Rest, damnit!

I know what people think about Western Australia.  Or what they don’t think about it.  For example: you know how, in a TV series, when they want to get rid of a character without killing her or having her die, they send her to Australia?  In Australian TV shows, when that happens, the character comes to live in Perth.   And sure, it’s one of the most isolated cities in the world, and considering it takes up about a third of the country but only contains about ten percent of the population, you can imagine how bustling and chaotic it is.

So it figures that other cities and states look at Perth and Western Australia, and think we’re backward, and one of the areas in which we lagged behind is the regulation of retail trading hours.  We used to have very strict regulations here in WA.  No Sunday trading, and the only late night shopping night was Thursday night.  The exception was for small businesses–the local corner store, or ‘deli’ as it’s often known here, and small independent supermarkets.  The logic behind this was that if the retail industry were deregulated, then it would hurt small business.  Around 18 years ago, we had our first Sunday trading day in the city centre.  It was intended to bring some life back into the city, especially on the weekend, where it tended to be a bit of a dead zone.  And it proved to be quite popular.  People enjoyed the opportunity to do some shopping while casually walking around.  For most shops, it wasn’t the busiest day of the week, but it warranted opening the doors and paying a couple of staff.

Then about ten years ago, there was a referendum to decide if we should change the regulation across the board, and allow every shop to open on Sundays, if they so desired.  The response was a resounding ‘No’* and so the trading hours stayed the same.  Western Australia remained the backwater it had always been.

Until last year, when–in contradiction to the referendum result, but I’m not bitter–Sunday trading was allowed for all shops whose owners wished to open.    And you know, sometimes that is handy.  I’ve occasionally made a quick run to the shops on a Sunday afternoon to pick up something I needed, and because the bigger supermarkets are open, there is a wider choice, and it’s cheaper.  But leave aside the issue of big business vs small business, I really wonder if Sunday trading is doing us any good.  Leave aside the convenience, and I wonder: do we really need the shops to be open every day?  If I were to work six days a week, I can’t imagine I’d want to go shopping on my only non-work day.  I’d seriously consider getting my shopping delivered, instead, and if I were working six days a week, I’d probably be able to wear the $5 delivery charge to do just that.

If you look back a few decades, Sunday was considered to be the day of rest–and granted, it was deemed a day of rest for religious reasons.  But even those people who weren’t religious used to take it easy on Sundays.  It was a day for sleeping in, and visiting family, and playing sport.  Working on Sundays was an aberration.  It was for overtime or stocktake.  It certainly wasn’t the norm.  Even on the farm, my own parents and those of my friends might check on the sheep, or fix something on the tractor, but they wouldn’t make a point of working (again, unless it were a really busy time of year).

Is this idea that we need to buy things all the time good for us?  Is the idea that everyday is potentially a workday, a good one?

It’s probably clear by now that I’m a sceptic when it comes to religious belief.  Regardless of whether I go shopping on Sundays, I certainly wouldn’t be spending any time in church.  But perhaps there is something to be learnt from the ‘rules’ religious organisations impose.  Thinking of this brought to mind a conversation I had a while back with a friend of mine.  He was talking about how tribal elders used to lecture him and his friends when they were growing up.  They would be told that they could only hunt some animals at certain times of the year, and not at others.  ‘They told us that the spirits would punish us,’ he said, ‘but after a while, we kind of worked out that it was just so we didn’t run out of food.’

Religions have had millennia to develop myths and stories to explain how the world works, and how we should behave in it.  Some of that is purely survival, such as the rules the elders laid out for young Indigenous hunters.  Other rules are for social balance (not working Sundays means everyone gets at least one day off).  Of course, these rules can be used to control populations, to incite fear, to demonise outsiders… but all those are good reasons to have a secular society.  My point would be, what are the good parts we could take from religion, to make our society a better one?  What are the things we can borrow to ensure that we’re living lives that are good for us?

