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The Changing Meaning of Words

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Letters from the front during WWI were scribed in beautiful copperplate handwriting in sensible sentences expressing love, thoughtfulness and yearning for home, tinged with a strong sense of duty, selflessness, of honour.

Prosperity and diversity since have brought changes in values and language, so that today, from the trenches of privilege, text and emoji may be the ultimate expression of emotional depth.

Yet language is constantly evolving: Macquarie Dictionary annually introduces new words or phrases that have become part of the lexicon of Australia. Decline in moral leadership in government, major institutions and churches has left a vacuum willingly filled by people pursuing particular causes, reframing morality and virtue as they go. As a result, some significant changes in the meaning of words often reflect a change in “insider” morality imposed upon us by those trumpeting their virtues. At the same time those who have lived and remember history, are condemned for holding values that stood us in good stead in earlier times.

Honour

Nowhere is the divergence of the meaning of the word “honour” more evident than in the Bourke Street terrorist attack. To the attacker acting according to his Koranic edicts, honour meant slaying “infidels”, never mind that they were people merely going about their business in a country that had welcomed and supported the immigrant in need. To us there is no honour in such violence and ingratitude. The victim was also responding to his inner values of honour, going out of his way to help someone who appeared to be in trouble. The outcome is something to ponder: as our values and the meaning of our words are challenged, how alert must we be to potential harm to us and our community?

Virtue

In a more homogeneous society, when Judaeo/Christian leadership informed our legislature and way of life, we knew what virtue was: kindness, caring, doing the right thing by your neighbour, children and your parents, being honest, sexual propriety, obeying the laws of the land. Now the moral vacuum has been filled by the faithless, who nevertheless, play God, signalling their own virtue while denouncing publicly and widely through social and any other media, alleged sins of those who may merely have a different opinion on issues such as: race, aboriginality, refugee placement, climate change, energy generation, gender preference, religious freedom, marriage and family and the contribution of western civilisation. Without allowing into the debate the countervailing influence of alternative opinions, we could find ourselves on the way to totalitarianism similar to that defeated by the brave, pragmatic defence personnel a hundred years ago. Lest we forget!

Judgemental virtue signalling has replaced the essence and meaning of virtue.  As our basic needs at the bottom of the Maslow hierarchy have been met, thanks to hard work that achieved greater prosperity for us, powerful “insiders” seek self-realisation in the promotion of self in virtue – in seeking to do something wonderful for the planet, refugees, women, LGBTQI community. Denunciation and de-platforming of others of differing opinion goes hand in hand with self-promoting virtue signalling. Misrepresentation and sensitivity to offence is rife. After all, the privileged elite know what’s good for the rest of us.

Always there is the contradiction in their words and action. Whether or not they are astute enough to realise it, in a totalitarian state there would be no freedom to express their emotional, irrational views. Furthermore, hatred is a multiplier that too easily can become self-consuming, as demonstrated in a longitudinal example in Jordan Peterson’s book 12 Rules for Life that ended in self destruction of the passionate pursuer of fruitless “worthy” causes.

Love given also has the power to be a multiplier, a truth the compassionate virtue signallers would realise had they more knowledge and experience of history of western civilisation and valued the Judaeo/Christian contribution to it. Original sin has been replaced by original virtue.

Truth

Even truth has taken a battering in this post-truth world. For instance, how hard is it to work out whether the planet is warming and if we are to blame, or whether the failure of the climate to correlate with sophisticated computer modelling is a function of poor science, failed hypotheses, or hoary virtue signalling. Be assured that money, power and greed are contributors to the groundswell of opinion. Just ask scientists on the funding gravy train, Al Gore, John Hewson and others adept at riding financial waves, how they have surfed to prosperity on the backs of ordinary people, the outsiders without a say.

Most of us just want to pay a fair price for the essential service of reliable power. Simple as that! Bureaucratic and government interference has clouded the market on behalf of the global Gaia on the corruption merry-go-round: corrupted science that feeds corrupt global bureaucrats to transfer money and power to corrupt failed states. Go figure! One of the worst things about this state of play is the troublesome inversion of truth and virtue. Challengers (deniers) and countries/people trying to do the right the by the planet are pilloried as evil. They lose their jobs like Bob Carr and Professor Peter Ridd who dared to challenge scientists to prove their hypotheses. Where is the truth in that? If we want to conserve a clean planet, we might ask the violent, feral left whether they make their bed and dispose of their rubbish properly. Just for starters!

Love

‘Love is love’, or so we were told during the lead up to the referendum on same sex marriage. Seems to me that the love professed does not extend to others who hold a more traditional view of marriage, as it should in the Christian tradition of “loving their neighbour as thyself”. Though SSM has since been embedded in legislation, latent hatred manages to find expression in attempts to demonise and neutralize any position adopted by “outsiders” holding true to known and proven traditions, by which they choose to live and raise their children. That is not to pass judgement on those who have successfully captured the words ‘gay’, ‘pride’ and ‘rainbow’ as brands – their choice should be respected, as should others who choose differently.  Get the pattern? Only one point of view (theirs) is allowed and without the context that might introduce reason. Lest we forget the horror of totalitarianism!

 Political correctness

Overlaying these distortions of language is political correctness fuelled by the grievance industry. I wonder what the WWI soldiers slogging it out in the trenches would think of today’s humourless snowflakes who are ever ready to be offended. Certainly pervasive PC has coerced us generally into becoming a more respectful, tolerant and welcoming society, careful to watch our Ps and Qs in discourse with others. There is no harm in that. However, like all good things taken too far, the virtue of intent becomes harmful under control of the emotionally incontinent disconnected from the real world.

Having achieved so much already, of necessity they must look for ever more ways to control the ignorant “outsiders” by creating make-work bureaucratic schemes that engorge the state.  “Unconscious bias” when recruiting; the decline in merit and reward for effort when diversity is the priority over competence; the amount of sugar, fat, drugs and alcohol consumed; how much exercise we do; adherence to, and payment for utopian “green” schemes; blame for inevitable colonisation 240 years too late, for which we must be forever sorry, unable to move forward to take advantage of 21st century benefits; forever ingratiating and apologetic to those self-invited immigrants who prefer to adhere to the laws and values of the country of origin rather than enter into the spirit of this country that has given them succour. Gratitude is one word that appears lost on all those sensitive souls demanding others to behave in a PC way. Nothing is perfect. Best if those trolls standing in judgement on we mere mortals showed some appreciation for how far we have come, practised the respect and tolerance they demand of others. Lest we forget how!

Sense of humour

Perhaps one of the most outstanding characteristics of the WWI diggers was their sense of humour.  In the grimmest of circumstances, they were able to make light of the pommy officers and the desperate situation as they worked together to get the job of winning our freedom done. Perhaps we need to conscript that spirit today, a century on, to spare us from the horrors of infinite regression into pervasive totalitarianism that has distorted our language and threatens to diminish our freedoms. Lest we forget!

