Passion is an interesting word, and somewhat over-used these days, as you might realise when faced with the dictionary definition: passion, aside from its sexual meaning, is defined as “a state or outburst of strong emotion,” “an intense desire or enthusiasm for something” or “a strong and barely controllable emotion.” In that light, it does seem slightly silly to declare one has a passion for cupcakes, or Gucci handbags, or any of the other oddities that marketers would have us believe we can’t live without.
But it’s a worrying word when uttered by politicians; particularly when they start suggesting they are passionate about doing something that is likely to do untold harm. One wonders what may have warped them in their youth when they begin to be passionate about getting young solo mothers off the benefit and their children into childcare by the age of two, for example, or insisting that they be back at work fulltime by the time their children turn twelve – a vulnerable age if ever there was one.
Those who really are passionate about families, and let’s interpret that at having “an intense enthusiasm” are often more inclined to suggest that keeping them together and functioning might be more useful than sending mum (and dad) out to work in a minimum-wage job doing something that really doesn’t benefit society at all (slaving at fast food restaurants, or even, as the ultimate irony, working in childcare, looking after someone else’s kids instead of their own). Those of us who care about the usefulness of families in the wider scheme of things may indeed find a different kind of passion surfacing when looking at the stress many families find themselves under today: the one where you find yourself indulging in “an outburst of strong and barely controllable emotion.”
Despite much evidence, particularly from Nordic countries, that having high taxes in order to support decent education and health systems and provide parents with a year’s paid leave after the birth of a child produces a notably successful society, those of us who live in countries that had the misfortune to latch on to the policies of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan and have never had the sense to let go of them are watching families suffer increasingly as the wealth gap grows wider and wider.
Families are important, whether you have lots of money or very little. Eighty years ago, New Zealand realised that and led the world in providing security in the form of state housing at affordable rents, excellent healthcare, and world-class education. That was done because we had leaders who recognised that everyone needed a fair go, and that families deserved the best we could give them. In the last thirty years we have abandoned our principles and our children in a rather unseemly scrabble to grab as much as we can as individuals. It has led, inevitably, to a few having a great deal, and a lot having hardly anything. And then we blame those at the bottom for not being greedy or clever enough to get to the top.
Caring for a family often means taking a cut in income, and not following your own personal ‘dream.’ It may mean a deliberate choice to stay in a mediocre job because you want stability for your children as they go through the trials of adolescence and you have a gut feeling that staying put with the friends they know is better for them than moving to Los Angeles right now. It may mean that you don’t upgrade the house, or the car, because it’s more important to help your children do something that’s important to them. It may mean sacrificing one income altogether, for years, in order to home-school, or at least be at home as a full-time parent because that is what is most important in your life. That is what might genuinely be called having a passion for your family. It would be good if our politicians recognised it and took some sensible action. Perhaps they could even go so far as to consider a universal basic income, which has been recently supported by high-profile economist Gareth Morgan, and promoted by many other ordinary New Zealanders, and ordinary people around the world, for decades. Now that would demonstrate a real passion for families.