First Published 4th January 2015
They sit comfortably as a sea breeze funnels along the verandah and touches their skin. Chilled glasses of sparkling wine are held delicately in manicured hands. Three like-minded women are deep in conversation. The conversation, spontaneous in its evolution, is centred on how fortunate they are to live their mostly contented lives in Australia.
In their circle of family and friends their children have never had to worry about from where their next meal was to come; or if their water was safe to drink; or if they had shelter from the elements.
Their children are loved and rich with possessions. Their children have access to health care; education and the ability to one day earn a living regardless of gender or ethnic background. Their children are indeed fortunate, privileged really; and it is my hope that they and the generations to follow never have to fight for survival.
I am part of this conversation.
The children we speak of include mine.
In a perfect world no child or person would be exposed to, or have to endure suffering or hardship but our world is far from perfect. At any given moment in time many people on our fragile planet are being exploited, persecuted or are experiencing hardship due to the extremes of our climate. The exceptional circumstances they find themselves in are well outside of their control and influence and they fight to survive. I can’t begin to imagine what that would be like.
Whilst I don’t want my children to ever have to experience adversity to the levels we see and read about in news bulletins, I do want them to be exposed to some level of hardship in a way in which they can at least begin to understand and comprehend what adversity really is and genuinely appreciate what they do have. And if the unimaginable happens and they are placed in a dire situation, I want them to have the ability to endeavour to survive.
I want my children to have the confidence to reach out with care to another human being in need and not be afraid of what others might think but to reach out and offer solace because it is the right thing to do.
In life, I want them to be able to act instinctively as they contribute in a meaningful way to our society.
For our children to be the best they can be they must have empathy and compassion. They also need to be resilient and adaptable. These are traits which may be intrinsic but mostly they are learned.
Education is at the heart of this message.
You don’t have to leave our shores to encounter hardship; there are many examples of need and destitution in our own backyard. Broadly, Australian’s believe they are resilient and adaptable to change but I do question if we really have had those traits tested in recent times.
I believe the last three generations have been fortunate in life but has our resilience and adaptability really been put through its paces, that is beyond our adoption of technological toys?
When all is said and done are we truly able to deal with significant social and environmental change? Could we really cope with events of the magnitude we see all too often on our TV screens?
Australians from many cultures and diverse backgrounds, including our first peoples, have fought alongside our allies in wars on foreign and home soil. We endured conflicts we did not choose to engage in but were rather drawn into because of our allegiances.
We have succumbed to hardship and will continue to encounter drought, fire and flooding rain, pestilence and plague. We have risen in the face of adversity to overcome stark odds. By no means trivial, such events in our short history since colonisation have reinforced our resolve and strengthened our character as a nation and as a people.
How do we teach, model and impart the traits of resilience and respect to our children when their level of exposure to adversity, thankfully, is non-existent? Leading by example is one way and certainly living our life in a way which embodies empathy and compassion is fine start.
We may have grievances from time to time but in the scheme of things, from a global view, they are largely superficial. The next time you believe you have been dealt a cruel hand, a heavy blow or things just aren’t going your way, step back and put the situation into perspective.
If no-one has died or is seriously ill or has lost their home, then the matter is likely one which will soon settle in the archive of your memory, a place to learn from; and to grow from.
By all means give your children material gifts because you can, but give them a gift which money cannot buy, give them every opportunity to grow emotionally and to be able to discern the emotions of others.
With this most valuable gift they will be able to act with dignity, grace and self-respect and in-turn earn the respect of others.