lib quickly when I’m called upon to contribute to the discussion.  It’s not easy to sound as if you know what you are talking about when you don’t, and I suspect that not many are fooled.

According to Malia Mason of the Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, daydreaming is a form of mental multi-tasking, when the brain solves problems, contemplates and future and engages in cerebral brain-storming. It seems that the brain is engaged in a lot of hard and potentially productive work.

Dream-PictureSo, to those who have previously thought that I was half asleep, not engaged, or simply away with the fairies, I was in fact not just involved in serious contemplation; I had embarked on a meditative journey of complex resolution.

What do you want to be?

What do you want to be when you grow up?  How many times were you asked that as a child?  If you were anything like me, you really had no idea of what the options were, let alone what you wanted to do, beyond be successful and happy in your choice.  I had no idea when I would be ‘grown up’ and with the passage of time, that milestone seemed to keep moving into the distance ahead of me, much the same as a mirage.

Journey

I was also flummoxed by too many ideas.  I toyed with being an actor, a journalist, a psychologist, working in advertising, and perhaps being a social worker.  I definitely knew that I didn’t want to be a teacher, or a nurse (conventional female choices at that time) and although interested in sciences, this was not a field in which I excelled academically.  Actually, my academic achievements were not terribly high in any area by the time that I finished high school and I had totally lost confidence in myself and my abilities, as had done my parents.

There are a range of career advisers available today that didn’t exist at that time.  However, the Commonwealth Employment Service (CES for those who remember) did have an adviser for school leavers and my mother sent me off to undertake their testing and interview process.  From memory, I don’t think that I was handed a career in a box, or given any real practical suggestions.  What stunned me though was the interviewer saying that “I don’t know why you are thinking of social work.  Your results indicate that you don’t like people.”

I was both astonished and demoralised by this assertion and although I thought that she must be wrong, was pushed off balance.  What followed was a period of drifting in and out of courses that I took because I didn’t know what else to do, dropping out, travelling a bit, odd jobs here and there and finally falling into the property industry.  Along the way, I have acquired a few degrees and qualifications, worked in real estate sales, had my own agency, sold and built houses, have been a research analyst and a property adviser for various corporations and government departments.  It just sort of happened.  There have also been some business start-ups in that time, and a lot of lessons learnt.

All along though, I said to myself, I wonder what I will be when I grow up?  I’m a few decades along from when I first posed this question, and I’m still not totally sure when the grown up thing happens, but I have learnt a few things along the way.  Besides acquiring a range of business skills and experiences, (how I wish I’d had those business smarts when younger) I also know that being older doesn’t mean that decisions are any easier.  I also know that circumstances change at any age, whether by choice or factors outside of your control, and know that decisions on what to do next can still be over-whelming.

Friends and family all have different opinions and usually none of their suggestions really light your fire.  It can be easier not to consult them and just to agonise on the options on your own.  At least then you only have your own conflicted voice to listen to and not half a dozen others.

Some of my own experiences in this area Decisionshave led me to pursue training in coaching, focussing on those key transitional times in our lives. It complements work that I have exploring with Life Choices – how to make the decisions that are right for us. I wish that I’d had help like this earlier in life. Stay tuned for further detail that I would love to share with you on my journey of decision-making discovery.

A key area of interest is helping people to make decisions at transitional times in their lives.  It might be having to change career direction or having to re-invent yourself or it may be at other major transitional changes.  The biggies are birth, marriage, children, , divorce, death but there are other variations that are just as important when we are grappling with our decisions.

I’m also really interested in learning how others manage their decision making processes.  If you have time, leave a response and share it with us all.

 

Random Compliments

Late today, I was walking down North Tce in the city, after enduring a whole day in a team planning session;  the sort of day in which you examine team values and make pledges about future behaviour and how as a united team, you are going on to bigger and greater successes.  I loathe these events and rarely fully participate with all the group hug activities, etc.   It is a day to be endured.  Consequently, I was relieved that the tedium was over and to be outside in the fresh air and sunshine but was still mulling over the events and processes of the day.  A woman passed me, turned briefly and said,

“I like your outfit!”

before spearing off  in a different direction and crossing the street.   I was really chuffed.  I wasn’t wearing anything special; it is an outfit that I have worn to work many times, but I was delighted all the same.  I called out a ‘Thank you’ and smiled to myself.  It quite lifted my mood and the frustrations of the day.  What a nice thing she did.

