Tag Archives: kindness

The things you miss

It was one of those conversations where you are not even sure if the person is talking to you or themselves.  There were moments when he looked straight into my eyes but for the most part he looked at his hands, the wall behind me or the table.  In those moments I watched his face closely and felt my heart start to break for him.  His was not a unique story.  Sure the details were all his but the emotions all too human.  This was a story that I have heard in different lengths and styles from my colleagues as they struggle to balance their family lives and the demands of our work.  More and more these conversations end with the person looking at me and smiling before they say “you are lucky you are single, you don’t have to worry about this.”

They’re right of course.  I am single and I don’t have to worry about a husband or kids but I do still have a family and a life that is not work related.  And despite my absolute love for my job and the work I get to do I am  acutely aware of what I am missing.

I hate talking about this stuff because I don’t want anyone to ever think that I am complaining and certainly don’t want to start feeling sorry for myself because I genuinely believe my life is blessed.  This is one of those times though when I am alone in a hotel room, the distraction of work Skype chats and emails is fading, I’ve done the standard equipment check and recharging of all the necessary technologies and all I have left now is thoughts of the little things I miss.

I’m not sure if it is my age but when I used to live overseas (several years ago) I missed Tim Tams (the world’s best chocolate biscuit/cookie) and Vegemite.  Now I miss celebrating birthdays and anniversaries, encouraging friends as they start their own businesses and supporting them as they go through chemotherapy.  I miss laughing at inane things until we cry.  I miss the days of lengthy phone conversations and not having to celebrate the birth of my sister’s first child over text.  Or commiserate the death of my uncle in the same way.

But I am lucky.  I have friends all over the world.    On this trip I was able to stay at my friend’s for a few nights. This for me is the greatest luxury as I hate hotels and being alone.  Sure, sleeping on a couch isn’t as much fun as it was in my 20’s but when news of my uncle came through she was there with a hug and a cup of tea.  And when news of the birth of my gorgeous (no I am not biased he really is gorgeous) nephew came we could celebrate with a wine.  When I was sick with a cold, cos UK summer is colder than Australian winter , she turned on the heating and made me eat vegetables.  And best of all, she has introduced me to the amazing cooking skills of her flat mate, or as I like to call him my UK house husband.   I might have moments of feeling lonely and disconnected when I am travelling for work, tired from my incurable state of over commitment, but they are fleeting and I do know that I am never really ever that far away from a friendly hug.

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“I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers”*

I didn’t like the play but I loved the line.  There is something incredibly telling in this line and the more imbedded I am in the humanitarian response world the more acutely aware of this I become.  Humanitarian response wouldn’t exist without the kindness of strangers.  Money, goods, petitions, volunteering, even working as a humanitarian all involve an array of strangers committing acts of kindness to help someone they don’t and probably never will know.

If I could be so bold as to add to Mr Williams’ words, yes I rely on the kindness of strangers but I have never been so dependent on my growing global family.

I’ve been in my new role for three months.  Anyone who follows on me Twitter or Instagram will know I have taken to tagging everything with #Ilovemyjob.  Honestly I do.  It is without doubt one of the most rewarding and challenging roles I’ve been honoured to hold.  More than that though the people I get to meet and work with are remarkable.  And I mean that as literally as it can be meant.  These people are worth taking the time to remark on.  In previous blogs post I have talked about different people I’ve met since starting this humanitarian journey; women, children, colleagues, even school principals.  Some of these people you meet for an hour and will never see again.  Some are forever imprinted in your mind and their faces haunt you at 3am.  Those special few become like family.

I am travelling a lot at the moment.  I’ve just started the first week of a three week trip across three countries.  My suitcase, which seems to be getting larger and heavier every time I use it, is filled with files, reports, equipment and cords.   I have meetings, in offices, over meals and via Skype booked solid and when I am not in a meeting I have emails to respond to, stories to write, strategies to prepare and reports to digest.  Yeah, I do love my job but this is not glamorous as some might think. And as much as you are always around people, the demands of work, if not managed carefully, can make you feel lonely very quickly.

Something rather special happened for this trip though.   I was invited to stay at people’s houses.  In the whole three weeks I am away I will not see in the inside of a hotel room.  I get that this might sound horrible to some people but I was giddy with excitement and so honoured by the invites I may have gotten a tad teary as I clapped my hands with glee and rushed to buy company appropriate PJs.

