Catastrophic Voyeurism – Just Say No!

The Christchurch earthquake has been shocking – not just for the physical and emotional reality of what happened, but for the appalling insensitivity of the media response. I realise this is normal these days, but that very normality is profoundly shocking when you stop and think about it.

On the front page of The Age this morning, and I suspect of many papers around the world, there was a huge picture of two kids learning that their mother was dead. Right at the moment that their dad was telling them that their world had come crashing down with the buildings of Christchurch, a photographer was taking their photo. And selling it.

I can see that there is something to be said for helping the rest of the world to understand the enormity of what has happened – but surely pictures of the ravaged city are sufficient for that. There is even a place for talking and writing about personal stories. But sticking a camera in their faces, right at what is almost certainly the most shattering, traumatic moment of their lives, and then publishing the photo, is the most horrific act of insensitive voyeurism.

In the western world we talk a lot about the freedom of the press, and how it is a cornerstone of democracy (a position that is difficult to sustain in these days of an increasingly docile media who swallow whole press releases with nary a belch, but nonetheless…), and certainly freedom of speech is an important and worthy principle. But nowhere does it say that we have the freedom to invade, and indeed desecrate, the privacy of the traumatised and bereaved. Yet the media makes its very living from doing just that.

Media pundits often argue that if it didn’t sell, they wouldn’t produce it – yet there is a chicken and egg issue here. The media in a very real way drives the public interest – it certainly does far more than merely follow it. And I have to wonder – do these images really sell??  I find them unbearably distressing, and I can’t be the only one. Do people buy a paper that they wouldn’t have bought otherwise, simply because it has this kind of brutality on the cover?

I can well believe that disasters sell papers. Like a car accident, it is hard to look away from such a catastrophe, and many people are, no doubt, desperately hoping for miraculous survival stories – perhaps to make it all bearable. But is it really necessary to take these kinds of photos, conduct these kinds of interviews?

I can’t think of a single justification for this kind of aggressive, invasive, hideous voyeurism. There is nothing to be gained, and much to be lost, from allowing our media, and hence our society, to continue down this path. It’s time to say NO! and say it loudly.

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Romance is Red

romance is red
diamonds are blue
if you think that’s what love is
then more fool you!

This morning on my way to work I passed a young guy standing at the bus stop, holding a large teddy bear and a bunch of red roses. I had to smile – it was a beautiful sight, but completely alien to my experience.

You could argue that it’s largely due to my bad habit of dating engineers (I stopped at 2, but that second engineer was awfully hard to give up – 21 years later I still haven’t managed it). As a group, they are not known for their romantic, sentimental sides. But whatever the reason bunches of flowers have not featured greatly in my life. In fact I could count on one hand, with multiple finger amputations, the number of bouquets my husband has given me since we first met.

When I was young and naive (as opposed to older and now ludicrously naive), I used to think that the lack of flowers, diamonds and chocolates in my dating life indicated a lack of romance. I am embarrassed to admit that I used to give my beloved a hard time about it. Most of the year it didn’t bother me, but valentine’s day was a real struggle. Tales of flowers and grand romantic gestures abounded on all sides, and I was jealous. I even wondered if an absence of romance meant an absence of love.

It took me a long time to wake up to the romance that is integral to the fabric of our relationship – the kind of romance that lasts a lot longer than an expensive, wilting rose, that you can’t lose the way you can a diamond. Nor does it go to your hips like a box of chocolates.

rainbow lorrikeets cuddling

The romance in my life is in the way my husband spots something I am allergic to and steers me away from it before I have even noticed. It is in the way he can put his finger on exactly what is bothering me when I have dissolved into tears and can’t articulate why. Romance is even in the way he turned to me after my first sudden and shocking attack of morning sickness and said “Would you like your toast now, or shall I flush it straight down the toilet?” (No doubt that wouldn’t have worked for some, but in a moment where I was so shocked I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, it left me giggling helplessly for some time.)

Romance is not glamorous or showy. It’s in the passions that we share and the ideals we both care about. It’s in the way we support each other when things get rough, instead of making things rougher by turning on each other.

Valentine’s day is a festival of commercial glamour, dressed up and pretending to be love. It’s capitalism hiding behind an intense pressure to perform – to demonstrate your love with grand, expensive gestures. But that’s not love. Love isn’t measured by the size of your bouquet, or the carats in your diamond. It’s not measured by the depth of your wallet or the category of restaurant you choose.

