What do we want? Rational Evidence based decision making.

What do we want? Rational Evidence based decision making.

When do we want it? NOW!

I want this on a t-shirt. It may not be the world’s catchiest protest slogan. I can already hear the crowd getting out of time and tripping over the detail of the chant. But really, this is at the heart of politics.

Policies these days are built firmly on the twin pillars of partisan politics and whoever lobbies the hardest. Each time I sign an online petition on an issue I feel strongly about I am conflicted. Part of me is thrilled that the internet provides tools like change.org where individuals can rally others to a cause and effect real change. Part of me despairs that this is what it takes. The squeakiest wheel gets the grease. Sure, we can squeak a lot louder now. But we have to keep squeaking. Things don’t get done because they are the right thing to do.  Things get done because there are votes in it, or because someone is paying for it, or because it’s party dogma to do it that way.

Why don’t more politicians support gay marriage, despite the polls showing that an overwhelming majority of Australians support it? Because it’s perceived to be politically dangerous. Because powerful lobby groups oppose it.

Why don’t politicians support decisive action on climate change? Because powerful lobby groups oppose it (like the fossil fuel/mining industries), and because decisive action on climate change will hurt in the short term. Nobody in power seems remotely fussed by the reality that without decisive action we are so much char grilled, cyclone battered, drought shrivelled toast. Nobody is bothered by the overwhelming scientific consensus that action is desperately needed. Our politicians look to the next vote, the next donation, the next squeaking.

Which brings me to my t-shirt. “Rational, evidence based decision making.” Sadly it seems to be a bizarre and outlandish concept, but surely it’s not so far fetched as all that. You can construct a plausible argument to justify any decision you want to make. The human brain is fantastically good at rationalising bad decisions. But in most cases the evidence is in about what works and what doesn’t. There are countries all over the world who have tried most things. There are examples of fantastic education systems – we know what works. There are examples of great healthcare systems – we know how to do that, too. And climate change? The evidence is in. We need to do everything that reduces our CO2 output and removes it from the atmosphere. Reforestation, radical reductions in energy use, renewable energy, new generation nuclear – we need it all, and we need it yesterday.

Research shows us what works. The evidence is in. This is what we truly need to lobby for – a political system that rewards evidence based action, rather than the loudest, richest lobby group, or the most marginal electorate.

Last night I dreamt that I confronted Australian Federal politicians on both sides and shouted at them to stop fighting amongst themselves and actually FIX things. Imagine that.

Are you any fun?

When I was a kid my grandfather (known for reasons that elude me as “Poppa”) used to play lawn bowls. In those days (just pass me my walking stick) lawn bowls was a game for old guys in white hats, and old ladies in starched linen uniforms.

Poppa and I used to play carpet bowls in his rooms downstairs in our family home, and when I won, which was implausibly often, he would give me a lolly from the Quality Streets tin that was permanently full and readily available. He also taught me to play Campdown Racetrack with one finger on the piano in the next room. He was fun.

Too young at the time to recognise that it was an “old codgers’ game”, I relished the time I spent with Poppa, and the occasional mild success in getting a bowl to tap the kitty just right on the slightly sloping floor in that room. I’ll admit that I also relished the lollies. As I got older Poppa moved into a nursing home and lost the ability to play, and I became aware that it was a game for old people and forgot the game.

Sometime over the last 30 years lawn bowls has had a makeover. Barefoot bowls is the way we celebrated our work Christmas party last year, and today we played it to celebrate a friend’s 30th. Apparently the magic ingredient that makes it a young person’s game was taking the shoes off. Or Possibly removing the white hats. Or adding alcohol. I don’t actually know what changed, but it’s no longer a massive social gaffe to be under 70 and admit to a penchant for bowls.

Sadly the carpet bowls I played in my youth failed to prepare me for lawn bowls in my 40s, and I am woefully bad at it, but in the games I have played there has been a lot more focus on being sociable (and the occasional touch of sledging) than on any competitive angle that might otherwise have crept in. Today we played with quite a lot of kids, and I was fascinated to see that the small people hurtling about the place tended to gravitate naturally towards particular adults.

When I thought about what made those particular people kid magnets, I realised that, although their physical ages varied, each of those people shared an ability to pay close attention to their own inner child. Sometimes a comment like that is code for “hopelessly immature”, but today it was clear that the kids intuitively understood what some of us fail to grasp – that our inner children are awesome to be around.

