Spread kindness in the community

Mt Aspiring  pupils at a ‘‘men’s club’’. Photo: Liz Breslin
Mt Aspiring pupils at a ‘‘men’s club’’. Photo: Liz Breslin

The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves shape our lives, says Liz Breslin.

Liz Breslin
Liz Breslin

I’m a writer. I’m a writer. I’m a writer. I used to school myself in saying this in response to any incoming "What do you do?" questions.  Although I’m not alone among writers I know in being able to also answer that question a tonne of other ways.

The practicalities of being a writer often mean doing a day job as well, unless you’re a writer like Andrew Michael Hurley, who said in an article in The Guardian last week, "Some days I don’t look up until my wife texts me from the house to tell me to come and eat." Maybe I need a wife? Maybe she could tell me to spend less time on social media scoffing at other people’s writing habits? Or perhaps I need a patron.

My friend Sam told me a story last week, about when he gave up truck driving a few decades ago to be a full-time poet and stuck an ad in the paper looking for a patron. I don’t think he got one, but he’s doing OK nonetheless.

Do you know, though? I like my day job. It’s full of interesting people and stories, as you would expect when you’re working with Year 13s.  My role is to get them involved in community stuff, which I have learned not to call community service. I call it mandatory volunteering (ha ha, Miss) because for the  past  22 years, Mt Aspiring College has very strongly encouraged its Year 13 students to do this. It’s called Students in the Community and it does what it says on the tin. The students go out every week over 10 weeks and get involved. There’s a group of guys who have been having a sort of men’s club at a local dementia unit. There’s the ones who’ve been maintaining tracks with Bike Wanaka.  Planting. Playing. Coaching. Sofa singing.  For no reward other than the warm fluffies you get when you do good things for a bigger whole.  (And a certificate. Don’t underestimate the power of a certificate: the slightly more mature incarnation of the sticker chart.)

They also get among  local projects and events. For which they’re spoilt for choice in the Upper Clutha, where the wheels of sports and cultural and service and arts happenings have long and happily been greased by volunteers.

I get to be the one who co-ordinates the students, which means helping them to jigsaw what they care about and when and where they can help. I get to visit them doing their good things, take photos and tell good stories back to them and to the wider community about the things they do. And last week I got to accept a Trustpower Community Award on their behalf, as they were regional winners in the Education and Youth category.

The best thing about the awards evening (apart from the small, tasty, bite-y things) was the company. All the other volunteers. People and organisations who have worked with the students over the years and given them a tonne of opportunities to be their altruistic-est of selves. I like that I even get to talk of, think of, work with altruism instead of outcomes. I like that I get to appreciate the mass we lump as teenagers as interesting, integrated, kind beings (except when someone doesn’t turn up or does something dumb and I am not running at optimum caffeine levels. Then I can get a bit rage-y).

I like it that our Prime Minister said that she wants this Government to be one of kindness.  Because you can’t outcome kindness but it can be storied. And the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves shape our lives as surely as we can contour the words we blurt on the page. 

But then I would say that, wouldn’t I? I’m a writer.

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