A Society At Odds With Family

One thing this job has forced me to do is read, inquire and ultimately open my eyes. Each day I am reading articles and excerpts about the state of our social welfare as related to the most precious aspect of our lives, our children. I don’t have good news. We are a world in crisis. I always knew we were, but somehow the closer look has brought upon me an urgency as I can no longer view the scene as somewhere out there in some other realm or country. The opening of eyes makes it intensely intimate.

We are in crisis not just environmentally, not just globally, but deeply personally. We are in crisis physically, emotionally and spiritually. How can I make such a blanket statement especially concerning us as individuals? ‘Speak for yourself,’ you might say. But when the Pandora’s box is opened, and we peer inside the contents to see how every aspect of each event and person are intricately interconnected, then we begin to see how personally we are all affected by each other. We can no longer separate the soft warm fuzzy world of children, pets and story time before bed from the cold, sometimes vicious nature of our economic and political domain. On a global scale we are witnessing a re-emergence of right wing governments in Europe and the attempt to use the events of September 11 to justify the theft of our personal liberties and the execution of thousands of men, women and children. The largest Christian denomination on earth is revealing itself to be nothing other than a paedophilic protection agency. While America is wondering what to do with three million tons of surplus dairy products, half the world is starving to death. But closer to home, my favourite organic shop that was across from the local supermarket has closed – pushed out by our own local economic rationalization. The insurance crisis has closed the rock-climbing gym…the only thing besides the beach that really turned on my six-year-old. The same crisis threatens to stop the volunteer activity of our neighbourhood progress association.


Once we open the box the list of calamities is endless. It is time to usher our spirit and strength for change. We have to change ourselves and help make change for the better in our society by recognizing that just by becoming a parent we are thrown into the political arena, like it or not. By becoming a parent, we are instantly linked to the generational continuum of life and our responsibility for it. We become aware of the importance of our efforts to make this world a place where our children and their children can live. We become custodians.

I for one have mostly been one of those individuals with high and radical ideals but not the endurance to really live my life coherent with those ideals. I tend to waste food when I cook, I’m too lazy to recycle consistently and give in too often when the kids clamour for a video. I never really wanted to open my eyes so much that the reality of our situation would start to make a home inside me, lurking behind every decision I make between the aisles of the supermarket and video shop. I didn’t want to know. We don’t want to know because there seems no real solutions to the problem or we may not feel the solutions really will make any difference. In my experience we are only really open to see a problem when we have an option that will work, otherwise the helplessness is too overwhelming.

But some solutions have been offered. We can buy organic, recycle our trash, vote in the next election, turn off the TV, make love, put our children in conscious schools, quit work to stay at home with the kids…so why don’t we do it more? The fact remains that our culture values productivity above all else. Action, gain, economic growth and achievement are assets, both to our families and to the government. As long as we are productive, we feed the system. We keep it working. Other qualities such as nurturance, relating, creating beauty and harmony come at an expense to the system because their nature opposes productivity. Every action or decision we make to pull ourselves out of the normal rush and move in a more healthy direction comes at an apparent cost to those at the helm, i.e. big business. Consequently we are penalized for nurturing decisions and awarded for productive ones. This gives us the feeling we are walking up a down escalator. We stall under the weight, become resigned and complacent and eventually give in to the status quo.

How are we penalized? Let’s look at a typical afternoon: I pick up my kids from school on the way to get groceries. My first stop is the supermarket because there I can get the other household things too. Going through the fruit and veggie section is my first challenge as management has so thoughtfully placed the candy aisle alongside… Now if I want to buy fresh veggies I must get into the power struggle over candy with my kids. I wonder if the local supermarket candy sales have increased since that move?

I can only buy my organic apples and carrots at this supermarket (at nearly $1.00 an apple) and as their organic meat selection has again sold out I must take the kids to another stop. After a wrestle with my son in the chip section, “No, I won’t buy that just so you can have a Digimon Disk,” we go to the organic butcher! But there I can only buy meat and milk. Now another stop to get the rest of my organic fruit and vegetables. By this time the kids are totally fed up and tired and I am beginning to wonder if my life is one big errand, my kids along for the ride!

In one hour, for just choosing organic or for staying away from junk food, I have been penalized emotionally, physically and financially. It is no wonder we resign ourselves. And it is no wonder we keep our head in the sand. We are made tame and controllable by the organized inconveniences.

It is not getting better, it is getting worse. The authorities are falling, shaming themselves before us and continue to do so. Under the strain, we become domesticated. But the warning bells are ringing loud to pull us out of our daze. These times call on us to take our place as the guardians of our future. We must see that our position as parent makes us the authority now. To use the words of Mothering Magazine’s Peggy O’Mara, we must radicalize ourselves.

I was afraid that by opening my eyes and taking that stand, I would become nearly catatonic by this dilemma between feeling so defeated and yearning so much to make a difference. But, curiously, just the opposite has happened. Suddenly there is energy and ability to do that little extra and in that doing, it is revealed that somewhere it really DOES make a difference. Did you know that if you have a 100-watt light bulb burning for an hour it uses a kilo of coal? That means if you take the effort to switch off the lights in a room as you leave, you are saving that much energy. All that for just one tiny flick. Before I knew that little fact, I was a chronic light burner, rationalizing that my small part hardly made a difference either way.

I have also discovered that my greatest voting power is in the purse. Money talks and as long as we have a society driven by economic logic then we might as well speak that language. I get great satisfaction giving my money to organic farmers and not giving it to the other guys. It tickles inside when three dollars goes to an ABC educational video and not to Pokemon. I am learning to reap the energetic benefits of going up the down escalator and it fuels me to keep going. Up starts feeling like down. “But this is just the human condition,” says a friend. “It has always been this way, and always will be this way, what is the point of striving for some utopia?” This is the misunderstanding, that we must work to arrive at some better place and of course it never comes. But the utopia is not the arrival, the utopia is the reclaiming of our authority to preserve and maintain what is basically good and hold that up within our society. It is our right and is passed down each generation so that the next can survive knowing that goodness and in turn uphold it themselves. If you are a mom, dad, aunt, uncle, son, daughter…then you have inherited this task.

So where is the good news? We have spun ourselves into a society in trauma. I wish I had good news, but it is not mine to give. All those faces we see (all over the pages of the magazine) give the good news. It is given by the face of a woman giving birth , by the eyes of the father next to his partner’s pregnant belly, in the feeling of the couple dancing on the beach. It is for this good news we really and truly open our eyes to the bad so we can stand up and say “No!”

For the sake of the sea
She rocked the boat
For the sake of a tree
She went out on a limb
For the sake of the earth
She dug deeper

— Tall Mountain.

You can read more of Kelly’s Writing at EQUUS, here.

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