Australian Culture: Where Kindness Triumphs
For as long as I can remember, Australia has been “the lucky country”, a place of unlimited opportunities and potential if you’re willing to work. It is a place that tourists want to visit to experience its many beautiful locations. Many people have called Australia a multi-cultural oasis, a mixing pot of nationalities. Regardless of how Australians describe it, we co-exist peacefully and try not to hurt others, that’s the way we like it. Those people lucky enough to call Australia home should feel fortunate. Not many countries can claim to permit its citizens the right to a personal sense of freedom in all respects. Australians have the right to live a life as they see fit, so long as we abide by the laws set out by our Constitution. Australians have come to earn a much-deserved reputation of being welcoming, compassionate and respectful.
Recent tragic events, such as the Gippsland bushfires, have opened my eyes to the extent of our generosity and how lucky we are to call Australia home. Thanks to the big-heartedness of the majority, the Australian people have shaped a strong and admirable reputation for themselves. Largely being acknowledged for the way we go about looking after our own, particularly in times of crisis, we always seem to find a way to raise the bar higher, giving our hard earned money so that victims of such tragedies may recover, animals can be rescued and firefighters kept well equipped. We open our homes to strangers, we donate food, clothing and other essentials to charities.
Volunteer workers are sometimes required to leave a paid job in order to serve the greater community. During the recent fires, many volunteer firefighters sacrificed their regular income and put their lives and properties at risk trying to save the lives and homes of other Australians.
Sadly, the current Covid-19 pandemic seems to have caused something to shift. Some of our citizens are treating fellow Australians with contempt; a minority is acting like spoilt and entitled brats. It’s enough for us to be in the battle of our lives with a deadly and invisible virus threatening our health and livelihoods. The attitude change by the minority is not pleasant or becoming; it’s ugly and something I want no part of.
Disturbingly, new stories emerge every day. Some people are changing. They are in a fierce battle to get their hands on the last packet of toilet paper, taking items from another shopper’s trolleys and emptying supermarket shelves without caring about the needs of others. Customers fight over items that are in short supply, while supermarket staff (doing their best in a terrible situation) work grueling shifts, day after day with a smile so that WE can buy what we need. I feel sorry for these hardworking people who are subjected multiple times daily to COVID-19 induced anger
Treated disrespectfully, the young people who are largely employed by these supermarkets, go home each day, probably feeling internally broken at the hands of us, the consumer. Consider putting your own anxiety-induced anger to use in another way. Take a minute and think about these workers; after all, like most of us, likely have stuff they are dealing with on a personal level. Whether it be physical or mental health issues, money worries or family worries. Like us, they are experiencing the same fears and emotions surrounding the current state of our world, worrying about family members, what will happen in the future.
Given this, abuse from angry customers will serve to increase any personal issues and depression. Such dark places are not like a stay at a luxurious hotel, nor are they anything like having no toilet paper! Mentally ill induced dark places are debilitating and can strangle the life out of a vulnerable person, the abuse these workers receive today may impact their ability to go to work the following day. From my experience in the Covid-19 crisis, the inability to be able to practice my photography without feeling intense guilt is slowly having that same dark debilitating effect, though I can try to help myself by taking my camera with me when I go for a walk. For the poorly treated supermarket workers, however, long term consequences may result. So please, think twice before taking your Covid-19 frustrations out on the people who are keeping our country running.
I try to avoid thinking about the compulsory hotel quarantine that the government has recently made compulsory for returning travelers. These people are being quarantined for two weeks at luxurious accommodation at the taxpayers’ expense, an allocated food budget, free laundry services and medical care available. The sad reality is that most of these people made the choice to travel overseas despite government warnings not to do so, they did not need to travel, they could have stayed at home like most of us. Yet, an influx of safety advice was ignored, and some Australians still chose to travel.
The demand placed on our government is immense with a constant and unrelenting pressure to bring these travelers home, simply because they are Australian and entitled. The travelers’ expectation that they could simply slot back into their homes, into society, unnoticed without observing the self-isolation rules and potentially causing COVID-19 to spread, has in turn led to the tougher restrictions we face today. Consequently, returning Australians have no choice but to be confined to a hotel room for 14 days, thank goodness for us. But according to some of these returned travelers, they are being hard done by, treated like criminals and being denied their basic human rights. Maybe they’d prefer to be accommodated at Christmas Island? Lots of fresh air but nothing at all like a luxurious hotel.