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Simplify life – just do your job

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We all yearn for the simple life that seems ever elusive. Owning responsibility for doing your job would help.

A statement like this may appear extraneous at a time of job descriptions, key performance indicators, chains of command and performance review. However, all too often those stretching the boundaries of acceptability seem to get away with it, while others are left to carry the burden of responsibility for management inaction (not responsible for doing the job).

Working

Take the case of Karen, a theatre sister working shifts in a major hospital. For over a decade, Karen and other co-workers were hassled by a lazy co-worker who did not do his job and was serially abusive to his colleagues, making the workplace toxic. Unacceptable behaviour continued because he knew he could get away with it. Though reported repeatedly to the manager, no action was taken. His run ended when the manager was replaced and he was sacked.

Similarly I had first-hand experience of a bureaucrat who did the same, quite vindictively destroying people, careers, valuable projects and reputations. Not only did she not do her own job, she actively hindered the productivity of others doing theirs. Complaints about her piled high in the grievance unit without action being taken despite all the so-called checks and balances. One worker had to take legal action to protect his career and financial future from her malevolence. Eventually it did end when an outsider took charge and facilitated her speedy exit.

A relationship between a high-end hairdresser and her employee ended unpleasantly when the employee failed to do the agreed job of servicing existing clients well and fostering new ones. The employee left to take a position with lower expectations, rather than step up in the interests of her career and that of the business.

Parenting

Similar stories abound – from family, business, government and bureaucracy.  Most parents try to do the right thing disciplining their children so that they might eventually be productive, contributing citizens. Doesn’t it rankle when ill-disciplined children run riot, without regard for person or property, without manners or respect. Dare to say something and you are likely to be attacked by a parent who does not own responsibility for the authority vested in him/her. Like the workplace examples above, the expectation is that others are willing to bear the brunt any harm that might occur.

Policing

As I write, a news story appears about 100 or so youths of African appearance disrupting a train service, terrorizing passengers and others as they took over the station and a nearby park. It has been reported that 12 police cars turned up. No one was arrested or charged. The pattern has been repeated in many other incidents involving home invasion, car stealing, personal violence, burglary of homes and business, trashing of public and private property. The youths now openly flout both the law and the law-abiding public with claims of being untouchable while slinging insults towards ‘white trash’. Policing is a tough gig and I am full of admiration and gratitude for those who put themselves on the line to protect people. It is almost certain that the ‘go slow’ on African youth is an order from above. The Victorian public is entitled to ask ‘Is the government doing its job to protect citizens and property?’

Consulting

The work of a consultant can also be fraught, depending, as it does, on common understandings being reached between the parties about the scope of work and responsibilities of each. Stories abound about the difficulties that emerge when one or other of the parties fails to do their job. In some instances it may be the well-established consultant being too cavalier about affording due respect, time, effort and attention to the job in hand.

On the other hand, it may be the client who fails to abide by the terms and conditions of the contract, either in attending to their end of the deal in a timely way or in failing to pay – on time, or not at all. Consequently, unless the consultant is on the ball, client failure to do their job hinders progress towards meeting the client’s needs. Contracts with government can fall into this category. Authority of the bureaucracy often fails the responsibility challenge, largely because of the said lack of respect and understanding of business – a reason rather than an excuse. Not doing their job has a flow on effect on the service provider. In keeping with my Maturity Model, serial failures result in immaturity of the parties, fragmentation of the individuals and high social and financial costs.

Financial institutions

The Royal Commissions into financial institutions has exposed the latent greed inherent in the banking and insurance industries, largely devoid of good practice or consideration for what that meant for customers. Most of all it has revealed how highly paid executives in both business and the regulating agencies, APRA and ASIC, did not do the job they were paid handsomely to do.  As a result, many people lost their properties, their savings and their wellbeing.  No shame! The criminal charges likely to be laid will not bring back prosperity and trust lost.

Do enough

While exhorting readers just to do their job to make life simpler and easier to be able move on in peace and harmony, caution is urged not to do too much. Doing too much can also be a trap that enables others to avoid their responsibilities. One of my mother’s sayings was, “all you have to do is act dumb and someone will do it for you”. Some people are quite accomplished at ‘acting dumb’ to win attention, service and conspicuous compassion.  Repetition of their ‘story’ of need or helplessness builds a psychological barrier that prevents them from ever becoming a contributor.

In this complicated world, in order to keep our lives as simple as possible, it is best not to enter into a pattern of doing the work of others that will lead to our own fragmentation, although it is okay to help out. A message for many elderly who are accustomed to giving service is that their main priority in later years is to care for themselves. Doing so challenges others to grow up, if they have not already done so.

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A sense of humour

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Statues in English Bay, Vancouver, BC, Canada

A fine sense of humour is one of the defining characteristics of highly evolved, civilized human beings. Cartoonists have these characteristics in spades, yet often pay dearly for honest insight and depiction of people and situations that entertain us.

Cartoonists’ dare

Danish cartoonists depicting Mohammed resulted in deaths of other unrelated people around the world: twelve people at Charlie Hebdo were murdered by terrorists; cartoonist Bill Leak was hounded to death by the Australian Human Rights Commission for his penetratingly honest depiction of Indigenous; and now we have Walkley Award winning Mark Knight being globally pilloried by the rich, powerful and emotional, who have chosen to read racism and sexism into a cartoon on the bad sportsmanship of a privileged champion.

Knight’s cartoon didn’t raise hackles in Australia until taken up by the US and other international media. Australians generally still have enough of the larrikin in them to enjoy the joke and call out a bad sport as it is. Unlike the USA partisan tennis audience, Williams’ behaviour on our patch would more likely be heckled and booed. She would have been urged to get on with it.

Caricature and satire are of critical importance to good cartooning, requiring exceptional draughtsmanship, wit and deep humanity. Cartoonists dare us to see what is true and use humour to do so. What’s to be offended about?

Progressives

By contrast, so called “progressivism” springs from emotion or magical, wishful thinking that has a feel good air about it. The progressive follows a false and seductive “feel good” doctrine that has no means of weighing costs to some people against benefits to others. No reality. No limiting principles. Creeping totalitarianism is on full display in the outrage industry.

Social media has become a powerful force for promoting moral outrage and tribalistic sentiment. As such the pursuit of prevailing progressive themes through social media provides a form of therapy for the faithless. They can feel good about bolstering a cause, about asserting power over others, about passing damning judgement, regardless of how damaging the cause may be to individuals or the broader community, or how much they distort reality and values.

Caution about pursuing the “progressive” outrage line can be found in at least two historical factors at personal and tribal level. Jordan Peterson in his book 12 Rules for Life, details a story of his personal friend who, over many years, passionately pursued various worthy environmental causes under threat of catastrophe. Overcome with powerlessness and exhaustion, the friend ultimately destroyed himself, showing it is much better to focus on the positive while taking action on real issues.

