Life on Mean Street

monkeysI see meanness all around me: mean employers trying to make their poorest employees work harder and harder for less and less money; mean local councils cutting back on maintenance of community streets and venues; mean people in car parks crashing into other cars and then just leaving, or nipping into a park to beat someone else; drivers not stopping for pedestrians on crossings; mean governments making the rich richer and the rest poorer; mean countries trying to invade and take over other countries; mean institutions making everything into a competition that participants must fight in to the (figurative) death.

Yes, it’s a mean old world out there. My late father once told me, “Life’s not fair”, but so much unfairness (just another word for meanness) need not be so.

Here’s my list of how to make the world a kinder and more peaceful place just by not being mean:

*Governments: you are the servants of the people. Your most important loyalty is not to the party, but to those whom you serve. Your priority is not a career path for yourself, free travel, or becoming so power-hungry you forget your real role. Your job is to make the country better for the people, not worse. Your job is not to make a few rich people get richer. It is to promote equality for all, and a decent life in which people are safe, comfortable, educated and treated humanely. Warmongering is not on.

*Employers: don’t try to make people work for less and less. Hire good people, reward industrious workers, give them proper jobs with holiday and sick pay. They will reward you by wanting to work harder (as opposed to being forced to), because they will love the business they’re in. Instead of fearful drudges, you will have an enthusiastic, happy team with you who want your company to be profitable.

*Drivers: just chill out. No matter how much you speed, weave in and out of traffic, toot your horn, monster the car in front or rip through a pedestrian crossing, you’ll probably only cut one or two minutes off the journey. Also, you might crash, and at the very least, you’ll make life miserable for others. There’s a great Greek word that covers this: “endaxi!” (relax). And if you happen to dent a parked car, own up and leave your contact details on a note.

*Neighbours: if a tree from the property next door drops some leaves on your side, it really doesn’t matter. Learn your neighbours’ names, say “Hi” to them, don’t leave nasty notes on their car like you own the road if they happen to park in a spot in front of your place.

So, to answer this month’s B4Peace challenge from Kobo at Everyday Gurus, How would you teach children to promote a more peaceful world?, my answer is that I would teach them not to be mean. This starts at the most basic level in the playground: share your toys, don’t hit others, coming first is not the most important thing, and if you see someone fall down, help pick them up. And here is some more great advice on how to make a more peaceful world.

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Don’t get mad…

Ever heard the missive “Don’t get mad, get even”? I agree with the first half of this statement, because getting mad serves no positive purpose at all. When you get angry, your stress levels go way up, you do and say things you haven’t properly thought out and that you’re usually sorry for later. Also, you make the place unpleasant for those around you.

I’m not talking about a situation in which your safety is threatened—getting angry for survival is different. I’m talking about everyday life: the times we thump the table at a pathetic or biased story on the TV news; that we grimace or gesture at a driver on the road who’s done something stupid; or that we yell at our partner for something trivial.

There was a mega-selling book that came out in 1997 called “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff”. I never actually read this book, but I loved its title. This is because, much of the time, I DO sweat the small stuff, and know I shouldn’t. My brother once made the comment a few years ago, “Oh, Caron will worry enough for all of us”. Ever since then, I’ve tried to stop worrying so much, because worry can so easily lead to anger. I don’t always succeed, of course.

Think of all that energy we expend on being angry, and how much better placed it would be directed to constructive things. Instead of yelling at poorly constructed stories on trashy current affairs shows, for example, I should paint a picture or go for a walk.

The Crayon Files

“Rays’ Ways”, pastels,  ©Caron Eastgate Dann, 2011

Speaking of pictures, surrounding yourself with beautiful art is a great way to help you feel less angry and more peaceful. You can even make your own art using inexpensive materials. Give it a go—you’ll be surprised what you can do, even if you haven’t tried since childhood. The picture on this page of rays under the sea was one of the first I did when I took up art three years ago, and it always makes me feel peaceful.

I’ve written this post in response to Kozo’s monthly challenge over at Bloggers for Peace. The challenge is to write about the one thought you will focus on this year to bring more peace. So, instead of “Don’t get mad, get even”, I would like to change that saying to, “Don’t get mad—get happy”. I think the world would be a much better place if everyone kept this in mind during their everyday lives (with the aforementioned exception, of course). Over at her blog Delightfully Different Life, the writer D. S. Walker also answered this challenge, and explains how happiness can be found in simple ways.

‘Tis the season

I’m with Goldfish over at Fish of Gold: I’m not much good at parties these days. I haven’t hosted a party for years, and the only ones I go to are those connected with very important events, such as weddings, engagements and special birthdays.