We seem to be constantly pushing the boundaries of what’s acceptable–and that’s a good thing–but we shouldn’t push so far that we forget what we need to survive in this world.  I wonder sometimes about how we seem to ‘break’ social rules with such scant regard for the impact.  I know, it seems like nothing to open the stores every day of the week.  But where did our day of rest go?  It’s not as if I want a strict social structure in place which dictates exactly what I can and can’t do, with disastrous consequences, should I choose not to obey.  We should have the choice, but I wonder whether we’re perhaps not that good at making the right choice for ourselves.  We have laws in place which punish us for driving too fast, or for hurting others, or for spreading malicious rumours, or for destroying the environment.  Were we so able to self-regulate our behaviour, such laws wouldn’t be needed.  It is as well that we have borrowed from the moral structures built up over time, but borrowing is not enough.  We have to consciously evolve: ask if this is the best path for our society?  If progress should perhaps be measured by something other than simply consumption and exceeding budgets?

It’s true that sometimes we need saving from ourselves, and that includes being told that we need to have a day off now and then.  I would argue that Sunday’s as good a day as any to take time out, relax, go for a walk, play football, rather than go shopping (or have to go to work so that others can do just that).  My guess is, I’m shouting into the wind on this point, but perhaps I’m not.  I don’t expect that Sunday trading will suddenly stop, but on the few occasions I’ve had to visit a store on a Sunday, I can’t help noticing that it’s hardly a busy day for any of the stores.  Maybe people take their day of rest more seriously than I give them credit for.

 

 

 

*This is common.  Overwhelmingly, Australians vote ‘No’ in referenda.  The most famous ‘Yes’ was to allow Indigenous Australians to be counted as part of the population and for the government to enact laws for them.  It was passed with over 90% of the vote, which I think is awesome.  Of course, it was passed in 1967, which means that up until that time, an entire people was relegated to the status of ‘flora and fauna’ in terms of census data… which I think is pretty shameful.

Love and Fear. (And Dismay and Euphoria and Indifference…)

I remember, back when I was working at a major supermarket chain, I was sitting down one morning with a cup of tea and a chocolate chip muffin in the break room, with my book* and hoping for a little peace.  Instead, my colleagues were having a loud discussion about emotions and spirituality, and one of them brought up a prayer by Michael Leunig.

‘Love and fear are the only emotions.  That makes so much sense.’

-‘It really is so true, when you think about it.  Love and fear.’

And they went on about some expo which was coming to town soon, and how much they were looking forward to going, while I raged silently about how stupid I thought it was.  And why couldn’t they go away and leave me alone to read my book and drink my tea?!  Grrrr.

Of course, the concept of reducing all emotions to love and fear is not completely without basis.  Often when we feel negative emotions, such as frustration or disappointment, we can relate them back to fear, and when we are happy, or excited, then it seems possible that such feelings come from love.  But I really disliked how simplistic that felt.  Surely we’re more complex than that?  What about hope?  What about betrayal?  What about anger?

This came to mind because the two-year-old had a tantrum this morning.  Well, actually, she had tantrums.  Two before she went outside to play, and another two outside.  As far as tantrums go, they were mild (ie, of the upright, rather than the prostrate, variety) and I brought her inside during the last one, while she raged and thrashed, and I offered cuddles and said that she was going to bed, because she needed to have some quiet time and maybe a nap.  And then she stopped screaming (quite so much) and said, between sobs, ‘I want to be happy!  I want to be nice!  I want to be HAPPY!’

My heart broke a little bit, then.  Because I knew she was telling me that she didn’t want to feel this angry.  And I thought, ‘she so gets it.

I mean, possibly I’m giving her too much credit.  She’s only two and a half.  I was really impressed at how well she could count when she was packing up the toys recently, and then I realised she gets as far as two and starts over again.  Ha.  So I don’t want to portray her as some kind of genius, here.  But I love how she was telling me that she wanted to stop being angry.  She wanted to be involved in the game she was playing outside with her sister, and she wanted to be back to normal.