The second caution is the creeping totalitarianism of the outrage industry that, whipped up through social media without any basis in reality, inherently apes Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Social media enthusiasts whose education has failed them, may not be aware of the tens of millions of innocent people who were killed and the many more sent to country re-education camps as a consequence of the tribalistic totalitarianism of China’s Cultural Revolution. No alternative voice was allowed regardless of reality. Sound familiar? Often this is the case today, when those with an alternative position are accused of being racists, homophobic, sexist, Nazis or worse. Reality is disallowed under post-truth conditions as truth speakers are “de-platformed”.

Pursuing “progressive” causes can be the most regressive thing a person can do for themselves and their community.

Truth and reason

Progressive calls tend to be couched in moral terms of the prevailing “faith”. Dissenters or deniers (think global warming) are “outside the church” of tribally accepted norms and are to be denounced, publicly and with vigour, reminiscent of the stocks of old. Any progress in law, such as Habeas Corpus or right to self-defence, is obliterated in childish demonization of the person rather than a rational discussion of issues. Furthermore, anyone remotely associated with the target (family, associate or business) can unwittingly be sucked into the maelstrom of malevolence, self-interest, self-indulgence and threats of violence and death. Truth and reason go out the back door.

Yet truth is the only thing that can be built upon for a better present and satisfying future. Emotion, magical, wishful thinking and tribalism won’t do it, regardless of how self-satisfying (elating even) that tribalist action for a cause may have on a person.

As articulated in my book Becoming, truth requires courage, a seemingly vanishing attribute. A general lack of backbone is evident when US university students need comfort puppies to deal with day-to-day realities (Trump won the election) that offend their sensitivities. Root cause may be found in parenting and professionals who, for a couple of generations, have sought to protect children from reality, spare their hurt feelings and make a life-long career for themselves in the process. Note the exponential growth in experts, bureaucrats and blamed parents.

Pride of sensitivity

Becoming also focuses on pride of sensitivity as limiting good decision making. In particular, pride of sensitivity is pre-eminent in the outrage industry, making it virtually impossible to hold a rational conversation on any topic with someone who is always offended. In effect, the pride of sensitivity is a highly emotional function intended to limit free speech, for which it has proved quite successful. Visiting speakers of alternative positions and their audiences are bullied, harassed and threatened, as are the venues in which they speak. In a climate of intense political correctness, ordinary people are constantly on notice as to whether what they say, do, or intend, will offend another, resulting in the heavy hand of the law, or worse the maelstrom of social media.

The outcome is that parties fail to mature, fail to deal with realities they block from penetrating their wall of safe, if false, beliefs. Ultimately, the precious fail to contribute meaningfully to dialogue or life. Pride of sensitivity is the humourless predisposition of people who badly need to lighten up, deal with reality however painful, and give themselves and everyone else a break.

A sense of humour

From my origin in a large dysfunctional family I learned that incisive black humour provided lightness amongst darkness in dire life experiences. Difficulties were not ignored or glossed over; just not perennially fertilised. Offence given soon passed; grudges were not held for long; and each of us learned to suck it up and get on with it as should have Serena Williams.

In no way were we as privileged and feted as Serena, though we could teach her a lesson or two – in gratitude, rather than offence; and how to laugh at yourself when a cartoonist like Mark Knight has created images so accurately depicting your behaviour. Especially when it is the truth!

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Getting the big picture

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Just how important small things are to the big picture can be demonstrated by Rudi Guliani’s experience. When he took over as Mayor of New York, Rudi Guiliani had the job in front of him. The big Apple had become a dangerous place to live and work as crime seemed out of control, much like the situation now present in Melbourne with African youth violence and crime.

New York police are appointed by the City, so Guiliani set them about getting tough on minor crimes that might otherwise be passed over as not worthy of too much attention, but which made NY a less attractive place – graffiti, vandalism, fare hopping, etc. What he found was that those committing the minor crimes were also guilty of much larger crimes. Dealing with the small stuff ultimately led to control of much bigger crimes and the result is better, though not perfect, livability in NY.

Personal level

Raising children from birth to 18 years (when they are considered by law to be adult) can seem like a long and onerous stretch on a day to day basis. The pace seems to pick up once they enter high school. A real challenge is balancing the need to address daily behaviour issues with the big picture expectation of a productive, civilized adult turning out at 18 years ready to assume responsibility for his/her life.

In the small scale of family, poor behaviour of the indulged and over-affirmed child is tolerated. In the bigger picture of life, competition with peers may find abilities wanting, resilience absent and behaviour rebuked as the community challenges the young adult to grow up to own responsibility for their decisions in life. Similarly, when poor conduct goes unchecked in a small child, when respect for others and property is dismissed, when there is no expectation of gratitude or manners, the whole community loses out and prospects for the child are diminished until such time as ‘life’ teaches differently.

We have learned that giving into screen and phone use early, even relying on devices to placate and occupy a child can too readily lend to enduring negative physical, social and behavioural patterns. Withdrawal from co-dependencies that produce the same high as any drug, raises the spectre of mental turmoil that would not be wished on anybody.

How the big picture can easily get out of hand is clearly illustrated in mismanagement of African youth gangs in Victoria. Any criticism of burglary, property destruction, personal violence and theft is considered by elites as racist. Youth have been emboldened, misinterpreting racial tolerance as weakness, as they flaunt their ‘untouchable’ status amongst unwilling ‘white trash’ resident victims. What should have been nipped in the bud at first signs, has become a major social, economic and political issue.

Political level

Despite around 26 years of economic growth in Australia many households struggle to pay the electricity bill on time. This is a huge issue for ordinary people for whom wage growth has not kept up with costs.

In the big picture, power and fuel supply and pricing have been captured by national and international elites bent more on profit and redistribution than service. Under nearly two decades of “green” regulation, prices have been pushed up and reliability reduced as investment in “renewables” made investment unattractive for more assured coal or gas fired power. From having a major national comparative advantage of the cheapest fuel on the planet, we have become the country with the most expensive. It costs us all dearly every day in many ways.

Once reason ruled; now it’s some global Gaia to which we are compelled to pay homage. We have been inveigled to sign up to saving the planet through the Paris Accord when so many of us find it hard to bin our take-away packaging, if road-side litter is any indication. In reality it has turned out to be a global financial transfer scheme from responsible countries to the irresponsible.

All this big picture stuff is determined by the “lanyard brigade” – the bureaucrats, politicians and NGOs (non-government organisations) – who strut the world, spend taxpayer dollars, rub shoulders with other elites in talkfests to decide what’s best for we ‘deplorables’, who, of course, must pay.

It was not always so. The United Nations was started by a war-weary world, keen to prevent another outbreak of hostilities. Who would have envisaged that within a few decades the simple concept would become such a grand amoeba of bureaucracy that has grown and spread, along with the cost, in direct proportion to how ineffectual and biased it has become. Yet history repeats itself in the European Union: unelected bureaucrats, left, green and politically correct, seek to lecture and impose how nation states should behave and who should pay. Brexit shows that when ordinary people find their voice, votes can change circumstances, to reclaim control in our own backyard.