When I was young, I loved parties. The dressing up, the social interaction, the laughing, the music, the dancing. Now, you couldn’t pay me to leave the comfort of my home at night, pay zillions for taxis and stand around making small talk to people while the music’s so loud, we can hardly hear ourselves think.

So when I read that the last Bloggers for Peace challenge of the year was to plan a party “that will ripple peace to the world”,  I groaned.

Then I started to think about it: is there any requirement that a party have a specific number of people, or that it even needs to be away from home? No, I don’t think there is.

 What is it? Why it's my novelty snow dome bottle stopper, of course, and it comes out only at this time of year.


What is it? Why it’s my novelty snow dome bottle stopper, of course, and it comes out only at this time of year.

So, my peace party would be this: gather together the loved ones in your house or invite some dear friends or family over. No texting, checking Facebook or other anti-social activity while this is going on.

Cook a beautiful but simple meal. In the words of one of my friends: “make a salad, bake some potatoes, and put some steaks on the barbecue. Other ideas are to make a huge paella that everyone can dig into; or serve a steaming platter of spaghetti marinara with salad and crunchy bread.  Include something sweet at the end, even if it’s just ice cream (have you SEEN the fancy flavours now available? Lemon meringue, coconut lime, and passionfruit pavlova are among them).

Open a bottle of wine—or, if alcohol isn’t your thing, make luxurious hot chocolate (here’s a stunning Jamie Oliver recipe). Put on your favourite music—not too loudly—and talk to each other. Tell jokes, laugh, talk about the people you miss, talk about the funny things you have done together.

If you celebrate Christmas, consider having a low-key day like this. It will be peaceful and relaxing, not too expensive, and you’ll avoid the stress of the “more is more”, overly commercialised stupidity that has hijacked the season.

If we all spent less on holiday celebrations and had our own peaceful, modest parties instead, then donated the money saved to some effective charities, we could go a long way to making the world a better place for millions of people.

My (un)natural enemy: Old Father Time

Tick tock, tick tock...time is getting away. Photo ©Caron Eastgate Dann

Tick tock, tick tock…time is getting away.
Photo ©Caron Eastgate Dann

“Time has got the better of me”

“Time got away on me”

“Where has the time gone?”

“Look at the time!”

In my bid to live a peaceful life, I am constantly assailed by this most human of ailments: worry about time, both long-term and short-term. There is, it seems, never enough time to do all the things I have to do as well as all the things I want to do.

This column is written in response to this month’s Bloggers for Peace challenge over at Everyday Gurus. Kozo asked participants to confront their greatest enemy. You can read more on that and what others thought here.

The truth is, I think Old Father Time is best not confronted at all: ultimately, we will never beat him. So let’s just ignore him. Some enemies are best unfaced, unacknowledged, uncredited.

I saw a wonderful story on a current affairs show this week. It was about a group of seniors aged 67-97 who do hip hop dancing: yes! The group, Hip Op-eration, have this year competed in the World Hip Hop Dance Championships in Las Vegas. These people are so full of life, it gave me a great boost. If you want to see more about the challenge, click here. One of the responses I particularly liked was this one, from Breathing Space, about the enemy within.

Funnily enough, this week I lost my watch. It’s in the house—somewhere—yet it is nowhere to be found. Is someone trying to tell me something?

If everyone in the world did this…

As I am walking round my neighbourhood, I am always dismayed to see so much litter everywhere. Fast food wrappers, household refuse, the odd shoe, socks or even underpants (yes, seen this very morning in a lane way); whole bags of garbage, dumped by the side of the road, remaining there sometimes for weeks.

This is the sort of thing I see in the streets everywhere. You might not want to pick this up...

This is the sort of thing I see in the streets everywhere. You might not want to pick this up…

...But you might be able to bring yourself to pick this up. It's a crumpled bit of paper, in among the leaves and grass.

…But you might be able to bring yourself to pick this up. It’s a crumpled bit of paper, in among the leaves and grass.

The other morning, a shopping trolley full of rubbish had been abandoned near our local train station. It was still there, days later.

In public bathrooms, people scatter paper on the floor, instead of placing it in bins provided.

On the trains, passengers leave drink bottles, remnants of their lunch, or worse.

One day, at the university where I work, I saw a group of students sitting in a circle, where they had been eating lunch. They got up and walked away, leaving all their rubbish on the ground behind them.

At the central train station, Flinders St, in the Melbourne CBD one day, I saw a child aged about four throw away the wrapper to his snack, which his mother clearly saw but did nothing about.

