Wednesday, August 29, 2012

tears for those less fortunate

tears4image via 

I’ve been watching Go Back To Where You Come From  on SBS the past couple of nights. I shed tears as I watch. It is heart breaking stuff.

This morning my eldest child whinged and whined to me about how he doesn’t have … {insert a long list of complaints}. I was so cross. Really really cross with him. I asked him to tell me just ONE thing he was grateful for… and yes there was plenty of tone in my voice and perhaps an elevated volume. I was pissed off. He is not yet six years old, he doesn’t really understand how in the scheme of the world he is so very very fortunate, and to his credit sitting on the back seat of the car on the way to school he was rattling off a long list of things he was grateful for.

I try to make the point to my children that happiness and contentment is easier when you notice the people that have less than you rather than the folk that have more. The glass half full tastes sweeter than the glass half empty.

How do you teach children just how fortunate they are in the suburbs of a “lucky” country where so many people believe they have it hard? My goodness how well has Australia faired after the Global Financial Crisis in comparison to so many economies? Yet media and politicians talk about how tough it is. Sometimes I find it tough too, money is tight and the pressures to spend intense, but it is all relative and when I regain perspective about my place on this planet then any complaints about “toughness” are laughable. People, where I live, where I rest my head on a collection of fluffy pillows, safely sheltered from the elements, I would walk at most five meters to get a glass of safe drinking water.

It has been a strange week for me in terms of understanding my relative political position. Don’t get me wrong. I know what my views are on so many issues, including the refugee one. I’m a “the more the merrier” believer, “a friend who cares is a friend that shares” motto-ist (thanks Holly Hobby!). I’d always considered myself to be a left-ist on the asylum-seeker issue. So you can understand my surprise when I discovered this week that I agreed with Clive Palmer on an aspect of the refugee/boat people debate.

"If a family wishes to fly to Australia and they don't have a visa and can safely fly, the Australian government should instruct airlines to allow them to board," he [Clive Palmer] said in a statement on Thursday. (via)

More unsettling turbulence in my political outlook as Peter Reith, a politician I have loathed for so many years (based on his policies – not personally – I try very much to not let politics be personal) has been elevated in my esteem. Whilst I will never agree with his Howard-ist policies ever ever ever, I must give him kudos for participating in a program like Go Back To Where You Come From. After all this time it is a bit unsettling.

Allan Asher made the point in tonight’s program that individuals can make a difference just by doing better. It gets me thinking about what I can actually do? I’m a big one for ideas and opinions and theories and… but not such a great do-er. I need to change this. Refugees and asylum seekers deserve more than my tears, they need more than my tears. Let’s face it, my tears are really just self-indulgence.  Doing better will not only benefit people less fortunate than my family, I have an inkling it will also assist my children to appreciate just how good they’ve got it.

So I’m interested (and a little bit desperate) how do you teach your children to be grateful? How do you assist them to understand just how fortunate they truly are?


  1. I really struggle with this one too Sal, I particularly hate it if I ever hear 'it's not fair', as you say - tell that to the kid who walks miles each day to fetch drinking water or has one meal a day or lives in fear of their life every waking moment.
    I've been known to be fairly blunt in telling my kids how others live - all the family in one room sleeping on the floor, no food, crying at night because of hunger and as for toys - are you serious!!??
    I don't think there is any easy way but I do believe honesty is the key, that and reminding them often of what they do have when they say they want something more.

  2. Man I hear you! The politicization of "the boats" is shameful. The basic denial of the human right to seek asylum makes my heart break. I am more self-indulgent than you however because I cant bring myself to watch most of the time. My kids are too young to comprehend this in a meaningful way, but we have started involving them in the donation of unused toys and stuff to charity. They were also very interested in me knitting something not for them (the square for your blanket) - it was a great chance to explain why and for who I was doing this.

    So, families and emotion aside, I am also a do-er. Shall we put our heads together and do something? I will try and find some charities who give clothes and toys to asylum seekers and then we could make them some?

  3. Sal, thanks for your thoughtful post. I don't have answers, I do have a few thoughts. I think consistency is important (shame, I'm crap at it!), I like my family to regularly/ consistently think of others who would benefit from us sharing our 'plenty'...produce, my sewing, unloved toys...and what that practically looks like (eg first Sunday of the month find 2 things someone else would love to op shop). It's so easy to compare "up" with the "not fairs" but I also try to point out that its not just about feeling sorry for people, often people with not much stuff know (out of necessity) what really matters...the latest cool shoes, computer games etc in the big scheme of life may not make your life richer...its an ongoing difficult conversation in my head not just for my kids, for me too!

