The family secret

I don’t remember what prompted my desire for a family motto – perhaps I read something somewhere, or it might have been from a talk I heard. But coming up with a family motto had been on my mind for several weeks when the 5yo produced this one day:

IMG_6153

Kung Fu Panda may or may not have had something to do with this, but I thank Po and his friends all the same because it’s perfect. It really is.

Last year was my Year of Kindness, and being kind is something that’s been very much on my mind. I’ve been working with the kid to encourage kindness and awareness of it, and even though I think the message is sinking in, I’ve also given her a heads-up: this is probably something I’ll keep reminding her of for the next 15 years.

Courage is a word we don’t hear very often these days, and it always reminds me of two things: the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz, and this from the Bible.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

For me, that has always been about braving new adventures, starting new chapters, trying new things. It’s something that really strikes close to home (heart), particularly in the last couple of years, and I guess it’s also stuck with me because I’ve always found the prospect of it exciting.

Have courage.

Be kind.

If we can learn what and how it is to live out these things, then we won’t have done too badly at all.

2015 is my Year of Kindness

Continuing on from my last post about the importance of being uncomfortable

I used to write every January about my “theme” for the new year ahead. I didn’t this year because by the time I got around to actually typing out the words, it was June. (And now it’s September.) But I knew my theme – in fact, I’d known it since October or November last year. 2015 is supposed to be my Year of Kindness.

If we would all just make the effort to be kind to other people, it wouldn’t solve all the world’s problems, but it would, to invoke the cliche, “make the world a better place”. It might seem like a small, woefully inadequate thing to give a homeless man a meal or some clothes, especially in light of a global refugee crisis, but maybe it’s better to make a small difference even to one person than to do nothing at all? Maybe the point is not to try and fix everything, it’s that we would all do our best in the little windows of opportunity that we get as we go about our daily lives.

As I’ve discovered, it’s easy to be kind to our friends or people we know and like. It’s easy to be kind in passing to a stranger on the street – someone I can slip a couple of dollars and then forget about as I walk away. It’s really easy to make a donation to a worthy cause. It’s not always easy to reach out to someone in need, a family struggling to get through a tough time or a person who I know needs a listening ear, especially when I know that’s going to take up time and energy and – heaven forbid – cause me inconvenience.

Compassion is a good thing, but it’s only the start. Kindness, doing something, that’s the second step. I was moved when I read about the Germans who welcomed Syrian refugees into their country with open arms, food and clothing. I don’t think the German government, or any other government that has stepped up to the plate to do their part in this crisis, is under any delusions about the long road ahead. I can’t even imagine what it must be like for these refugees or what they’ve gone through. Resettlement of the fleeing and displaced millions is going to be neither convenient, comfortable nor easy, but like I said in my previous post, I think we’re past that point.

I also believe that kindness can be found in many forms, from small acts to grand gestures. We admire great acts of bravery and generosity and goodness because those are the ones we hear about from the media. But really, just because an opportunity comes wrapped in a small package doesn’t make us any less kind or our act any less significant – as long as we take it. That’s something I really wanted to work on this year, and I’m hoping to get better at it.

The importance of being uncomfortable: what I learned from the Syrian refugee crisis

I’m embarrassed to say it took the photo of Aylan Kurdi to finally wake me up to the reality and urgency of the Syrian refugee situation. You know, that photo of the three-year-old toddler who washed up on a beach. I almost thought the photo was doctored at first, because it was so shocking and confronting. And this is awful but true: would I have been just as affected if it had been an adult man instead of a cute toddler? I don’t know.

In his NYT column “Refugees Who Could Be Us”, Nick Kristof makes some excellent points about the current situation (so go check it out because I’m not repeating them here). To read the news these days is to subject yourself to the horrors of the world in which we live – partly because tragedy and bad news sell and so publications are extra motivated to stuff those down our throats – and when I came across this piece about Icelanders volunteering to house Syrian refugees, I swear I got a little bit emotional.

My dad has many faults, but one of the things I did get from him was generosity – I’ve always been happy to give to others. Would I, however, open up my home to strangers in need? Honestly, no. I could give you all the practical (and valid) reasons why I wouldn’t, couldn’t, shouldn’t, but the first reason that leaps to mind is simply this: I wouldn’t because it would be uncomfortable for me.

That’s when it hit me: what if we, the fortunate and privileged citizens of the world, are past the stage of being comfortable? Too much is going on, too little is being done, and we who are able and have plenty no longer get to hide in our cosy cocoons of willful ignorance. I’m not talking about just Syrian refugees or even other refugees, of which there are thousands if not millions more, I’m talking about lack and pain and suffering everywhere we look.

I’m not ready to house refugees, nor do I have a plan to change the world. Words are cheap and they mean even less when I’m typing them from the comfort of my home – I know that. But I can’t un-realise what I already do, and more importantly, I don’t want to. If knowing all this makes me uncomfortable, if coming face to face with my selfishness makes me uncomfortable, then so be it. The human race as a whole is long past the point of “being comfortable” anyway; just because most of us are less affected, blissfully unscathed even, doesn’t mean we get to ignore what’s going on.

The kid’s doing her school production this week, and whether by chance or circumstance, her class is singing ‘Man in the Mirror’. That’s one of my all-time favourite Michael Jackson songs, and we’ve been listening to the song on loop a fair bit. The lyrics touch on poverty, homelessness, grief, death and a “washed-out dream”, which, in light of what happened to Aylan Kurdi, seems to have been injected with new meaning.

And then, as if that weren’t enough, I found out that the whole school is also going to sing ‘We Are the World’, which, again, made the tiniest lump appear in my throat this morning when I played it for the kid and we started singing along.

(Part 2: 2015 is my Year of Kindness)