Litter is polluting our waterways and killing marine life, making our streets dirty and hazardous, and hampering efforts to recycle as much as possible.

In the 1970s and 1980s there were campaigns against littering. “Don’t be a litter bug”, I seem to remember one going. We should revive these campaigns, because people have obviously forgotten.

I never litter. However, when I see litter on the street, do I pick it up? Sometimes, but usually not. It’s time for me to change.

And while I’m doing that, I’d like to start a trend. Wouldn’t it be good if every one of us, no matter where we lived, picked up one piece of litter from the street each day and put it in a bin? Think how much less trash there would be in the world then. It’s something that we can do with a minimum of effort and time, it doesn’t cost us any money, and collectively, we’d be doing the world a favour.

This is one of the rules I would make for the world if I could. This is my humble dream to promote peace. In a clean world, you can see and think more clearly, so a cleaner world is a more peaceful world.  I really believe that, which is why I have written this post for Kozo’s October B4Peace challenge at Everyday Gurus, which you can read about here. Another post I really liked this month, for its simplicity and honesty, was Claudia’s, in which she implores people just to be kind to one another. You can read her post here.

So wake up and smell the roses, like this one poking through a fence on my street...

So wake up and smell the roses, like this one poking through a fence on my street…

...and this one, a bit too high to smell, but adding its beauty to the street where I live.

…and this one, a bit too high to smell, but adding its beauty to the street where I live.

“I’m late! I’m late!”

IMG_2072It seems we’re constantly rushing in our stressful world. There’s never enough time: we’re always “running out” of it or it is “getting away” from us or “catching up” with us.

I had a friend in the 1990s who was constantly late for everything. When I asked him why this was, and asked if he didn’t think it was rude, he said he found it very strange to see people rushing everywhere constantly. “Because, you rush rush, rush to get somewhere, only to sit down for hours when you get there,” he said.

He had a point, and I’ve never forgotten it. You rush, rush, rush to get to a restaurant, then sit down for a leisurely meal; you rush, rush, rush to catch the train, then sit down for the journey just filling in time;  you rush, rush, rush to get to a social engagement, then when you get there, you just sit down or stand and chat to people over a drink or a cup of tea. It goes on and on.

While I still think it’s rude to be late to an appointment, in pursuit of a peaceful life it’s worth thinking about how our perceptions of time intrude to heighten our stress levels. The Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-270BCE) said the recipe (no pun intended) for a peaceful life included freedom from fear of death. But when we’re constantly measuring time, freedom from this fear doesn’t seem likely for many people today.

In his novella The Time Keeper (2012), Mitch Albom notes that humans are the only beings who mark the passing of time and thereby dread mortality. Here is one of my favourite quotations from the book, one that so clearly expresses the angst at the centre of almost everyone in western society today:

“Try to imagine a life without timekeeping.

“You probably can’t. You know the month, the year, the day of the week. There is a clock on your wall or the dashboard of your car. You have a schedule, a calendar, a time for dinner or a movie.

“Yet all around you, timekeeping is ignored. Birds are not late. A dog does not check its watch. Deer do not fret over passing birthdays.

“Man alone measures time.

“Man alone chimes the hour.

“And, because of this, man alone suffers a paralysing fear that no other creature endures.

“A fear of time running out.”

We humans are so obsessed with counting seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years, and running our lives by the boundaries they impose, that sometimes we forget to stop along the way. Life seems tumultuous and anything but peaceful, because we’re constantly looking at our watches and hurrying along to get to the next place “on time”.

Lewis Carroll  used this idea in the character of the White Rabbit in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865). “Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!” he cries as he runs down the rabbit hole. In the Disney film, this becomes a song with the lyrics “I’m late! “I’m late! For a very important date!”

So what’s the best way to a peaceful life? I think we need to do less time-keeping and more living.

Another thing to think of is that we’re not the centre of the universe. In fact, we’re rather insignificant, as Sir David Attenborough so cleverly put it in Life on Earth, I think: if you imagine an entire beach, the earth is equivalent to just one grain of sand on it.

In the blogosphere, Goldfish has put life on earth in perspective with her post on finding peace through this insignificant position we hold, in which our petty ticking seconds with which we time our days mean absolutely nothing in the vastness of space. You can read her post here.

Funnily enough, this post is the result of being almost late—for this month’s Bloggers for Peace challenge to write about quotations that bring peace to the world. I’m in today in the nick of time. Whew!

