Category Archives: It’s all about community, man.

No really…it is all about community. Here’s what I’m doing in mine.

A list of small good things

the squarest tip I’ve ever written. Next one will have to be about something radical.


99 tips for a better world: make a list (14 of 99)

So…2013 is kind of nuts. So far, it’s all about the work, with the occasional summer frolic and wedding (not mine) squeezed in.

One of the downsides of the busy is that some of the small good things I do can fall away in the mad rush.

Late last year as I careened towards holidays, I noticed that I was forgetting to take my reusable bags to the shops, I was churning through disposable coffee cups, and I even grabbed coffee from cafes without checking their fair trade status. Eek!

Dropping the ball on these things from time to time is human. An off day or week here and there isn’t going to affect the quantum of my good efforts over a lifetime. But an off day or week can often be the beginning of a broken good habit. Good habits maintained over a lifetime will dramatically affect the quantum of my good efforts and also makes those small things an effortless part of my day.

So I’ve written myself a list to put on the back of my door (my apartment is so tiny I will be able to read this list from almost every corner).

This list isn’t wildly aspirational – just the small good things I can do without much effort every day.

Daily small good things

1. Take a reusable bag
Envirosax are my favourite because they fit heaps of shopping and are easy to fold back up.

2. Take a reusable coffee cup
I have a Keep Cup because they fit in coffee machines.

3. Take out the recycling
It’s too easy to throw something in the rubbish when the recycling is piling up.

4. Make a plan for coffee
If I think about my morning in advance I can be sure I will have time to go to my favourite fair trade place rather than grab whatever is nearest and most convenient.

5. Take lunch to work
This is a double-whammy – I avoid the packaging of a bought lunch and the temptation to buy the cheapest thing available (which is probably also the least environmentally-friendly). I’ll admit this is probably the hardest item on the list but much easier if it’s a part of my regular routine.

6. Leave enough time to walk
Good for the environment, body, mind and soul. If I tell myself I don’t have time to walk it’s a sign I should recalibrate my day immediately.

7. Do the laundry
If I keep on top of laundry I’m less likely to find myself using the dryers at the Laundromat at 10pm on Sunday night

8. Take a reusable bottle
Buying bottled water when it comes free and clean out of the tap is, to my mind, both appalling and stupid. And yet, still tempting if I find myself out and about without water.

9. Take some coins
My suburb has an amazing collection of buskers. Having a live soundtrack for my shopping is one of the great daily joys in my life. I like to support the brave souls who bring music to the street and to express my appreciation with a few coins.

10. Water the garden
My little balcony garden won’t feed a family any time soon, but it does keep me well stocked of fresh herbs and less reliant on the shops to make my dinner taste good. Believe it or not, I can easily forget to water it for an entire week.

So, what small good things are part of your daily routine?

“It’s inhumane the pace at which people live in this society”

Liz Gilbert and me

A few of us headed up to Sydney last weekend to see Elizabeth Gilbert speak at the Sydney Opera House.

I am a huge fan – follower might be more accurate – of Liz Gilbert. I have read Eat, Pray, Love numerous times (it’s a handy book to love because there is usually a copy in any hostel you ever stay in). It’s become one of those books I read for relaxation and comfort. It’s like a 350 page reset button for me. It’s a story about travel, language, history, spirituality, self-knowledge and personal drama – my favourite things. It’s light and funny too, so a delight to read for strong stretches from a cosy position on a couch or a less cosy position at a boarding gate.

Liz Gilbert is also a wonderful public speaker and reflects thoughtfully and wisely on a range of topics that seem to overlap with so many of the topics I wonder about too. I guess that is the gift of Liz Gilbert – her ability to reflect so calmly and clearly upon ideas that are swirling around in the heads of so many of us. Her self-assured and calm certainty is also wonderful for someone like me, who often crowds out any pinholes of wisdom with self doubt and the good opinion of others.

I was delighted while watching this long interview below, that Liz spoke to that desperate feeling that I (and I know many others) had about returning to regular, busy, scheduled life after holidays. Skip forward to around 29 mins (if you’re in a hurry) for some wisdom on the indefensible pace of our lives.


Have an authentic Christmas why don’t you

Hey tipsters (tippies, tiperifics, tiptantulors), here is my tip from Christmas. Now that it’s the middle of January it’s more of a reflection on the past. However, the best time to really think about what Christmas means is probably not two weeks before (or, as my mum said on Christmas Day, “NOT TODAY SARAH!”)