Bureaucracy

One of the biggest hurdles we have to overcome is the might and power of bureaucracy, which has become accountable primarily to itself, rather than the taxpayer and customer who funds the internal largesse. I’m not talking about the front line nurses, doctors, police, firemen and defence personnel serving us dutifully in all places near and far. I mean the back office bureaucrats, whose numbers and benefits swell, thanks to the strength of misleading political messages and the power of public sector unions. Did those of us casting our valuable vote at the last Queensland election do so on a self-indulgent emotional, reactionary level  ‘to teach someone a lesson’, without looking at the big picture of ballooning debt ($80 billion and rising) and bureaucracy (over 20,000 more)?

Context

Those who have read my book Becoming realise how important context is in making sound decisions. Sometimes while attending to our immediate necessities, it is helpful to envision them in the context of our family, state and nation, to see how our actions or inaction will achieve the best long-term outcome.

Firm discipline early in a child’s life, however much objected to, offers the best hope of raising a productive adult in the big picture of life.

Financial discipline early in a government may mean reducing the bureaucracy in the short term, leaving front-line workers to do their job, at the same time as minimizing costs to the taxpayer, as well as future debt burden.

Disposing of our own rubbish properly represents better care for the planet than high octane travel around the globe by the lanyard brigade to stitch us up with meaningless obligations at great cost that will make no difference to climate change, global warming or whatever the current brand may be.

Take time occasionally to get the big picture on the small things.

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What we leave behind

Most of us would like to leave a legacy of some sort that recognises our time on the planet has been meaningful. Thinking people want to leave the world a better place – either through successful, contributing children, improvements to the planet’s environment, towering monuments, advances in performance, social order or technology that make living more enjoyable for many.

Exits may take the form of the grand obituary of a state funeral or a modest plaque honoured by loving family. Rarely do the words conveyed on such occasions touch on, or reach into, the daily reality of the bequest in social pathology. Nor do they mention the challenge to become aware of the extent of deficit and the difficulty in actioning measures to overcome and avoid passing negative traits onto the third and fourth generation as scripture presciently predicts, with all the inherent disadvantages and dysfunction.

For wealthy (and not so wealthy) law-abiding families’ behaviours in complying with social norms, paying their way and becoming prosperous are learned implicitly, through day-to-day conduct, and explicitly, by direct learning and experience. Families like these, though imperfect as are we all, become the backbone of our society, social and economic multipliers spreading benefits more widely, down through generations.

Not everyone is so fortunate, though productive behaviours and prosperity must start somewhere. To break through from dysfunction and disadvantage takes four steps:

  • awareness that all is not well and could be different;
  • a strong desire for a better way of life;
  • knowledge and the openness and willingness to learn how to go about achieving the goal; and
  • action to break through for change that requires courage, drive, perseverance and commitment.

Mindful people cheer on such courageous efforts. Mindless others may be threatened. On the pathway to breakthrough success many impediments arise, especially from dysfunctional others for whom your progress raises a challenge to do likewise. The status quo may have reassurance of numbers. Courage and commitment are needed to drive through the nay-sayers and under-miners to reach out for the chosen goal. Greater confidence in your decision for action can be helped by using my Maturity Model to reaffirm the rightness of the choice for you.

It’s worthwhile looking at intergenerational behaviours that affect those who come after in order to gain an understanding of where and how a breakthrough is necessary.

Epigenetics of social pathology

Nature or nurture is a question commonly raised when considering negative behaviours. Science is beginning to understand the genetic predisposition of some to addiction, anxiety, depression and fear conditioning. That said, nurture has tremendous potential to modify adverse genetic traits and certainly influence more productive behaviours that would leave us better off. The jury may still be out on whether social pathology is transmitted through nature or nurture.

Co-dependencies

Roslyn Saunders counselling and book Emotional Sobriety: Finding raw courage to recover from Codependency, has gained in relevance as the list of co-dependencies grows, along with the rapid adoption of digital technology. Where once addiction to alcohol or smoking were the primary co-dependencies, now drugs, gambling, pornography, sex, gaming and screen addictions, facilitated by the rapid escalation of digital technology and services, consumes time and relationships, distorting reality and bodies alike, to our detriment. Where parents have no digital disciplines themselves, setting parameters for children’s use is hollow, bequeathing mindless capture to virtual reality.

A teacher reported student accessing lunchtime porn was a common pursuit, colouring students’ perception of the sexual roles of women, men, intimacy and respect. Overlong preoccupation with online activities is known to change synapses in the brain. Youth so consumed spending night after night online, unable to get up in the morning to go about ordinary activities, may emerge sapped of energy and physically and socially under-developed. Not what was envisaged when a beautiful whole child was born.

Hording

Early deprivation can lead to continuous acquisition and hording to overcome fear of scarcity Inability to ‘let go’ compounds to become a hazard. Hording is another form of co-dependency. Most of what is acquired is of little use or value. To take the antidote of having a few purposeful things that can be well used needs one to deal with the reality that deprivation has passed. Tackling the hierarchy of awareness, desire, knowledge and action is a pathway forward. Yet failure to address the issues means that we bequeath to our offspring similar mindless lack of discipline and awareness, at the same time as limiting our enjoyment and other’s enjoyment of us. What is sad is that hording habits may have been learned from our own parents and are likely to be repeated in our children.

Divisiveness, hatred and indifference

Divisiveness, hatred and indifference are a function of failure to adolesce that too easily becomes multi-generational. Seeking power and control over others by misrepresentation and manipulation has been shown to create divisive patterns of behaviour passed on through generations. Whereas had the great-grandparent chosen to develop, in adolescence, the enduring resources of intimacy and mutuality, tolerance, respect and flexibility, harmony down four generations of people would be much better, as it would for those drawn into the net. Breaking out of patterns needs awareness not found in power and control.

Similarly irrational hatred of a family member targeted by a parent can become a default position down the generations, even when the parent had passed on and the original cause forgotten. A reason is not needed, mindless slavery to habit will do.

It is ever so easy for busy professionals to assume indifference towards their elders. They may merely be emulating a father’s attitude towards the mother who had cared for him diligently for so much of his life. How one cares for elders as people, rather than problems, is a mark of adult maturity. Failure to do so is a sad bequest.

Lying

Those who habitually tell lies don’t have the courage to deal with reality – the only basis upon which personal, social and financial improvement can be made. Neither do they trust others with the truth. Patterns of lying and misrepresentation appear to become ingrained, often to make the teller seem greater or more important than they are in reality. Yet the very respect to which the liar aspires becomes elusive the more others become aware.

Dependency

We are now dealing with multi-generational welfare dependency where for so many no one in the family has been employed for generations. It is a sad bequest of tragic unrealised potential. People in this situation may believe they do not have job skills, yet they are talented workers of Centrelink systems, ensuring maximum benefits are derived at every point. Because we have failed to expect contribution from them, they remain unaware of the contribution of others, who get up each day, go to work and pay taxes that support them. Ingratitude is rife.

