Tonight I feel as if I will drown in the bile that fills my mind. I must write it down, lance the boil, and try to quiet the voices that will not let me sleep.
I will probably publish this. I’m not sure why. A cry for help perhaps. A suicide note without the horrific consequences. A scream into the darkness outside and in. It feels whiny and childish. The number of folk who read my blog is minimal and I know that all who do read it are supportive of me while I fight the demons in my head. I have no pity for myself and so I suppose I seek some from an external source. If you consider me pathetic, please don’t comment.
Tonight, the phrase “You have never lived up to your potential” is on repeat inside my head. I have realised that this phrase is just about the mantra of my life. There are not many days in my adult life that I have not scolded myself about this.
Ever since my Year 12 results came out in January 1985, I have understood this to be true. I could not really cope with University and merely attained a passing grade – and then only in a Bachelor of Arts – the “Claytons” degree. I could not have coped with a real discipline – medicinal, engineering, law, or any genuine professional pursuit. I demonstrated potential at primary school but have consistently lacked the mental discipline and fortitude to ever do anything real or genuinely academic from that point forward.
This is a very painful realisation.
I wanted to be a teacher but even in that practice, I am a mere flim-flam artist.
I have taught English but lack familiarity with Shakespeare, any poetry, or any decent novelist. I have only read two books by Dickens and I have found most poetry to be impenetrable. I can put together words in a nice fashion at times but even in this, I am a failure. I have tried to write stories but they remain unfinished – testament to my inability to discipline myself to do anything too difficult.
I have taught Maths but this is just bullshit artistry. I know some formulae but if the problems step outside the mundane, I struggle to solve them.
I have taught religion – the ultimate irony – but was an atheist before I even started. I often pretend to have a grasp of some theology and scripture but in reality, this is akin to saying you are familiar with the works of Mozart because you can hum a few bars of “The Magic Flute”. There is no depth to my claim.
I enjoy Geography and history but have nothing more than a first-year Uni level grasp of a select few geo-political situations. I know a little bit and fill in the gaps with bullshit. Teachers in this subject are more common than sand – because it is easy. It is tthus almost impossible to get a job in this area.
I worked teaching Information Technology for years but this was almost a textbook case of “those who can – do, those who can’t – teach”. I was a competent teacher in this area but again, there was no depth to my knowledge.
Maybe I enjoy working with kids because they are the only ones I can impress with my flim-flam. They think I am smart and that makes me feel good. Adults see through me and understand that it is mere bluff and bluster. Thus, as a teacher, I have always enjoyed being in a classroom but never actually made a friend in a staffroom. Bullshit will only get you so far.
Now, I am unemployable as a teacher. I have not worked full-time since May 2003. This gap means that if I were ever to return to teaching, I would be competing for jobs with first-year graduates. All those years and all those classrooms count for nought. I know this because I have tried to gain employment but my lack of current practice means my experience is irrelevant.
I was “gunna” attempt a Masters in Education next year but found out that I cannot change my teaching methods – and thus I would be on the same rung as a kid who has finished his or her Masters – except the school can pay them at a lower scale because they are a graduate. Guess who is more employable?
In most situations, I consider myself to be inferior in practice or in knowledge to those around me. I know that this is common. The only time I know I am right is in situations where people express racist opinions. I know that this is wrong and it gives me a chance to get up on my soap box and get cranky at them. I have realised recently that all my bluster will never ever change the mind of a bigot. I am wasting my breath. So – I still care and so I write about it but I have no hope of anybody actually changing their bigotry – so this is a pointless exercise.
Same with religion. I don’t care any more. Religion is irrelevant to my life but relevant to others. I now know that saying anything about it just annoys people. So, I won’t say anything.
I have been writing for 40 minutes now. I think I have spat out most of the bile. The bit that is still stuck in my head is the bit about not living up to my potential. I think I want that phrase inscribed on the urn containing my ashes – “He never fulfilled his potential”. It defines me.
