How You Can Help Bridge The Gap Between Rich and Poor This Valentines Day

I hate to name-drop, but I found myself in the same breathing space as two former prime ministers a couple of days ago. The first was Malcolm Turnbull, one of the many speakers at the Side By Side conference run by the Wayside Chapel, who had been invited to discuss the crucial role of students in political conversation. And the second was an icon of mine, Julia Gillard, whose “misogyny” speech was voted the most unforgettable moment on Australian TV this week, and who was the special guest on The Guilty Feminist, a stage show of the popular podcast that was on at the Enmore Theatre.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Two Australian politicians from two different political parties, who share a similar vision when it comes to how to measure success and how to improve the way we care for the marginalised people in our community.

You may know that during his time as prime minister, Malcolm was criticised for his privilege – for being a wealthy, self-made man – and for not being a natural communicator when it came to the people. And in spite of his valiant attempts to prioritise climate policy in his party – a view that ultimately led to his downfall – he remained a somewhat elusive personality who the voters were frustrated to never really get to know.

From the other side of the tracks was Julia, our first female prime minister, who became a target of the predominantly middle-aged, white men in her party and the opposition party as a result of her gender. Throughout her stint as prime minister, she was forced to fight the sort of infantile sexism and snobbery you expect to find in an all-boys private school. Nevertheless, she stood her ground against it – hence, that speech – and if the level of applause at her arrival on Friday night was anything to go by, her reputation among Australian feminists is legendary.

How wonderful to see, in this terrifyingly narcissistic period of political history, two such prominent figures (who in spite of both being retired from politics), came together to help the marginalised community in our society.

Malcolm was appearing at the Side By Side conference run by The Wayside Chapel, to which I was invited (I assume) because of my paltry donation of a Christmas lunch to ease my guilt for one of their residents last year. The organisation, which is based in Kings Cross in Sydney, works predominantly with and for the homeless – for those who have hit rock bottom due to physical illness, job loss, mental illness, addiction, domestic violence, sexual abuse and trauma. They are citizens and victims who could be any one of us, who have fallen on bad times – typically through no fault of their own – who are being ignored by society.

The Side By Side conference was about reducing the stigma about poverty and exchanging ideas about how we can narrow the gap between us and them.

But change takes time. As Julia Gillard reminded us during her chat on The Guilty Feminist, it will probably take another century before we see any real equality in terms of female leadership in Australia – whether that’s in the workplace or in politics – and without women in those positions, we remain under-represented. The same is true for the poor. Unless society shows more compassion and changes its priorities, the gap will continue to widen.

What is certain is that to effect the necessary changes we need leaders who have vision and who are prepared to listen to our young people and our experts in the field.

It is not only middle-aged lefties like me who are disillusioned with the direction the western world is heading. When a government prioritises a Religious Freedom Bill over crucial preparations for the annual bushfire season, we have to ask why. And our kids are asking those questions too – which is perhaps one of the reasons so many are struggling with their mental health.

The Wayside Chapel’s conference was a call to action. Progressive, well-known CEOs spoke about how businesses can help donate part of their profits to help bridge the gap between rich and poor and to help protect the environment, and the message that stood out was that if we all become a little less focused on success and more on caring, there is a chance that we can do exactly that.

“Together we can make no ‘us and them,” was the clear message of the event. And they’re right. Imagine how frigging awesome it would be if everyone of us did something tiny that could make a real difference to the confidence of one person on the poverty line. Because, trust me, their situation could happen to any of us, and an increasing percentage of the current number of the homeless population are middle-aged women.

I’m aware that “activism” is harder than just sitting at home on the sofa, watching those heart-wrenching stories play out on the The Project. It requires a concerted “movement of feet.” And even though we’ve had to put our hands a little deeper into our pockets of late, I am certain that there is something that most of us can do. For example, this Valentines Day, instead of buying your partner a tacky card and a sad bunch of dead petrol station flowers, you could donate $20 to waysidechapel.org.au/valentines, or any organisation that helps people in need. That small donation will give someone a shower, a new pair of undies and socks and some toiletries. It’s a much more sustainable way to show someone you love them and it will make all the difference to someone who isn’t feeling the love right now.

