community

A mo(ve)ment in time

A man runs through a crowd

A vehicle in pursuit, chasing him down, looking behind

Bodies parting like a zip, closing behind in disbelief

Shattered bodies, desperate screams for help, adrenaline surging seeking a path through the chaos

Broken pieces of time and space

A man drives through a crowd bodies scatter, disbelief, a surreal juxtaposition

Two men in different places

Steal the attention they have split the masses

The man in yellow will share this day forever with another an entanglement of torment, of pain and of suffering

No celebration at the end

Time closes in on the other his race is over

It is not over…

(In memory of Bastille Day attack 2016 – with the Tour de France leg on the same day where Chris Froome had to run with his bike)

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Un-rant Pulse lowered

I’m still angry – it is my body protesting

My Pulse still races with a frustration and despair I cannot name or that words fail to capture

It’s interesting how the world suddenly sees diversity and attempts to explain it away, so many lenses refracting light, colours strong and bright, rainbows lost in the white, no longer in-sight

Not one family member or straight friend checking in – asking – wondering about my well-being, invisible in front of them

Who I am, outwardly concealing a truth that dare not speak its own name, let me remind those who do not get it:

It is a crime to be me in parts of the world, I can be legally put to death, I can be arrested, tortured or sent to a conversion camp. In the past I could have been institutionalised, had shock therapy, deemed mentally unwell

I can be me at a price – always a price – always – but I like me and I refuse to be afraid, but I am wary, cautious, alert, my heightened sensitivity a gift one I would never give up

This event was not bullying, harassment or some bad taste joke to get a few laughs or mock – it is not a misunderstanding. It was an act of genocide

It is what it is – it should not be denied and yet the media continue to side step into the shadows that ignorance casts

But light is always moving, and so is my grief and the patterns of my thinking shift to supporting my community – everywhere.

Hit with the truth

A long term study determines that ‘smacking’/hitting children isn’t such a good idea for their long term well-being and functioning. Wow – really? I’m shocked. So let’s put the research aside for a second, because there will be plenty of people not willing to accept the evidence.

Regardless of your beliefs, whatever values have been instilled in you from whatever sources perhaps an approach to this delicate topic of parental ‘rights’ and who gets to police that always evokes a challenge to the moral order.

But how about trying to look at this purely from a neurobiological perspective, particularly the fundamentals of the limbic system, namely the amygdala and the associated structures that mediate and process environmental info and emotional responses then how this is mediated by the frontal cortex or the ‘reasoning’ part of the brain. Abuse and trauma in early life (infancy-childhood) directly effects the amygdala producing structural and functional changes. Emotional responses and anxiety are heightened in response to stressful situations or stimuli. This early life trauma has been shown in studies to stay relatively permanent. The amygdala does not work alone, it is part of a network and this is also effected, including the relationship to the frontal cortex.

The brain has some level of neuroplasticity which is great and why children and young people need access to good support and resources to mediate the affective development and not be exposed to more abuse. There are some important places other than homes where children and young people can be exposed to stress and abuse, sometimes in the name of love and support. Schools in particular can be such sites.

While corporal punishment has been outlawed in New Zealand since 1990 the use of shame, humiliation and other threatening tactics are still employed and punishment is still seen as the preferred option. In light of this research I hope that approaches come under the microscope and we can look beyond blaming parents and take a collective responsibility for abuse – all forms including institutional. The growing movement of restorative approaches gives me some hope, neuroscientists such as Daniel Reisel back this process for healing and developing empathy.

So back to the truth – all forms of abuse have an effect, regardless of the intent. The courage our society faces is to start putting the effects ahead of peoples intentions and support the taking up of responsibility for harm.

Drowning sorrows

About a year ago I wrote a piece about the need for Kiwis to move on from the ‘she’ll be right’ attitude when it comes to water safety. I’m talking adult responsibility here, and I might even add driving, drinking and sex to the list of things we’d rather not talk about or simply assume this thing called ‘common sense’ will offer some guidance and protection. I’m wondering what all these things have in common and what aspects are unique or perhaps not so easy to make sense of. With four possibly five people drowning in just a single 24hr period it’s more than a personal tragedy it’s a question of relationships that go beyond individuals and notions of responsibility.

In terms of a philosophical shift in ‘where the buck stopped’ the move from God to the individual happened a while back (more commonly referred to as the Age of Enlightenment – although there are always shadows) and we’re still trying to figure out what that actually looks like in practice. We’ve made some reasonable steps in terms of recognising what chronological age might limit and we probably over cooked the gender thing at times. But the idea of connection and taking care of others has mutated into a ‘them and us’ separation with ‘them’ also incurring some form of repellent type shield protecting ‘us’ from any sense of care or even interaction. The emerging apathy becoming more a form of collective sociopathy. This is what concerns me and I don’t think we need another advertising campaign, or philanthropist chucking money at it.