Every time you and I see the news about yet another atrocity committed by one group of human beings upon another, we will react in different ways and along a spectrum ranging from complete disinterest to a burning need to avenge the victims in one way or another. Most of us are somewhere in the middle but feel powerless. We are outraged but need to peel potatoes for dinner. It makes us sad but we still need to get the kids ready for bed or finish that job for work tomorrow. So, we post our thoughts on Facebook or Twitter, we change our profile pictures (or use the latest Facebook filter), we talk about it at work, we read the newspapers for the latest development, and we move on with our lives. In the aftermath, after the initial reaction, we begin to form opinions about the event – or, more usually, are influenced by the opinions of various talking heads or columnists which varies according to our political persuasion and levels of literacy.
In the aftermath of the Paris bombings, and of those in Beirut, Baghdad, and various other places (watch this space), there is a natural tendency to blame religion for this atrocity – and perhaps with some justification. This is nothing new. Fundamentalist Christians have been committing terror acts since the time of the Crusades – European history and the history of every place colonised or conquered by European settlers is a bloody tapestry of militant Christianity and the gory fate of those who resisted conversion. Fundamentalist Muslims have been committing acts of terror all across Asia, North Africa, and Southern Europe since the fateful day an illiterate merchant acquired a religious fervour and declared himself the final and most important prophet sent by his version of a God. After we blame religion, there is then the inevitable call to ban religion.
Christopher Hitchens wrote an entire book on this subject and, to my mind, did a fair job of justifying his premise that “religion ruins everything”. Sam Harris has written multiple pieces warning about the evils of religion, calling for an end to all theocracies across the globe, and generally warning us all about the perils of ignoring the beast of fundamentalism in all its forms – although I feel he is getting “a bit carried away with it” of late. Those who have read anything written by these two, or indeed by Dawkins, Dennett, or any other influential atheists, will be familiar with most of the arguments regarding the abolition of religion. I really don’t want this essay to stumble into the territory of being a book review, or a “compare and contrast” exercise regarding the positions of these people; I merely wish to nod in their direction and apologise if I seem to be regurgitating any of their ideas.
In perhaps another caveat, I also want to make my own position clear. I was raised a Roman Catholic but am now an avowed atheist. I do not believe that I am an apologist for religion – I can rant and rave complete with flying foam-specked spittle when it comes to the cherry-picking Christians who chose to ignore the yucky bits of the Bible, the hypocrisy of the Roman church when it defends the paedophiles within its ranks, the unadulterated stupidity of redneck yokels who claim it is their divine prerogative to be utter arseholes to those who do not fit their excessively narrow definition of what it means to be an acceptable human, and all the other dreadful inconsistencies that can be found in the general behaviour of a large number of theists. I hate the fact that children are indoctrinated at a young age when their abilities to discern truth from fantasy is very limited. I do not believe for one moment that any church or church-related activity – especially education but not including charity – should be exempt from paying tax on derived income, bequeathments, or any other remunerative sources, or be considered exempt from common law or “normal’ social expectations. I don’t like religion. Those who have read my Facebook posts and the previous incarnation of this blog are muttering “no kidding” at this point.
While I stridently deny that atheism can be labelled as an ideology or at worst, a theistic position, I do live my life by a personal ideology. I don’t have a label for it, nor do I feel a need for one. I can, perhaps, be described, at least in part, as a socialist, a humanist, an idealist, an environmentalist (at a stretch), or at one point in my life, as an “angry young man”. I am, like the rest of us, a deeply flawed human being but I try to act in a conscionable manner and to confine my actions to the general moral code followed by most of us in “Western” society – the social contract to which we all adhere (more or less – or at least try to – most of the time anyway). This personal belief system contains within it a deeply held conviction that everyone possesses the inalienable right to form an assembly, to speak their mind, and to hold any convictions they please. The assembly should always be non-violent, your convictions should never impinge on the rights of your fellow human-beings, and you do not possess the right to inflict those convictions on any other person – including your own children. The bit that relates to “Freedom of Speech” is still a grey area to me – and will be discussed at a later date. To sum up, I do not believe that I have the right to tell any other person what to believe or what not to believe. I do not have the right to tell them not to gather at their preferred places of worship or not to engage in non-intrusive religious activities like the Salah. In short, I think banning religion is morally objectionable.
