We invest far more than money in our homes, says Nabila Cowasjee.
A good measure of a culture's evolution is how it treats its women and children - and one of the most fundamental humanistic needs is having a home. Children and mothers, particularly, require a place that is physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually safe, yet the world over is littered with homeless people. Millions live as refugees, escaping or extradited from their homes and countries, denied this basic requirement. Even in our so called civilised world, a truly safe permanent sanctuary free from domestic violence and other manifestations of abuse and fear is still something of a luxury and out of reach for many children.
I recently watched a documentary called Children of the Taliban which brought home how fragile and dangerous the world is for our children. Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy risked her life and travelled into the once beautiful region of Swat in the North of Pakistan, to report on the terrible plight of children there, a place where as a seven year old I, too, visited. In those days, we ran free in the flower-filled meadows at the base of the Himalayas , played poos-sticks in the glassy cold streams and hide and seek behind bare boulders dropped by ancient glaciers. We weren't the only children there. Local boys and girls in colourful clothes speaking a language we didn't understand joined us in our antics, all of us eagerly exploring the wonderful wild, but still sure that when the sun set we could return to a safe building for a meal and fall asleep reflecting on our adventures.
Today, the children of my mountainside playmates can no longer roam free. Their liberty has been stolen and, more importantly, their human entitlement to a roof over their heads, a safe place to eat and sleep, a point of contact with the people who love them, their families, has all but gone. Women and children now flee their homes and only the lucky ones get to take up temporary residences in unfamiliar places, with unfamiliar people with no promise of security, stability or hope of return to their homes. The dwellings in which these children once thrived are being decimated without a moment's consideration of the impact that losing home has on the sociological and psychological welfare of these helpless victims.
It has been well documented that children who come from secure, happy homes have a better chance of actualising a healthy, stable and self supporting life of their own. A broken home in all its senses is very likely to lead to a broken life and the broken lives of many individuals contribute to societies that break down, too. You only have to look out of your back door here in Australia to see the fallout caused by taking people away from what they believed to be their home.
Each one of us has a deep and instinctual desire to be able to access a place where we can shelter from the elements, a place that gives us the space to let our guard down, rest, recuperate and regenerate in assured safety that feels like our own. Yet we have created a world where having a home is becoming a privilege and comes at a high price, literally and metaphorically. Lives are half lived and people crippled by ridiculous mortgages, rent payments and unsafe environments.
Our current economic crisis highlights how our drive to access a home has been exploited. Corrupt and mistaken attitudes that disrespect survival instincts for safety and a space to grow into ourselves have resulted in an unforgivable increase in suffering for many good people, our neighbours and our children.
Before we moved here, I hadn't quite fully experienced the apparent obsession with the monetary value of a house or the push to involve oneself with investment property. The Aussie home seems to have evolved into a financial tool, rather than a balanced medium for internal and external growth, and security. Whether this has anything to do with the fact that our white ancestors were shipped over here against their will, ripping them, too, from their homes and families, is an interesting question to ask. The predominantly calculating materialist approach and the tendency to detach from the heart of a home that exists in "settled" countries may well be the result of a deep disenfranchisement that disconnected our forefathers from the soul essence of home. Thus, the homestead has become a symbol of survival and gain, rather than a place that nurtures spiritual and psychological growth.
John Caroll in his book The Ego and the Soul: The Modern West in Search of Meaning focuses on the symbolic meaning of home. He states that a home gives us an opportunity to learn how to be ourselves. For children to start the process of finding right relationship with themselves, they need a physical space within which they can begin this journey. He postulates that our Australian preoccupation with renovation is underpinned by our attempts to feel more "at home" with ourselves because our houses are expressions of our unique needs and personalities.
As parents, we need to honour these emerging expressions of self, because anyone with children knows just how specific they can be with their spatial needs. If you look at the average house, you'll find that children's bedrooms, their special spaces where they can begin to become themselves, are often small, even pokey, with limited options for change or re-arrangement. Symbolically, this points to the fact that, collectively, we still have trouble hooking in to what supports our children's healthy personal growth.
Homes have a consciousness and the nature of the living spirits that reside within four walls, however opulent or humble, can nourish children into magnificence or destroy hope. Parents have a duty to contribute to changing the cruel, unfeeling dispassionate attitudes and social structures that are destroying our people and our world by working consciously to create physically and metaphorically sacred spaces where children can begin writing their own special stories; stories that are infused with love, support and respect for themselves and others. The home is this place, the point where the inner and outer universes overlap.
Childhood can be difficult and challenging, but it also represents the beginning of a new life reminding us that there are always opportunities to evolve and change our current world. An important key to this healthy transformation lies in the energy that we create in our environment around our children, in particular our homes. We are in danger of misinterpreting a vitally sustaining aspect of society by forgetting this energetic importance. Children are more frequently being denied continuity of personal space.
Divorces entail much to-ing and fro-ing from one parental abode to another and while the children may have all their apparent needs met, the constant change of physical space can't but affect the process of learning to be themselves.
We subject our kids to the big bad world earlier nowadays so the importance of having respite is even more crucial. The underlying reason why kids spend more time outside of the home is yet another expression of the way our culture unconsciously believes that the external is more desirable than the internal: what we "do" is more valuable than who we "are". Our whole mindset is rooted in our residences being, at best, places of gestation that build us up to pack our rucksacks and head out into a more fulfilling place in life.
Phrases we connect to child rearing such as "flown the nest" and "leaving home" influence our attitude to concepts of home and unconsciously, but automatically, devalue a valuable foundation stone. We are consumed with ideas of independence. "Making it on our own" sits high on the podium, sneering smugly down at the idea of growing our internal selves, something that needs a worldly womb; a home.
If we are going to birth societies that truly support our children, we must re-evaluate our predisposition to worshipping visible human endeavour and pay some homage to the development of hidden aspects of humanity - that which grows indoors. In the process we can no longer underestimate the importance of providing and maintaining systems that acknowledge the quality of home life is a crucial factor in the evolution of a healthier, happier and more respectful society.
When we acknowledge a child's experience of home sets the scene for future wellbeing, and begin to give breath to the truth that homes are sacred places, like churches, where faith in oneself and life are fostered, we will be well on the way to a more equitable way of living.