99 tips for a better world: have an authentic Christmas (11 of 99)


I’m going to take a guess that you feel ambivalent towards Christmas.

I certainly do. Deep, wide-ranging, conflicting ambivalence that is harder to unravel than just getting through the season without asking too many questions. So I don’t.

I struck it lucky in the personality and preferences lottery for this time of year. I love wandering through a supermarket listening to the Beach Boys sing Blue Christmas. I think Christmas decorations are fun and anything can be improved by draping a string of flashing lights over it.

Yet, I feel conflicted by the rampant consumerism of Christmas. I also feel conflicted by the overuse of the cliché ‘rampant consumerism’. I feel confused about the secularisation of a religious holiday – I am less bothered by the secularisation than I am the meaning-vacuum left behind. In practical terms Christmas Day tends to be more about recovering at my mum’s place from a frantic December than a celebration of anything much at all.

I am also ambivalent about Christmas naysayers. There is an abundance of people highlighting all that is wrong with Christmas. I understand the compulsion to express your concerns about the wall-to-wall advertising binge that starts in October. But there also seems something counterintuitive about it – “this-is-a-holiday-about-kindness-and-love-and-you’re-all-crap-and-doing-it-wrong!”

Despite my ambivalence, or perhaps because of it, all I know is that I would rather be topping up the reserves of Christmas cheer than pulling out the plug and letting it drain. So I get into “the Christmas spirit” and give presents and share food and decorate a Christmas tree. I put aside those niggling thoughts and get through to the 26th of December with a smile on my face.

But what if my ambivalence is part of the problem? I’m bothered by the mindless way we plough through this period, and yet my current survival technique is to mindlessly plough through this period.

This year I will strive to unravel some of my ambivalence and cut through the noise. I will ask myself what Christmas means to me and try to celebrate accordingly. An authentic celebration of Christmas will be unique to each one of us – a representation of our histories and our values and the family and friends we celebrate with (or don’t). For some of us it will be bells and whistles, for others quiet reflection. But I think we will instinctively know it when we see it.

In my search for meaning I will do my best to avoid Christmas clichés about “the true meaning of Christmas” (what exactly would that be then?).

I will also be wary of “true meaning of Christmas” clichés about volunteering at soup kitchens (do we even have soup kitchens in Australia?) While I question the advertising and shopping I will also question the imagery I’ve been fed through American movies and Christmas catalogues since the day I was born.

I’m not sure yet what Christmas does mean to me. Although, I heard a great quote last night that struck me might encapsulate the whole thing:

Well, I mean, you know, the longer I work and live the simpler my theology gets. And there’s many, many things I’m willing to entertain and think about and talk about, but fundamentally it still comes back to that God is love. And I mean that pretty literally, that God is, if nothing else, and that’s a big if, but if nothing else, God is that force that drives us to really see each other and to really behold each other and care for each other and respond to each other. And for me, that is actually enough.*

*from the podcast, “Presence in the Wild” with Kate Braestrup, On Being, December 13 2012 (listen to it at

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99 tips for a better world: Celebrate World Kindness Day (6 of 99)

It’s a tip frennnnnnzy today – here’s last week’s tip on kindness.

99 tips for a better world: Celebrate World Kindness Day (6 of 99)

Wednesday was World Kindness Day.

Kindness strikes me as one of the most import conditions for a better world. Fortunately we are surrounded by acts of kindness every day. From holding the door for someone, to saying “don’t worry about it” when a colleague makes a mistake; kindness slips into daily life effortlessly. Unkindness, and particularly the feeling that someone has been unkind to you, can stick out like a sharp edge.

Many moons ago I was infatuated with a new boyfriend in the way that is probably only possible the first time you fall in love. I thought he was quite simply one of the best humans to have ever been placed on earth. Bully for all the other girls who missed out.

We swanned around campus so delighted by each other and ourselves for having attracted such a fine specimen. We annoyed the cynics and put smiles on the faces of the romantics.

One day, in a conversation I have long forgotten, this great love of mine made a dismissive comment about something that was important to me. Whatever it was, the comment stung deeply. At first I felt it in my heart and then the pain leapt to my mind for quick analysis. “How unkind of him to say that” I thought.

We did not break up because of that conversation, but when we did break up I drew upon that moment as evidence he was not the man for me. I recalled with graveness that he had been unkind.

Since then, knowing that I hold kindness in high regard, I have tried very hard to be a kind person. I’m not sure I’m always successful. Like most of us, I think and express unkind thoughts when I’m angry, frustrated or careless with a comment.