I could, at this juncture, just stop writing. I haven’t expressed anything particularly new, and those who I know read my blog would, for the most part agree with the core of my message. Some would profoundly disagree with many aspects of my paragraph about why I dislike religion but most would agree, for the most part, with the previous paragraph about why I feel banning religion is morally objectionable. I might even get a comment about some of this.
I have started and re-started this section of my essay quite a few times now. I am trying to segue smoothly from the last paragraph of Act I with a seamless movement into Act II. So far, I haven’t managed this. So, I will blunder on (and perhaps have a blinding revelation during the editing process). Please excuse the literary “clank”.
I mentioned earlier today on Facebook about my usual habit of reading and sometimes bookmarking, many articles from a variety of sources across the internet before I begin to write. I read articles by those with whom I agree, by those with whom I mostly (or even partially) agree, and by those with whom I vehemently disagree. By this method, I hope to learn more about my topic, perhaps clarify my own position on a contentious issue, and often it is an attempt to understand alternative viewpoints. My intention is to write an intelligent, if somewhat opinionated, article that may provoke thought or even discussion. If nothing else, it becomes something to read. This morning, however, I found that reading the thoughts and opinions of the “other side’ actually brought me to tears. I became so depressed and disconsolate that I dismissed the idea of writing this article because I am fully aware of the ineffectual, futile nature of my efforts. My readers are not those who would ever give credence to the dictums of disenfranchisement that are actively promoted by so many websites, organisations, and political parties; the members of whom would burn every mosque to the ground, deny shelter or any form of succour to those who aren’t aggressively and obviously “’Strayan”, and whose world-view effectively denies the existence of a world beyond the limit of Australian territorial waters – except perhaps for the antics of those Kardashian critters or the more photogenic in-breds from various vestigial monarchies. However, I decided to continue pissing into the wind because once I divested myself of sadness, I felt the need to yell into the empty void of the internet and shout out that I want no part of their hateful creed. I know I am wasting my breath and my time. Those for whom this is written would never read anything I write.
Muslims are the current bogeyman used by politicians to create fear amongst the uneducated, the gullible, and the plain stupid. The monstrosity that is ISIS and the bombings on Friday night in Paris are all fuel to this fire and have elicited the usual ill-conceived, unconsidered, and ignorant responses – from Jeb Bush’s statements about only accepting Christian Syrians as refugees (seriously?), Donald Trump’s asinine remarks regarding gun control in Paris, and, at home, the unconcealed joy of far-right simpletons like Pauline Hansen as they brutally, callously, and unashamedly form a metaphorical pile of dead Parisian bodies into an opportunistic soapbox from which to deliver their hateful, indiscriminate and bigoted diatribes against any and all Muslims here in Australia and overseas.
Pauline Hansen and Donald Trump. I could go on but I won’t. Seriously? They get votes? Sigh
I have a planned structure on another page when I systemically denigrate and disintegrate all the reasons for burning mosques and blah blah blah but I’m bored. I’ve been yelling about this for ages and it doesn’t make one lick of difference. The haters are gonna hate and the pig-ignorant are going to remain as dumb as fuck. I thought on this subject all night and in the end I told myself to shut up.
Oh look! Kittens!
My friend Mick is right – puppy attacks are so much more fun.
This is a considered response to the festering bubbles of hatred boiling up all over my news feed. I want to pop some of these bubbles. It is not aimed at those who have expressed solidarity with the people of Paris, those who have expressed indignation and are aghast at the scenes shown on our news channels and our news feeds. I understand why the flag of France now adorns nearly every profile picture on my Facebook feed and I think it a sweet gesture. It is not a specific response to the grotesque acts inflicted upon the citizens of Paris less than 48 hours ago. The information about that carnage is still incomplete and a clear viewpoint too impaired by outrage, pity, and consternation to be accurately discussed in terms of cause and effect. If I gain any clarity about this event, I will attempt to come to terms with it later. In the meantime, I am deeply saddened and appalled by many of the reactions across social media.