Now I am nothing special.  I am not being invited to people’s house, invited to join in family dinners or parties because I am amazingly hilarious and entertaining. Though for a single woman I do know some great Dad jokes!   It is simply because these people are really, truly, genuinely kind.  And they get it.   When you travel a lot, when you work odd hours in order to be globally connected, when the things you see, do, read about and work on get serious, when you miss birthdays and farewells and brunches with your friends and family back home, they get that having that human connection, that kindness, that sense of support is important.

So thank you.

Thanks for your kindness for it is noticed, valued and relied upon more than you will ever know.

*Blanche DuBois, A Street Car Named Desire, Tennessee Williams

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Kindness is a choice

We all have choices to make.  In my personal life I usually run a mile from choices because I am never confident in my ability to pay the costs involved.  Professionally I make a million choices a day.  Sometimes I have been happy with, even proud of my choices, other times not so much. Sometimes I make a choice which logic and intelligence determine to be right but I can’t help feeling sick as I make it.

Humanitarian work is full of these kinds of choice. Choices on who to help, when to help, and how to help. Choices of who to work with and who not to work with.  Choices about what kind of humanitarian you want to be.  Do you want to be one who strictly adheres to humanitarian principles of impartiality, neutrality and independence?   Do you want to be a humanitarian who does what ever it takes to get the job done?

I’m not even a tried and tested humanitarian, I haven’t seen the devastation of a rapid onset natural disaster or been in the aftermath of civil unrest.  I am a student and a trainee and as such I feel unprepared for the barrage of choices that I am facing in my newly chosen career.  I am confronted by the mirror that humanitarian work holds up in front of you.

One choice that I know I have to remake and recommit to each moment is the choice to be kind.

It’s such a simple, rather old fashion notion and one that is easily forgotten in times of pressure and stress.  Over the past few weeks I’ve tried to bring some reSILLYence to my team and I have noticed that more than the laughs and jokes, it’s been those small acts of kindness that have really made the difference.  It got me thinking, the darkest moments I have experienced and witnessed in my life always featured an act of random kindness.

When I lived in Korea I got tuberculosis.  I barely remember the fever, the pain or the coughing.  I do, and always will, remember the kindness I was shown by my boss, colleagues, friends and even the local bar tender throughout my 12-month recovery.

My first trip with work took me to the slums of India.  We were filming the residents of Chennai as they woke from their spots on the ground, packed up their meagre belongings and disappeared into the city’s streets.  After a few days of talking with a young lady she presented me with a thread of white flowers.  I had seen these flowers being worn in women’s hair and knew this was her income source.  I didn’t know if I should accept, offer to pay or what.  Not having a hair clip of my own she took out hers and clipped the flowers to my hair, thanking me for listening to her story.

In a training scenario where I was covered in fake blood and vomit pretending to die a stranger sat next to me, held my hand and sung me a lullaby.

Frustration at feeling useless, anger and annoyance at not being listened to, and defeat by passive aggression make it easy to overlook kindness in others.  Worse still, they provide a twisted self-justification for forgetting to be kind yourself.

I’m not proud of some of my behaviour over the past few months.  I know that in some instances I have not been kind.  For all our right and wrong undertakings, for all our achievements and stumbles it’s the kindness that we show that will be remembered.    Kindness is a choice and I am choosing right now to be kind.   Cos in the end that is all that matters.

 

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I’d rather pick my nose than worry about picking my battles

Champagne, disappointment, and dilemmas: I’m starting to realise my life unfolds like a trilogy.  Like most trilogies, with the exception of Empire Strikes Back, the middle one is usually disappointing.  I don’t like disappointment; it seems a rather stupid emotion with no productive outcome insight.

Every time I am disappointed I get the inevitable lecture about picking my battles.  I am a humanitarian not a military strategist.  I think every battle I fight is worth fighting, I wouldn’t be fighting it if I didn’t it.  Losing a battle, no matter how painful it can be, doesn’t in any way mean it wasn’t worth the effort.  People are worth effort.  And even in defeat, knowing that someone stood beside you in the fight is often enough to make a difference.

When facing defeat I turn to a few select people for guidance.  I like to call them my sanity pillars.  These are people whose intelligence, integrity and humour help bring me back to what it is all about.  One of my sanity pillars is moving to Ethiopia in a couple of weeks.  After his farewell filled with cocktails and travel stories I started thinking about my visit to Ethiopia earlier this year.  I don’t even have to read over my notes to remember the people I met and the stories I heard.  I see their faces and hear their voices each night before I go to sleep.

