Peacetime at home

Even if you can't afford a trip to a beach like this at Phuket, Thailand, you can still take a vacation at home. Painting in PanPastels on board, ©Caron Eastgate Dann, 2012.

Even if you can’t afford a trip to a beach like this at Phuket, Thailand, you can still take a vacation at home. Painting in PanPastels on board, ©Caron Eastgate Dann, 2012.

This post is written in response to Kozo’s June Peace Challenge at Everyday Gurus, to write about maintaining peace at home.

In our hectic lives when every minute of the waking day seems to be filled with work, chores, to-do lists and regrets about so few items on those lists we’ve crossed off,  sometimes we forget that relentlessly, every minute, time is passing us by.

We often neglect relationships with the people closest to us in the pursuit of making those very people’s lives better: trying to make more money to buy them more things, trying to achieve what we suppose are life’s goals.

Yet on our death beds, we will never be glad we made more money, spent more hours working, bought more stuff or cleaned the house more often. We might, however, regret not spending more time on just being with those we love, listening to them and facilitating peace between us.

It’s so important to replenish, rejuvenate and find a sense of joy and peace in our lives, without feeling guilty for taking time out.

I’ve compiled a list of six things I think are important to promote a sense of well being, peace and inner health: I am not saying I follow these things all the time. Too often, I too forget that the world won’t collapse if I don’t meet a deadline.

1. Recycle some stuff you don’t need. There’s something cathartic about de-cluttering your house, and even better if that stuff can go to a good cause and your trash can be someone else’s treasure.

2. Read inspiring novels. Great books teach us empathy, something that is sorely missing in this society that sees angry people constantly tooting horns, pushing in front of each other, and discriminating against their fellow people. Read the classics: anything by Charles Dickens or Elizabeth Gaskell, or Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; read recent novels—anything by Mitch Albom, for example; read historical novels such as March by Geraldine Brooks.

3. Take a vacation, or holiday, as we call it in Australia. Of course, not everyone can afford to actually go away on vacation to an exotic tropical beach, but you could take a holiday at home, even if it’s only over a weekend. A holiday at home means you vow to do no work—not even housework—on those days; it means the majority of every day is relaxing and enjoyable—read a book, watch a movie with your family, make a picnic lunch, lie in bed reading the newspaper.

4. Be a tourist in your own city, and visit the art galleries, museums, or other places of culture you’ve been meaning to see. Go to a live theatre show, particularly if you’ve never been to one before. Small, independent theatre companies desperately need your support and can often be surprisingly affordable.

5. Contact a friend you’ve been neglecting because you’re always too busy. If we don’t keep working at friendships, they are in danger of fading away. And even if this is the sort of person you know you could pick up with again at any time, it’s sad to get out of touch and miss the events, big and small, that are important in each other’s lives.

6. Go for a walk and get to know your neighbourhood. We spend so much time at our computers, in our cars, sitting in the train or bus, that we forget to walk. I walk most days, and often towards dusk, I pass an elderly Greek couple sitting on the veranda of their neat-as-a-pin house overlooking their carefully tended garden. We nod and chat now, even though our conversations are limited by a language barrier. But no matter, we mean each other well. On another street, there’s an old black and white cat who suns himself every afternoon on the warm concrete path outside the apartment where he lives. Then there’s an old man who looks about 90, who rides an ancient bicycle to and from the shops every day. There are all sorts of modes of transport round our neigbourhood: the other day, I saw a young man casually riding a unicycle along the street. Every day, I notice something I have never seen before.

For more on establishing and maintaining a peaceful home, check out blogger Julianne Victoria’s inspirations at Through the Peacock’s Eyes, and to discover what ducks have to do with peace, see the blog My Little Spacebook.

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Angry Mr Smith: A Parable

'Venice Beach, sunset', pastel painting © Caron Eastgate Dann, 2012

Mr Smith was an angry man. There didn’t seem to be any good reason for his anger: it just was.