There have been a number of blogs I have read thus far that have addressed much of what I want to say. One is here. Another is here. Please forgive me if I repeat their viewpoints.
The initial response yesterday was to draw a direct cause and effect relationship between the current massive refugee crisis in Europe and those who inflicted terror upon the citizens of Paris. This response is akin to piling up a few of the dead bodies strewn across the walkways of Paris as your own gore-soaked soapbox to once again shout your message of intolerance and bigotry to anyone who will listen. The message you speak today is no different to the message you spoke last week – you are using the murder of innocents as an opportunistic and abhorrent stage upon which you can further inflame hatred and your hateful creed.
“fuck them all off before they slaughter us like animals like they have just done in France“
Who are “them”?
The man who cries at night in his cold tent in the refugee camp in Calais as he mourns the life he has left, the friends he has lost, and the familiar culture that encased his life?
The man who lies awake in that same tent worrying about his future and how he might fend for his family?
The woman who sits up in her sleeping bag and stares, empty-eyed, at the sleeping forms of her children beside her, helpless in the knowledge that she is unable to care for them as she once did, unable to feed them or clothe them, unable to embrace the sweet, unfettered innocence and wonder of their youth?
The time when my boys were very young was one of the happiest times of my life. These people will never know that depth of elation and joy. Their children will not know the carefree existence that my children enjoyed.
Are these the people you want to send back to a warzone? Are these the people that you want to “fuck off back where they came from”?
Do you not understand that trauma is the pre-eminent, leading, major cause of mental instability? Those who blew themselves up outside the Stade de France were not mentally stable. They were not soldiers. Soldiers plan an action in three stages – approach, engagement, and withdrawal. This is rational. It recognises the possibly of death or injury but plans for survival. Horrible – but rational. These guys had no such plan – and thus were utterly irrational. How did they get that way? How did they reach the point where their own lives became unimportant? As a person who has attempted suicide, I can answer that question. Such actions are rooted in sadness, despair, and, most importantly, a lack of hope for the future. It is also a significant (albeit belated) indication of a mind that has lost touch with reality.
We “send them back to where they came from” and those who survive will become the cannon fodder of extremists and war-mongers whose twisted agenda festers and flourishes amidst the bombed-out houses, the fetid drinking water, the starving bellies, and the sick minds of those who are daily traumatised by warfare. By “sending them back”, we are cultivating more terrorism, more death, more horror, and directly contributing to the grief of future generations.
You may accuse me of being a “bleeding heart” who fails to see some twisted reality that only you, and others like you, can see but my motives are, at their heart, entirely selfish. If we look after those who flee the warzones of the world and give them food and shelter, we deny our enemies some of their future armies, their future terrorists, their future suicide-bombers. We may not stem the flood, but we do reduce the flow. And this can only be good for me and my children.
This is wrong, as the cliché goes, on so many levels – but boils down to one simple truth: If we voluntarily dismantle the pillars of our own democracy, it is akin to removing the supports for the roof above our heads – and thus we cannot express surprised when it all comes crashing down on our heads.
Dismantling or significantly altering our legal system will be a massive victory for the terrorists. It is a very short step (followed by a slippery slope – leave no clichéd stone unturned) to the creation of a totalitarian state where people are “disappeared” on suspicion of a crime they may or may not have committed – or are thinking of committing. We will have created “thought-crime” just like Orwell envisioned, and we will be reading and acting from the same play-books as Pinochet, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, and various other fascist leaders – and that’s just in the last century. Is this what we want? Most corporations would love this – terrified people don’t ask awkward questions.
How do we pick those who we unceremoniously dump into prisons? I want to ask if we judge them by the colour of their skin – the temptation is great – but then that would be racist – and the proposal is logical, not racist. Isn’t it?
Internment without trial – without due process of law – is an anathema to our current social contract. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty – it underpins our judicial system and thus our society. The system is far from perfect. I know that. We all know that. However, it’s the best one that anybody has come up with so far – and it is far more civilised than the alternatives.
Another consistent and really fucking annoying statement I have seen pop up in my Facebook newsfeed in the last couple of days – and far too regularly – is the one along the lines of “we will be taken over before too long”. This has also been a consistent feature of recent responses – especially from those who are immigrants themselves – or are first generation descendants.