To say we all fit into this box of ungratefulness, however, would be unfair to most Australians. There are many feel-good stories, stories that demonstrate we are largely still a country embracing the spirit we’ve become well known for. Adult children (myself included) taking care of ‘at risk’ family members by shopping for them, picking up their medications from the pharmacy, providing them with resources to help prevent boredom and many other gestures that may seem small but which provide these ‘at risk groups’ with comfort and assurance that they have not been forgotten during their time in isolation. This doesn’t have to be a family member either, a neighbor who lives alone, an elderly person living close by, a single parent stuck at home and struggling with the consequences of such strict restrictions. A small but thoughtful gesture can go a long way.
The Story of the Purple Swing
I have a story to share regarding helping another family who recently moved into our neighborhood and are now struggling due to a loss of income. We met for the first time today, and probably won’t speak again for some time, which is a shame given they, like us, they have two young girls. When the COVID-19 restrictions were beginning to ramp up, they hung a bright purple swing from a tree that sits on the nature strip of their home, lots of safe fun to be had for their kids.
However, arriving home recently, I was shocked to discover the swing had been cut down and had a note attached to the tree. Without going into detail, the family had put the swing up to provide their children with something fun and a distraction during this difficult time. For some unknown reason, a passerby decided to cut the swing, which is irreparable and sits sadly on the ground under the tree where it once hung. The note written by the mother ‘thanked’ the perpetrator for taking the swing and fun away from her children. The note went on to reveal that a family member had recently lost employment due to the COVID-19 pandemic and would not be able to afford to replace the swing.
We often explain to our daughters that we all need to act with kindness, with respect and treat others the way that we want to be treated. So, imagining this happening to your own children is heartbreaking, and I ask why someone would act in such an ugly way? There’s no justification; it makes no sense. Happily, a silver lining occurred. Today, a brand new, portable swing has been rehung on the same branch, and it looks like fun. Upon reading the note left by the mother, we knew the neighborly thing to do was to replace the swing. The children’s mother expressed her gratitude to us and later in the day, we observed the children laughing and enjoying the swing, providing us with a much-needed feel-good moment. We also had some chalk to give them (there is currently a shortage of chalk!). Whilst our children may not be able to get to know each other, due to current social-distancing rules, maybe they can meet from across the street, while painting our court full of bright and beautiful rainbows, and maybe in time, they will be able to come together from each side of the street, to truly meet, play and share the experience of a much loved push on the swing with each other, creating bright and beautiful childhood memories.
There is a lot to be learnt here, above all, we need to remember we are all people and regardless of where we’re from in the world, what job we do or don’t currently have, we’re all sharing the same horrible reality and it’s a harsh reality that slaps us in the face each morning as we wake to face another day. For most of us, we are coping in the best way we know how. All we can do now is try to remember that this virus has not made us into enemies, and we should not be directing our anger, uncertainty and fear at one another. This is especially the case for the people who continue risking their own health in order to serve us – the nurses, doctors, medical specialists and supermarket attendants, retail workers — as they are as vulnerable as we are.
Instead of getting angry and taking our anger out on others, a more positive approach is to seek ways to help ourselves and others. This doesn’t have to be a large and expensive gesture, for it’s the thought that counts and will be remembered the most. Like the friend giving us strategies to help manage the kids stuck at home, the person listening as we express our inner most feelings, the person at the check-out who has had to sanitize their hands to the point of extreme dryness, the people willing to go the extra mile for someone in need.
Above all, I believe the best feeling is knowing we’re all on the same team and willing to do what it takes to get us all through this and towards what I choose to believe will be an improved way of life post COVID-19. A pandemic of this magnitude simply can’t have been for nothing. So whether it be a swing or a simple chat across the street, know that your small gesture of kindness does not go unnoticed and during such times of extreme hardship, it’s important that we can be the best version of ourselves possible, not just for ourselves, but for the greater good of the community in which we live.
Lastly, from myself, the Picture Healer, my thoughts are with you and your families as we navigate our way through 2020. This is not an easy time for any of us and I sincerely hope you are in good health, both physically and emotionally.