The kids are back at school and settling in.
I was walking through the grounds of a school on day three of term, on my way to a meeting. I had to wait for a minute while a single file of prep-aged children, following their teacher, crossed my path on their way to a music lesson.
Most of the children were eyes-forward, or eyes-up, or down, and didn’t notice me. But I exchanged a gaze with one little girl that I reckon will stay with me for the rest of my life.
In my pause for her passing with her friends (we’re all friends at six, aren’t we?), I was probably smiling a little because they had set my thoughts ambling pleasantly.
I thought how lovely, secure, and willing they all looked – a trusted someone, their teacher, was nearby and had their backs.
I admired the teacher. Preps moving steadily in single file on day three is no small feat – ‘herding cats’ might usually be a more accurate description. What a sense of safety the teacher had already begun to imbue in her class. Such an important quality for learning to take place – both academic learning and social learning.
I thought how large the journey upon which they are embarking – their formal education. Here they are, shuffling along, taking small steps in a moment in time that they would almost certainly forget; with (probably) no understanding that similar steps over the next 12 years and beyond would further craft their little personages; further pour-in knowledge and experiences; and draw-out the unique co-creation of that knowledge combining with their singular selves, interests, pursuits, and talents.
I found myself with an impossible wish for a fast-forward sketch of their unfolding lives. Who would they each become? What figures of future history had just walked before me? But of course, one must wait for this information to show up in the world. It is like waiting for the perfect fruit to ripen.
Moreover, it is within the power of us, their community, to pour-in to these young lives positively. This isn’t just the role of formal schooling to play. In our interactions with children, we can offer expansion of their senses of freedom and possibility as they are learning to thread themselves into this social world. We can do this with dignity and respect for the wholeness that they carry now, and will carry into the years of their lives.
Did this happen – in the playground, in that moment, in that brief moment with that little girl? I believe it did.
My thoughts turned to two sensational colleagues who have devoted the last few years to encouraging a new way of being toward children and families in our shared Tasmanian communities. Kate Slater and Maree Thompson have activated a public health initiative called The Basics Tasmania.
The Basics holds that we all have responsibility to support the small citizens who live amongst us. It asks us to consider that it is the privilege and responsibility of all citizens to support and shape the community that has supported and shaped them. To use kind and positive interactions with the small citizens also living in our shared world, wherever we come across them – not just our own, or those children of extended families or friends, but all. To do no harm. To actively contribute – positively. And, without demands, domination, or making negative attribution, to accept and appreciate when children are unwilling or unable to respond to such interactions. To smile at them and their parents. To back-up warmly, and not feel diminished, if they are not able to respond with a returned smile. To be willing to engage in a little chit-chat with them and their parents when we encounter them in shops or bus stops or parks.
The ‘cost-benefit’ of kind interactions
Research abounds that small, frequent, safe, non-demanding, non-dominating, positive interactions with a wide variety of people is incredibly supportive for developing mental and physical good health, resilience, and positive self-esteem. For all of us.
It costs us nothing to scatter these soft, fragrant interactions wherever we go in our communities. Like rose petals. And on the days when we might be a little down and experiencing struggle ourselves, then perhaps someone will scatter toward us – and make our day. And help rebuild our week.
We each can make individual contribution to such positivity at large. We must just bring intention to do so. The Basics Tasmania encourages and supports this. Its first tenet is Maximise Love – Reduce Stress.
How much do we all need this simple message?
The pouring-in and flowing-out
So, while lost in these thoughts, I gazed at the little girl and she gazed at me. This connection lasted only a moment but in that moment her face shifted fractionally, and a small, slightly quizzical, appreciative smile appeared. I think the same look was on my face.
Her face and that connection cemented my thoughts and wishes for our world. She has likely long forgotten. Nevertheless, that split second contributed a droplet to what I hope will be an abundant accumulation of droplets of positive reciprocity in her life. And that her growing river will water the landscapes of other lives, as their tributaries flow to hers.
Would this for us all in the landscape of our Tasmania.
The power all lies in our next interaction.
A version of this article first appeared in The Mercury in February 2021.