Friday, January 27, 2017

Celebrate the Small Things:Australia Day

"Australia is a 21st century project being worked on by around 24 million people." - Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull.

These words were spoken during a citizenship ceremony in Canberra last Thursday: Australia Day. I've been thinking about what he said a lot since. His words resonate deeply with me. I find them both profound and inspirational.

January 26, 1788, was the day the First Fleet, led by the incomparable Captain Arthur Phillip, arrived in Sydney Cove and raised the British flag over a new penal colony. With a simple ceremony the British empire claimed another piece of 'empty' land as their own. 

January 26, 1788, was the day the white man came and dispossessed the Aboriginal inhabitants, ushering in a long period of human rights abuses against them. A number of Australians now call January 26, "Invasion Day" - not a day for celebration, but a day for mourning.

While the debate rages around me, I mostly avoid it and continue to celebrate Australia Day because I love my country, and I, as the PM stated, believe in our future. I understand and 'own' Australia's history, and the plight of Indigenous Australians fills me with regret and sadness, but I am not responsible for what happened. I am responsible for how I treat people now. I believe we can find our way to true reconciliation so I focus on all the good things.This is a great country. It is my home. I was born here, and I am thankful for that.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Celebrate the Small Things: Rules

Despite my aversion to Chinese take-away food, I placed an order with Happy Garden, and fifteen minutes after my call, I strolled down the road to collect my dinner. It is a short, and typically uneventful journey, which I have made on numerous occasions.

As I left home, I heard my second least favourite suburban sound: a leaf blower. (Why can't people just use a broom?) When I turned the corner, I saw the offending contraption being wielded by a neighbour. He was operating on the same side of the road on which I was walking. Blowing leaves and twigs from his driveway and the section of footpath which stretched across in front of his property. I came closer, he saw me, but continued his two-stroke puffing. On the assumption that he would cease his labour momentarily to allow me to pass, I continued. I even caught his eye, and nodded in the laconic masculine way we Aussie blokes acknowledge strangers.

When he didn't stop, I deviated off the footpath on to the road and
received a faceful of dust. Blinking furiously to clear the offending detritus, I was unaware of the man's dog running towards me. I only realized it was there when it jumped on me and began humping my leg. I turned to the owner who turned away, and when the dog was finished, it too, left me alone, and both returned to the private space behind the automatic gate which was closing.

I reckon this man broke a number of social rules; the worst of which was not apologizing. Thankful for the fact that none of the stuff he blew in my face damaged my eyes, and neither did his overly friendly dog do me any harm, I simply reflected on the fact the world is a better place when people are considerate of other people.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Celebrate the Small Things: Thoughts on the brain

A war is said to rage, in most men and women, between the head and the heart. The head refers to logic, to rationality, while the heart is the seat of our emotions. This is a metaphor obviously because as we know the heart only has one function: to pump blood around our body. Admittedly, it's a pretty important job, but the point is the heart is merely a muscle with no capacity for producing emotions.

Feelings are generated in our heads, by the chemicals produced in our brains. Does it disillusion you to know that the alleged battle between the heart and the head is really a civil war fought inside your cranium? Head V Head. Different parts of the brain fighting for control of the same territory.

Emotions are merely brain functions, but I wonder if how we feel is a product of how we think, or if it is the other way around. Aha! Another chicken and egg question.

In Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov challenges Svridrigailov about the morality of his pending marriage to a young woman much his junior, by saying: 'The fact is this monstrous difference in age and development excites your sensuality. Will you really make such a marriage?'

Svridrigailov replies, 'Why, of course. Everyone thinks of himself, and he lives most gaily who knows best how to deceive himself.'
(spoiler alert: read what happened to Svridrigailov below)

Most of us attempt to control our feelings by managing our thoughts, by restraining them as best we can, but for many this is an almost impossible task and one which, at the very least, is exhausting. Maybe I am the only one whose brain gives him as much trouble as it does pleasure. (What a strange confession.)

My brain controls all my body functions, and I earn a good living with my brain (as a teacher and a writer), but that same organ often gets me in all sorts of bother. A character on a TV soap* recently said that she wished she could take her brain out of her head for a just a few hours so she could have a rest. I feel the same way some times.

Today I thank God for my brain.

*Paige (Olympia Valance) on Neighbours

Photo sources: 

Svidrigailov visited his 16 year old fiance and her family one rainy night, paying them a large sum of money and saying he had to go away on urgent business, but would return soon. He then spent a sleepless night in a cheap and nasty hotel where he suffered through an horrific series of nightmares. The next day he proceeded to the American Embassy where he shot himself dead at the front gate, despite the protests of the guard who told him his actions were inappropriate.