He felt angry when his neighbour got a bigger, newer SUV than him; he felt angry when his brother got the latest smart phone and boasted about all its apps; he felt angry when the woman over the road bought a cinema-sized TV screen; he didn’t feel happy for colleagues who got promotions—he felt only anger that HE hadn’t got that promotion; he felt angriest of all when the neighbour with the big TV sold her house and moved to a much bigger one in a better suburb closer to the city.

Mr Smith took his anger out on random people he didn’t know. One day, as he was driving his big vehicle with its bull bars on the front, a woman in a small car cut across in front of him, and he had to brake suddenly. He made a point of driving up beside her at the next intersection.

“Where did you get your licence, lady—out of a cereal packet?” he shouted, shaking his fist.”

“Sorry,” she said, genuinely.

“Aw, get stuffed,” he said, and roared off.

The woman, Ms Jones, knew she had made a mistake, and she really was sorry. She was not herself today because her faithful dog had died that morning unexpectedly, and she was driving home from the vet’s surgery. Of course, Mr Smith couldn’t have known that, but Ms Jones cried all the way home, and felt very alone—more so since she had made a mistake while driving and had been shouted at. All she wanted today was someone to be kind to her.

Eventually, Mr Smith became a manager at his work, and was in charge of 20 people. He was always finding fault with them—most of them were so useless, he thought.

When the sales figures came in for his first year, they were well below what they had been the year before, under kind Mr Tickle. Mr Smith was furious, and he made a plan to get back at the staff. “This will teach them,” he said, fuming. Then he called his staff together and told them their work was not good enough and that they would have to work harder, and take a pay cut, if they wanted to stay. And three of them would have to go anyway: Mr White, Ms Green and Mr Brown. These three had always been very hard workers and had been with the company for many years.

Mr White had had some bad luck: he had a chronic illness for which he needed expensive medication. Even though he had sold his car and his house, when he lost his job he knew he would no longer be able to afford this medication. A year later, he died. Mr Smith said they couldn’t send a card or flowers to his family, because everything the company did had to be cost-effective. And anyway, Mr White no longer worked at the company, so it was not like he was an employee.

One day, Mr Smith had a heart attack, a big one. The doctors told his lovely wife and their three adorable children that he might not pull through and that the next 24 hours would be crucial.

They kept a bedside vigil: although they knew their husband and father was an angry man, they loved him all the same and wanted him to live. The children, Sam, Eliza and John, stood on the left side of the bed, holding his hand. His wife, Jane, sat on the right side, holding his other hand. As Mr Smith stared up at the loving faces, they all started to glow like moonlight; but they were gradually going out of focus, and he knew he was dying.

Without warning, he saw in front of him a burst of forked lightning, and, like a huge wall of TV screens, videos from all his angry outbursts appeared before him, all running together. Beside each screen of him being angry was a video of his victim. There he was, shaking his fist at the errant driver, Ms Jones, and there she was, sobbing as her faithful dog died in her arms. There was Mr White, being told by Mr Smith to pack his things and leave the building immediately; and there was Mr White, dying in pain because he couldn’t afford the medical attention he needed. On and on it went.

All the screens disappeared again, and Mr Smith could just faintly see through the white mist the faces of his wife and children.

Suddenly, he got it—the point of life, and he knew he had failed miserably. He had brought children into the world, but he hadn’t done anything to make the world a better place for them, and for their children and their children, and so on. In fact, he had made the world a worse place for them.

Sorrowfully, he admitted to himself that he had done nothing but take from the world and had let his anger be directed at innocent people who did not deserve it. He had made lots of people miserable. He had been greedy, arrogant and mean.
And now, tragically, just as he saw the error of his ways, it was too late to do anything. If only he could have a second chance to mend his ways. If only he hadn’t left it this late.

Slowly, the faces of his wife and children were coming back into focus. He could not speak to them, but he could squeeze their hands just slightly.

The doctor said he would live for now, but he must change his ways and give up work, and even then, he might not have a long life. Luckily, Mrs Smith had a job, and they decided that if they sold their house and bought a cheaper one, they would be all right.

When he returned home, Mr Smith thought about how he could best use his remaining time. He knew he wouldn’t be able to do anything big, or world-changing. But something was better than nothing.

