Wow, this has been an incredibly hard blog to write and has taken a few conversations, re-writes and time to process. These are my thoughts about what happened on Friday 15th March in Christchurch, New Zealand, and the devastating attack on New Zealand’s Muslim population.
Current events have made me think deeply, not only about diversity but also inclusion. Diversity has always existed. The reason it is more topical now is that travel has become so accessible and people can easily move around the world. I am an avid traveller myself, by choice, because I love exploring and experiencing different cultures, languages, landscapes, foods and smells. However, we are not all born travellers and we do not all embrace difference. But in this day and age when people can and do move, there needs to be more tolerance, but more importantly, there needs to be a willingness for everyone to be inclusive of one another.
As a lover of travelling, I have also ended up being a migrant. Coincidentally I ended up working for many years for Immigration New Zealand, which allowed me to work every day with people from different cultures, ethnicities, and practices. From all my personal experiences, I have learnt that in essence, we are all the same, we are all human, and feel things in the same way.
When I first started developing the business model for The Re-Creators, I wanted to create an upcycling social enterprise that would allow former refugees to attain a form of income and employment. During my research though, I realised that the up-cyclers I met also wanted to be part of a collective and work together to make upcycling mainstream, rather than niche. And so, I proceeded to accept anyone who wanted to be a part of this business, providing they were New Zealand based and all their goods had to be upcycled (made from discarded or used products).
I grew up in an Ireland that was pretty much all white and Irish. The only times I would see different cultures was on TV, and I always found it fascinating. I remember as a child being brought to see family in Birmingham, England, and seeing people of colour on the bus. It was so exciting for me. As soon as I could, I left Ireland and started travelling around the world, eventually ending up in NZ.
Meeting lots of different types of people and chatting to them about their cultures, beliefs or traditions has always captivated me. My love and fascination with diversity eventually led me to work in the Refugee & Protection Unit at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) for nearly 14 years. Again, I have always loved learning about different nationalities and I’m always curious about politics in foreign countries. This job made me feel like I was travelling every day.
The horrific events in Christchurch led me to question why I love diversity and others don’t. We live in a world where some people embrace those who are different to us, whether their difference is their religion, sexual orientation, nationality or race –and to many (myself included) these differences don’t matter at all. What matters is your ability to place yourself in another person’s shoes and see the world through their lens. Isn’t that what most religions teach us? "Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself."
But, if you are perceived to be different, in whatever way, you know that life can be harder. How many children’s books say just that? I am going to quote “The Lion Who Wanted to Love” by Giles Andreae:
“You have to be strong to be different,
and when you have love on your side
You’ve got the most valuable gift that there is”
For some of the books that I read to my kids, I wish that they were read by more adults too. These words are powerful. Fill your heart with love, not hate - it’s a far greater feeling. Embrace those around you who are different. Show compassion.
If we all truly lived these words, we will feel better, because I sure as hell know that hate isn’t a good feeling.
Well, we are all different people. And we need to learn to get on.
What does inclusion look like?
Here is a beginner's guide on how to be inclusive:
- Try and make friends through work and social groups etc. with those who are not normally in your type of group.
- Invite them round for dinner, a kid’s play date or for lunch.
- Take yourself and your family to lots of cultural events. But mingle – don’t just eat the yummy food. Get right in there and understand their upbringing and traditions.
- Invite people from other cultures to your cultural events.
When you love yourself and those around you, you will also love the planet you are on
While inclusion, diversity and collaboration is what The Re-Creators are all about, our main focus is environmental sustainability. Once you learn to love yourself (and embrace others), then it’s time to look at where you are physically standing - your environment - and how you can make sure that it exists, not only for your children and grandchildren but for all the species that you co-exist with.
Upcycling is a fun, creative way of sending a very powerful message about Respect for our Planet and Respect for all People.
Working together for the good of people and our planet
When you check out The Re- Creators home page (www.therecreators.co.nz) you will see lots of faces and stories. This is a deliberate choice. For us, it’s not just about our workshops and products, it’s about protecting our planet and embracing all of those who are on it. It’s about sharing stories and talents, and a belief that only when we work together, can we deliver a truly sustainable, inclusive and collaborative enterprise.