For a child born into such an environment, it is doubly difficult to break through psychologically from enculturated patterns of welfare dependency to becoming a contributor. Educators and organisations are available with the knowledge how, should the awareness and desire be there to be nurtured. The Australian Indigenous Education Foundation and the Smith Family have had considerable success in helping realise the goals of disadvantaged young Australians.

In our hearts

The best of what we leave behind is that which is in our hearts – the courage to be honest about how good or bad a life/situation is and the willingness to have a crack at breaking through, out of inherited patterns of behaviour, to become our best selves and seeing our dreams realised in those who come after. Good luck with that!

Child and family, Communication

A little more conversation

(Photo and pottery by Jan Hammond: janhammond1941@gmail.com)

The Oxford dictionary definition of conversation is:

“A talk, especially an informal one, between two or more people, in which news and ideas are exchanged”

Late Middle English (in the sense ‘live among, be familiar with’): from Old French converser, from Latin conversari ‘keep company (with’), from con– ‘with’ + versare, frequentative of vertere ‘to turn’.

Even from the 17th Century derivative, conversation is understood as being “with” others, engaged in an “exchange” of news and ideas. Implicit in our understanding, in order to engage in conversation, we would necessarily be “present” to another, aware, listening and open to exchange, able to be influenced. In effect, a true understanding of what is conversation presumes we have become accomplished in the enduring young adult competencies of intimacy and mutuality. Can this be achieved through Facebook, Text or Twitter?

The speed of social change has been so dramatic, we have not yet had time to step back to assess what the rapid change in technology means in our lives. Seeking personal affirmation from the virtual world in the number of Facebook “friends”, “likes”, shares and retweets, while satisfying in the short-term, may have longer term implications for our ability to deal with the difficulties and the possibilities of the real world.

Young adult tasks for all

Technology aside, for beneficial conversation we still need to develop competency in the young adult resources of intimacy and mutuality. Refreshing those skills from time to time helps draw us out of patterns of self-absorption and righteous authority as we get older and relationships change.

In their book, Christian Life Patterns, EE and JD Whitehead say flexibility and tolerance are important in developing and strengthening the resources of intimacy in the broader social context of close friendship, group solidarity, sexual love, social experiences of cooperation and competition, combative relationships, inspiring encounters with others and the experience of intuition from within oneself. Intimacy, the Whiteheads say, involves an overlapping of space, a willingness to be influenced and openness to the possibility of change. There is a risk in sharing. Only a strong and flexible identity can move towards true intimacy.

In developing competence in intimacy, we confront the need to reconcile the risk of being changed as we are drawn towards self-disclosure, perhaps coming to a different awareness of ourselves. Should we maintain a rigidly defined identity prone to isolation, mutuality essential to good conversation, becomes unlikely. Premature “identity foreclosure” of either too diffuse or too rigid personal identity leaves little room for self-exploration essential to achieving competence in intimacy required in a mature adult.

Information can be shared easily on Facebook, text and email. True enriching engagement with others, especially others beyond immediate peers, requires deeper personal development to enrich the present by drawing from elders and others to create a vision for the future and avoid errors of the past.

Millennials

Conversation is more difficult in a post-truth world inhabited by Millenials, where communication is horizontal between peers, disconnected from less technically competent olds, who struggle to gain a level of competence with the iPads, emails and smart phones. Nowhere is post truth malaise more evident as in a study showing 62% Millennials believe socialism to be a preferable form of governance, as found in a recent in-depth survey of those born between the 1980’s to 2000.

Quite unbelievably few Millennials surveyed were aware of dictatorial communist and socialist leaders and their impact – Hitler, Mao, Lenin, Stalin and Pol Pot. Ignorance may be a function of educational focus on global warming, gender fluidity, #me and black arm band virtue signaling. Yet, rule under ‘fairer’ socialist ideals cost the lives of over 100 million people in the 20th Century, destroying the fabric of families, communities, economies and countries. Negative outcomes from socialism are recent enough for older people to remember the horrors, never to be revisited, despite the limitations of democracy and capitalism.

Socialism is merely one area Millennials’ might and power of communication competence tends to override the wisdom of previous experience. Rigid unwillingness to be open to the truth, limits growth to maturity and capacity for true engagement in meaningful conversation.

The Essentials

Not all conversations are deep and meaningful: casual exchange of information and arrangements form the bulk of conversations. However most of us have had the experience of coming away from a conversation disillusioned, disheartened or dismayed and wondered why, what happened?

For a conversation to be beneficial, elements that come into play to some degree include, and are not limited to:

  • Presence – Participants in a conversation need to be present to one another, i.e. open and aware of others, rather than preoccupied with a particular device as in the illustration above, or impatient to get back to it. A woman who went to considerable effort to prepare a home cooked meal for her extended family swore “no more” after everyone attending was consumed with their devices and none showed interest in, or appreciation for, the meal or for each other. Co-dependence on technology has major negative impact on relationship quality and meaningfulness.
  • Listening – It’s important to be predisposed to hear what others may have to say, open to hearing the end of the comment before jumping in with whatever may be on our mind.
  • Honesty – Good communication builds on honesty and trust. We need to be humble and courageous enough to be honest, even if it means owning up to our own limitations.
  • Pride – Pride of sensitivity tends to be affirmed as virtuous by the prevailing outrage industry, yet those who are easily offended suffer poor self-esteem, making it difficult to have a one-to-one conversation, unconsciously controlling what may be said to them and how. Those imbued with pride of authority tend to discourage alternative points of view that might be enlightening and enriching. Being the sole authority is hardly conducive to lively conversation. I have been turned off by people who have been unnecessarily accusing and bullying.

Reflecting on conversation’s essentials, we can see the importance of achieving competence in the young adult tasks of intimacy and mutuality, as well as refreshing those resources at other stages of life, if we are to be enriched in communication with others, technology aside.

Enrichment

We are all social beings who have an inborn need to mix with others. How well we do that depends on how well we converse, so it is worth putting some effort and consideration into improvement.

Respect for others also helps, regardless of their age, as everyone has a story.  Fun, Friendship and Fellowship over 40 Years, a book produced by Di Perkins, proves as much. Di interviewed the remaining 40 women of a group of 80, who began meeting once a week 40 years ago. While at first the women were reluctant to share, Di’s willingness to listen carefully enabled gems of life stories to be captured that otherwise would have disappeared. Having been listened to and have their stories and precious photos brought to print has been an enriching and cohesive experience for them, even after so many years.

Others develop rules for enriching relationships. Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban maintain the spirit of their relationship by choosing not to text each other. All conversations are person-to-person, by phone or skin-to-skin, underpinning the importance of being present and truly listening.

Technology has also enriched our lives in so many ways. We are still trying to work out how to capitalise on the advantages while fostering healthy relationships and conversation. For technology to become a valuable servant, rather than a means of enslavement and co-dependence, we may need to marry the wisdom of the olds with the technical competence of the young. Conversation will help.

 

 

Child and family, Uncategorized

What Value a Child?

