A Social Conscience
A few weeks ago, my mum and I were going to Coles to get some food for the house. As we were walking in, we saw a man sitting outside with a cap in front of him. His head was lowered and he looked upset. People were walking straight past him and trying not to look at him or catch his eye.
As I got back in the car, I started crying. When we got home, mum asked me why I had been upset, and I told her that I was sad because this man didn’t have what we have – he didn’t have a roof over his head and he didn’t have anyone to look after him. Most importantly, though, I was upset that so many people were trying to avoid him, like he just didn’t exist. We were all walking into the supermarket to get food for ourselves, and this man was asking for our help. Yet so many people walked straight past.
My name is Mia Kline and I am 11 years old.
I believe that every single individual should have a social conscience. What is a social conscience?
I believe a social conscience is feeling a sense of responsibility for the problems in our world.
Have you ever stopped to think: “when am I at my happiest?” Recently, I made a list of all the things that I love most about the world. I’m 11 years old, so my list might be a bit different to yours, but I think there also might be some similarities.
- Top of my list is music. I LOVE listening to music. I’ve grown up in a household where music is always playing – when it’s on, I just forget what’s happening around me and start to dance, because it just makes me feel so happy! When I’m in a bad mood, I listen to music and it just seems to cheer me up.
- I love hanging out with my friends every day at school. At lunch I can’t wait to talk with them about the latest news!
- I love food – I’m a big fan of chocolate and blueberries: put them together in my mouth and I’m in heaven.
- And finally, I love my family. I am the oldest of 4 kids. I have 2 brothers and a sister. Most of the time, we get along and love hanging out together.
I also decided to make another list, although this list wasn’t as fun to write.
This list was all the things that I don’t like about the world.
- The idea of war sickens me. I can’t understand how one human could be OK with killing another human. War happens because people aren’t happy with what they have, or because they can’t sit down and talk with the other side.
- Another thing that I don’t like about the world is that children my age in different parts of the world are being forced to work for very little money. They don’t get the chance to just be kids, and grow up in a safe and loving environment like I do.
- I also hate that here, in our own country, when people come all the way from other countries to build a new life, Australia puts them in detention centres. I can’t understand why, when we have such a big, beautiful country, we let some people in but we make life hell for others.
- But I think most of all; I hate the fact that some people in our society are homeless.
I live in a comfortable home in Elsternwick. I’ve got a big comfy bed, the fridge is always stocked with fresh, yummy, and healthy food (thanks mum), and I’ve got enough clothes to keep me warm during the cold Melbourne winter.
Earlier this year, my family and I took part in an event called Hang out for the Homeless. That night, around 25 families came to Fed Square to sleep out in order to raise money and spread awareness about homelessness. I slept on a cold, hard floor, with just a sleeping bag and no pillow. That night, we heard stories from people who had experienced homelessness, about what life was really like– how they come to be in that situation, how they were feeling and what they were looking for. Together with the other families, we packed toiletries bags that were later given out to people on the streets. In the morning, I woke up tossing and turning with such a sore neck, but that was just one night – imagine what it would be like to sleep like that every night…
In my life, I’m extremely lucky to always get what I need and often get what I want. But a homeless person barely gets what they need, and often doesn’t. Before the sleep over experience, I took all that stuff for granted. The Hangout for the Homeless also taught me to be grateful for what I have. Sometimes I still do complain about things that I want, but that I don’t have – but I’ve realised two things:
1. firstly, these are just ‘wants’ not ‘needs’, and
2. secondly, I got a glimpse of what it would be like to go without these luxuries.
But most importantly, the Hang out for the Homeless taught me the importance of stepping into someone else’s shoes.
As I said earlier, I’m very close with my family. My grandparents often tell me stories about what life was like when they were younger. They came from nothing, and were laughed at just because they were Jewish. They lived their lives in the shadows and always had to hide who they were. When they left Europe and came to Australia many years ago on a boat, they were strangers in a strange land, but this country took them in and helped them. They were so grateful for being accepted for who they were. Often, my Bubba and Saba talk to me about being grateful for everything we’re given.
They’ve always taught me how important it is to try and walk in the shoes of others and work towards ensuring that other people don’t experience what our Jewish grand-parents and great-grand parents experienced.
When I think about that list I made – the second one about the things I don’t like in this world – I found that there was one common thread. All the things I hate – war, detention centres, child labour and homelessness – these are actually just examples of people only thinking about themselves.
I’ve learnt that Tikkun Olam means to repair the world, and that this is a Jewish value. But when I think about all these bad things about the world that I don’t like, I get overwhelmed because I can’t solve them on my own, and I definitely can’t fix them overnight. But what we can do is start thinking about other people, rather than just ourselves. I think we’re all scared that if we give something away to others, we won’t have enough for ourselves. But what we give can be as simple as a hug, or a smile to someone who needs it.
At school we learnt a story about Rabbi Akiva. There was a man who came to Rabbi Akiva and asked to be taught the entire Torah while standing on one foot. Rabbi Akiva responded with the phrase ‘Ve’ahvta Larecha Camocha’, which means “treat others the way you wish to be treated. That is the whole Torah; the rest is just commentary”.
I’d like to finish by telling you one important thing about the homeless man sitting outside of Coles. After we left the supermarket, mum and I gave the man a pack of chocolate muffins because we thought this would be what he’d want, and because if we were in that position we’d want something sweet to brighten up our day and not someone’s judgment. That’s an important lesson- homeless people crave and appreciate the naughty stuff just as much as you and I. Also, who doesn’t like chocolate muffins?! The man was so grateful – he had a big smile on his face and thanked us as we left. That smile is something I will always remember and something you should all remember the next time you walk past a homeless person. They don’t want your judgement, they just want your acknowledgment. Oh, and maybe some chocolate.
This piece is a transcript of Mia Kline's 10 minute speech given at JDOV in 2014.