Last weekend, I was at the Central Market, doing the weekly shopping – buying  500gm of turkey mince to be exact.   As he casually weighed out my order, the man behind the counter looked over and said,

“I like your hair”.

I was astonished in a nice way.  There was nothing particularly special about my hair that morning; I hadn’t just washed it or come from the hairdresser’s.  It was just my ordinary hair.  I was not expecting a compliment and it gave me a lovely emotional lift.  I smiled and thanked him, and probably had a spring in my step as I continued with my shopping.

Then there was another occasion.  Not long ago, I was walking through the city, and at a set of traffic lights, a man turned to look at me and said,

“That’s a really lovely broach that you’re wearing.”  I have to agree that it was.  Vintage and antique jewellery is one of my passions and this was a lovely American piece, probably from the thirties.  My black jacket was a great foil for the delicate colouring.  I was impressed that this man noticed it and made the comment.

Since today’s interaction, I have been turning over the issue of random and spontaneous compliments.  Are they better when they come from strangers who have no vested interest in your reaction or is it better to receive them from nearest and dearest?  Those random comments have the benefit of being totally unexpected and also convey greater sincerity.  It seems that they do anyway.

Sometimes I give random compliments as well.  I may see someone wearing something that I admire or doing something that impresses me and I will tell them so.  I have not expected to be on the receiving end however and I like it.  It is such an affirmative action, far more so than my team building session of the day.

Do you give random compliments and have you ever received unexpected  compliments yourself?  How did it happen? I would be fascinated to hear.  Did receiving a compliment make you feel like passing it on to others?

The Journey

My son has returned home.  He got a big hug rather than a fatted calf and it was good to have him with me again, however briefly that might be.

When he left aged 18 to seek work and fortune interstate, it was a wrenching moment, but one that I knew he had to make.  Think ‘The Epic of Gilgamesh’, or ‘The Journey’ by John Marsden or all those classic stories relating to The Journey that you may have read.  It is a time when a young person leaves the safety and security of home to seek the learning and experience that life outside of the home has to offer them.  There is the call to adventure, entering the labyrinth, fighting the demons, achieving, reaching an understanding, etc. as described by Joseph Campbell in ‘The Hero’s Journey’.

Journey

Young Donald had reached a crossroads in his life.  He had realised that his relationship with Daisy was destructive and based on the web of lies that she continually spun.  (Donald and Daisy are discussed in earlier posts.)  He was played for the sucker.  He had dropped out of school and had no prospects, beyond the casual pub job that he had.  He was bored at home and I was forever on his back about helping around the house and just doing something.

I was fed up with the piles of dirty dishes around the house and other things just dumped anywhere and had made the decision at work that day that when I got home, we would have a serious talk.  Either he needed to leave home, or he needed to start paying board.  He got in first.  He said that he had been thinking and perhaps he would go to Perth and look for work.  I was both stunned and relieved.

Perth was not such a big deal in that my sister lives in that city and his donor father is also there, although Donald and his father hardly knew each other.  They certainly did not have a father/son relationship.  Still it was far away and it meant that Donald was going to have to find accommodation, a job, and to make a new life for himself.

While away, he did labouring work, did some TAFE study in the mining sector and got a job at the remote Woodie Woodie mine site in the Pilbara region.  He had to work with characters who Donald described as racist, sexist and homophobic.  (I was relieved that he recognised these people for what they were.  It meant that I had done something right.)  He found himself somewhere to live and made new friends.  Those were the social skills.

On the practical side, he learnt self-resilience, how to budget on minimal income, how to shop economically, and how to keep himself healthy with wise food choices.  He can drive a 4-Wheel Drive and change a spark plug.  He has a range of technical skills that surprise me.  He also has a new confidence in himself that I welcome.

OK – there are not total miracles here.  There are still dirty plates hibernating in his room but not as many and he is better at washing up and domestic chores and cooking dinner for us both too.  Importantly, it was a teenager who left and it is a young man who has come back.  It is so good to have him home again.  I didn’t realise how much I had missed that kiss goodnight before he went to bed or he went out with his friends.  It’s great to have someone with whom I can discuss issues and share decisions.  At some stage, Donald will move on and make his own life elsewhere, but for now I like the feeling of company and understanding.

I realised when he left that this was a move that he needed to make but it is only now that I have understood that it was a version of the epic Journey.  Thinking back, it is very similar to a journey of self-discovery that I made decades before, and that was important to my self-learning as well.  It is a pity that all young people are not able to make this trip of discovery though many of them do.

Did you make a journey?  What changes did it make for you?