Like everything in this era of unprecedented prosperity, the manner of caring for children is evolving. Prosperity has furnished us with longer lives, greater comfort, better education (longer anyway), health care and sanitation. Choice, enabled by more reliable contraception, means today’s families have fewer children: the current average of 1.9 differs greatly from the nine my parents produced.

Back then (when I was a boy!) limited resources meant that sharing was implicit and known, not a behavioural performance to be addressed by a set age. Everyone had responsibilities they were expected to pick up, otherwise be subject to sibling ‘nudging’ of one kind or another. Slackers “copped it”! Resilience toughened character to be ready for the world of service and work. Many did work on farms or in family businesses, where they added value and their learning was extended.

Over a century there has been an extraordinary expansion of the dominion of the knowledge class of experts since Freud and others struggling with sexual identity contested ideas about mental and developmental health. Caring for the precious child can now be cloaked in anxiety, clouding natural love and intuitive care. Is there a preschool child out there without a labelled “condition”?

The Child in Industrialisation

Focus on the health and wellbeing of the child hearkens back to an earlier era when children worked long and hard tending the looms of industry and cleaning the chimneys for the industrializing powers. Activists like Dickens and Shaftsbury were concerned for the children themselves, publicizing their plight and influencing social change. Industrialists were concerned that child deformity resulting from the long hours of tedious, repetitive work would leave them without able bodied adult workers.

Conditions meant that women’s health was also poor; infant mortality rated between 40%-80%; and diseases (respiratory, lead poisoning, tetanus and diphtheria) were rife. Industrialisation brought affluence that enabled women to leave the labour market to care better for themselves and their children. With affluence, families bought space (as they still do today) relieving the crowded living conditions that harboured illness. With a mother at home to care for it, the child became a focus of special love and care.

The child in the domestic and social economy

Much is said about the “harm” resulting from the separation of women from the labour market. Yet the failure to celebrate what women achieved during that time up into the 70s, means the value of those achievements (nurturing healthy children, an extended term and quality of life, better health care and education) remain unrecognized and uncelebrated, as women are affirmed and rewarded by returning to the market place.

The wave of 70’s and 80’s feminism saw “the family as hostile to women”, shifting the focus from the child to women themselves. Feminists’ aggressive agenda comprised factors that they believe hindered women’s equality with men: equal pay; equal access to education, politics and business; abortion, maternity leave and childcare. Any children produced were to be educated and paid for by the state (and influenced by their Marxist propaganda). Those who cared for their own children were treated with contempt, as being “unproductive”. Punitive financial penalties sought to coerce them into “work”. Feminist attitudes were particularly galling for older women who had diligently cared for large families that had been encouraged. They had not had the opportunity for education and privilege more lately available from progressive policies and extended prosperity.

Value on the light side

A much longer life and fewer children, or no children, means women can now attain the equality of opportunity they sought. Producing and socialising a child may mean only a short time out of a long life of self-interest.

Smaller families lead to more intense concentration on the child, with potential for over-indulgence; and feminist self-absorption.

Images of my new grandson, William, are what comes to mind when considering the value of a child – all clean, vibrant, glowing in good health and loved to bits. He reminds me of how I treasured my own children (and still do). William represents all that is good in a child, to be loved, enjoyed and celebrated now, for what they are at this moment. His presence strengthens family bonds and evokes a whole new level of maturity in the adults that surround him – a leaven of happiness.

But that’s not all! In the continuity of life, William also represents affirmation of the value of the life of his parents and grandparents, as well as a promise for the future that depends on the continuity of love and care he receives.

Families surrounding William add value to the local and national social and financial economy, as they become positive contributors to society, their capability reaching out to help others.

Where government agencies support the early care of the child in transition to family, in education and health care, life is at equilibrium. The value of a child well cared for becomes self-evident at every level of understanding.

Value on the dark side

Not every child’s future is as promising as William’s. Some children are challenged to overcome seemingly insurmountable hurdles that crush prospects. Mostly this occurs when ownership of a child is assumed, rather than ownership of responsibility for the child’s care and wellbeing. The dark side of a child’s value is exposed in the consequences of adult behaviour when the child is:

  • Neglected – Co-dependent parents self-indulging in drinking, drugs, gambling and online gaming can lead to bad habits in the child, starvation and death; often also means serial disruption and interrupted education, limiting prospects;
  • Abused – Subject to physical, emotional and sexual abuse in prostitution, extended families and indigenous communities; food traded for sex by international Aid agencies;
  • Weaponised – Used against partners to control, spite and gouge in family breakdown; and against grandparents for real or perceived offences;
  • Loaded with responsibility – Unrealistic expectations for performance and service above the age, stage or capability;
  • Over-indulged – Children given into every demand by parents’ lack of confidence in their role as adults, undermines the child’s self-esteem and resilience; and
  • Exploited in competition – as others live through, and off, the child’s performance (or not), most publicly in the tennis arena; or child achievements used to assert personal superiority against adult peers.

The return of women to the labour market and the loss of household skills have seemingly brought us full circle, inviting intrusion of expert services. Despite major investment in education we note an increase in number and range of dysfunctional children ill-prepared to learn; obesity; diabetes; mental health; and medication. A doctor counselling on childhood obesity finds it necessary to retrain the whole family, beginning with such simple suggestions as, “buy a table” and make fresh meals. Reliance on take-away, means many have not had the experience of sitting down to the table and mindfully eating a home cooked meal together.

Agency failure

Parents gain confidence in their parental role when they are well supported by family, friends and relevant government agencies, as in William’s case.

Yet the value of a child can be seriously diminished when agencies charged with responsibility fail to do their job properly and in a timely manner, implicitly expecting children to absorb the consequences of their failure. Tragic examples abound:

  • Poor Blue Card certification ending in sexual abuse and murder
  • Failure to take action on known abusers, especially aboriginal
  • Lack of expectation of indigenous ability to step up and own responsibility
  • Serial, intergenerational failure to arrest child sexual abuse
  • Propagandising other people’s children through education programs such as Safe Schools, global warming alarmism, black-arm band view of history and guilt and de-construction of western civilization
  • Family Court, which purports to make the needs of the child paramount, yet fails dismally, being consumed by self-interest. Too often, decisions made impose the burden of responsibility for agency failure and parental immaturity upon the children. Demands for more money and more judges are made without a glance at the suitability of mandated legal processes that rob the family’s financial future.

Measuring parental and agency failure against my Maturity Model clearly illustrates the consequential fragmentation of the individual child, dissension and division of family and groups, the increasing immaturity of all parties, leading to high social and economic costs that are borne by all – all the more reason to get it ‘right’ from the beginning. Parents can be sent to jail; public servants merely gravitate to the next gazetted position.

Value and hope

William will have a lot to contend with. In his life, he will need to be fortified by his family, build resilience and gather strength amongst a community of like minds in order to realise his future value. In the meantime, we enjoy him as he is now. Cherish the moment!

