• The Luck of the Draw

    “Everyone should have a New Zealand childhood.” These are the opening words of the memoir I published as I left British public life to return to New Zealand.

    It was an attempt to express my perception that, having been born and brought up in New Zealand, I had started life with a head start. My wife feels similarly about her early life in the UK.

    She, however, was not quite so fortunate. She was born in London in the middle of the Second World War, to parents who had to grapple with the hardships of nightly German bombing raids. Her mother worked in a wartime munitions factory, and her father was a fireman who was kept busy as the bombs fell.

    But she shared with me the great advantages of loving parents and a stable family life. Neither family was well-off by today’s standards but we were well-fed, adequately clothed and warmly housed. And we both grew up in a world of family support, educational opportunity and expert health care.

    These thoughts often come to mind for my wife and me as we watch the daily parade of human misery in international news bulletins on our television screens. So many of these heart-rending stories seem to involve small children, who are completely innocent of any responsibility for the calamities that have befallen them and their families. They are completely at the mercy of events.

    Sometimes they are the victims of war – civil war, as in the case of Syria, or international conflict, as with Turkey’s attacks on the Kurds. In either event, the damage and victims are the same – the bombings and shellings, the fatalities and injuries, the disruption of families, the destruction of homes, the search for refuge. The small children who bear these burdens necessarily start life with enormous handicaps.

    Sometimes, it is natural disasters – storms, floods, earthquakes, fires, heat waves – that wreak havoc. Or, it may be man-made crises – disease, starvation, homelessness and poverty – that set little innocents back as they begin life’s journey.

    My wife’s and my response to these sad stories is a realisation that we are among the luckiest people who have ever lived, and we feel of course enormous sympathy for the suffering endured by so many – especially when the brunt of that misfortune is borne by little children. What are they to make of a life that is so fraught with peril? What chance do they have of a peaceful and fulfilling life, such as most of us can take for granted?

    International agencies, like Unicef, and charities, like Oxfam, need and deserve our support; they offer a beacon of light and hope for parents and families at their wits’ end, and for children who are struggling for survival.

    But we can also try to transplant ourselves mentally away from our comfortable lives, sitting in front of our television screens, and to imagine ourselves in others’ shoes – to understand that we enjoy our good fortune, not by virtue of any special or superior qualities we may think we possess, but for the simple reason that we were lucky in life’s lottery. We were born in the right place and time.

    That does not guarantee us, of course, happiness and fulfilment, but it does give us a pretty good start. We at least have the chance to allow native ability, hard work and determination to produce their expected rewards. Our life chances are not blighted by forces we only dimly understand and have even less chance of controlling.

    What we see are, of course, images from a distant world. But, across the globe, we all share a common humanity. We should find it easy to share with the victims of disaster that natural human impulse to do the best we can for our families and to recognise the duty of care that we and they must feel when our little children turn to us for love and support and for the chance to make the most of their lives.

    And we should all share the anguish of parents whose circumstances make it impossible for them to protect their children from harm, and the bewilderment, pain and despair those children suffer as a result.

    Bryan Gould
    13 October 2019