Seek Out Similarities

I’m studying intercultural communication for one of my university units this semester. Lately, we’ve been learning about two big theories relating to culture – essentialism and non-essentialism. Essentialism is the idea that our culture is defined by set rules, and that these set rules therefore define us as individuals. Apparently you can classify what specific culture I belong to by knowing where I was born and/or where I live and what language I speak. Further, my culture, once determined, is unchanging, and will always define my behaviour. If you want to know how to effectively communicate with me, you just need to know what culture I belong to.

I’m not sure how you feel about this idea, but something in me instinctively rejects this idea in favour of non-essentialism – which is essentially the opposite theory. Non-essentialism is the idea that our culture can never be easily defined, as it is based on so many variables. Non-essentialists believe that I can belong to several different cultures at once, depending on my viewpoint. I like the idea that culture is more about what I say, than it is about the language that I speak. Maybe I just don’t want to be pigeonholed into a stereotype. After all, I’m not stereotypical!

I was born in the UK, raised in Australia, lived long enough in NZ to become a citizen (because I love NZ!) and am currently living back in Australia (not forever). I speak English – but with a mix of accents both inherited from my parents and picked up in the course of my life, I don’t sound like your typical Australian. Lots of travel and customer service work means I seldom struggle with communicating with people from all different cultures.

I’ve understood for years that people come in all shapes, sizes and backgrounds. The one thing I like to think people tend to have in common is their inherent goodness. Yes, I do believe that there are people out there in the world who are “bad” people. Some are bad as a result of upbringing and circumstance, with a rare few who just seem to be born bad. However, I think the overwhelming majority of people are good people who are just trying to do the best they can. If you are sincerely willing to try, you can find common ground with almost anyone you meet – no matter what their background or culture. It’s mainly a matter of being interested in who they are!

Long before I heard of essentialism and non-essentialism, I started teaching this idea to my son. Children are so inherently innocent, that any concepts of stereotyping and prejudice are picked up from their parents (or other role models). My son is already great at understanding people, for all that he is only eight. I want him to judge people on their words and actions, rather than where they were born or the colour of their skin. It was some years ago now that I first dropped into conversation that all people are worthy of respect. We talked about how people in the past have treated others badly just because they are born somewhere else, or speak differently, or look different – and how awful that was. We are all people and we are all important. This is a theme we return to regularly.

We are all people and we are all important.

Othering is a concept that stems from essentialism. It is a viewpoint which focuses on the differences between people. If we believe someone is “Other” we effectively limit how much we identify with them, which seems to give us permission to treat them worse than we treat those we can identify with. History has some lessons for us about the horrendous things that people can do to someone else when they believe that someone is “Other”. No doubt you can immediately think of some examples!

I want my son to grow into a man who understands that it is not okay to hurt another person, unless in self-defence. I want him to seek out the similarities he shares with people, rather than the differences. With understanding, comes empathy, patience and kindness – qualities the 99.9% of us who are “good” people can all appreciate. I truly believe that if every parent did this, the world would be a significantly better place.

So… who’s with me???

No Wonder I’m Always Tired

I’ve been a single parent for 8 years now. They’ve been some of the best years of my life – and also some of the worst. My son is so full of energy that he often literally bounces instead of walking. Meanwhile, I feel progressively older, slower and more tired as the years go by. Did he steal all that energy from me? I’m thrilled that he’s got so much… but can’t he return just a little? With just a spark of that exuberant energy glowing inside me it would be so much easier to get through the never-ending lists of work, study and chores that I need to do.

It may shock you, but I’ve only recently realised that I spend a significant amount of time each week doing unpaid work. As the only adult in this family, I am solely responsible for household chores, gardening, and child care, not to mention entertainment and education – while also being on call 24/7.

I’ve not got the time (or energy!) to record how long I spend on these activities each week. I’ve been trying to find some stats online, but haven’t found anything definitive enough to satisfy me yet. The closest I can get are some 2006 statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which indicate that the average of unpaid work then was 25.23 hours per week. These details are here.

I am confident that I actually spend longer then 5.6 hours each week cooking and cleaning up meals – I mean, there’s breakfast, lunch and dinner every day and dishes for these too. I’m also confident I spend longer than 4.13 hours on child care – my son has learning difficulties and we probably spend this long just on homework. But, 25 hours of unpaid work per week is an okay estimate to work with.

