There are some phrases, when uttered by any of my three teenaged children that have the same effect on me as chalk on a blackboard.
“I need …”- the end of that sentence is never a non-discretionary item.
Or: “So and so is lucky … they have the latest (whatever).”
When I hear these words, I am wracked by a combination of anger and guilt:
- anger that my over-privileged children don’t know the difference between need and want, and don’t appreciate how lucky they are …
- anger at myself for providing a rarefied environment in which they have no concept of how most of our society- not to mention the rest of the world – really lives….
- guilt that my kids want for nothing while so many need so much… and
- guilt that I feel any anger – because at the end of the day, they are only kids – and what parent wants their kids to feel anything but security and comfort?
Within the context of that complicated minestrone of emotion, I gratefully accepted the invitation to participate in the Twelve – and Thirteen programs with my kids.
The programs offered my teenaged son and twin tween daughters a different volunteering experience one Sunday each month. We would get up-close-and-personal with the issues, the not-for-profits who provide the solutions, and in some cases the ultimate beneficiaries of the aide.
I should provide a little context at this point – my kids are overall pretty down-to-earth and have always seen as their example parents who are committed to giving back to the broader community with both their time and their money.
But none of that had required them to give up their own time, or to contribute their own effort, and so I signed up for Twelve and Thirteen with schizophrenic expectations;
My kids would emerge with an enlightened understanding of all the hardship that exists in the world, feeling empathic and empowered… moved to be involved and make a difference, whilst still appreciating their lucky accidents of birth without any guilt or trauma associated with this journey.
In hindsight I do accept this may have been a somewhat unrealistic expectation – but consider this reflection from my son Mitch:
“Volunteering made me feel like I was making a difference to Melbourne, and the lives of many unfortunate citizens. It was a rewarding and enriching experience. To see the smiles on the faces of the homeless people we catered for, allowed me to really step back and think; this is a way I can turn my good fortune into helping other people.”
And from my daughter, Alex :
“We knew by taking 2-3 hours a month out of our privileged lives, we made a difference to somebody else’s life. Not only have we helped changed lives via the Twelve program, but Twelve changed us. I hope will never know what it is like to live in a housing commission flat, or not have enough money for breakfast. And although that is terrible, at least there is something we can do to help.”
For our family, participation in the programs has marked the beginning of a continuing conversation, and a lifetime of call to action.
But for me, personally – there’s been an even greater benefit; nowadays, when confronted with the phrase “I really need…” my response is neither frustration, anger nor guilt.
It’s been a simple question in response – “Do you?… Really?