Are you an active and engaged citizen?

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‘For our country to develop, we need an informed and engaged citizenry. Citizens also need to have the skill, knowledge, and freedom to question those in power’

Are you an active and engaged citizen? I know that right now, I’m not a shining example of active citizenry.

The above words were spoken by Burmese revolutionary leader Min Ko Naing. Now, although I assume that most of my beloved readers are not Burmese citizens (although if you are – AWESOME – welcome!),  I believe that these words apply to even those of us fortunate enough to be living in the most developed parts of the world, particularly as they relate to the field of sustainability.

We are all busy, right? Work, kids, relationships, housework; all of them take away our most precious resource – time. At the end of the week it’s a challenge to stay awake long enough to watch the 7:30 airing of Better Homes and Gardens, let alone somehow find the time to become informed about such an incredibly diverse topic as sustainability and what the policies of our current government may mean for our children’s future.

Only two days ago, my husband and I had a large argument over the failings of democracy. He rallied hard against the disempowerment and subsequent disengagement that the average Australian feels from our system of governance. My response (and this invoked no small measure of guilty conscience on my part), was that it’s not necessarily the system failing in this context – it’s actually the citizens who are not doing their bit to create an informed and engaged citizenry.

In Australia we are blessed. We have the freedom and based on a mandatory education system, the vast majority should have the basic skill to question those in power. Yet, most of us choose not to. Is it lack of knowledge? Or is it an engagement issue?

The thing is, we need to start taking advantage of the amazing technology available, and the freedom that our democratic system allows; to challenge and question those in power. Particularly when it comes to issues like the environment, climate change, energy generation etc…

So, you may be thinking – enough of the lecture Verity, just give us some ideas, I’m very busy. Luckily (and this especially applies if you are living somewhere like the UK, Australia, New Zealand or the US), our governments and local representatives are fairly accessible. There are countless ways to become more informed, active and engaged so I have put a couple of ideas below for you.

  1. Pick a topic that you’re passionate about (climate change, education, foreign aid, the state of the ducks in your local park, whatever floats your boat).
  2. Contact your local member and/or the portfolio holder for that area via Facebook, Twitter, email, local council meeting or organised group (again, whatever works best for you). Voice your concerns; politicians typically get less feedback than you think.

Or if you can’t narrow it down to just one passion – fire off an email to your local representative, introducing yourself (remember, you’re a VOTER) and share a variety of your concerns. Even if your response comes from a staffer (which is likely), your concerns will have been noted.

So, give it a shot. What have you got to lose? Who knows, yours may be the contact to trigger action on an important issue!

Do it… Your Way

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As a teenager, I struggled with being different. Am I alone there? When all you want is to fit in, yet every move seems to be the wrong one, revealing yet another dimension of your ‘weirdness’. Crying at night because you feel alone and isolated.

But guess what I’ve learned since leaving high school? It’s ok to be different. In fact, being different is actually pretty damn awesome. So now, when I’ve found myself in a small town and the feeling of not fitting in is vaguely reminiscent of high school, I’ve finally learnt to embrace my differences.

Being different is what makes us interesting. (In my current locality, if someone is described as a weirdo, I make a mental note to get to know them). It makes us, us! It may be wearing different clothing, having an unusual accent or a different set of values to those around you, but whatever that difference is – learn to embrace it.

There seems to exist a fairly standard life plan that each of us living in most developed countries are handed upon birth. For Australians, the rough plan goes something like this – attend school, find some kind of job / career, get married, have 1.7 kids, buy the 4×2 house in the ‘burbs, own 2 cars and at least 2 televisions. Step outside this rough plan and you become ‘different’ or ‘unusual’.

A friend recently introduced me to a quote; ‘define the box, then step outside it’. I love this quote, but don’t think it quite goes far enough. Perhaps; ‘define the box, learn exactly how to not fit inside it, run in the opposite direction and build an octagon / hexagon (insert shape of choice)’ would be more appropriate.

H.D Thoreau put it slightly more poetically; ‘let each man march to the beat of his own drum’. Thoreau was writing in the late 19th century, but of late, his words seem to have been forgotten in the rush to fit in.

So, here’s my challenge to you. Find the beat of your own drum and try not to care if it’s different to your friends, families or neighbours. Challenge the life plan and work out what works for you. It may be turning your back on a life driven by advertising and material consumption to focus on quality over quantity, quitting the legal profession to pick bananas or even packing up and joining a commune. Whatever tunes your drum is playing, learn to listen, dance occasionally and hell- why not live your life, your way?

Spoilt Rotten

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Yep, I’m one of those parents. I spoil my child absolutely rotten.

But, just hang on a minute. Perhaps it’s not quite what you think.

I certainly don’t spoil my child with material goods; endless piles of toys or beautiful new clothes (because Gucci clothes are exactly what a 14month old dirt magnet needs). In fact by contemporary Western standards, my poor daughter is probably quite deprived. She has one half full basket that easily houses all of her toys (most of which are either handmade – more on this in another post – or are recycled from when I was a child), and I can count on one hand the items of clothing she owns that have been purchased new (most are either purchased second hand or hand-me-downs).

Nor do I spoil her with sweet treats and many culinary indulgences, particularly those of the highly processed, store purchased kind. Admittedly, I have been known to give her first go at freshly baked cookies and may have shared a cupcake with her on a recent trip to Perth (ok, I admit it – that was spoiling in the normal sense).

So if I don’t spoil her with toys, clothes or lollipops, then how on earth could I say that this poor deprived darling is possibly spoilt?

  • I ‘spoilt’ her by breastfeeding exclusively for 6 months and then continuing to feed according to need (yes, even at night, even while working) until she weaned herself last week.
  • We ‘spoil’ her by fiercely defending her right to clean air, free of cigarette smoke and will either publicly challenge those who impinge on this right, or simply remove ourselves from the situation.
  • We ‘spoil’ her by giving her the opportunity to explore the natural world, to eat mud and to take the occasional (ok, daily) tumble.
  • We ‘spoil’ her by defending her right to the innocence of a childhood that is as free as possible from advertising (no Disney branded clothing for us), absolutely minimal television time and limited exposure to the bombardment of advertising found in major supermarkets.
  • We ‘spoil’ her by ensuring that she regularly receives our undivided attention, without the distraction of television, iPhones or even the radio. Trust me – this hasn’t always been easy, particularly when juggling work and study with parenthood!

As a result of all this ‘spoiling’ we have a healthy, active and imaginative toddler who has amazing people skills.

So, you know what? I spoil my child and what’s more, I’m proud to do so!

How do you ‘spoil’ the babies in your life?