When I think of fighting battles I think often of these people, specifically the women I met.  This trip was investigating and gathering stories about food insecurity and the impact this has on communities.  Many people in the north of Ethiopia face food insecurity.  The land is dry and rocky, the heat extreme and the water scarce.

Many people leave their villages in search of food and a better life for their families.

Many people see no alternative but to leave the area and hope the streets of Addis Ababa will be more generous.  They rarely are.  Too many end up begging on the streets, scourging for food scraps, in abusive labour or worse.  The women I spoke with had lived on these streets and eventually returned to their villages.  They weren’t proud of their deeds in Addis but they were defiant in their fight for their family’s survival.  One woman stared at me with a set jaw and steely glance and said the abuse she suffered in Addis, the defeat and hopelessness she felt, makes her fight now for all children.  She is now a volunteer community worker in her village, training, educating and protecting child’s rights.

My weekly battles aren’t always so meaningful.  This week I won the battle with a stubborn Champagne cork.  I lost the battle of self-control and ordered a pizza.  I won the fight against my credit card debt.  I lost the fight against keeping my mouth shut.  This week though someone who thought no one cared thanked me, I felt the appreciation of another who didn’t think they could face something on their own and I received the warmth of a hug from someone who saw it all unfold.

Great things, small or big, can come out of defeats.  If we pick our battles too carefully, if we pick only those we think we will win, what are we at risk of losing?

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What to do when the Triple C defense faulters

Suicide bombers are getting me down.  I’ve been reading about them for five days in preparation for writing a research paper and it is a little disturbing.  Usually I combat the serious topics of my Masters degree in International Crisis Management with chocolate, cartoons and cocktails.  I call it the Triple C defense.  Lately though I have needed more than chocolate to keep the sweetness in my life.  So here is a collection of short shout outs to the people that have kept me inspired and on track this week.

The Whitney Houston Moment

No this is not about The Bodyguard.   Before she was always loving Kevin Costner she was giving us ‘the greatest love of all’. Back in June I met a local school principal in Senegal. I don’t normally like school principals and certainly any discussion I’ve had with ones in the past usually resulted me sitting in a room on my own for 50 minutes.  This one though was different.  Within moments of talking with him I found myself wanting to break out singing ‘I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way.’

He had left his hometown and traveled to this very small remote area of Senegal because he believes every child has a basic right to education.  He spoke with so much hope and affection for his students.  He was working with the community to ensure access to education for all; he was encouraging parents to even let their daughters go to school.  When I told him that earlier that day I had interviewed one of his female students and she and her mother had said their biggest hope for their future was to finish school and not enter into an early marriage he clasped his hands together, looked to the sky and whispered a thank you.  Everything about him was hopeful, and now when I need a reminder of what hope means I just look at his picture, take a moment to sit back and smile.   Then I just get on with it.

The reality check

She walked into the room and sat at the end of the table silently.  We continued our monthly meeting for a few minutes and then when the usual business was concluded we asked her to speak.  The moment she opened her mouth we knew it was our turn to be silent.  She was quiet, modest, strong and beautiful.  As the Communications Director for World Vision Pakistan she gave us a small insight into her time working as a single, white, young, female in one of the most complex international development situations.  I didn’t take my eyes of her the entire time she was speaking.  Not cos I’m creepy but because she had a real grace about her.  You do hear a lot of war stories in this industry and they are sometimes worn as a badge of honour.  But she wasn’t like that.   The impact of her talk was more in the pauses than the words.  Her smiles, laughs, directness and truths wove together to show the tight rope of harsh realities and hopeful futures we all walk at some point in our lives.

My fairy ‘fashionista’ godmother

I am not a fashion model and I have given up trying to have style.  But this week, I found myself caring a lot about my appearance.  I had a rather important meeting and I was nervous; so nervous that I was completely freaking out about what to wear.  This is unusual for me as I own five pairs of jeans, nine white tops and that’s really all I wear, simple, easy and no colour coordination required.  Unfortunately I couldn’t don my standard outfit for this meeting.  Enter my fairy ‘fashionista’ godmother.  With a whirl and a twirl I found myself laden with gorgeous dresses from my friend’s wardrobe with hints of what shoes and jackets would match.  It is not so much the clothes that made my day, though they were pretty awesome.  It was the kindness and support from someone that has only been a friend for a short time.  What to her might seem like a small act or gesture to me was amazing.  It reminded me that despite some of the knocks you take there is always kindness out there if you keep yourself open to it.

 

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