On Big Ideas and Creating a Community of Kindness

It might surprise you to know that our household does not possess a dishwasher. About a year ago, our dishwasher broke, and we decided to find out whether we could get along without it for a while. Granted, there was also an element of laziness involved – ‘finding out whether we could get along without it’ also saved us the hassle (and expense) of fixing it. Still, I couldn’t help but think of my parents – who have been happily married for nearly 50 years – without ever owning a dishwasher.

Could this be the secret to long-lasting, solid relationships, I wondered?

P.S. Our household is no longer in possession of a microwave either.

Okay – so now you think I’m weird.

Weird or not, there have been several benefits to our ‘accidentally minimalist’ approach to domestic appliances. Not having a microwave means that very little of the food we consume is ever ‘fast.’ And whilst I do occasionally miss heating up mugs of neglected tea and coffee, any downsides are outweighed, I think, by our slower, more mindful approach to the rituals of cooking and eating. As for the dishwasher scenario – it’s also made me wonder how ‘convenient’ some of our modern time-saving ‘conveniences’ really are. Not having a dishwasher has opened us up to nightly post-dinner conversation opportunities – something that seems ever-more necessary with a soon-to-be-teenager in the family. And although we do hear wails of: ‘it’s his turn!/I did it last night!’ any complaints quickly turn to muted – and often illuminating – discussion.

Case in point: a conversation I had with my youngest on ‘purpose’ and big ideas the other night.

My son (he of the loving life with exclamation marks! and so much to look forward to! sensibility) was busy telling me how he’d like to get a job one day, so that as an adult, his life could have purpose. ‘Issac Newton was just one person,’ he informed me as his dishcloth circled a dinner plate, ‘but he had a purpose and his ideas changed the world.’

‘And I might not be the person with the big idea,’ he continued, as I nodded along, my hands immersed in Marigolds and soap suds, ‘but I might be the person who helps the person with the big idea.’

‘I might be a mechanic who fixes the person with the big idea’s car before they go to work in the morning. And someone like that would need to be punctual,’ he concluded, putting aside the final piece of cutlery.

At this point, I thought that I might cry.

Boy on beach in sunset scene

There are moments in life when you realise that, yes, you might actually be doing quite a good job as a parent, and also – that it is absolutely fine to acknowledge that. When you recognise that your children are growing up to be kind and useful members of society (and when I say useful, I mean that in terms of our role in helping other people, in being part of a wider community, in being connected to everything else around us and playing our part in a bigger, wider world). In appreciating that we all have our strengths, we are all needed, and we can all make an impact, whether that’s as the ‘big ideas’ person, or the person who enables the big ideas.

There is a quote I like by Edith Wharton that sums this up for me:

There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle, or the mirror that reflects it.

In the light of recent sad events in the UK, I think there is so much room for us now to be candles, and mirrors – and much more.

There is room for us to be people who recognise that we are all in this life together – impacting and influencing each other in the way we behave and the words we use to express ourselves.

There is room to understand that sometimes, the best option might be to say nothing, to reserve judgement, to try to be a better version of ourselves.

There’s room to know that our actions, however small they might seem, can have the farthest-reaching impacts.

To be a community fostered by conversation and care – and sometimes, dirty dishes.

A community of kindness, if you will.

Now, there’s a big idea.