Love is someone holding your soul safely in their hands, giving it warmth, and light, and room to grow. Love is knowing someone inside and out, and making their happiness your business. I’ll take that over a bunch of roses any day.

A stay at home extrovert

I am slowly becoming aware of a few home truths regarding the matter of parenting – particularly parenting from the perspective of an extreme extrovert. (And I do mean extreme – every personality test I have ever done provides a scale and points out that most people wind up somewhere in between. And then there’s me. Right out on a limb… on the edge… possibly over it. You get the drift.).

The thing about extroverts is that we get our energy, our enthusiasm, and frequently our sanity, from interacting with others. I realise that makes me sound like a rather disturbing form of parasite, but when I get energy from interacting with someone it’s not in a creepy “I vant to suck your life force” kind of way. It’s just that positive social interaction gives me a real jolt – better than coffee or any hyped up energy drink. It’s definitely my drug of choice.

Years ago, when I was ill enough to be mostly housebound for months on end, my week revolved around lemon chicken wednesdays. This was nothing fancy – just a group of friends who brought lunch and much needed affection and perspective to my house once a week. Those friends were my anchor to the world in a very challenging time.

What we often fail to notice, or pay proper attention to, is that parenting can be rather like being ill – at least for an extroverted stay-at-home parent. It is very easy to become isolated. Most of us don’t live particularly close to friends and family any more. Few communities have that golden gift of friends living close enough to drop in and out of each others’ houses, and chat over the back fence. There are good neighbours here and there, but not many good communities.

All of which means that we can easily wind up having very lonely lives. Between ferrying kids to school, kinder and playgroup, and taking care of the cooking, cleaning and shopping, we sometimes neglect our own need for support and companionship. For an extrovert, this can quickly become an energy and sanity depleting lifestyle that is not sustainable. Building a good enough social support structure to keep a stay-at-home extrovert parent sane is a pretty serious challenge – not impossible, but it takes a lot of work, and very clever planning.

The other problem I have with being a stay-at-home parent is one of measurable success. It’s hard to tick things off your todo list that won’t be right back on it tomorrow. You may feel satisfied at cleaning the living room, but it’ll probably be chaos again within the hour. You might have a fantastic, creative morning with the kids, but you’ll have to come up with another winning idea in the afternoon, and something different for the next day.

Sometimes it feels as though every single thing I get done at home is only a finger in the endlessly leaking dyke of parenthood. Even as I am writing it, I realise that this is a very negative view, and not entirely fair. I have a wonderful time with my kids. I adore them. But I can’t be at home with them all day every day. I could never manage home schooling, although I recognise its many benefits, because I would go mad within the week – and most likely take my kids with me.

It’s important to recognise your limitations, and this is one of mine. I can’t be a stay at home parent any more. I need a workplace. I need colleagues. I need to go to bed at night being able to look back on tangible successes. I need to be able to do the things I excel at, and to be recognised for them. To be the best mum I can be requires me to meet my own needs, as well as those of my kids.

In recognition of all this, I have finally gone back to work. I work part time, and I have the greatest workplace imaginable. It is open plan (extrovert heaven), and my colleagues are supportive, encouraging, and awesome. When I get home, I play more with my kids than I have in ages, because I now have energy to burn – even though my job is intensely challenging and exhausting.

Working part time has a whole host of built in challenges – therein lies a whole other blog – but for the moment it is perfect for us. I am in awe of stay-at-home parents, but I am no longer one of them.

Fiddling while we drown

This is a hard post to write. It has been bubbling around my consciousness for months, if not years, but I struggle to frame it. It’s too big. Too important. And too lost to the public view. Buried in the politics. I speak, of course, of climate change. How do you react to something like this?

When the leader of one of our major parties – who came within a whisker of becoming the leader of our country – responds to major weather-related devastation with desperate political greed (I don’t know why he didn’t just blame Yasi on Julia Gillard and be done with it).

When the leader of our country responds with taxes to handle the devastation, but is alarmingly silent on the bigger issue of tackling the cause of the devastation.

When the public screams about taxes, cries about “one in a hundred year events” and fails to notice that we get those roughly once a year now.

When the government’s top climate change adviser says “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Well. What can you do? I feel a crushing sense of panic building inside me like the mother of all high pressure systems, yet the world seems to be sitting quietly in the eye of the storm, saying “It was a freak event. These things happen.” and then trundling along with business as usual.