He had been advised by his doctors to exercise every day, so each afternoon, he set off on an hour-long walk, to the end of his street , where there was a park beside the beautiful beach. Along the way, he smiled at every person he saw and wished them good health. Sometimes, he could see the sorrow and lack of hope in their eyes. But actually, there was barely a person who didn’t smile back just a little.

Before too long, Mr Smith found himself whistling a tune as he walked along. This brought smiles to the faces of passers-by, too. Often, he would see the same people in the same places, and they would exchange a few words. After a while, Mr Smith’s walks turned into two- and even three-hour outings, he had so many friends along the way that he talked to.  They would often tell him their troubles, and he would listen to them. Often, it was dusk by the time he walked home again, and he grew to love this peaceful time of the day, the sinking sun sparkling across the water.

Five years passed, and Mr Smith’s doctor said he was a walking miracle.

 Mr Smith was happy with his life, but he wanted to do something more. So he wrote a book about what he had learned, and how he had once been an angry man, but that nearly dying had helped him to change. He called his book A Walk in the Park.

The book was a runaway success, and it sold a million copies. Mr Smith decided to give most of the money to the park, for all his friends to share. As a result, they set up outdoor chess tables, a speaker’s corner, children’s swings and slides, and a cafe where anyone could have lunch for free.

Soon, other people in various suburbs started to follow the idea in their own neighbourhoods. Then other cities and other states caught on. Mrs Smith and the now almost-grown children were very proud of him, but, mostly, they were so pleased that he was such a happy person to be around. They hardly remembered the angry Mr Smith from years ago. And still, Mr Smith went on his daily walk to the park, smiling at every one he met.

Against all the medical predictions, Mr Smith lived to 95, eventually dying peacefully in his sleep. His local park was renamed Smith Park, and a statue put up in his honour—a man walking along, whistling a tune; a happy man who had made a difference.

Painting: ‘Venice Beach at Sunset’, pastels on board, © Caron Eastgate Dann, 2012.

Recreationist Theory

GrandCanyon

This post is written in response to Kozo’s monthly peace challenge at everyday gurus

When I was about 10 and living in Los Angeles, my parents took me and my brother to Arizona to see the Grand Canyon. Though we came from New Zealand, a land of majestic and awesome scenery, we were aghast at the sheer size of the canyon. When I first got out of the car, for some reason I thought that in front of me was a giant billboard painting, it looked so surreal. “No, it isn’t a painting,” my mother replied. “It’s real.”

I now live in Australia, but I went back to see the Grand Canyon in 2009. You know how when you’re a child, things look enormous, and then when you revisit as an adult, they look so much smaller? This was NOT one of those moments. The big GC was every bit as magnificent as I remembered.

More recently, I saw a remarkable documentary series on America’s national parks, then I found the photos I had taken on the last trip, and I was inspired to try to paint the Grand Canyon as I’d seen it in my mind’s eye as a child.

I am a novice painter and the Grand Canyon is notoriously difficult to paint, but whether the painting is any good or not is irrelevant, really. The point is, the Grand Canyon reminds us of the great beauty in nature that we should be celebrating every day. Painting the Grand Canyon was a creative challenge that I set myself and which took concentration and effort, and trying some bits again and again.

This, I believe, is how creativity can help make a more peaceful world. When you are trying to create or recreate something beautiful, whether it be in an image or in words, whether a piece of writing, a painting, a photo, a sculpture, a garden or a hundred other things, your mind becomes peaceful and focused on the task.

Perhaps it is something to do with that idiom, “Idle hands make the devil’s work”.

New Zealand paints a rainbow

Maraetai Beach, NZ, courtesy Tomwsulcer & Haley Sulcer

Maraetai Beach, Auckland, NZ. From  Tomwsulcer & Haley Sulcer

I was thrilled to hear yesterday that my country of birth, New Zealand, agreed in Parliament to legalise same-sex marriage. This makes it the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to do so.

Although I left NZ in the late 1980s, I have never changed my nationality, I visit often and I still feel very much a New Zealander. So I am proud when I hear that NZ has taken such a big step toward equality of all its people.

NZ has many problems, like any other country, such as a growing economic division between rich and poor,  outrageous real estate prices in major cities, an over-emphasis on commercialism, corporate greed and materialism in some quarters.