Sure, kids sometimes break things, say the wrong thing, and don’t know when to stop, but next time you are tempted to shout “Don’t be such a kid!” perhaps you should consider the upside.

Children accept others easily, whether they have different skin, religion, or income. They don’t stop to ask your salary, your address, what school you went to, or your political beliefs before they play with you. All they want to know is “are you any fun?” And they give themselves wholeheartedly to the things they enjoy.

The people the kids were gravitating to today are also the people I find myself seeking out. They make life more interesting. They bring a smile to the darkest days. They are always ready with a bad pun, or to throw something at you – but it will be something soft to make you smile, never something that might wound.

We tend to muffle our inner children with the demands of work, mortgages and social pressures, but perhaps we should be asking ourselves what kids seem to know is the important question: Are you any fun?

Part time is a mug’s game

Recently some of the Powers That Be at my workplace made fair and equitable adjustments to policies to cater for those staff who are part time. Without being asked. Without anyone kicking or screaming and without the presentation of carefully constructed business cases. Simply because it was right. Those of you who have ever worked part time are now gasping with incredulity. Those of you who have not may be wondering what the fuss is about.

Ever since I went half time after the birth of my first child I’ve been saying that working part time is a mug’s game. It’s only partly true. I choose to be part time. I want to be able to devote more time to my family, and to preserve my health and sanity in a way that would not be possible for me as a full time worker and part time parent (not that others can’t do it, but I know that I can’t). I am exceptionally lucky that my husband is also part time, and he shares the school drop offs, pick ups, shopping and dinner duties with me in a way that, truth to tell, is almost certainly more than his fair share.

Many organisations are reluctant to allow people to go part time. Despite rhetoric about work-life balance and family friendliness, bosses harbour deep dark doubts about the ability of part timers to appear and disappear at a whim. They believe part timers will be uncontactable at crucial moments, and will abuse their shorter hours in egregious ways. Ultimately they seem to suspect that part timers are not wholly committed to the organisation, and are therefore an inconvenient risk not worth taking.

All this despite countless studies showing that part timers are actually an exceptionally good deal – we give great bang for our buck. We tend to work more than the hours we are paid for, and commit ourselves to projects and schedules that are not reasonably compatible with our specified time fraction.

My suspicion is that this is because we all believe that we are part time on sufferance. That if we make too much noise, rock the boat too often, or actually take a stand and insist on fair treatment, our “luxurious” part time jobs will be withdrawn like a petulant two year old retrieving her toy when you don’t play by her capricious rules.

Certainly part timers can be inconvenient. In a school they can be a timetabler’s nightmare. In a corporate organisation there is a risk they may not be available at key times. They tend to miss staff meetings and cause difficult exceptions in otherwise straightforward policies. But as society struggles with the complex issue of work-life balance, part time work is an increasingly attractive option. More parents, both male and female, want to do more than visit their kids on weekends and kiss them goodnight occasionally. More people are caring for older relatives, as our population ages and resources fail to keep pace. More workers believe there is more to life than long days at the office.

I have had bosses in the past who have argued that my workload couldn’t be changed, even when my time fraction reduced by a third. I wasn’t naive enough to stand still for that one, but the stress of having to fight for fair treatment was particularly unpleasant, given that my daughter’s ill-health was the reason I had reduced my fraction in the first place. Part timers wait longer for promotions, and have to be ever vigilant against policies that don’t take them into account. Policies that mandate set hours of extra work regardless of time fraction. Policies that measure promotability by productivity, calculated always against full time hours. Policies that require attendance at staff meetings and other events that often fall outside working hours. Policies that forget we exist, and when they notice us say “well, that’s your problem, you’ll have to make it work.”

I am fortunate that I have an accommodating, thoughtful and supportive workplace. But part time is still hard. Sometimes I feel like a fly-in-fly-out worker, buzzing through the building and buzzing out again, never staying still long enough to be a full part of the organisation. It’s still a choice I choose to make, and on balance it’s worth it. But next time you envy me my “day off”, remember the flip side.

Thankful for the Thankful Thing

Last night my beautiful girls reminded me that we haven’t done The Thankful Thing of late. They’re right, we haven’t. I know it is a tremendously positive thing and a great idea, but I was hot, tired and grumpy, and I really wasn’t in the mood. Nonetheless they badgered me into it, and we filled a page with the things we are thankful for. “The Smokehouse.” “Surf beaches.” “Riding.” “Neil Finn & Paul Kelly,” and a list of names that just kept growing and growing – old friends and new, supportive, loving and encouraging. The page was overflowing, and still we were talking about all the things that have been making us happy recently.

