Turning 37

This week I am turning 37 and I was reflecting on what I’ve learned thus far in life and what that would mean to a 17 year old me. In our world heavily influenced by busy lives, media portrayls of perfection and the ‘good life’, I wondered, what would I do differently if I could go back.

I would stop criticising my body and all of my perceived imperfections. I would recognise that I was perfect the way I was (still am!) and my body is more than something to look at.

I would not let anyone stop me from exploring my dreams. I wouldn’t feel swayed to follow a particular path, I would choose my own experiences, make my own decisions.

I would be much more careful about relationships.

I would explore more of the world, have more adventures and be more in nature. After having kids, this becomes more difficult, not impossible, but certainly there is a regret for the things I could have done when it was easier.

I would take better care of my body with how I move and what I eat. I would pay more attention to the niggles, and do ALL of the exercises my physio gave me.

Becoming intentional is about learning from the past and making better, informed and deliberate decisions today, tomorrow and in the future.

Intentions for a better world

Idealised versions of a better world have been around for as long as humans have been able to write. Since receiving my ‘enrol to vote’ card at 18 where the AEC had assumed I wanted to save dolphins, until now, my understanding of the world has changed and grown in immeasurable ways.

This blog and my life have become almost solely focused on how our intentions, or lack of, affect our ability to change things in our worlds. Reading about the idea of the stranger in my course this week, the topic of civil inattention (Goffman) seemed so apt at this stage of Victoria’s continued stage four lock down due to coronavirus. Goffman argued society has coped with not knowing the never ending surge of faceless strangers by learning to not pay attention, to pretend we are not concerned with our own image and how we are constantly scrutinised or evaluated. And the result of this, argued by Bauman (1990) is a sense of moral indifference. Perhaps it is the inattention society experiences that leads many Victorians to protest and argue against our Premier’s lock down extension on the basis of freedom. The moral indifference leads to heartlessness and disregard for the needs of others (Bauman 1990, p. 70) and could explain the individualistic nature of members of society. Yet, the plan for Victoria promises to protect those most vulnerable; a less-political and more accommodating view of society than one could generally hope for from a politician.

As individuals, we can make a difference. We can show up for our neighbours, work hard to pay attention to others. Be engaged and watch out for our own moral indifference. For those who have enough, we can look out for those who don’t. We can share, we can help, we can care.

This is the end of the three – part series on the post-pandemic world. Part 1 and Part 2 are available.

Life after coronavirus

This pandemic feels as if it will never end but there is no shortage of blogs, articles and discussion about the ways the world will change post-pandemic. As is the nature of an emerging career in sociology, and my own critical mind, I am unfortunately reluctant to believe things will change, much.

One of the main positives will no doubt be the increased flexibility for those who want to work or study from home. Universities, employers and other institutions have been forced to adapt, and it was overdue. The Government’s support of telehealth for medical appointments has also been a welcome change. Although it’s not clear how this will play out post-pandemic, we can certainly assume there will be a shift change in this direction.

The impact of coronavirus on the world’s economy will see significant changes to business; many will not survive the extensive lock downs and changes to consumer accessibility. Many people have lost their jobs (over a million estimated in Australia in 2020 alone) as a result of the sweeping changes to stop the spread, and ultimately to reduce deaths. Technology changes including automation were already beginning to show how the job market may change, and there are reports of this taking effect already. The current generation who have just entered the job market will face economic losses over a lifetime compared with previous generations who have not been subject to a recession.

Many hope the pandemic will increase the sense of community, and bring people closer together. While we know people do come together in natural disasters, this pandemic affects every person on our planet, and although in the beginning there was a focus on ‘all being in this together’, the continued requirements to stay home seem to be gradually causing greater mental health concerns. As the population feels more isolated and depressed about the future, are they likely to reach out and find ways to connect with their community? Or are they more likely to avoid the entire situation and focus on short-term entertainment highs?

The increased levels of welfare from the state in the form of payments like JobSeeker and JobKeeper, and payments to businesses have shown us how a larger welfare structure may benefit the whole of the country. It’s also illustrated that it is possible. Certainly not sustainable at all levels, but it does raise a critical question about the structure of our government and whether the Universal Basic Income may be a good way to future proof economic stability when further pandemics are highly likely.

We have seen those most vulnerable be more affected by this crisis, than those with more advantages, both socially and economically. The majority of those who could ‘work from home’ were those with higher paid jobs, and fewer were stood down or made redundant. Those who were impacted greatly were those in hospitality and retail – casual and insecure work without a safety net. Of course, the transport industry have been affected in terms of air travel – with thousands stood down – but many of those were perhaps able to secure other work with extensive skills.

Many of those who were essential were in roles that were considered lower status, including delivery drivers, meat works, grocery workers, cleaners (and lots more!). These jobs have proven their essential status in a time when without them, the world would stop. Of course, those working in any type of healthcare role are possibly the most important, yet also the most likely to contract the virus. Perhaps we will learn to value all people and all jobs more equally?

