This interview originally appeared on nzgirl.co.nz
There are very few people who can still a room of 1000 people to awe-struck silence and Stacey Shortall is one of them. So it was at last week’s Westpac and Fairfax Annual Women of Influence Awards when she asked a simple – but hard-hitting question: “Who did you help today?”
It silenced the audience, followed by raucous applause. And this week Stacey launched the “Who did you help today?” campaign with the support of nzgirl, Westpac, Fairfax, Bloggersclub.com and Minter Ellison Rudd Watts, the law firm where she is partner.
Stacey made her impassioned speech following acceptance as category winner of Community & Not For Profit Women of Influence. She had been granted the award to acknowledge her help establishing a programme for incarcerated women at Auckland Region Women’s Corrections Facility to help them maintain meaningful relationships with their children, as well as many other community projects.
She is also a strong advocate for preventing violence against women and children, and also led a weekly homework club at a Wellington decile one school.
NZGirl.co.nz spoke to Stacey last week to get to the bottom of this idea and why it matters.
When did the “Who did you help today?” light bulb moment occur in your life and what – or who – triggered it?
I actually don’t recall any particular light bulb moment – which I hope will also be the answer my children give if asked when older. And the answer their children, in turn, will give in the future.
I was raised in the small farming community of Colyton in the Manawatu. My parents, Margaret and Perry Shortall, instilled in me and my three siblings from a young age that we should help others by contributing to our community. They did. We saw it. And it was easy to follow.
I guess I was just raised to always think about how what I did might help others. And to act on those thoughts. I didn't see it as an obligation, expectation or imposition. It was simply the norm. It was how we were raised to live. And it is how I am striving to raise my own children.
Being involved in our community or engaged in public interest work should not, in my view, be a “bolt on” or something we do now and then. Rather it should be part of our daily routines. It should be part of our lives. When it is, we each get to experience each day the “feel good” that flows from helping another person. And that person gets reminded that someone else cares.
Just imagine how much better our national community could be if we all lived this way.
How have you implemented this question into your family life and career on a daily basis?
We sit down to eat dinner together every night. In the course of the meal, someone starts by asking another family member what their favourite thing was from the day. Whoever is chosen to answer then selects the next person to ask. Once we've all answered, we do the same thing but change the question to “who have you helped today.” It’s very simple and takes just a few minutes.
Career-wise, it’s simply a question I like to ask myself when I drive home at the end of the day – often because I want to have something in mind for that dinner conversation! But also because it usually makes me feel good about the day.
No matter how challenging a work-day may have been, reflecting for a moment on how something I did helped someone – outside of my paid work – tends to put everything in perspective and it always reminds me of what is important.
If I can’t think of something (and there are days that happens), it also reminds me that I need to do better tomorrow than I did today.
Why is the “Who did you help today?” such an important message for you to pass on?
Because it’s simple. Life is busy and finding time to reflect on how what we do is helping others requires effort. Let’s minimise the effort. Keep the question short and simple. Make it a question we can all ask ourselves at whatever age and in whatever walk of life.
It’s a question that we can all answer. Who we are, what we do (or might have done), where we live and how much we’re paid (or not) is irrelevant. The question is the great equaliser. We can all answer it. We just have to choose to do so.
What sort of social challenges do you think we as a nation could help to solve in New Zealand by prompting ourselves each day to answer?
Violence against women and children. I am absolutely determined to tackle this challenge in our community.
I firmly believe that we need to become more connected. We need to rediscover how to truly be a community.
I need to feel a connection to you. And to your child. And to want for you and for your children what I want for me and mine. And that is simply a place in which we and they can all feel safe, loved, supported and encouraged. This isn't rocket science. It’s easy. A simple gesture in providing help to someone each day – multiplied over 4 million times – will create the connections that I believe can break cycles. It can provide the connected relationships that will encourage people to ask for help and others to intervene more quickly when help is needed.
How would you like Kiwis to share this message?
Talk to your family. Make this question the one that you ask each other at the end of each day – whether over a meal or as you head to sleep or whenever works for your family.
And ask yourself. Each day. And don’t feel bad if you don’t have an answer. Just get one tomorrow.
If there was just ONE thing you wanted New Zealanders to do today as a result of the “Who did you help today?” question, what would it be?
Help one other New Zealander. It doesn't need to be a big gesture. It could be as simple as asking your neighbour if she is ok. It could be as easy as suggesting that your child sits alongside the kid always seated alone on the school bus.
Who did you help today?
I helped a woman on the street in Wellington who had accidentally dropped her bag. I helped her gather up its contents before the wind dropped some of them in the harbour! It took 30 seconds. She thanked me and smiled. It was very easy. And it felt great.
Tomorrow I intend to help an imprisoned mother understand more about her obligations and rights as a parent.
No one answer is better than the other. Both acts help someone. And that’s the only thing which matters.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Only that not asking the question accepts the status quo. And that is a status quo in this country in which children and women are hurt – too often and too badly. We all know it is happening. And to do nothing in the face of that knowledge – to not help – is to condone the behaviour. The issue may well seem overwhelming to many of us, but let’s start one day at a time. Each of us. Doing one thing to help. Every day. One day at a time.