  4. I feel exactly the same way Sally. I think the best way to raise our kids is what we're doing in making sure they realise how privileged they are and how worthy it is to help others. Finding a school that supports this ethos helps too I have to say and I'll also come right out and say that's why I send my girls to a Catholic high school. Social justice is part of the air they breathe at this school and it supports what I teach them at home. My big girl (15) is going on a school trip to a remote village in China at Christmas time to help rebuild a school damaged by an earthquake. She has been working every weekend at the local supermarket to raise the money herself for the trip (her idea - not ours) and she's raised it now - all $6,000 - and now she's started doing fund-raising and has come up with an idea where she asks family and friends to be a sponsor and contribute $10 each for a leg of a school desk or a chair etc. I cannot even put into words how proud I am of her. The school also has a program where the girls help out at the Refugee Centre here and she's already talking about getting involved in that for her senior years at school. I think what I'm trying to say here is that I feel so privileged that our girls can go to a school where they not only support our views but help them to make a difference. This is what I love about CathEd. We're not particularly religious or anything; there's no god-squading - it's just about an ethical education as well as an academic one. Sorry... didn't mean to soap-box, but hopefully you know what I mean. Great post :) Kx

  5. You are echoing what Imogen said while at the health centre for babies : they don't need my tears. So true. My little one is only 3months old so not ready to be taught quite yet but I am trying to impart to our extended family that she doesn't need to be given any more 'stuff' I'm hoping that she can grow up in a house without too many of the trappings so we can more easily teach her what is really important: family, faith and friendship. I like Tanya's idea of doing an op shop donation once a month. I could easily start that now. There are plenty of people already in Australia who need our help too. (Operation Christmas Child is another great one for getting kids involved)

  6. Another great post Sally and I love the way you get the discussion expanded and congratulations to the commenting people above for their considered and thoughtful replies. Growing up Catholic meant from a very early age we were exposed to a lot of visual images and stories of people less fortunate especially at Lent time. It was all part of the guilt thing that Catholics do so well (not saying it's a bad thing, it's just their thing) I have very clear memories of lying in bed at night at the age of about 7yrs and praying to God thanking him for my nice clean warm bed as I listened to the rain bucketing down outside.
    I didn't raise my children as strict Catholics but with Christian values. As children of course they used to grumble about having to unpack the dishwasher (only half in fact because one was asked to do the top basket the other the bottom) Good grief you would think it was the end of the world. when I got to the point of the tone you describe I related how children in other countries at the age of 8 were going into the hills to shepherd goats all day or walking miles for fresh water (and we watched a lot of SBS to back up those stories. They knew I wasn't lying). But realistically it is something learned over time and I do believe that we need to expose them to the news and current events. Not the dramatic blood and guts stuff but relating them into a way that speaks to empathy. For children it's not so much about how many people were killed in Syria today but more about little children not being able to go to sleep because of shouting and gun fire. It's not so much about how widespread an earthquake devastation was but how children lost their nice beds to sleep in never mind their toys and that they probably won't have a house to live in till at least two more Christmases have passed.
    Your children will be absolutely fine because of the very values you believe in and the example you set. The very nature of it inspires regular conversations and debate for the family regardless of their age and it is these opportunities that are so constructive.

  7. I also think the only way they learn these things is over time, having role models and experiences that help them learn it themselves. Children don't have the same developed sense of empathy that adults do. And we are only human. I know that others are worse off than I am, but it doesn't stop me from complaining from time to time. It's all relative.

  8. Fantastic post, Sal - I'm so totally with you on all fronts. If it wasn't for one of the participants constantly swearing through the programme, I'd be tempted to show my 6-year-old some snippets of the program. Instead, I told her about what I'd seen. SHe lives in such a safe, happy world and I don't want to shatter it, but at the same time I think she's old enough to start gaining some perspective.

    And I'm very, very contemplative today.... trying to see a way to make a difference.

  9. Hello Sally,

    I happened to watch this show last night, very interesting. Jumping on a boat is not going to solve there lives. I think the world needs to really look at why people are leaving and solve it from that end. Look at those people in Somalia where the Aid is not allowed in. Power and Greed from a few people are creating this problem for those people.
    It is all right to say let them in , I agree with that in some ways but our Son is trying to find accommodation in Perth and it is so bloomin hard. I think sometimes it would be easier for him to be a refugee then at least he is clothed and fed!!! Off the track here a bit but we need to think of the ramifications of our world too.
    I found the horrible part of that show was that guns were everywhere, who are paying for these, shouldn't food and shelter be more of a priority. Oh I could go on and on.
    I can see why you were upset with your Son but he does live in a different world and I wonder if they really do understand, we can, but seeing the people's reactions last night on that show showed that they were even confronted by it.

    On a completely different note Sally just loved your crochet.

    Happy days.

  10. very interesting post.

  11. Oh it is one battle... reading your bit about telling son to stop complaining just sounds like this place lately... It's a hard slog. One that needs constant reminding.


Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.