“We” will be “taken over”. Who is “We?” The Aboriginals? Too late.
By whom? The Muslims? Which ones? Shi`ite or Sunni? Druze, Alevis, or `Alawis ? This really matters.
And can you define “taken over”?
In the case of my own country, all of this was said about “The Asians” in the 80s and before that about every other wave of immigrants that has settled on this shore. How have “they” taken over? There are suburbs where we have a predominant cultural population – this is true. The Irish did this in New York, Boston, and Chicago; the Greeks did it in Oakleigh here in Melbourne, “Little India” in Dandenong – the list goes on. These areas allow the gastronomically adventurous to visit restaurants serving genuine samples of cuisine from that particular culture without the cost of an airline ticket! Works for me. I work with many children from the southern part of the Indian sub-continent as well as Sri-Lanka. Through conversation during class, I am gradually learning more about the cultural norms of their ethnic background, their history, their geography, and even some of their language! This is a privilege and a definite perk. I recognise that others may not be so curious – and that’s their prerogative – but I can assure you that these children’s children will have an Aussie accent, love their AFL or NRL, and while they may not celebrate Christmas, most will still just be “Aussies” like the rest of us.
The irony is that, in Australia, the only group of immigrants that have had a lasting and permanent impact on this country are the English. Look at the names of our states and our major cities – the history behind all of them is English. The vast majority of Australian who trace their ancestry back to immigrants – which is all of us who are not 100% aboriginal – are of English heritage. This map – based on genuine statistical analysis – is fascinating evidence for my statement- and it makes sense. The initial European invaders and white settlers of Australia were English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh – but the Poms ran the government. To the victor go the spoils – and the naming rights.
That “they” are “taking over” has absolutely no basis in fact. None. None at all.
To paraphrase myself, my brother-in-law, and a few fellow bloggers, I think that the sense of outrage that we all feel about the bombings in Paris are because this is a city to which we can relate. May of us have been there. We may not have the familial connections but our cultural connections with the French language, history, and culture go very deep. They are also “white” and “Western” like us. I do not like to admit this – especially when I like to regard myself as “skin-colour-blind” and utterly incapable of using the phrase “I’m not racist but…” – but…. the impact of the pictures and video from Paris DID impact on me to a greater degree than the repeated pictures and video coming out of Palestine, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sudan, and other similarly war-torn hell-on-earth locations across the globe.
I have observed an outpouring of disproportionate disbelief and grief in the immediate aftermath of the Paris bombings from just about everyone on my Facebook news-feed – and I changed my own banner picture in response – not a meme but my own creation. The Facebook filter of the French flag is as I have written, sweet – but why are our profile pictures not (permanently) covered by the Palestinian flag? Why do we not post messages of sympathy for those who are terrorised by Boko Haram in Nigeria, Chad, and Cameroon? My initial response was that we all have an involuntary and dichotomous reaction towards “brown” versus “white” victims – a primitive reflex based on “us” versus “them” – and perhaps there is an element of truth in this. However, it is more complicated than that.
When a city with a similar culture is hit, we in “The West” all feel a greater degree of empathy. The concept that the victims could easily be us hits harder than pictures of inert brown bodies striking grotesque poses in the rubble of Gaza. We recognise the surrounding streets, shops house as something akin to our own cities. The French language uses the same alphabet as English and they have many words closely related to our own language. We can read some of the street signs and some of us can catch a basic grasp of what is being said by the witnesses on television. The white-washed stone and mud-brick hovels of the Middle East, the dusty streets and Arabic lettering of the shop signs that hang from the corner of a bombed out shell are harder to identify with – the vast majority of us have never known such streetscapes – and thus it is easier to stand in the metaphorical shoes of the people of Paris – the victims and the survivors.
This is why we are angry. It could have been us.
And this is why we must not be angry.
Paris was chosen for a reason. The wounds left by the murder of those in the “Charlie Hebdo” offices have not healed in that city. After all, the last horror happened only 10 months ago.
The beautiful response – the only response – to Terror.