But it also has, at heart, a people with a generous spirit, people who believe in equality, be it in regard to gender, race or sexual orientation.

Like Flick, the “little engine that could” in the children’s story, NZ to me is the “little country that could”. This group of dots in the Pacific Ocean has certainly made its mark on the world, and I wanted to celebrate some of those firsts in my blog today. There are, of course, many more, but these are a few that I know of:

  • 1893: First country to achieve universal suffrage when it gave women the vote.
  • 1894: First county to enact a national minimum wage—Australia did not do this until 1907, and the US until 1938.
  • 2001: First country in which women simultaneously held its three top positions of power—they were, then, the Prime Minister, Helen Clark; the Governor-General, Dame Silvia Cartwright; and the Chief Justice, Sian Elias.  In fact, the top five positions were held by women if you add the attorney general Margaret Wilson and the leader of the opposition, Jenny Shipley.
  • 2013: First country in the Asia-Pacific region to legalise same-sex marriage (and 13th in the world).

There are lost of firsts in terms of inventions, technology and scientific advances, too:

  • 1882: First country to ship refrigerated meat (to England).
  • 1884: William Atack was the first sports referee to use a whistle to control a game.
  • 1919: Ernest Rutherford split the atom.
  • 1954: William Hamilton invented the jet boat.
  • 1961: Arthur Lydiard invented and popularised the method of fitness training known as “jogging”.
  • 1987: A. J. Hackett invented bungy jumping.

NZers also invented the spring-free trampoline, the Zorb, the blokart, the circular hairpin, the cycling monorail. More: NZ innovations

But going back to yesterday’s step forward regarding human rights, I believe that in order to achieve a peaceful world, we must treat people equally. All people must have the same opportunities to live in safety and comfort, to pursue happiness, to be educated, to earn a living, and to marry the person they love. Parliament broke into song yesterday (Pokarekare Ana, a traditional love song) when the results of the vote were announced. If you missed this very moving moment, catch it here: NZ legalises same-sex marriage

I hope, too, that this step forward will prompt politicians in Australia to do the same. So far, both the federal government and the opposition are saying they will not. But it’s only a matter of time, surely.

Pets for Peace

Lucy Locket stars as "A Bookish Cat" in a pastel painting I did of her this week.

My pastel painting of my cat, Lucy Locket, who sits with me while I work

"Maggie", by Caron Dann, 2012.

“Maggie”, my brother’s dog, rescued from an animal shelter

These two pets don’t know each other, but my mother calls them her “grandchildren”. The dog is Maggie, who lives in the US with my brother and his wife. The cat is Lucy Locket, who lives with me in Melbourne, Australia. I share my paintings of them in this post, in answer to Kozo’s Bloggers for Peace challenge this month on raising children so they know the value of peace.
In order to truly promote peace in the world, you have to be a person who knows inner peace. I believe there are few experiences in our everyday lives that give this sort of peace as much as owning a pet does.
The undying love of a dog who thinks you are perfect, no matter what; the companionship, elegance and spirit of a cat who thinks you are part of its litter (or perhaps its servant); the sweetness of a small bird that will sit on your shoulder and mimic your sounds: these are pets I have known.
I’m a cat person. I’ve owned cats since I was very young. Times have changed since I was a child and we put the (un-neutered) cat OUT for the night. These days, my cat is an indoor being, perfectly happy in our townhouse. She has an enclosed courtyard to play in, and to wistfully watch birds strut across high-up roofs. She could, if she wanted, climb the fence and run off—but she never does.
As for Maggie, my brother’s dog, she’s an American rat-terrier. They acquired poor Maggie from an animal shelter. When she had been brought in, there were signs she had recently had puppies, but no trace of the puppies. Her claws were very long and she was malnourished. After that awful start, Maggie now has an idyllic life and is devoted to her owners.
If you have a pet, you have responsibilities to look after it, to keep it safe and to give it the affection it deserves. In return, this pet will be your greatest companion.
It doesn’t matter what you look like, whether you’re fat or thin, whether you’re rich or poor, whether you did well in school, whether you are popular or not, or whether you are talented at anything. As long as you look after it—which means training, of course, especially for dogs—your pet will love and respect you.
These are good lessons for children to learn: that love and care given will result in love and care back, and that life is about much more than material things.