 

Uncategorized

Letting the Light Shine

We all have much to learn from excellence. Soaking in the wonder and beauty of the Dior and Cartier exhibitions over a few absorbing hours, one gets a sense of history of the business and what it has taken to sustain. Design traditions form a core; loyalty to signature colours, design and cut, individually and collectively, comprise an exquisite finished product at each particular stage of history.

Just the same, both design houses demonstrated capacity to innovate, incorporating different materials and new techniques, responding to, as well as leading, cultural and technological change. Ultimately we all benefit in the flow through to widely adopted techniques and inexpensive copies.

Wars and personnel changes affected both businesses catering to high end clients, as did the shift of new money from Europe to the United States. Vision and adaptability was not limited to design and materials, which shows no business or person is spared challenges. Importantly, attention to customer requirements reigned, as patronage and promotion through privilege proved a boon to repeat custom.

Dior

Dior maintained traditional colours: white/cream, black and a very rich, deep red that spoke to me. Truly feminine shapes with waists, sculptured and fuller skirts enhanced the overall design, whether in flouncy materials or solid fabric.

A special section marking relevance to Australia displayed artefacts and news reports of Dior’s exhibition at David Jones in 1948, not long after the early days of Christian Dior’s independent foray as lead designer of the business. Each new lead designer introduced innovation to design to adapt to the times, yet remained loyal to the initial style, shape and colours. We learn respect for core values has flow on benefits. Miranda Kerr’s wedding gown epitomized Dior feminine shape and sculptured style.

In the part of the exhibition that showed how an exceptional outfit is made, one gains an appreciation of the sheer numbers of people involved and the extraordinary skills, honed over years of experience to a level of excellence. The light of many talents shines through a gown marketed by an exclusive French design house to wealthy, privileged patrons.

As we now know the business expanded into hats, handbags, shoes and other accessories like perfume that are more generally available. From high-end exclusive design comes opportunities to enjoy beauty at a level with which we are comfortable.

Cartier

Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, as the song goes, but there was a time when pearls outshone them in value. Cartier traded two strings of pearls for the site of their New York house.

Patronage from the royal houses of Europe, especially Great Britain and her empire, ensured the house of Cartier was able to build an enduring legacy. Again, there was loyalty to the traditional round cut diamond as its signature style, enhanced by other innovations: emerald, cabochon and baguette cuts.

Artisans involved in perfecting a piece included the designers, cutters, polishers and setters. As with Dior, the light of these skilled people shines through in a finished piece. When we celebrate the tiara, ring, brooch, necklace and ear rings, we are paying tribute to the people who helped complete something beautiful.

Being able to view special jewelry pieces owned by the famous celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, Queen Elizabeth (who loaned pieces for the exhibition) and Dame Nellie Melba, stirs memories and wonder.

The Tall Poppy

The tall poppy syndrome has always been alive with envy, dissatisfaction and injustice. Wealthy patrons, outliers with the money to commission and afford exceptional outcomes, often also paid dearly in other ways. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette lost their heads and their lives over the extravagance of building the Palace of Versailles. Similarly the Russian Tsars, the Hapsburgs in Prague, the Ming and Qing dynasties’ Forbidden City in Beijing, yet the fruits of their extraordinary visions of aggrandisement linger for commoners all to enjoy, decades and centuries on, showcasing depth of culture and knowledge to become mainstays for tourism export dollars in sometimes flagging economies. If North Korea opens its borders, perhaps in time we will be able to visit a de-nuked site or labour gulag and pay for the privilege.

In Australia we have the enduring legacy of a national emblem in the visionary Sydney Opera House designed by Jorn Utzon. Utzon never returned to this country after shabby treatment from the less inspired.

Showcase

In each of us there is a gem upon which the light should shine. It is up to us to bring that gem out from under the bushel of modesty, lack of confidence or reticence. Also Implicit in the message is the decree to let the light of others to shine. We need to be big enough, self-assured enough and generous enough to allow us to appreciate the gem in others. That might mean putting aside destructive envy, jealous and inverse snobbery in order to appreciate the richness in others, as well as ourselves, as more often than not, we stand to benefit.

 

Uncategorized

Happy Mothers’ Day

While Mothers’ Day has been highly commercialised, in many ways, the focus on mothers in a spirit of love and gratitude is appropriate.

Perhaps the day may be marked by quiet reflection on the life and contribution of a mother now passed – her sayings, particular talents now evident in later generations, or stories of remarkable events that stand out in our memories.

Others new or old to mothering have much to contend with in the changing hormones and physical shape that marks the passage to motherhood. Then there is the uncertainty of raising children in an era of rapidly changing social values and loss of leadership. In confusion we might ask what is the right thing to do in any particular situation. Decisions and action taken depends on context and capability. Being imperfect means that not every decision we make will hit the spot and we must learn to be comfortable with our limitations while constantly striving to do our best.

Guilt

Guilt is the gift that goes on giving. Guilt can end up being the constant companion of mothers who have not been able to come to terms with their own or their children’s limitations, or who have lost confidence in themselves under the weight of criticism from partner, complaints from children or damaging asides from peers and experts who may never have done the 24/7 schedule of parenting.

For Mothers’ Day, I suggest all mothers give themselves a break from guilt. If you have been remiss in some way (not just someone else telling you where you have failed), by all means take appropriate measure to make amends. However, nobody is perfect. People with the best intentions and the most love can still make mistakes. On our special day, put aside the guilt and take time to reflect on just where we have tried and been successful, or not. Mothers’ Day is a time to love ourselves, as much as we have loved others. Jesus and Jordan Peterson said so. On this day, others who have been much loved are stirred to remember those who have gifted them with life and love.

The Maturity Model for decision making, outlined in my book Becoming: the ordinary person’s road map to life’s big decisions, can help mothers (and others) struggling with responsibility and guilt to assume only that for which they are responsible. In doing, so we build more sustainable families and more harmonious relationships as others are challenged to ‘pick up their own bed and walk’.

Joy

Saccharin, joyous pictures of mothers, children and families of the advertising world are true, though not an entire truth. As mothers we must be ever ready and predisposed to relish the small gains, the joy in our children’s efforts and achievements, the quiet contentment shared, experiences together. Joy in such outcomes become memories to be dusted off in less favourable times. Often, much work and planning has gone into deriving the results, yet it is the pleasure in the outcomes that linger.

Just as important is for mothers to be willing and gracious receivers of love, thoughtful gifts and service that are returned to us as our children and grandchildren grow up and wish to reciprocate in their own special way. A hand-made card with a thoughtful message, a bunch of flowers, interest in a story or message, the grace of listening are experiences for a mother to treasure.

What is your love language

In his book, The 5 love languages, Gary Chapman asks the reader to explore the love language they find most appealing, as a way of understanding what love means to ourselves and others. Chapman’s premise is that when we ‘gift’ others with love in the language that most appeals to the recipient, relationships are enhanced.

