Everything we do has political consequence. Politics is about how a society really works, about the building up, or undermining, of the integrity of a society.
Inspirational leaders like Lincoln, Gandhi, Mandela, Havel, Aung Sung Suu Kyi have common characteristics: a high principle, years of opposition and suffering, perseverance, the ability to embrace those who opposed them, and the ability to transform their culture for the better.
Yet the below-the-radar stories below carry all the same characteristics. We are all leaders.
Stories of ordinary citizens making a difference in Australia today.
- Creators of Peace
- Bringing Understanding through Community Dialogue
- Aged Care
- Australia’s Unrecognised Gift
Creators of Peace Joyce
Creators of Peace is an international network of women committed to the pursuit of a radical peace where personal honesty and integrity form the basis of reconciliation. I was asked to facilitate a Creators of Peace circle in my area. That was five years ago. Since then we have had over forty in the Sydney region alone and we are still going!
In practical terms we form peace circles in all areas of Australia. We encourage women from diverse backgrounds to come together for six to eight weeks for two hours a week where we discuss topics connected to peace as well as learning listening skills. An important component is listening to each other’s stories. In that 6 weeks we grow from strangers to good friends. It gives a chance to meet new friends and promote peace in a practical way, which is what I am interested in. www.cop.iofc.org
Bringing Understanding through Community Dialogue David
Since the 1970s I have been involved in community, industrial and race relations in Britain, Africa and America through the International network of Initiatives of Change. I have been concerned about some of the tensions in some of our community attitudes within Australia, particularly between different cultures and faith traditions. To help create a more cohesive and inclusive Australia, bridges of trust and open dialogue are needed.
As part of this I have been involved in arranging Community Dialogues and workshops between Muslims and Christians, and young people from different sides of the tensions during the Cronulla riots, to leadership programs for intercultural groups in different parts of Sydney in the last 7 years. It has aimed to create more understanding of ‘the other‘ in our communities and foster greater appreciation for the values they live by which could have a lot to contribute to this country.
My involvement in reconciliation began at New England University, where I ‘discovered’ Aboriginal people. I somehow started tutoring Aboriginal children, and when each week as I looked at the young children in front of me I realised I knew next to nothing of their story, a story that would change my own Australian story for good.
That led to getting involved, but the more I did the more I realised it was making a difference to me rather than anyone else. But it did help to make a difference to others also in initiating events in the New South Wales Parliament, our first drawing in a third of the Parliament. Myall Creek relates to the 1838 massacre, and I serve both on the national and Sydney Friends of Myall Creek committees.
Reconciliation I came to realise is not about ‘helping’ Aboriginal people. The have had enough of that! It is really about the rest of us understanding who we are as Australians. We can never really belong here until the relationship so brutally fractured is restored. ‘The path to the future passes through our past’. We have very largely been deaf to, and devalued, what Aboriginal culture has been saying to us, values and principles fundamental not only to our future as a nation – respect for the land, community, spirituality – but for our global village. This is the message I today try to convey, mainly through writing and politics. www.myallcreek.info
Aged care Sallie
I love my work in community aged care. A few years ago I had the opportunity to help my elderly neighbour. She had no apparent immediate family, and through increasing memory loss, got stuck in a dementia-specific nursing home where she was lonely and miserable. Through legally becoming her Private Guardian for six months, I was able to bring her back to her home – of 80 years – despite the gloomy predictions of the then nursing home doctor who warned: “You’ll regret this.”
Far from regret, Edith then enjoyed a further two and a half years in her home, where she managed to live on her own with the daily help of community carers and the home nursing service. We were a team who worked hard together to keep Edith at home. This was in spite of her increasing dementia and in defiance of the easier playing-it-safe option of a nursing home institution.
My enduring memory is of Edith contentedly basking in the sunshine in the privacy and dignity of her own verandah. As a team we all felt satisfied we were indeed making a worthwhile difference in someone’s life
Australia’s unrecognised gift Mike
Standing on the land in the Flinders Rangers where, in 1853, my great-great-uncle was murdered and where his brothers and other settlers massacred the Aboriginal group held responsible — and admitting it to an Aboriginal who himself had lost six relatives at the hands of white men — was a moment of realization that has shaped much of life since. The ‘realization’ was that it was not about being guilty but about being honest and aware, and finding the liberation of forgiveness — which that Adnyamathana man gave to me. And realizing that is what our country needs. We don’t face an ‘Aboriginal problem’ in this country; we are part of an ‘Australian problem’.
From that moment, my wife and I have discovered ourselves walking that story of a new relationship and seeking restorative justice in numerous ways: with the Ngarrindjeri along the Coorong, as co-chair of the SA Sorry Day Committee, creating a monument with former residents of Colebrook Home for children taken from the families, joining the Bridge walks in 2000, and so on.
It is a story that keeps opening out, with new challenges. And it resonates, we have found, in situations around the world — racial and ethnic conflicts in Los Angeles, in Malaysia, India, Kenya and, most recently, among ethnic minorities in Burma where we showed a DVD of the Rudd apology and shared our own experience. Our unfinished search for the practical expression of honesty and justice in national life can be a dynamic gift speaking to the conflicts of the world.