The impact of travel restrictions will limit movement but it certainly has not slowed down online shopping. Despite the role globalisation has played in this pandemic, and the reduction in emissions highlighting the possibility of actually changing climate changes’ dire path for our Earth, most of us don’t seem able or willing to make behaviour changes for the greater good. In this sense, it’s fair to wonder if it would ever be possible?

So what will it look like? It’s impossible to guess, it is a question many of us will ponder, and likely a lot of academic research will take place to try to answer the question. The intersection of globalisation, neoliberal politics and economics, and the interconnected nature of humans will certainly all play a role in our future. While some reports are extremely optimistic, my own feelings are that there will be some big changes in work environments but that overall, much will remain the same.

What will the future hold?

Part one in a three part series exploring the post-pandemic world

The news cycle is rampant with stories of hope and optimism about the way Victorians have ‘come together’ during this period of harder lock downs. Questions are asked about the way the world will look post-pandemic; and the opportunities we as a wider community must embrace. But what is likely?

Is it more likely that the current neoliberal political and societal structures that render us individuals first, community second, will prevail? Neoliberalism doesn’t work because existing social inequalities in terms of wealth, and access to healthcare and education are being reproduced through government policies.

The rise of populism in politics has given way to a mindset of nationalism, whereby our country is more important than another. Whereby, our state or territory must be put first. The NT Chief Minister Michael Gunnar has confirmed the Northern Territory will have strict border closures for at least 18 months. He says his job is to put the NT first. What does this mean for Australia? This social polarisation between states is made possible by neoliberal politics which accompany a decline in trust of experts and a fear of the ‘other’. Furthermore, distrust builds from conspiracy theories which give rise to alarming ideas about how to manage the pandemic, and what it means for all of us.

The welfare system set up following the Great Depression in America which made possible welfare systems across the globe has been eroded over the past four decades. This progressive move away from providing basic needs for all represents the way society has shifted to see success as a result of hard work, with privilege and existing resources not considered as the primary drivers.

Many celebrities and members of the community claim coronavirus doesn’t discrimnate; but nothing could be further from the truth. While coronavirus will affect many people with wealth and priviledge, it is those with less access to healthcare and secure work who will be most impacted both economically and socially. Even if they avoid the virus itself, the increasing casualisation of the workforce may leave those on low incomes unable to provide for their families.

While Australia has put in place unprecedented social policies including JobKeeper and JobSeeker as well as other various supplements, they are not intended to extend beyond an initial period. The government has recently made changes to the criteria and timeline of the payments, but is it enough? Sentiment on social media from cursory research shows many people believe those breaching self-isolating orders are selfish. But without the data to know for sure, is it possible those people face not being able to pay rent, the mortgage or buy food for their families unless they go to work? Is it possible those who are most disadvantaged are seeing greater economic impacts due to the higher number of cases in their area; The Age thinks so. We know that the key hotspots in Melbourne are the most disadvantaged council areas. It isn’t difficult to understand why this is happening.

While those lucky enough to be able to work from home share their feelings about having to supervise their children who are either unable to attend childcare or doing remote, online learning, it is clear vast sects of our community have greater challenges to manage.

Panic buying of groceries peaked in the first lockdown in April 2020, but a surge of panic buying hit Melbourne and regional Victoria last week when stage four measures began. Although supermarkets report this has subsided and supplies of key items will be managed and available to all.

The widespread economic, social and political impacts raise a key question. How can we as communities be more resilient? Are communities coming together to help each other during this difficult time? Will the pandemic create a permanent shift in the social order and end neoliberalism?

The mental health impacts from this pandemic will be unimaginable, but it remains to be seen whether this will generate change, or whether the status quo will remain uncontested.

Part two will examine the way the pandemic is changing, or not, community resilience.

Self-directed learning

My children are only young but we have found a style of learning that works for us, and it’s called ‘self directed learning’. My husband and I went to traditional schools and our parents were traditional in their understanding of learning. And although we both survived and finished our schooling, we have both felt much more engaged in higher levels of university education where the objectives and parameters of projects are looser and have at least some degree of autonomy.

Knowing our children, we decided this was the way to move forward for their education. There is a big difference between school and education. Schooling is a system designed to produce workers. There are lots of good things about schools, but there are many drawbacks, especially for learners who are neurodiverse and will find the environment stressful. It’s fair to say, in our situation, engaging in a traditional school environment will actually cause more harm than good.

But we are now on the fringe; choosing a path that is considered odd and possibly irresponsible. There is a great freedom in choosing something different but it comes with a requirement to be thick-skinned and to be confident in your choices. Not something that is always easy; especially for some more than others.

During this pandemic, in 2020, what our learning looks like is different than what we hope it will look like one day. We are home-bound and that is almost completely fine, but we look forward to travel and engaging in cultural and social activities again.

In a typical day our children have complete freedom in their play; from watching videos of garbage trucks, to playing Minecraft, digging in the sandpit or building Lego. Our boys experience a world of freedom and imagination. For us, this meets their needs and allows them to reach their potential. Some will argue that at some point we all need to grow up and meet the expectations of others; a boss to earn a wage etc. But what will the world look like in 20 years when my kids are ‘grown up’? Right now, we are experiencing a massive change in employment conditions due to the pandemic, and many of us hope things will change thereafter… But even so, the casualisation of the workforce over the past 10-20 years has changed the nature of work for young people. So no matter what happens, preparing our boys to be more self-directed feels like the right choice, for us.

