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.

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.

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.

“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: 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.