Expressions of love fit into one of the following categories:

  • Words of affirmation
  • Gift giving
  • Acts of service
  • Quality time
  • Physical touch

Sharing your preferred love language with others may help to ensure you receive the gifts most likely to please. For someone who has experienced many negative experiences, genuine words of affirmation are music to my ears, lifting spirits and hope. Quality time is highly valued by those who live alone and whose families are ever busy. Being truly present to someone (not constantly checking the smart phone) can enrich and deepen our human capacity to know, love and understand those of a different era and values who may have contributed significantly, and at great cost, to our wellbeing.

Celebrate

Celebrating ourselves is important. Pain, suffering and enduring are certainly part of the story of life to which we are inured and integral to being a mother. All too infrequently do we remember that resurrection is also part of the same story. Life is uplifted as difficulties are overcome, children grow up (we live in hope), relationships and prospects improve, giving us cause to celebrate.

Whether or not reward is commensurate with effort, whether or not our young or adult children appreciate what we have done, whether or not we enjoy respect, acceptance and tolerance from them, we can celebrate our perseverance and survival as mothers. We can rejoice in children and grandchildren who confirm the value of our life, whether or not we have access to their companionship.

Because it is so important to celebrate, on Mothers’ Day a group of young and older mothers of various standing gather over lunch and champagne to share our stories, joys and hopes. We celebrate what we have achieved; honour each other with true presence as we bless each other on Mothers’ Day.

May all mothers enjoy the love and respect of family and be likewise honoured for their contribution to life.

Uncategorized

The shape we’re in

Acceptance of body shape

As I reflected on the Commonwealth Games, a recurring thought was how people of different body shapes and sizes had found and excelled in the sport most suited to them and their capability.

Often the body shape originated from geography. For instance, dark, slim, lithe runners from Kenya always look like they could go on forever over any distance and do so with consummate ease. The magnificent bodies of swimmers at their peak were something to behold – tall, broad shouldered, pecs to envy and streamlined bodies – and that’s just the women! So many successful swimmers were Australian, mostly from Queensland where swimming is part and parcel of life in this wonderful climate.

Then there are the high jumpers and pole vaulters, long, lean and lanky, able to skim unbelievable heights – on their own or with the help of a slim pole. Basketballers may match them in height, though are sturdier, as needed for the rougher game. Gymnasts and divers tend to be more petite and ever so precise, while those contesting field games of shotput, discus and hammer throw, similar to weightlifters, tended to be on the chunkier side. Who would want thighs of the power of the cyclists, able to accelerate to amazing speeds at a 45 degree angle?

Up there with the most amazing were the para competitors: Kurt Fearnley winning silver in the 1500 and gold in the marathon in his final competitive race and the young sixteen year old Isis Holt with MS, who broke the world record in her division for 100m metre track sprint. Exultation and gratitude surmounted effort on achievement. It was wonderful to share these precious moments, even if through the TV screen.

Making the most of the body we get

I’m not immune from the allure of advertisements that promise attributes that I would like – thick lustrous hair (I confess to longing to touch the deep black tresses of our Islander and sub-continent people); a slim waist (in my dreams!) and the shiny, white, straight teeth of an American movie star.

Nevertheless, these are fancies (or fantasies) only. I’ve learned to be grateful for the body with which I’ve been gifted. That body has served me (and others) well over many years, even if now it gets a bit creaky.

Like Kurt Fearnley and Isis Holt I have tried to make the most of what I’ve got, with all its imperfections. The scale of my challenges do not even remotely compare with theirs. For them and all other sports people participating in the Games, as for me, there is a grand measure of acceptance of their body as it is, along with the gifts and talents to which that body can be turned. Self-acceptance meant that each chose a sport most suited to their body type, regardless of the glossy images presented as desirable. Dedicated resolve and hard work have helped produce results that would have initially been deemed improbable.

Gratitude

In a vain and self-absorbed world, sport, especially para sport, demonstrates the desirable characteristics of self-acceptance, hard work and gratitude, so often missing amongst the less energetic of our nation who wallow in complacency, complaint and entitlement.

Glossies promote how quickly some celebrity is able to return to pre-baby shape soon after the birth. Little attention is paid to the immense interior change of becoming a family, upon which the whole of the rest of the child’s life will be built.

Other targeted media focused on body image entice young girls into anorexia or bulimia that can lead to a downward spiral, even death, as self-absorption consumes them. Instead, service to others would develop their character, awareness of others, mutuality and intimacy that would develop resources that prepare them well for the rest of their lives.

Anti-ageing treatments proliferate to service an ageing population of active seniors now living 30-40 years longer that they might have 100 years ago. By all means, we should try to look presentable, out of self-respect and respect for others with whom we mingle. However, where is the incitement to gratitude for the privilege of living longer, which so many have been denied? As ANZAC Day approaches, we are reminded of the young men and women who fought for our freedom and will never enjoy the long and peaceful life with which we have been gifted. Lest we forget.

Whether in the exultation of winning or the disappointment of losing, invariably athletes interviewed expressed effusively their heartfelt gratitude to partners, family, friends, coaches, team mates and supporters who had paced them through the tribulations of their journey to this peak moment. To hear such expression is truly heart-warming in an era when ‘thanks’ has become an exception and whingeing the norm. Athletes remembered the years parents took them to training, cooked the meals and furnished them with the right equipment and resources to achieve. They acknowledged the coaches and physios who tended their needs to keep their mind and body in shape and on track for success.

Supporters wanted to share the moment. Many athletes were blessed with an entourage attending the games, or watching the performances live from their lounge rooms in the towns where achievements are a source of local pride. One couple we spoke to who travelled from South Africa to see their daughter swim had their efforts rewarded when she won a gold medal. How much sharing the moment meant to them all! Years of effort culminated in exultation, celebration and the gratitude shared, never to be forgotten.

Resilience

Of course, mostly there is only one winner. Not everyone’s efforts are rewarded with the top prize. Consequently, a further lesson from sport is the development of resilience; again, something much needed to build strength of character in a country grown complacent.

Invariably athletes have had to contend with injuries, lack of form, or the demoralisation of hitting peak in the sprint when Usain Bolt is on song. Disappointing as these factors are, they have had to suck it up, face up and try again, never losing sight of the ultimate goal. Whether or not their goal is achieved, they continue to benefit from the experience of drawing upon inner strength and resources in that and other aspects of their life.

Benefit of competition

For some decades now those involved in raising and educating children have imbued with a philosophy that competition is “bad”; everyone should win a prize to spare disappointment and discouragement; and if you complain loudly and often enough, someone will sort it out for you and you will be rewarded.

Well, that philosophy doesn’t work to produce mature, resilient, contributing citizens needed in a vibrant economy. Children are denied the opportunity to deal with reality, to grow in personal strength by accepting their limitations in particular areas, to choose a pursuit, as do athletes, that enable them to perform in an area best suited to their mind and body capabilities, even if disabled like Kurt Fearnley and Isis Holt.

Effort is celebrated as much as success, in the acceptance of self, making the most of our gifts, the gratitude and resilience of participating in sporting competition.