We can’t know the road ahead, so we don’t know where it will lead. But for right now, we are focused on following their lead and engaging them in their interests.

The rebel, the black sheep

Growing up, the black sheep of the family was always considered a rebel and not a favourable person to be within an extended family.

Looking back on people I’ve known to be the rebel, I feel a respect for their confidence in eschewing social norms, the things that are expected of them.

Perhaps being a rebel is a way to feel more connected to our inner selves. Maybe the act of rebellion gives us a sense of power. Particularly for women who despite decades of feminism still do more housework, are expected to take pay cuts and career back steps to manage family life and work, to have perfect bodies and skin and do everything else in the exhaustive list.

I want to be the rebel. I will live how I see fit. I don’t mind being a black sheep!

Global panic: take control of the anxiety

Right now the entire world is in the depths of panic. Its grip on our society is tight; each action making each person just a bit more worried.

But, hope is not lost. Yes, this is a global pandemic. People are dying. People are losing their jobs.

We cannot control everything, we have to accept this. It’s even more important right now.

What we can control:

  • Our spending
  • Our saving
  • Our home environment and the anxiety level
  • Our engagement with our children
  • Our relationships with others
  • What we eat and drink (to an extent)

There is no doubt the fall out from this disaster will be something our children’s children learn about in school one day. Let us take lessons from this.

  • Build up savings
  • Examine your life and get rid of everything that isn’t important
  • Have lots of margin in your budget, wherever possible
  • Be empathetic towards others
  • Take only what you need

So many of us, me included, are so privileged. I can buy everything I need for a month in one shop. I have a home, we are not in financial distress. My kids are home all the time anyway. I don’t work. My husband works from home already. All of these things make it pretty easy for me to cope. But I’m a sensitive person and my current anxiety is about everyone out there who does have it tough. Everyone out there, all of the world.

Right now we have to be kind, we have to think of everyone. We have to do this to come out of this intact.

Are you priviledged?

Right now our world is turned upside down. It seems many are struggling with the changes coronavirus has brought to their lives even if they are not unwell or still holding a job.

In Australia, although many people did lose their jobs, the government have provided extensive funds to most of those affected.

Schools are teaching via distance education and parents are balancing crisis schooling with working or managing the needs of younger children, or any other combination of commitments.

One of the ways in staying mindful and practicing gratitude is focusing on the enormous luck and privilege I currently have.

I’m healthy and so are my family. We have enough food and abundant activities. We have nature and technology.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, try to take some time to focus on the positive aspects of your life. Recognise the ways in which you are privileged and hopefully this week reduce your stress levels and allow you to be more present.

Kids do well, if they can

Ross Greene has a powerful idea about how to reframe our thinking about kid’s behaviour. The objective of this book, and many like it, along with countless blogs, Facebook groups and experts in the fields of psychology, teaching, and social work, is to empower parents to step back and recognise their child is normal and healthy for acting out, for extreme behaviours that are challenging to deal with.

The reasons for extreme and challenging behaviour is usually because expectations are too high for that child at that time. Every child is different and normal development is a huge bell curve – what may be normal for one two year old, might not be possible for another child until they are three. As a society, as a result of standardised EVERYTHING, we have become obsessed with asking children to fit into tiny boxes of ‘norms’.

Enough! We have to stop this. We have to start changing OUR mindsets as adults and recognising kids do well, if they can.

This amazing graphic by @kweins62 illustrates this better than I could ever hope to explain in words.

Kids deserve to grow up knowing that we can see they are doing their best. Instead of punishing and criticising, how about we stop, listen, think and then act. How about we work collaboratively with children to help them meet reasonable expectations? How can we support parents to learn this information, to put it in practice in their busy lives? How can we give parents the tools to be calm and connected with their children?

What things can you do to connect with your children? To see them for who they are, not who you or society wants them to be?

3 ways to overcome perfectionism

I was chatting with a friend about how difficult I was finding this current season of parenting. We haven’t long moved house and its to be expected that chaos may still feel like the dominant aspect of home life.

I often feel overwhelmed and exhausted by clutter, disorganisation and mess. I know I’m not alone! The first instinct I have in those moments is to clean and tidy. But this reaction doesn’t help me long term, as I am not learning better skills.

Sit with discomfort – learning to slow down, stay with the feelings of discomfort and feeling unsettled is part of becoming more intentional and mindful. You can accept difficult things and let them pass over you more easily by noticing your reactions.

Don’t spring to better organising – while it’s true having systems helps, organising your stuff won’t fix the problem. Decluttering helps, but ultimately working on your emotions and contentment will lead to less impulse shopping and stop the flow of stuff.

Be open to sharing – tell friends how you are feeling or write in a journal or blog. Know you’re not alone in these thoughts and feelings. By sharing you encourage others to notice and accept their own feelings, and you have a chance to process things through talking or writing.

Know that taking small steps to accept yourself is such a crucial but hard thing to do. Remember to show yourself self compassion.