“I’m not very smart”

I walked up to the counter today of my local wine shop and noticed there was a new face serving: a young man with a beaming smile, but obviously nervous and trying hard to do the right thing. He was on his own at the counter.

My purchases came to $22 and I handed him a $50 note. He was taking a while to collect the change from the till.

“It’s my first day,” he said.

“Don’t worry,” I replied. “Take your time.”

Eventually, he gave me my $28 change.

“I think the machine might tell you how much change to give,” I said, trying to be helpful.

“Oh yes, it does,” he replied. “But I’m not very smart.”

I started to say “Awww, I’m sure that’s not—”, and he shrugged, and said, “It’s OK,” as if to say “It is what it is”.

After wishing him a good afternoon, I left the shop, feeling sad for him. Not sad that it took him a while to count the change—he got there in the end. But sad that this young man goes through life thinking, “I’m not very smart”. He didn’t say it as I would: “I’m not good at numbers” or, “maths is not my strong point”, because I know I have others. He said it as a whole-life thing: “I’m not very smart”.

Now, children aren’t born thinking they’re not very smart. Somewhere along the line, he’s got this idea. Was it a parent, teacher, sibling, friend, bully…who gave him the idea that he is “not very smart”?

My friend and fellow blogger, Bryan Patterson at Faithworks, wrote a post this week on the different types of intelligence (read it here), and how it’s not an exact science. As I walked home today, I wanted to say to New Man at the Wine Shop:

1) You have a job—they picked you, which means you’re good;

2) You are kind, personable and helpful to the customers, without being overbearing. In my books, that makes you smarter than many people I know.

Good luck to him, and I hope that, someday soon, someone tells him he is smart.

“Peace is Possible”

 

At Bloggers for Peace, the Monthly Peace Challenge: Mad Men is to create something that conveys the message of peace: an ad, a slogan, a short film, a poem, a song perhaps.

My modest contribution is this slogan, “Peace is Possible”. It might seem simplistic at first, but it has a powerful message, and that is, don’t give up hope and always think positively. Perhaps the slogan should be “Peace is Positively Possible”.

"Peace is Possible", by Caron Eastgate Dann:  I put together this makeshift peace sign out of bits and bobs—buttons, brooches, earrings (I always knew those buttons you get in tiny plastic packets when you buy something new would come in handy one day).

“Peace is Possible”, by Caron Eastgate Dann: I put together this makeshift peace sign out of bits and bobs—buttons, brooches, earrings (I always knew those buttons you get in tiny plastic packets when you buy something new would come in handy one day).

I was reminded how important hope is for achieving goals by my friend Bryan Patterson on his Faithworks blog this week.

Without hope, we may as well give up. With hope, there is still possibility.

Kozo at Bloggers for Peace has discussed (in the post linked above) the idea that in achieving a goal, it is important to affirm what you want, such as “Peace is Possible”, instead of making a negative statement, such as “No war”.

By envisioning what you want, you can work towards it. This reminded me of something that happened to me 10 years ago. I was working as the branch editor of a magazine, and was particularly unhappy with the way the job had progressed under a new supervisor. However, I felt trapped because I had a big mortgage and needed the regular income.

My friend, who is now a clinical psychologist, asked me what was wrong, and I explained. She said, “So, what do you want?”. I told her I wanted to become a freelance journalist and work for myself from home while continuing my PhD studies. She said that because I already knew what I wanted, I had won half the battle. “Now, you just have to work out how to get there,” she said.

I decided to sell my expensive house for a cheaper one in the same area, thereby halving my mortgage. I could now afford to become a freelance and casual journalist, and did so for about four years, until my PhD was complete and I became a university lecturer.