Valentines Night With The FailArmy

One of Kurt’s greatest pleasures in life, apart from winding me up, is watching FailArmy videos on YouTube.

 

 

These are videos of those idiots (usually men) that derive pleasure from doing wacky, dangerous stunts, the insanity of which more (often than not), land them in sticky situations, if not hospital. Typical stunts might include jumping out of a window into A swimming pool – even funnier when the pool’s empty (Not!) – risky skateboard tricks that you just know are going to go horribly wrong, and innocent family outings that usually end up in the drink.

 

I’m sure you get the picture, and being a typically boring, middle-aged parent, they’re not exactly my idea of entertainment, but watching them with Kurt provides some rare and precious bonding moments with my son.

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Our very stylish picnic hamper!

 

Anyway… I digress. What made me think about Kurt’s obsession with FailArmy, is mine and the old man’s attempt last night at a Valentine’s picnic.

 

You see, I thought I was being the epitome of perfect wifey when we discussed our plans for Valentine’s Day, and when he came up with nothing I suggested a picnic. An old spark of …something I haven’t seen in a while… lit up the old man’s eyes for a brief moment when he realized that the picnic could be the cheapest celebration we’ve had so far on this commercial day from hell that rivals Halloween, so much so that he went all out and splashed on a bunch of semi-alive flowers from the local deli to celebrate, that almost rivalled my sad box of Celebrations which he complained had too many Bountys for his liking in it.

 

Sadly, however, the art of romance seems to elude us, when at the end of what was a hot, stinky day in Sydney, having mistakenly assumed that the temperature would cool down to the perfect balmy evening for romance, the wind suddenly changed direction and conviction and decided to blow a force 8 cyclone directly onto our square metre of grass.

 

IMG_1011It wasn’t cold exactly, but it was very breezy, which meant that we had to hold our plastic wine glasses tightly in our hands all the time –making eating and PDAs very difficult – or the glasses fell over, risking the serious threat of wine wastage. Then, every time I unwrapped a new food delicacy the wrapping from it would fly away and glue itself to the faces of the people at the picnic next to us before I had the chance to catch it. But even more disastrous, that fucking wind ruined my hair, congealed as it was for most of the evening with the food in my mouth.

 

If I’m honest, the plan was all a little too spontaneous for us and served to demonstrate once again our complete lack of preparation and style when it comes to romance. We don’t own a picnic hamper such as the ones you see beautiful people lolling over on The Bachelor or that the astronaut produced for NC, full of exotic delicacies that you pay a fortune for at David Jones, but that no-one actually eats. No, our picnic was hastily bought en route from the deli and served out of a plastic bag as we sat shivering on damp-from-our-earlier-swim towels because the old man threw the picnic rug away during his last clear out.

 

I fear picnics will go the way of camping, festivals and outdoor gigs in our future – another of those things we did when young love blinded us and we were green enough and stupid enough not to care about the uncomfortable reality of being outdoors.

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Back to the safety of the balcony where luckily we had the Princess to help us out with any leftover delicacies.

 

When a Labradoodle puppy bounded over to us, squatted and crapped in front of us, we decided to call it a day and relocated to the safety of our apartment balcony to be joined by Kurt, who has about as much romantic sensitivity as Kanye West and Ben Affleck put together and who remained oblivious to his new status of third wheel.

 

However, when he then informed us of his recent decision to change his name by deed poll to Rudyard Finch Simmonds – a moment even the finest video from Fail Army couldn’t match in terms of hilarity – it confirmed to us that our son is either going to be famous, end up in a looney bin or prison and that the entertainment factor of Valentines Day is as we suspected, seriously overrated.