What I do think (for what it’s worth) is if people can reconnect with a sense of community and connection regardless of the amount of length of time that community remains together, then ‘care taking’ might take on a more active and interactive form. A group at the beach, a line of traffic, a park, dance party, festival, these are ‘pop-up’ communities. In a way what probably needs to happen is something similar to what has occurred with technology where relationship have adapted and changed. Part of the hang up is about the meaning of ‘individual’ and ‘response-ability’. The idea of caring about others needs a 21st Century reboot, a decent ‘control-alt-delete’ jolt from Western metaphysical defaults – especially the Cartesian split.

Keeping others and ourselves safe from harm is an ethic, one that is sometimes a matter a life and death. Let’s talk about it and say hi to each other as a first step. Be safe out there – I care.

Prideathlon

In the half light, music blaring, a sea of flags, rubber and lycra, nervous energy and cameras flashing. Crowds lean against barriers but there are no police and no parade here, just thousands of 7-15 year olds participating in the Weetbix Tryathlon. There was another sort of pride parade happening last night in Ponsonby but this experience of pride was equally worth celebrating. The way these children and young people coped with such a huge occasion, feeling the fear and mixed emotions but managing to get to the start line shouldn’t be underestimated. Not to mention the navigating of three different physical activities and managing to put up with their sleep deprived, stressed and anxious parents who might also be suffering caffeine withdrawal, then they are all legends before even starting the event.

I’d like to suggest that everyone who took part have the curriculum ticked off for the key competencies demonstrated. This was nothing less than experiential learning, schools could do more to recognise and integrate these kinds of activities. There were some unofficial events worthy of note, for example the tree climbing and patience required to cue up for a bounce on a trampoline and also the bravery of those needing to use the port-a-loos. Then there is the ability to negotiate with tetchy adults and create a reasonable argument for the earning of a slushy. I was moved by an amazing display of leadership and natural mentoring from the young volunteers. I watched them channel the energy of tiny bodies into confidence and enthusiasm. This again is something missing from schools due to their segregation by age of such opportunities. They are artificially created from time to time but I wonder about what relationships and power dynamics might shift if this was a more common phenomenon.

One of the things I have enjoyed about multisport and triathlon is the across age level participation, bringing people together with a shared interest and enjoying the diversity this brings. There is nothing like the feeling of crossing the finish line – the distance is irrelevant as the sense of achievement is exactly that – a sense, lived through the body and in ways that transcend overworn success rhetoric that sports apparel companies flog.

Seeing so many bikes lined up in one area was a delight however I have a sense we are still moving in the wrong direction when it comes to physical activity being something integrated as a way of life, such as transport. If the bike goes back in the shed until next year what is the point? Nevertheless it cannot take away from the joy and pleasure I saw on so many faces today.

So many Kodak moments – good grief, now I am really showing my age.

Wiped off the map by an unnatural disaster

Natural disasters can wipe out towns, even cities and thanks to technology we can view this from a distance and perhaps connect with the deeply distressing images of destruction. Our hearts go out to survivors and our responses can vary from detached and disinterested to sincerely moved heart felt sympathy. Immediate action aims to ensure suffering is minimised and the call to our sense of humanity reaches beyond our ideas of boarders and boundaries. It’s a wonderful thing, no question. Recovering, rebuilding and keeping communities like this together are and should be a priority.

But what if a town was wiped off the map by an unnatural disaster posing as a natural one? No I’m not talking about some form of weather technology creating a super storm (and I’m not saying that’s impossible either). I’m referring to a form of economic euthanasia that is a term used in a variety of ways (veterinary industry for example), but here I am using it to describe the concept of communities being considered no longer ‘viable’ to be ‘put out of their misery’ because they are not as productive, falling dangerously close to the debit side of the ledger. The town I grew up in (Thames) was recently paraded and parodied in the media along this line, so its hard not to feel personally offended as though where I am from has no meaning outside of this.

Let me put it another way. Where did you grow up? What is your turangawaewae. I don’t use that term lightly I use it with intent and respect. Value existed before the invention of money and yet the artificiality of the monetary system has been magically rendered invisible. Could you imagine the media responding to a town or community being devastated by a flood, tsunami or eruption with ‘well – no-one goes there anyway’ I’d like to hope even the most empathically inept would be astute enough to keep quiet although there are one or two I might not be so sure about.