So, if we know what we want (peace), I reckon we have won half the battle. Now, if we could only work out how to get there…

Bloggers for Peace: Rediscovering the inner peace of childhood

This post for Bloggers for Peace is inspired by a photograph taken by my childhood friend, the New Zealand actor Yvette Parsons. She took it while lying in a hammock during her annual break on Waiheke Island, off the coast of Auckland, New Zealand. This looks like paradise to me, and she agrees. It brings back to mind those simple pleasures in life: a good book, warm weather and a gentle breeze, an unspoilt view, nothing much to do but go for a swim, read a few pages and doze the day away. It took me, in fact, back to my own childhood in New Zealand.

The view from a hammock at Kennedy's Bay, Waiheke Island, New Zealand. Picture: Yvette Parsons

The view from a hammock at Kennedy’s Bay, Waiheke Island, New Zealand. Picture: Yvette Parsons

Remember childhood, and how easy it was to find inner peace, even though you didn’t know that was what you were doing? Provided you were lucky enough to have a great childhood, like I did, peace was something you took for granted. As I see it, peace is about safety, shelter, freedom, love and comfort. I was so lucky to have found all these things at home.
To illustrate this, I’d like to share in this post some of my favourite childhood memories:
*Deep, long sleeps, and next morning bouncing out of bed, eager to meet the day ahead. On Sundays, I was told not to get up too early, so I’d lie in bed listening to the children’s requests story hour on the little red transistor radio my parents had bought me.
*Our “under the house house”. This was something my brother, Phillip, and I put together. Under our house was a basement, not big enough for an adult to stand in, but big enough for a child. It ran the length and breadth of the house and contained the wooden foundations which, upstairs, divided the house into rooms. Mum and Dad used the front space by the door to store the lawn mower and gardening equipment. They never went further back: if they had, they would have found our secret house: rooms with curtains (cadged from discarded material), book cases, tables, cusions, cups, knives and forks. It was like a giant dollhouse. Phillip and I would allow only the two neighbouring kids, a brother and sister about the same age as us, to come in. We’d think it hilarious to hear Mum or Dad above, calling our names in vain, not knowing we were right beneath them. Then we’d hear, “I don’t know where they get to”. We never did let on, and Dad eventually found the “under the house house” many years later when he was preparing to sell the Auckland house. He found it just as we’d left it, and it must have been sad for him: I had moved out of home at 17 to become a journalist, and Phillip was killed in a motorbike accident when he was 17 and I was 19.
But to continue with some happy memories from childhood:
*Finishing a homework assignment, and having the rest of the day to play.
*Sprinting across a field, running as fast as I could.
*Ice skating to disco music, skating very fast with the wind in my hair.
*Rolling over and over down the freshly mown lawn at my grandparents’ house, then sitting with my grandad on the deck, sharing his binoculars to watch the yacht races on the Hauraki Gulf.
*Reading Famous Five books under the covers, with a torch, when I was supposed to be asleep. It was like being in a tent.
*That lovely feeling that, no matter what happened, Mum and Dad would make it right. No matter how many kids were mean, or if you’d fallen over and hurt yourself, or been disappointed with a classroom grade, when you got home, you were in that magical world again, our own domain.

Here’s to a peaceful New Year: make goals, not rules

Wat Buppharam, Chiang Mai. Pen & wash, by Caron Eastgate Dann.

Wat Buppharam, Chiang Mai. Pen & wash, by Caron Eastgate Dann.

Whenever I am in Thailand, I like to visit several temples. I enjoy wandering around the compounds, and though I no longer call myself a Buddhist, I find an enormous amount of peace within them. This illustration was inspired by a photo I took when I visited Wat Buppharam in Chiang Mai in November. Just looking at it now makes me feel peaceful.

I would like to wish everyone a happy new year—tonight for us here in the Southern Hemisphere and tomorrow for others. Instead of “resolutions”, I’m going to make a list of things I want to achieve this year. That way, I will have goals rather than rules. One of those goals, of course, will be to write one post a month for the Bloggers for Peace cause.

Bloggers for Peace: Baby steps to peace on earth; or, ask yourself, “What would Jo March do?”

Road rage: don't do it!

Road rage: don’t do it!