It is more effective to press on existing scars than to create new ones. This was known by the IRA in terms of the many horrors they inflicted on London, ETA knew this when targeting Madrid; history is full of similar patterns.
The desire of all terrorists is evident in the name that we give them. Terrorists. They evoke Terror. They create Terror. They want us to be terrified. Frightened people are easier to influence and control – recent Australian and U.S. domestic policies are entirely based on that premise. Terrorism is not new. It is effective because we allow it to be effective.
Terrorists want us to marginalise groups within our society – especially the children and the uneducated.
Terrorists want us to spit on the woman wearing the Hijab, the Shayla, the Al-Amira. She will bring that resentment, anxiety, and fear into her home and the baby she holds will be directly infected by her negative emotions – we will help to “grow them young”.
Terrorists want us to ostracise their children, to make them feel unwelcome and unwanted. The children become disenfranchised (a spectacularly useful precondition for those who recruit for radical causes), disillusioned, and dispirited. From such malignant seeds grow the future cancer of children strapping bombs to their bodies, children voluntarily boarding aircraft to join ISIS, and young men wielding Kalashnikovs in crowded arenas. The more we hate, the more we fan the flames of their desired world-wide conflagration.
Our most effective weapon against terrorists is to love and accept the children of the Middle East. Embrace the refugees. Sate their hunger. Make them feel safe. Give them hope for the future. They will love our country like we do – and will reject those who desire harm against us and our children. Sadly, this approach is easier to dismiss by those who prefer violence (the human base preference for immediate action or reaction as opposed to thought and/or empathy will always hamper our progress as a species), does not create an atmosphere of fear, and above all, is not profitable. So – it will never happen.
The very worst thing we can do is “fight fire with fire”. This has never worked. The U.S. government reacted with violence in retaliation for the bombings of 9/11 – their reaction concurrent to the toxic smoke and ash of their own lesson in retribution settling on the streets of Manhattan. There is no retribution in violence – there is only more violence. ISIS was born in the fiery aftermath of the Iraqi invasion by the U.S.-led coalition. The pre-conditions were ignored. (Edit: – actually – they known by 2012 – read this) The U.S. government and its arse-rimming allies – including Australia) – are directly responsible for the creation of ISIS. A solid argument for this can be found here. The Sunni majority – oppressed for so long by the Shi’ite minority – rose up and are now attempting to carve out their own state using the instability caused by the power vacuum created by the deposition of Saddam as well as the inherent instability of the government in Syria – the historical and ideological internal rifts between the Sunni and Alawite factions in the ruling Ba’ath party along with the oppressed Kurdish minority made the Arab Spring uprising almost inevitable – and the ensuing civil war made Syria ripe for the picking when ISIS turned its gaze, and its forces, towards that hapless country. I do not wish to debate the pros and cons of the invasion of Iraq – I am merely stating that this event directly led to the formation of the phenomenon currently known as ISIS. The Middle East is aflame and, as I type, the war planes of my very own nation add fuel to that conflagration. There are no easy solutions to the phenomenon of ISIS – but the most effective ones will not involve random fire-power injected into the cauldron. They will involve thoughtful consideration of the rights and needs of the populations of Kurdistan, Syria, and Iraq – so that the ISIS leaders are robbed of their power-base and their hateful rhetoric will fall on deaf and contented ears.
I don’t have a solution. I am far too ignorant of the historical and cultural complexities involved in this regions. However, I know that the lessons of history teach me that “bombing the shit out of ’em” is definitely not the answer.
I have felt very content lately. I still get dreadful bouts of sadness and profoundly irritating days when it seems that the very effort of stringing two thoughts together is just “too hard” but I have worked at being mindful, even in these times, of a realisation that I am, in general, content.
I sat in my dining room last night and watched a large mob of kangaroos graze within metres of the windows. I watched two young males “boxing” and trying to get the hang of sitting back on their tails so they can kick with both feet at the other. I have previously watched older males going at each other pretty hard and could see that while the younger ones were trying to land blows, it was more a play-fight. The other ‘roos just ignored them and munched away on the grass.