But I try – and I think this might be the key.

Once I stuck a reminder on my pin board to “Be Kind”. It was surprisingly effective. As I stared at my computer my eyes would wander over to the note. It encouraged mindfulness about this thing I thought was important.

This is very similar to the approach taken by Gretchen Rubin, author of the Happiness Project. She has Personal Commandments, short statements that encapsulate the overarching principles by which she tries to live her life. Her commandments include “Be polite and be fair” and “Do what ought to be done”. There is something powerful about identifying your goal in a thoughtful moment so you can remind yourself later.

However, even a note on your pin board won’t guarantee your kindness all the time. One person’s friendly joking (kindness) might be someone else’s ridicule (unkindness). But consciously turning your mind to the goal of kindness will increase the chances of avoiding unintentional, grumpy or careless unkindness. Hopefully it will also reveal opportunities for kindness. A compliment on someone’s outfit, or offering to help to someone who looks lost.

It can all sound Pollyanna-ish when it’s written down, but I’m confident none of these things appear out of the ordinary, saccharine or phony in practice.

The World Kindness Movement, the good people behind World Kindness Day, have put together a long and eclectic list of Kind Things to Do, which in itself seems like a rather kind thing to do.

Here are some of my favourites from the list (I was particularly pleased with presence of an item about kindness to oneself):

  • Smile at the people you make eye contact with each day.
  • Donate blood.
  • Write letters of appreciation.
  • Avoid negative self-talk.
  • Avoid criticising anyone’s dreams of the future.

Happy (belated) World Kindness Day. May you give and receive kindness today and every other day.

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99 tips for a better world: make yourself at home (5 of 99)

It’s tip day at Lip!

Today’s tip struck me as I listened to a local coffee roaster talk about his motivation to start a café. He worried about the erosion of local community so he created a hub for the locals and got to know the neighbours – the grocer, the newsagent, the dry cleaner. As I listened to him speak, I thought about how I too cared about the health of local communities, but these days didn’t really play a role in my own.

I am a wandering soul. Every time I come home from a stint abroad it’s a matter of when not if I will go back overseas. So when I am home, I don’t think a lot about “putting down roots”. I’ve been reluctant to sign a 12 month lease let alone sign up to the local neighbourhood committee. Since arriving home from my last overseas job I’ve been registered at four different addresses on the electoral roll.

However, growing up in a tiny country town means that I am fluent in “community”. The lines between community life and personal life were so blurred at my house that once upon a time the local paper was pasted up in my dining room. School fete preparation happened in the kitchen. By preparation, I mean the parents and friends committee would bottle and label port for sale, enjoying generous “tastings” of the 1987 St Mary’s Special Reserve as they worked.

But you don’t need to be born into a community, have kids at the local school, or even live there for more than a few months to be an active member. Drawing on many years of experience, I have come up with five small things we can do to contribute to the health of our own local communities.

1. Smile at your neighbours
It might not be practical to smile at everyone you walk past all the time, but in the streets around your house smile and say hello. You will be surprised and delighted by how many people smile back.

2. Pick up someone else’s rubbish
Take pride in your streets as you would your front garden. When you walk past a plastic bag floating down the street, pick it up and put it in the nearest bin. This is especially easy if, like me, you live in an apartment and don’t have a front garden. I have reserves of energy for home maintenance that I can happily apply to the streets. Your neighbourhood will look better and you will be a shining pillar of the community. An old lady might even see you do it and offer free rein on her lemon tree.

3. Go to the local school fete
I’m sure you’ve noticed those real estate agent signs that instead of reading “Smell the coffee! Inner city living at its best!” they advertise the local primary school fete. Take note of the date and drop in for a few minutes on the way to brunch. Even better, skip brunch and fill up on the sausage sizzle and honey joys.

4. Shop at your local grocers
In the days of supermarket duopolies, Bisphenol A, and myriad other depressing realities of the global food industry, there are plenty of reasons to avoid the large chain stores. In case you need another reason, consider shopping local as an incidental way to build a happy community. Buy your fruit and vegetables from the local grocer, get loving advice on how to roast pork from the butcher, walk down to your local newsagent to buy the weekend paper. I don’t need to tell you this, because I’m sure you do it already. It’s a joyous way to buy your consumer products.

5. Make yourself at home
The ultimate tip for building a happy community – embrace the position you acquired as soon as you moved in. You are a member of your local community, just as much a part of it as anyone else with the same postcode. You’ve got a network of people around you who care about the streets you live on, which is pretty nice when you think about it.

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