I struggle with that.  I don’t get angry that often, but when I do, I struggle with trying to stop it.  Sometimes, I know I hold onto it for longer than I should.  I don’t generally hold grudges, but when I do, I really don’t want to let them go.  And I know it’s not healthy.  I know that the only person who’s really bothered by my anger is me.  Even if I were to tell the person or people just how angry I were, is their reaction to it really going to be enough to satisfy me?  Short of throwing themselves at my feet, and begging my forgiveness (which, let’s face it, I wouldn’t take seriously, anyway), is anything they really say going to help how I feel?

I always thought that holding onto moments in the past was a childish thing to do; that being angry for a long time and holding grudges was just not the emotionally mature decision.  But perhaps I’ve been looking at it from the wrong direction.  The toddler understands.  She rages and screams and stamps her feet, and then it’s over.  And even while she continues to cry and contradict herself, still she is able to say–to clearly express–that this is not what she wants.  I need to remember that simplicity.  When I am angry, it is not that I need to be the grown up.  I probably just need to have a tantrum (in private, if possible), acknowledge my hurt and frustration and annoyance, and then I can say, ‘OK.  I’m done.  Now it’s time to be happy.  I want to be happy.’

Maybe Leunig is onto something after all.  I don’t know if it’s only love and fear… simple dualities bother me, because they often dismiss the many shades of grey that exist, and being prone to long-windedness, I want more words to describe how I feel, not less!  But I can get on board with the idea of a push-pull of emotions, of repulsion and attraction.  I can understand, that if I choose to be happy, to be content with the world, I am choosing to get over the anger.

Ah.  I feel calmer already.

*Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, in an effort to try and keep myself sane while doing a very mundane job.  It didn’t work–I was so numb and washed-out by the humdrum of supermarket work that I barely had the capacity to concentrate on anything, let alone this wonderful tome.

The Rich Were Right! Poor People Really ARE Stupid!

I have another post to come soon, but I wanted to just jump in quickly with this.  Recently I was ruminating on the concept of poverty and shame–how not being able to afford something had been cause for embarrassment for me, even though I’m generally quite good at budgeting.  In both the post and the comments, the idea of blaming poor people for their predicament came up, so imagine my interest when I read about a study which found that being poor really seems to adversely affect one’s capacity to make good choices, or to think clearly.  The study wanted to establish whether it were the situation which caused the person to make poor decisions, or whether people find themselves in poverty because they make poor decisions.

The result?  Apparently, poor people are just like everyone else.  It seems that those who are in financial dire straights are so overwhelmed by worry about how they are going to survive, that they find it difficult to make sensible, rational decisions.  That is: being poor is hard.  WHO KNEW?

Hopefully, publicising this kind of information can only help in ensuring that those in poverty are afforded the same respect as everyone else.  And perhaps we can also affect change by really addressing the issues surrounding poverty–like corruption, mental and physical health, environmental factors–instead of demonising the poor.

To the Victor Belong the Spoils. And the Flag.

‘Do you think the Confederate flag is a symbol of hate?’ the Handsome Sidekick asked me as I was slouched on the couch, reading.

I thought about that for a moment.

‘Well… it was the flag of the South, during the Civil War, right? So I guess there is that aspect, with the slavery. I can see how people would be upset about it being flown.  But… flags, you know? I mean, who decides which flag should be flown?’

Who decides?

It turns out, as we did a bit of reading about the Confederate flag and the evolution of the present American flag, that there were a lot more flags and banners around, at the time, than we realised. It raised the question of which flags are considered acceptable, and what a powerful symbol they are.