While I was watching, I voiced the thought that “This doesn’t suck”. Wild creatures right next to my house being.. well.. wild. How cool is that? I have the same thought when I stand on my driveway and look over the Dandenong Creek valley towards Port Phillip Bay – a view of up to about seventy kilometres. Even if the sky is too hazy to see the water of the bay, and the hills of the You Yangs to the west, the phrase, “This doesn’t suck” often springs to mind. I use this view during times of mental duress – my logic being that although the mind is sad, this provides immediate visual stimulus to create a deeper feeling of contentment. It works.
Is it enough to be content?
The U.S. declaration of Independence contains a famous phrase to the effect that humans are born with “certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. Arguably, the inspiration for this oft-repeated expression derives from many sources – Robespierre’s “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité”, or perhaps in part from the words of John Locke – “”the highest perfection of intellectual nature lies in a careful and constant pursuit of true and solid happiness”, but it stands by itself as a laudable ideal. In particular, when the pre-eminent conditions of “Life and Liberty” are assured, there is a persistent undercurrent in everything we do and everything presented to us via popular media; we are all constantly engaged in “the pursuit of happiness”.
Lose weight and you’ll be happy. Apply this moisturiser and you’ll be happy. Use this deodorant, drive this car, or wear these clothes and life will be a joyous parade of smiling, beautiful people against a backdrop of blue skies and bright sunshine. Eat this cereal and your husband will wear a suit and look suave and trim, your children will become animated, adoring pictures of blissful youth, and your kitchen will be spotlessly clean and tidy. Pursue happiness!
Look, maybe buying that cereal will create such changes – I’ve tried them all to no avail – but I somehow doubt changing my brand of Weet-Bix will ever keep the kitchen bench clear. However, check out the next set of ads in front of you – and they are everywhere, not just on the telly – and you will see that the theme always revolves around an end result of smiles and blue skies. It’s really daft but it is what we all want.
I worked to attain my High School Certificate. I worked hard to achieve my Bachelor’s degree and then Postgrad to work as a teacher. I worked with youth in urban areas, on rural camps, as a basketball and a football coach. These were busy years and I had a clear goal in mind; I sought out as many experiences as possible so that when I would finally be a professional educator, I would be happy and competent – and to a large extent, I always have been. The actual job (or, at least, being in the classroom) has never been a problem.
Later, Pauline and I bought a house in preparation for starting a family. She worked an obscene number of hours in pretty ordinary conditions and I juggled three jobs as we built our common financial equity. We wanted to be happier about owing a bank so much money. It took a long time for me to come to terms with the notion that debt is acceptable so long as it is manageable – I was brought up to fear debt as a dark monster that would consume me whole the moment I signed that paperwork. Home ownership was the goal with happiness as the end product. I have now been the joint mortgagee on three houses – and owned the last one outright for a number of years – but severely and clinically depressed during the majority of the latter circumstance. Home ownership does bring a sense of happiness – but only in that the alternative – renting – is horrible. Shelter is a basic need – and it may as well be on your own terms as much as possible.
Then, we had kids, moved to Queensland, and an entirely new range of challenges rose before us. Full disclosure of this would require a lot more space so, as all parents would attest, I will simply say that the boys’ early years consisted of lessons learnt, furrowed brows, and many moments of purest, unadulterated joy. This changes a bit as they get older – but only in intensity.
Then, the mental struts within my brain gave way and my mind collapsed around me, along with the majority of my personal goals and aspirations.
There are other experiences after that but somewhere along the way I stopped trying to pursue happiness. I realise that if I replace the word “happy” with “content”, and then “happiness” with “contentment”, I am, ironically, much happier. I have re-read what I have written so far and when I engage in that word-replacement exercise, I see greater truth in my endeavours – and more achievable goals.
There is more I want to write about this – I’ll come back to it – but I am mentally tired and flat today. Pauline encouraged me to write and so I did. In some ways, it is yet another way I am pursuing happiness. When I post this, I will be somewhat content.
Please treat this as scribbling. Draft-y versions of incoherent threads of thought. However, please keep reading my stuff – I cannot write to a vacuum of reception.