We all have those days when we can’t be bothered. Can’t be bothered working, can’t be bothered conversating, just can’t be stuffed. Long days at work, university or after a family reunion. The day’s when we’re absolutely exhausted mentally with the endless questions about how things are going, what we are doing with our lives and listening to other people.
We have all drifted out of a conversation with someone we’ve just met and ended up wondering why in the world we were talking about Donald Trump or something random. We have to also admit that it’s not always because of tiredness that we stopped paying attention but sometimes we as people just stopped listening because we stopped caring so much. But what is the price of not caring?
For a second, imagine what life would be like if you stopped giving a shit about everything? Sounds pretty good right? But what opportunities would you miss out on if you went through every conversation half-assed and vacant? If you overheard a conversation about something you could have offered your advice on but didn’t because “you couldn’t be bothered.” How would your friends and family treat you if you didn’t give a shit about them? What would be the overriding effect if everyone didn’t care, how would that impact our world?
Actually caring about things can be as simple as being present in a conversation, participating in something we don’t usually care about. Something I’m completely guilty of is always thinking I know what is best for myself and like many things I’m often wrong. I like to think that everything I currently believe in has always been that way but every now and again these little journeys pop up which change my opinion on things and it actually shapes what could be considered a different version of who i am, maybe like yearly iPhone upgrades, very slight changes which accumulate into significant and very sizeable changes. Being present in conversation is about as important as having lyrics in a song. It provides depth, it grows a sense of involvement, something other people can relate too.
Over the last two years, i’ve been on this journey of self-discovery. Through blogging and cycling, advocating for young people in state care, not being sure about what I want to study, considering what Christianity means to me. Having difficulty with relationships. A whole mixture of massive journeys.
All of these journeys have taught me more about myself and others, in particular, how my experience in the care system has changed my worldview. My adoptive parents fostered other kids because they clung on to something deeper than biology and sharing the same blood. They would make compromises in their own lives be it financial, social or even allow their cupboards to be raided whenever I came over willingly because they valued connection beyond just saying that they cared, they followed through with their word and actioned change into other peoples lives. Those lessons wore off on me. Moulded my persona and helped me appreciate other people. The same way a musician is influenced about what to sing, it sets the tone for everything they do.
When I was 16, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC) sent out a request to all care experienced young people between the ages of 16-30 if they would like to be a part of an advisory panel that would report to the Minister for Social Development. With some convincing from my mum, I unwittingly emailed back letting them know I was keen.
With all of the right words in the correct locations, my request was denied… Lol… At the time I was still sitting my NCEA’s in high school and my passion was to get into graphical design and become an architect, so it didn’t affect me very much.
Not until one day I received an email from the same lady at the OCC who asked whether I would be interested in taking part in a focus group with a whole group of other care experienced young people living in Christchurch. The bribe was pizza and fizzy. Like all kids as soon as the words free and food are dropped, the rest of the conversation kind of doesn’t matter.
So I walked into this meeting thinking I’d be catching up with a whole lot of heaving hitting, inspirational leaders. But instead, I was confronted by a group of kids who had less than I did. These people had tattoos on their face, gang affiliations, some had even been to prison. These were people who needed a voice but didn’t believe it was even possible, they didn’t feel like they were entitled to it.
Our facilitator at the time, a lady called Tania (who is absolutely amazing), spent time with us asking what we thought would be helpful for young kids in care provided that we had all come through the system at different stages in our lives. A lot of thoughts were drawn up around knowing their rights, being able to have more freedom voicing their thoughts on things, there were so many thoughts. The entire mindmap ended up being scribbled over the entire 5 x 2-meter wall, floor to roof.
The conversations grew louder and louder, not in a nice way either. Stories were being shared about the abuse that some people went through, the horrible stories which I never believed could possibly happen in New Zealand. Sitting around the room in a messy circle each person shared their story and what they’d gone through. As each person told a bit about themselves I realized a continuous pattern that I was the only young person in that room who hadn’t been physically or sexually abused by someone.
It made me upset and pissed off. It was enough to make me question the morals of our culture. That there are people out there who do this shit to kids and leave visible scars and seem to believe that it is okay somehow. How domestic violence is such a real and living issue within New Zealand and while it didn’t affect me in my life, there are many people to whom it does affect.
This was the first step in changing my opinion around others. From there I was asked a second time to be a youth advocate, and still being salty about the first time, yes was the answer. Three years on and a new Ministry has been created and its name is Oranga Tamariki – The Ministry for Children. An overhaul of the attitude behind how New Zealand view’s the problem of young people living in poverty.
Since that day I have spoken at large conferences, with Prime Ministers and academics. I have helped at a governance level to create and raise funds for a charity organization called VOYCE-Whakarongo Mai, which stands for the voices of young care experienced, that specializes in giving young kids in care a collective voice. There are thousands of people involved in this work not just in the care experienced space but in every element of our communities. All of whom have huge roles to play.
Do you think that these services would exist if nobody cared?
What would happen if nobody could be bothered? Would these important social enterprises still operate today? Services like: The United Nations Foundation, The Rotary Foundation, Heart Foundation, Starship Foundation, Tearfund, World Vision, VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai, these services would not exist if people didn’t care.
It’s easy to believe that it’s somebody else’s problem and therefore somebody else will fix it. That was exactly my thinking when I was 16 years old about the care system. The thing was, I always knew that there were social problems in New Zealand. From the “It’s Not Ok” ads on TV, even to completely different initiatives like World Visions 40 hour famine. But the truth is that I never really realized how much of an impact my seemingly insignificant opinions could actually have on everything, from policies which turned into laws to changing the minds of my friends and just opening their minds up to the reality of the problem.
The fact of the matter is that change doesn’t happen if everyone waits for somebody else to fix the problem. The same way the dishes won’t get done if everyone waits for somebody else to do it. It takes leadership to get anything done. Somebody has to start a movement to encourage others to be inspired to do the same.
New Zealand’s care system has been changed 14 times over the last 20 years. It was only until this time around when some bright spark thought of the idea to actually ask young people who lived through the care system what they thought about it. I know right… Seems like a logical thing to do, ask children what they would like the Ministry for Children to look like. Can’t believe it took 20 years to figure that one out…
But that’s actually a common thing, nobody seems to remember that almost everything we like to call our world was designed by someone, built using somebodies hands and handed on to another generation.
Sometimes the most obvious solutions to things aren’t actually as obvious to other people as you think. Our worldviews are all different. We all have something different to offer to people. But it is everyone’s responsibility to give a shit, and that can start by simply paying attention to the difficult conversations we all ought to be having with other people.