My husband and I are opposites. I have heaps of air signs and am up in my head, love working on computers, and could write until the cows come home. Bryan has loads of fire signs, loves physical work, hates computers and can’t figure out the electronics of a TV for the life of him.
My husband’s worked on building sites for a lot of his life, mainly on high-rise buildings as a dogman before he retired. Dogmen are the ones with the walkie-talkies who guide the cranes to make sure buildings are safely erected and material is deposited in the right place without endangering anyone or damaging the material involved.
And through this work, Bryan’s taught me respect – respect for all those who do menial, physical work which is often overlooked but which is carried out with dignity and grace. He has taught me to value waitresses, checkout staff at supermarkets and big stores, those who work on roads, plumbers, the power workers who labour in dreadful weather to ensure continuity of electricity supplies, the ambulance and fire officers who have taken the path of service for the community, the emergency service workers who turn up to help people in danger, need or who require general assistance in difficult weather. I have learned to value wisdom rather than intelligence because all too often I’ve seen wisdom trump intellectual learning many times.
I thought of all this when we drove into Coffs Harbour on Wednesday and saw that, overnight, a truck driver had missed the turn north of the Nambucca River on the Pacific Highway about 10 minutes from here, and landed in the river. I’m very pleased to say that the truck driver is okay, because a passing car driver dived into the river and helped him escape the partially submerged cab. Connections, help from one person to another in need. I’m very sorry for the driver as he’ll have lost income and the repairs will be costly. But I’m glad and relieved that his family will have him sitting down to dinner on Christmas Day, able to share presents or whatever makes life happy for him, his family and friends.
Truck drivers transport goods for us and it’s a pretty thankless task – long hours, dangerous conditions, pressure to deliver on time, accidents when drivers get tired and lose concentration. Without them, the goods would not be in our supermarkets for us to purchase. Without the trucks, which are made by workers somewhere in the world, those goods wouldn’t be transported to us. And those goods are transported mainly by sea so we need mariners who sail the ships and crane-drivers to unload the containers which in turn have been loaded up by workers in terminals somewhere else in the world.
Many of the goods we buy are put together by workers who create the cloth or parts, then put together electrical items, or cars, or sew the clothes which we can now buy so cheaply because so much production has moved to countries where labour and production costs are so much cheaper. Many of the goods available to us are made by child and sweated labour although we don’t know exactly which items because the workers are invisible.
But in a globalised world, none of us lives in isolation. We are all dependent on each other. And when we realise this, the idea looks complete empty and meaningless that there is no community, no inter-dependency, that we are individuals who are completely separate from others.
In the past decades of economic expansion and good times, the focus has been on the individual, on the ephemeral glitter that, yes, you can make good as an individual and you don’t need to care about others, it’s all about “me”, “I” and bugger everyone else. Only, of course, at present, the good times are falling apart and grinding to a halt. The whole idea of living solely in the material world as the be all and end all, of living to shop instead of shopping to live, is coming into question.
And I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all. I reckon that it’s opening us up to connections with each other as inter-dependent human beings again, of opening our hearts to compassion, community and respect for other people, wherever they are in the world, because we need people, just as people need us. We are less when we don’t feel heartbroken at the idea of hundreds of children dying of hunger and malnutrition in the drought in Somalia and Northern Pakistan, or people in Thailand facing huge floods, or farmers in India committing suicide because of debt and famine and the failure of the monsoons.
I read in an article recently that aid workers can confirm first-hand the effects of global warming and climate change. They see the effects on the ground, in communities where they work. They see droughts as seasons fail to arrive as they used to. They see seasons shifting, intense heatwaves, monsoons failing, climates changing gradually but inexorably. These people are suffering because we in Western societies have been suckered by consumerism and ideas that the world is ours for the taking. It isn’t. What we do here in the West affects people in developing nations who are least able to cope with the devastating effects of climate change. Bit of us are stuck to them because we got rich at the expense of Third World Nations. And bits of them are stuck to us to remind us that we need to re-visit our sense of entitlement, embrace the idea of living sustainably and not selfishly, and realise we’re all in this wonderful world together.
Together – I think it’s a wonderful word. The 99% – what an inspired phrase to bring us together! In this time of upheaval, we need to pull together, to pool our collective wisdom, to develop ways of production and commodity exchange which are respectful of the environment and heedful of the needs of the collective not the individual. I really think we can do it because people – grassroots people – are so inventive, ingenious and inspired when the chips are down. I do admit I’m a glass-half-full type of person but I think we’re needed to give pats on the back to the glass-half-empty types because together we can pool resources, inspire each other and create a full glass for everyone.