Have you noticed lately how furious people in the street have become? I’m not talking about the obvious ones—rather, the ordinary, everyday person who could be your neighbor, your colleague, your relative. This fury—I think at the stresses of modern life—manifests in random acts of anger and retaliation, ranging from the minor to the serious. This month, for example two young women in Melbourne were abused and followed when one inadvertently brushed another woman with her bag on a tram.

My last post was about rediscovering the children’s book Little Women. I talked about how the book has strong moral overtones, and I’d like to add the thread that runs through the book of dealing with anger, the sort of anger that can bubble up as a result of minor occurrences in everyday life. The character of Jo March has to learn to control her anger, and her mother advises her to bite her lip rather than give an angry retort. Well, I have been trying this too in the few days since I finished the book. I can report that it really does work! It helps so much to keep the peace with those around you. So, next time you’re tempted to lose your temper, ask yourself, “What would Jo March do?”

I want to talk mostly in this post of the aforementioned furious people, the ones who need so little provocation to unleash an angry reaction. Here’s an example: a few years ago, I got on a tram and was fumbling in my wallet for my fare. A well-dressed thirty-something woman virtually pushed me aside, furious that I was taking a few seconds extra, purchased her ticket then grabbed the last seat, next to the machine. I smiled at her and said politely, “I was only going to take a few more seconds”. Her well-spoken reply was, “Dickhead”. I was shocked.

Everywhere, I see drivers furiously swerving and making their tyres screech in a bid to get past someone, to beat a red light, to get round an intersection before pedestrians get to that part of the road. Just a few months ago, an ambulance was rushing along the main road in my suburb, lights flashing and siren blaring. As it approached a major intersection, the “cross now” sign went for pedestrians. I was astonished to see them actually running to try to get across before the ambulance, rather than waiting for a few seconds for the vehicle to pass.

It seems to me that many wars are started because people are angry as a result of being jealous, greedy, impatient, or intolerant, or all of them. But on a much smaller scale, in our everyday lives, we also show these traits. Maybe if we could learn to be less  jealous, greedy, impatient and intolerant, we would avert not only day-to-day anger, but also the sort of anger that eventually causes huge, evil events such as wars.

What I want to say, on behalf of peace, is that we need to practise peaceful behavior every day. Now, I don’t mean not sticking up for ourselves against injustice and bullying. They are quite different matters. I mean, don’t allow small events to build up and enrage you against everyone and everything. Don’t unleash this fury when it’s not going to lead to a positive change.

So don’t toot and shake your fist at a driver who has just cut in front of you; don’t tailgate someone just because they’re not going as fast as you would like; don’t yell obscenities at someone who may have simply made a mistake.

Here’s an example of how positive behaviour can work for the better. One day, I had stepped out on a pedestrian crossing at the university where I work. A car approached and seemed about to stop, but then accelerated. At the last moment, the driver saw me and stopped abruptly. I was about to say something rude about her driving skills, when she looked me in the eye with a big friendly smile of contrition and mouthed “SORRY!” My nasty words stuck in my throat, and instead of yelling at her, I smiled back, said, “It’s OK”. Both of us, I’m sure, had a better day than we would have, had I directed my anger at her.

And finally, in this, my first post for the Bloggers for Peace cause (which you can also access via the button on the right-hand side), I’d like to share two stories of kindness that promote peace and goodwill in our community.

Firstly, last winter I was catching the train home from work one day. It was very dark outside and as we drew close to my station, sheets of rain were falling. I had no umbrella, as the rain was unexpected. So, I prepared for the walk home in the rain by saying to myself, “It’s only water”. Anyway, just as I got out on the path and started striding toward home, a young woman, a stranger, ran to catch up with me. “Would you like to share my umbrella?” she said. I gratefully accepted, and learned she was an exchange student from China.

The second story occurred when I was at our local shopping plaza. I had used the ATM to withdraw some cash, went in to the supermarket, picked up a basket and walked down the nearest aisle. Suddenly, a voice beside me said breathlessly, “Excuse me, excuse me!” I turned toward the voice: she was wearing a burqa, and all I could see were her eyes, full of concern. She continued: “You withdrew $50 from the ATM—but you forgot to take it.” She held out her hand and gave me the $50. I thanked her profusely and I felt as if there was some hope yet for humanity.