Rock on!

rockonThe August Bloggers for Peace challenge on Everyday Gurus this month stumped me, I’ll admit it. While I love music—I grew up learning classical singing, had a piano at home which my mother played by ear,  have learnt piano and guitar and have an eclectic personal music collection—I didn’t know what I could add to a discussion about how music can bring or promote peace.

I could state the obvious: Give Peace a Chance by John Lennon and loads of hippie songs from the 1960s and so on. But everyone knows that.

 Music is probably the world’s most universally understood medium, thus it’s arguably the most powerful. The challenge, and my inability to come up with a worthwhile contribution, made me think, What do I really know about modern music?

This week, when my regular email from Coursera arrived, I clicked on it, and skimmed the list of courses offered. (If you haven’t heard, Coursera is an online organisation that offers free university-level courses from many different universities to anyone who wants to sign up).  My eye hit ‘The History of Rock Music’, and now I’m enrolled for the seven-week free music appreciation course starting Monday.

I know you don’t need to do a course to appreciate music, but I’m interested in finding out more of the background to great US music from the 1950s on. The course instructor has done the hard work for me, and promises I will discover musical tastes and directions I never knew existed. It’s a free course, so I have absolutely nothing to lose.

Plus, it seems to me that spending a few hours a week listening to wonderful music will help promote harmony in my life–in the same way as my painting takes me away from rules, words, work, timetables, worries. I will keep you posted on how it goes!

My talking Ozzy Osborne doll. But more about him and the other three Osborne dolls in a post for another day...

My talking Ozzy Osbourne doll. But more about him and the other three Osbourne dolls in a post for another day…

 Update, October 20: I’ve finished the first ‘History of Music’ course on Coursera and got 100%! I’ve now enrolled for part two of the course coming up soon. It was fascinating the way the course covered so much in such a short time. I’d imagine the most difficult part was deciding what to leave out. I can now appreciate much more strongly the musicians of the 1960s, who I’d not had much time for previously.

Dear Media…

This month’s challenge at Bloggers For Peace is to write a letter to any person or group you like. As a former journalist for more than 20 years and now an academic teaching communications and journalism studies, I take a great interest in the media. While there are still some superb news organisations, so many have become harbingers of doom and gloom that I often don’t want to read or watch the news. I sometimes have to close my eyes or look away. One of my former teenage students, from the Middle East, said to me last year: “I cannot watch or read the news in Australia, because the only thing I see of my country is violence and war. We have our troubles, but that is not all we are.” While I appreciate that such things as wars and accidents and even shark attacks are news and need to be reported, I would like the media also to report some of the good things going on. I don’t mean sugar-coated fake stories about nothing much, but real stories with a positive angle. Here is my open letter to the media.
Dear Media
It seems that the ”news” these days is full of awful things: crime, destruction, neighbours against neighbours, frauds, gangsters, political mud-slinging. No wonder your readership and viewership numbers are falling; no wonder few people want to pay for your online services.
As a result of this constant emphasis on the negative, you give a warped, unbalanced view of our society as a dangerous place in every way.
Imagine a media that restored the balance and actually reported the positive above the negative. It would be like this:
What the media show us: stories about drunken or drugged footballers behaving badly.
What I want to see: stories about footballers doing good work. Some are doing degrees at university; some are doing amazing charity work; some just have interesting stories or an interesting skill apart from their sports, e.g. painting, singing, dancing; and let’s have more stories about actual sports, particularly women’s sport.
What the media show us: stories about neighbours at war
What I want to see: stories about neighbourhoods with initiatives to make their area a better one in which to live, e.g. communal gardens. There is  a street down the road from me that has a little bit of open land with a tree. They turned this into a communal outdoor lounge room over summer, where families could meet, children could play and neighbours could get to know each other.
What the media show us: stories about con men and women who promise to cure cancer then rip off a person’s money; stories (really ads) about vitamins and supplements, quacks with this or that new miracle diet.
What I want to see: stories about real advances in science from around the world. Stories about wonderful inventions and their inventors.
What the media show us: horrendous stories, with pictures, about wild or domestic animals who have been mistreated, abused, tortured. Sometimes this does have a positive result, such as a story this week about a kangaroo that had been shot with two arrows (but survived), which subsequently drove the person who did it to turn himself in. However, I didn’t need to see the pictures of this poor animal a hundred times over.
What I want to see: stories about the wonders of the natural world and about responsible ownership of pets.
What the media show us: stories about road rage, drunk driving, and stupid exploits or car chases.
What I want to see: investigations into our transport systems, what is really happening, and what some real solutions might be. Stories about initiatives to improve driving habits.

I could go on and on, but I’ll leave it there for today. What sort of stories would you like to see the media do?

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”.

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.