It explains why I’m so tired. As a single parent, I’m also responsible for earning enough money to meet our needs. I receive social security benefits, but these aren’t enough to live comfortably on. For most people, these payments are enough to cover rent and food, but little else. I’m lucky enough to have cheaper rent than most, but they still don’t pay all our living expenses.

Centrelink (Australian social services) require single parents with a child over 8 to work or study a minimum of 15 hours a week in exchange for these inadequate funds. If you’re not working or studying, they ensure you attend regular appointments with them and look for work by threatening to cut off your payments. They can even force you into unpaid work experience if you are not “meeting your obligations”. It’s stressful and sometimes demeaning.

I live in a regional area. I’m lucky to have 2 days of part time work that fit around the need for me to take my son to and fro from school, but I haven’t found more work than that. With limited child care, school holidays can be… troublesome for work. So I’m also studying part time, to build myself a better future. More on that another day.

So… each week I do:

  • 25 hours of unpaid work
  • 8 to 10 hours of paid work
  • 16 to 20 hours of study

Yes, I’m busy for 49 to 55 hours every week, just to get all my study and chores done during the week and earn a small income to meet living costs. Essentially, I’m working 6 days a week to earn half the income I used to earn in 5 days a week. Even when I get uni holidays, I fill them with extra chores and work that need doing. It wouldn’t be so bad, but it’s going to be like this week after week after week (etc) for the next 8 years or so. It’s pretty depressing when you look at it like that. But it does explain… no wonder I’m always tired!

I’d like to leave you with a quote from the inspiring Professor Marilyn Waring – feminist economist, Nobel Prize nominee, former politician (the youngest ever politician in NZ parliament), author and currently Professor of Public Policy at Auckland University of Technology:

“Men won’t easily give up a system in which half the world’s population works for next to nothing”

Professor Marilyn Waring

Being permanently tired and constantly feeling unappreciated is turning me into an activist! Professor Waring also notes that in Australia, women undertake 72% of all unpaid work, with the bulk of this being childcare. And unpaid childcare is the single largest sector of Australia’s economy. Read the original article here. I also stumbled upon this 1995 documentary on this exact topic, which suggests that not a lot has changed in the last 25 years:

Who’s Counting? Marilyn Waring on Sex, Lies and Global Economics
Waring maps out an alternative vision, based on the idea of time as the new currency.

It’s obvious to me that we’re overdue for change! What do you think? Do you know how much time you spend on unpaid work each week?

The Internet is a Single Parent’s Friend

I’m so thrilled that I live in the internet age. There are so many things that I don’t know how to do! A good search engine has saved me many a time. Quick example…

Went for a quick walk yesterday with my boy and our dog. My boy took his bike along, as he so often does. He just loves racing around on that thing! Unfortunately, this time the chain came loose. I’m not really a bike person. I had no idea how to fix it on again. It wasn’t the end of the world, but neither of us wanted to walk the bike the 10 minutes home again. Luckily, I had my mobile in my pocket for emergencies just like this one.

A quick internet search found me multiple sources of instructions for how to quickly repair loose bike chains. I’m so rubbish at practical things like this that I couldn’t follow the first set I found. So I found a set with pictures. A few minutes later we were back on the road again (with my grease stained fingers). Hooray!

I’ve never been one of those useful people who knows all about practical things like bike chains and home repairs. I’m a reader and a dreamer, not a handyman. Now that I’m living on a tight budget with a curious child, I’m learning all sorts of new skills. I’ve repaired flyscreens, doors and cupboards. I even bought an electric drill a while back! I’ve only used it to install a doorstop and fix a powerboard to a cupboard so far, but I’m still proud of myself.

My son, of course, takes it for granted that I can do these sorts of things. No doubt he assumes that all mothers can. He has no idea how terrified I am about getting them wrong, especially when I have to learn how to do them on the fly. Thank you, internet, for helping me solve our problems myself and teaching me to be the best parent (and person) I can be. You’re awesome!

Has the internet saved you lately? If so, I’d love to hear about it! Please leave me a comment and share the details.

Photo by Clark Young on Unsplash at https://unsplash.com/photos/lQuWIesgs5Q