I’m bothered by the trend to couch our lives in financial terminology and frameworks. The measuring of worth this way is so pervasive that we don’t even notice how often we account for our lives almost literally with fiscal language infiltrating almost everything. The weather forecast is preceded or followed by an economic forecast on news channels paralleling and surreptitiously inviting us to consider both as natural phenomenon that we are simply at the mercy of. From pre-conception to the grave our value is carefully calculated according to our contribution to GDP.

So it is not a hard stretch to imagine extending this to a whole community. If it is valued purely for its productivity then the cold rational book balancing mentality can legitimately argue for it being – well – ‘put to sleep’. We seem to want people and communities to function and fit a particular model effectively shrinking and limiting our appreciation of the quirky, small, and unique. Credit where credit is due to fiscal laws rather than genuine appreciation of diversity could be the true cost to society.

I’m no Marilyn Waring but I smell the stench of rotten economic values. Life shouldn’t need to make cents because worth is everyones business.

Return of the village people

I just know some of you are quietly singing YMCA, In The Navy or Macho Man, it’s alright to bust a move – I could never get the ‘C’ in the right direction. This eclectic and iconic group made adult dress up permissible. Thank you Village People, but what village did you come from?

Cities are strange places for those of us who grew up in towns or villages. When I think about the population of New Zealand creeping up to the 5 million mark, I realise how ‘village like’ we are compared to other more densely populated countries. But does ‘size matter?’ when it comes to developing a closer sense of community.

Growing up in a town of 4000 in the 70’s and 80’s had some special effects on me. When I tell people where I was born they sometimes look at me and their expression usually mirrors a mix of pity and surprise, as if I have overcome some terrible obstacle in my life.
I like returning home, hanging at the local markets and seeing who I might run into, kind of like a High School reunion but without the weirdness. Those connections no matter how long I have been away still feel strong because of the unique nature of how those relationships develop. But I believe those factors can be replicated in large cities because despite their overall population, people generally have a ‘local community.’ At the very least, neighbours! I’ve noticed more and more city dwellers embracing and valuing simple acts of kindness, conversation and reaching out that dissolve the sense of wariness and need for complete anonymity at all times – even from their Doctor (joking).

What are some of the ways this is happening? How can you get some small town magic in your life? Here are a few tips, but be warned – it comes cheap. Yes you heard right – it is easy and free.

1: First of all define your ‘community’ it might be the street, block or suburb.
2: Greet everyone like they are a long lost friend or family member even if they look ‘dodgy’ – try not making assumptions based on how someone looks. Ok so maybe a bit over the top, but at least acknowledge people in the street – I’ve developed a series of casual greetings – the simple smile, Hi/Hey smile and the ‘top gun’ wave (reserved for on my bike).
3: Share stuff if you have too much of it – especially fruit, garden produce. I loved going with my Dad to deliver fish as a kid – generosity doesn’t have to be a grand gesture.
4: Share skills and time – not out of expectation of the favour being returned like some form of time bank – no – just offer if you see or perceive it might be accepted. I am forever grateful to our neighbour who recently saved me from a giant spider…it turned out to be fluff blowing out the ceiling crack but he saw the funny side – love him for that -a unique shared experience we have bonded over.
5: Ask for stuff if you don’t have it – the old borrow a cup of sugar thing – but if you aren’t a baker or have no use for sugar – power tools, ladders, toilet paper…maybe not
6: Neighbours are better than house alarms – let each other know when you are away, feed pets, water plants, collect mail (don’t read it!).
7: Let kids play on the street – if you want cars to slow down, don’t do it artificially, I know it sits a bit uncomfortably with safety but it works. Clearly I am not talking about main highways or busy streets.
8: Learn the names of local pets. Greet them as in 2.
9: Read the local paper – finding out what is news worthy is one of the fastest ways to get a feel for your community.
10: Exercise locally, run, walk, ride, whatever it is you get a chance to observe without looking like a stalker.

Developing trust and respect require interactions and take time to develop. It’s become a popular idea to develop values by ‘serving the community.’ I think this is partly in response to a genuine concern that we are somehow losing compassion, caring for others. I’ve noticed a proliferation of ‘service based’ projects particularly for young people. But I’m not convinced ‘doing service’ is the same as being ready to be of service. It seems to me, doing things for others has become a pathway to recognition and status, it is something to put on the CV. Self-interest and a an almost ‘evangelistic’ fervour around ‘helping others’ is unsettling. This is where altruism gives way to narcissism because of a strong Ego undertone.
That is not to say young people aren’t out there just doing what works. The Student Army after the Christchurch earth quake is a good example.

If you want to serve – join the Navy, you don’t have to be a Macho Man. But if you want to make friends join a group, team, perhaps check out the ‘YMCA.’ Sorry, I couldn’t resist.