Rise issue 09 cover

Oscar says "It's good to be good."

oscar wild

The best giving is that which comes from the heart and is given with a genuine passion for what's offered.

Like when storyteller Oscar Kightley lent his name and face to the New Zealand Public Library "Inspire Me" campaign. He thought nothing of flying back from the Phillippines where he was promoting Sione's Wedding to participate in the campaign, because books are something Oscar loves.

"The library was my happy place when I was little," he remembers. One of eight children, Oscar couldn't always go on school trips because of limited funds. While all the other kids in his class jaunted off to museums, art exhibitions or working farms, Oscar was left to his own devices in his West Auckland primary school library.

"At first I thought, nah, I'd rather be getting on the bus, but actually, I found I enjoyed having the quiet classroom just to read books," remembers Oscar. "It just fired my imagination. The local library is one of the most inspiring places in the whole universe. It was ultimate escapism for a kid from West Auckland."

Besides giving him a passion to later share with other children, that valuable time in his primary school library - Oscar reckons he read through the entire collection - turned out to be the perfect grounding for a man who would find his dream job as a storyteller to the nation.

Dedicated to creativity

“I’m so lucky. I feel like I should be apologising for my life because it seems so unfair,” says Oscar Kightley. “My parents work really hard, my siblings work really hard, my friends work really hard. And what I do just isn’t work.”

While he doesn’t think what he does is “work”, Oscar has worked incredibly hard at his creative talent over the years. He’s faced intense fear at sharing his work, and still feels that inner terror today.

“Putting my work out there was terrifying back then, and it’s terrifying now. Whether I’m going out to MC an event, or to give a speech, or to do some acting, it’s still terrifying,” he says. “The fear never goes away, but you get better at turning the volume down, from about a 10 to a 4.”

It’s the kind of thing he wishes today’s teenagers understood – that things feel really intense when you’re younger but it does change. Oscar says he remembers oh too well what it was like to feel like the whole world was against you.

“Young people operate in a place where they have no power, and it’s easy for them to get down and feel like the world is just as it is and it’s up to them to squeeze themselves into a shape that will make them fit it,” he explains. “I want young teenagers to know that those difficult years at school pass, and you won’t even remember all that stress and all those things that seemed like such a big deal.”

Volunteering for youth

His passion for young people is one of the reasons he's volunteered as a mentor for the Prime Minister's Youth Programme.

Kicking off in January 2010, this school holiday programme will give disadvantaged kids something interesting and fun to do. It's aimed at young people who might have been in trouble with police, but have made a real effort to change their behaviour for the better.

"I'm doing the programme because if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem," he states simply. "If you have an opportunity to help out, you need to grab it."

It doesn't take much to get Oscar talking about giving, community and supporting others.

He feels passionate about it because he believes that we all have a responsibility to each other, no matter who we are in life or what we do - bridling slightly at the suggestion his fame means he's meant to give back in some way. Giving to the community is not something Oscar sees as exclusive to those perceived to be in a better position than others.

"Everybody has a responsibility to others," Oscar says. "Asking yourself, 'What do I have to give?' is a really important question each of us as individuals have to answer. If we want to make society a better place, we do it by getting individuals to take responsibility for other people - not just themselves or their families."

Growing up good - and bad

Forced to go to church every Sunday for family reasons, he credits those early years with laying down a solid foundation of morals that have nothing to do with religion and everything to do with how to make life work in a better way.

One reason Oscar's keen to work with young people is because he's been where they are, and he can relate to what it feels like.

"In my youth I did everything possible to not be good because I thought it was more fun to be bad, but as I've got older and wiser I really think there is something to being good and making the right choices," Oscar says.

"It's just about living your life in a way that's better for you and your family. It's easy to join the crowd and do the stupid thing. But it's actually more fun and more rewarding in the long run to do the right thing, whatever that might be."

As to what that right thing to do is, Oscar maintains it's easy to figure out, and everybody knows what it is.

"You've got that voice inside which just knows, and you end up being bad when you override it," he says. "You get that nagging feeling, should I be doing this?"

And if a young person can't hear that small voice inside, Oscar has another suggestion for navigating through troubled teenage years.

"I read a book once where this guy said, 'Just ask yourself before you do something, how would this sound in court?'," Oscar pauses, and then laughs. "And it's so true isn't it? It's always being careless and not thinking that leads people into situations where they think, 'What? How did I get here? Why am I standing in front of a judge right now? This sucks!'."

Tuning in to creativity

For Oscar, learning to listen to that small voice inside about what to do and not to do has been an important part of the creative process - as it's one and the same voice.

"When you listen to that small voice inside it gets louder. As far as creativity is concerned, this is really important," Oscar explains.

"When I write, it's not really me, I'm more like a vessel for the stories. Being good and making the right decisions puts me in a space where I'm able to stay open and clear for those stories to come. If you're being bad, and stressed out and your mental energy is being sucked up elsewhere… how can you be open to the creative process?"

And that's powerful motivation for a young teenager who dreams of being a musician, an artist, a writer, a designer, an architect… or any of the myriad of roles that require tuning into the creative process.

It's the kind of common sense logic that at-risk teenagers can make sense of, and gives them a concrete reason to change their behaviour - because if they find something they love and follow that voice inside, just like Oscar, they may find that passion which means they'll never work a day in their lives.