I can’t imagine anyone flying a flag emblazoned with a swastika without wanting to express his or her sympathies for extreme right wing politics, with a particular focus on anti-Semitism. If I see the flag of the rising sun, previously the flag of Japan, I think of Japanese soldiers in World War II, and the extremes they went to, in battle, in treatment of prisoners. People don’t generally fly these flags anymore, and if they do, they’re looking to elicit shock or outcry. These flags are tainted with the worst of humanity. The war in which they were displayed did not end in the favour of those flying these flags. They are symbols of defeat, as well as of cruelty, bloodshed, ruthlessness.

But my flag was on the winning side in that war. And while I certainly don’t condone the atrocities committed by either of the nations in question, I also wonder about the blood on my banner.

australia

(Australian Flag)

I’m used to this flag. I don’t pay much attention to it when I’m home, but when I’m overseas, it’s a beacon of familiarity; it catches my eye and I feel a connection to my homeland, a sense of knowing I belong somewhere, that there are my people, many of whom talk like me (and if they don’t, they can usually still understand me), who are living there by choice, and where the road rules and the currency and the television shows are like old friends. Not necessarily good friends, but the kind where I know where I stand, even if we don’t always agree with one another.

People have fought and died under my flag. They have travelled to world wars and foreign conflicts, wearing my flag proudly. They have held it up as a symbol of mateship, fairness, courage under fire. But my flag is a symbol of my country and its history, and that includes the dark, shadowy moments as well as the shining ones. Moments such as the deliberate massacres of the Indigenous population, for reasons I simply can’t fathom, which to my 21st century standards seem horrific and unintelligible. Or foreign policy decisions to increase the number of ‘white’ immigrants and keep out the number of immigrants of different skin colours. Or the decision to go to war based on flimsy evidence, the ramifications of which are still felt overseas and at home, and which seemed to me even at the time, more about defending someone else’s flag than our own.

My flag is not without its dark past. It even takes from the Union Jack, the flag of the United Kingdom, of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Under those colours, countries have been conquered with little regard for indigenous populations. Under this flag, people have been displaced, disregarded, dispensed with.

What’s the difference between the Union Jack, or the Australian flag, or the American flag, and the swastika or the rising sun or the Confederate flags? A flag is there to represent the nation or group which flies it. It represents everything: the good, the bad, the ridiculous. It is a symbol of ownership, pride, nationalism, shame.  It cannot help but carry with it a mixed bag of emotions — it represents a people over decades, and over decades, people change. They evolve, while the flag remains the same.

We attribute weight and importance to flags; without those attributes, they would simply be pieces of fabric. They can lend solace or inspire hatred. We place them in the ground, or on the moon, or under the sea to demonstrate that we were there, and we have succeeded where someone else has not. If ever there were a loaded symbol, it is the flag. In a battle, the winner hoist their flag high, and the loser’s is left in the dust. So it is with history.

Some may argue that flying a Confederate flag is to honour cultural ties to their forefathers, and to those who fought valiantly against an enemy that threatened that culture. However, it can’t be ignored that the Confederate flag has also been used as a symbol of a racism, of segregation and even vilification. Those who choose to fly this flag must ask themselves if it is possible to separate the parts of the culture they wish to celebrate, from the racist and hateful elements which existed in that same culture. One might argue that the Confederate flag’s original meaning has been hijacked by other more extreme groups, but the point remains the same: it does represent a dark moment in history, which darkness unfortunately follows it, right up to the present day. And flying it is going to cause offence and sadness, not only because it reminds many of us of a painful past, but also because it reminds us that there are many elements of that past which still exist in the present. Can it really be worth causing that pain and offence, for the sake of commemorating a highly selective version of events?

However, we often believe when we win a battle, our actions are justified, and that all criticism can be squarely focussed on the losing side. But while the victors may collect the spoils, may decide what history remembers and may decide whose flag is flown, it is important to remember that every flag is stained by conflict and intolerance and ugliness. We should not presume that our own past is without its transgressions. Rather we must accept that, whichever flag we fly, wrongs have been done and mistakes have been made, and how we accept and overcome these will determine just how proud we can be of that piece of coloured fabric at the top of the pole.