Ross Garnaut makes it clear that the science shows these things happening with increasing frequency, and increasing severity – even if we STOP EMITTING CARBON RIGHT NOW. We can’t stop this. But we can make it infinitely worse, unless we get serious about climate change TODAY.

I know the psychology. How human beings aren’t good with threats that aren’t immediate and in our faces. That it’s easier to deny it and snuggle back into our cosy, fossil-fuelled cocoons. What did the man who cut down the last tree on Easter Island say? Well, I think I might have heard his echo, all around the world, over the last few years. He probably blamed the opposition.

I don’t know if we still have a chance to avert total catastrophe. But I know that doing nothing guarantees it. And yet nothing is precisely what we are doing. Sure, individuals ride their bikes, install solar panels, and plant trees. But what we need is urgent, global action on a governmental scale. And it will cost us. But not as much as Yasi’s big brother will cost us. Not as much as Katrina’s mum is going to cost us. Not as much as all the nameless floods, bushfires, droughts and ice storms will cost us.

What does it take for the world to take this seriously? How many people will die? Or is it more a case of which people? The headlines about Yasi are largely economic. Food prices will rise. Eating out will get more expensive. Insurance will get more expensive. Home owners will suffer as inflation rises and interest rates climb. Perhaps if more rich, white people died at the hands of extreme climate events, the media would care. Perhaps then the government would act.

Or perhaps it’s simply something the world won’t get its head around in time.

Ch-ch-ch-changes

“The problem is, or rather one of the problems, for there are many, a sizeable proportion of which are continually clogging up the civil, commercial, and criminal courts in all areas of the Galaxy, and especially, where possible, the more corrupt ones, this.
The previous sentence makes sense. That is not the problem.
This is: Change. Read it through again and you’ll get it.” Douglas Adams.

Sometimes we underestimate the impact of change in our lives. A little over four years ago, when I took a “voluntary separation package” (code for “please, pay me to quit my job”), the organisation I was working for arranged counselling. As part of this process, I was introduced to life change units, which are a useful, if somewhat arbitrary measure of the level of stress in our lives.

To calculate your life change units you work your way down a checklist, ticking events that have happened to you in the last year (everything from death of a family member to a change in social activities). Each event has a score, and when you add them all up you get a sort of snapshot of how much stress you have been under. For example, death of a family member scores 63, a change to a different line of work is 36, and trouble with the boss is 23.

What I find particularly fascinating about the list is that many of the events on it are positive – or at least could be positive – such as “outstanding personal achievement,” “change in recreation,” or “gain a new family member.” We tend to think of stress as an overwhelmingly negative thing – stressful events are bad. Yet positive events can have their own associated stress, in the sense of change that we need to cope with. Even if it is positive change, there are cognitive and emotional costs incurred as we adjust to it.

“Change was right. Change was necessary. Masklin was all in favour of change. What he was dead against was things not staying the same.” Terry Pratchett.

I have recently started a new job. It is the job of my dreams, doing something I love and am good at. I have a fantastic and appreciative boss. I have a fabulous and thrilling workplace. I have ludicrously wonderful colleagues, and a spectacularly amazing mentor. It is difficult to discuss my new job without running out of superlatives. I could not be happier.

At the same time, though, it has finally dawned on me that this is a fundamentally stressful process. I have been on an emotional roller coaster. I have been, I must confess, quite cranky with my children, and it has taken me an absurdly long time to acknowledge that this most wonderful change in my life is actually stressful as well.

I have a new career, a new workplace, a big increase in working hours, and a whole host of challenges. That is good news. But it might not remain good news unless I recognise the stress that it places on me, and hence on the people around me.

“Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes! Turn and face the strain.” David Bowie.

I am a big fan of self-awareness. Having come to it rather late in life, I am obsessed as only a convert can be. Being self aware is crucial, because it means I can stop reacting blindly and start tackling my problems – sometimes pulling them up by the roots. In this case, becoming aware of the source of my stress has made it possible for me to reduce it to manageable size, by seeking extra support – mostly in the form of hugs.

Keeping track of the stressors in your life, both positive and negative, can be a two edged sword. It’s all too easy to get wrapped up in how incredibly difficult life is right now, and to wallow in self pity. But if you can use it to cut yourself a little slack, and to know when to seek a few extra hugs, a bit of encouragement, or an extra yoga class to boost your coping capacity, it can make the difference between living on the edge and crashing down the cliff face.

You can argue endlessly about the accuracy of the scores for each life change on the list, but the central point is difficult to argue with. Change, whether good or bad, is a challenge.