By the end of it I was still hot and tired, but I was smiling and thinking of hugs and support when I needed them, walks by the beach with old friends, and an unexpected and delightful meeting of minds. Oh, and Smokehouse chocolate mousse.

Usually it’s me badgering my kids to be positive, and to remind themselves of the brighter side of life. I have been beating my head against the wall of my oldest child’s anxiety of late, feeling as though I was constantly trying and failing to teach her how to calm herself. In truth my anxiety over her anxiety has probably been more of an issue than her actual stress. Sometimes it’s impossible to get her to see the upside. Yet tonight she and her sister took me by the hand and dragged me out of my funk.

People like Miss 9 and I are easily overwhelmed by the things we can’t fix.  We see rubbish washed into the bay and making the seals and dolphins sick and injured, and we want to fix it. We see people pumping carbon out into the atmosphere and it makes us frantic with the need to stop it. We believe with all our hearts in justice, and naively think that everyone would do the right thing if only they understood. Sometimes it’s hard to restrain ourselves from grabbing others by the throat and making them understand what is so obvious to us, and what we are so passionate about.

There’s a fraction too much friction
There’s a fraction too much friction
Don’t believe in opposing factions,
What we need is some positive action
There’s a fraction too much friction

This does not make us easy company. We tend to take things too seriously and get despondent easily. We flare up over small things because the big things are eating us alive. Fortunately I am passionate about my children, and because I know what it’s like to be this way, more than anything I want to give them strategies to help them cope.

I didn’t think I was succeeding at that – the house has been a mess of meltdowns and overheated tempers, and Melbourne’s recent heatwave has not helped there. And yet last night my girls showed me the upside. Of their own accord they turned to The Thankful Thing and counted their blessings – and mine, when I was in no state to count them myself. Perhaps the best thing they taught me is that sometimes you need someone to count your blessings for you, to help you find that silver lining. And that sometimes lessons sink in when we least expect it. That’s a lot to be thankful for.

Music, Meditation and Transformation

I’ve never been very good at meditation. I just can’t stop the hamster in my head from running around in its crazy ball, flipping and turning in random directions at high speed. The closest I come is when I listen to music that reaches into my soul and transforms me, however temporarily, into a simple carrier for the beat.

Two of the musicians whose songs always have that effect on me came together tonight for an utterly astonishing concert. Neil Finn and Paul Kelly took the traumatic cacophony of my life and stilled it with a chord. For two and a half hours I was the music. As the bass bloomed in my body the beat was my heart, amplified to fill the entire theatre. I was in the audience, singing my heart out. I was on the stage, being the band.

The combination of Neil and Paul was transcendent. There was not a song in the set list that I didn’t know like the sound of my own breathing, and yet each piece was electrifying in its difference. To take a rich and powerful song and morph its very soul into something new and startling – familiar as a lover’s touch, yet as shocking as a stranger – is a miraculous gift.

At first they took turns – one Paul Kelly song, followed by one Neil Finn – but as the night went on the lines blurred and swirled, and when Paul Kelly sang Into Temptation it had always been his and his alone. Each song was a unique whole, and it didn’t matter whether it belonged to Neil Kelly or Paul Finn, it belonged here and now, just like this.

It’s strange to think that these two men, who have transformed my life not once, but repeatedly, are complete strangers. It feels somehow disrespectful to use their first names, but they are too familiar to be Mr Finn and Mr Kelly. Neil with his trademark fringe, and Paul with his hat, have stopped and restarted my heart more times than I can count without us ever having met.

The whole band were clearly having a wonderful time on stage. They gave each other a robustly hard time, as only good friends can do, and the real magic was that having created this intimacy they brought the audience in to share it. Several thousand of us felt a unique part of this warmth, this humour and this ecstatic music. We sang Leaps and Bounds with gusto. We gave Don’t Dream it’s Over everything we had. When Neil said we did good, we glowed.

When the end came and the band left the stage it was sudden and shocking. After two and a half hours it felt as though we had been there forever, and yet for no time at all. For those two and a half hours life was at bay, and music was everything. When I get up early tomorrow to teach my first class of the day I will be exhausted, but still singing in my heart.