When the going gets tough, the tough get huggy

There’s so much to be angry about these days. There are terrorists. There are people saying stupid things about terrorists. There are people saying stupid things about people who aren’t terrorists. There are people saying stupid things about people who probably weren’t terrorists before but are getting really cranky now. There are politicians saying stupid things about absolutely everybody, even themselves.

And then there are personal things, much closer to home, that really make you want to haul off and hit someone. Sometimes it feels like the world needs a damned good pummeling to teach it a lesson.

Yesterday, feeling miserably ill, I wound up shouting at my kids like a feral monster. And they went forth, no doubt, feeling angry and miserable. Maybe they passed it on, or maybe they didn’t, but the start of their day kinda sucked, and that must have all kinds of flow on effects. All because I was angry and miserable and shared it around.

We all have angry moments. And it feels good, no doubt about it, to lash out when you’re angry and hurting. But lashing out, in the end, leads to more lashing out.

And the one mistake you made was just enough.And that one mistake was, Boy, you talked too tough.Only takes a single bulletBring the fastest trigger down.

Heartbreak Kid, Icehouse.

A single bullet brings a bullet in return. A slap breeds another slap. Anger is like a virus, self-replicating until it overtakes the entire organism, killing it and moving onto the next host. Goodness knows we’ve been feeding the virus all kinds of nourishing fodder for quite some time now.

Pauline Hanson. Donald Trump. Even Tony Abbott. They’re all signs – vituperative, execrable signs – that we’re mad and we’re not gonna take it anymore.

And we shouldn’t. We shouldn’t take it anymore. But by slapping, hitting, even just shouting, all we’re doing is asking to be slapped, hit, and shouted at more.

So I propose we stop. We take a deep breath. And we ask if the world would actually like a hug.

Yep. It hurts. So many things hurt. Let’s not hurt even more. Instead let’s pause, open our arms, and say “Yep, it hurts. I hear you. Tough times, sure enough. Wanna hug?”

Shouting, slapping and shooting? I think we have an oversupply. But the world can always use more hugs.



Stranger Danger Danger

“Mummy, why did you talk to that lady? She’s a stranger.”

The question nailed me to my chair. I had been idly chatting with a fellow passenger in an airport, and my daughter found it difficult to reconcile this with what she has been told (not by us!) – “Never talk to strangers!

I always talk to strangers. I smile at people. I strike up conversations. And I have made personal, professional, and profound connections this way. When I was 15 I started writing to a complete stranger in Germany, and we just spent a week visiting him and his family, absolutely enveloped in love.

Some of my best friends now are people I just started talking to at random. In fact, if you think about it, everyone is a stranger at first. When you first start school. When you start a new job. When you move into a new neighbourhood. If you followed the “don’t talk to strangers” rule, it would be an extraordinarily isolated and lonely life.

But this is what we are supposed to be teaching our kids. That strangers are dangerous. That you should never talk to strangers. That strangers are scary.

Although the official messages, such as those you find on kid safety websites, have mostly shifted to identifying troublesome behaviours (such as asking kids to keep a secret from their parents) rather than avoiding strangers, apparently my 9 year old still knows that you don’t talk to strangers.

And where has this led us? This has led us to lifts where we rigidly face the front and don’t make eye contact. This has led us to neighbours who remain strangers to each other forever. This has led us to a distressing, and indeed hugely damaging, lack of community.

“Make sure that you are the kind of person who is positively contributing to your neighbourhood. Smile at everyone. Don’t ever stand at the bus stop with a stranger and not say ‘looks like rain’ or ‘why is the bus late?'” Hugh Mackay, DumboFeather Podcast, July 2016.

It’s true: Strangers can be dangerous. So can family. So can friends. But we would never teach our kids – or ourselves – to avoid family and friends. We are social creatures who need community in a very visceral way. And by teaching our children to fear the world, to believe that anyone they don’t know is dangerous to them, we are harming them profoundly.

We should be nurturing our kids’ ability to form connections, and to build networks. These are the skills that will keep them safe and make them fulfilled and productive adults. These are the skills that can even save our world and enable people to work together to solve our greatest problems. Yet we are actively teaching kids to repress their instinctive urge to talk to people, on the tiny chance that those people turn out to be dangerous.

I married a man who was once a stranger (very strange indeed). Strangers are just people we haven’t met yet. Some of them will hurt us. Some of them will love us. Some of them will save our lives. By closing ourselves off to strangers – building walls, not making eye contact, and preventing ourselves from connecting – we are killing ourselves emotionally.

Talking to strangers can, indeed, be dangerous. But not half as dangerous as never letting them in.



I’ve learnt a lot in the past two weeks, which we spent staying with friends in Germany and France.

I learnt that the intensity and quality of a friendship can’t be measured in hours. I learnt what it is to be welcomed with open arms and loved with whole hearts.

I learnt that friendships conducted largely online can be a source of incredible comfort, humour, and strength, especially at odd hours of the day and night.

I learnt that it’s possible even for someone who hates cities to love Paris, and be swept away by her passion, intensity, and beauty. I learnt that no matter how many people tell you gluten free is going to be hard in Paris, it is possible to sit down at a random creperie and have a magnificent gluten free meal without any problems at all. And that this may cause unreasonable amounts of excited squealing.

I learnt that you can have Grandparents who are not related by blood, and I learnt that love laughs at language barriers.

I learnt that there are friendships that even 14 years of separation cannot bend or break.

I learnt that the brain is truly an extraordinary thing, but that three languages in one week is one too many (for me, at least).

French Alps

I learnt that life is too damned short and friendships too damned precious not to grab them with both hands.

I’ve learnt that hands, eyes, and smiles can speak volumes, and for the rest Google translate can provide some… interesting outcomes.

I learnt that Germans don’t know who The Doctor is. They kept asking me why I had a phone booth dangling from my necklace. I had to reconsider my plans to move there at that point…

I learnt that travelling with children is both infinitely more stressful and infinitely more rewarding than travelling alone, and also infinitely more likely to leave you quite gurf#fl!wardl# schl@eps.

I learnt that some friendships come and go but others will always be with me, one way or another, and these are the absolute core of my heart.

I learnt that it is possible to wholeheartedly embrace someone the first time you meet, and that this can last forever.

I learnt that into two short weeks you can cram a lifetime’s friendship.

I learnt that although there is a lot of evil and sadness in the world, there are also many people with huge and generous hearts.

I learnt that I am not very good at ceding control, but that sometimes it is worth it.

I learnt that the French have a rather more cavalier attitude to high speeds and tiny, narrow village roads than I am entirely comfortable with.

I learnt that the curative powers of ice cream should never be underestimated, nor should the restorative powers of renewed friendships.

I learnt that most of what my mother taught me of love was a lie. Friends can be relied on. Friendship can strike suddenly and last forever. And I am worthy of love.

I learnt that, although I already knew most of this stuff, being reminded of it in this way can be overwhelmingly transformative.

I hugged. I laughed. I loved. I cried. I learnt so much. Life will never be the same, and I am so very grateful.