The ability to read, write and to love the written word is perhaps the greatest love affair that I will ever have in my life. As a bookworm, the greatest gift I can be given is in the form of a book that opens the window to a different reality, a new culture, a different way of thinking, of knowing, of feeling and making sense of the world that we live in.
A book can transcend boundaries. It is the ability to travel without leaving the comfort of your home. It is music to the heart and window to the soul, bringing in fresh air and getting rid of the cobwebs that build up in the corners of our hearts and minds.
If we read, not with preconceptions but with an open mind to understand others – what would we find? What would we discover in the religious books of others? In the historical accounts written by natives and not by conquerors? How would we judge cultures, civilizations.. if we learnt about them from the people who practice them?
Would we be as bigoted? as ignorant? as harsh in our critique of the ‘other’? would there even be an other? cause what is the other but one that is not ourselves, and yet, the more I travel, the more I see that we are all alike underneath our superficial differences.
Perhaps the love of traveling sprang from my love of reading. I know my passion for the African continent was fueled by stories I read of ancient Abyssinia, the Queen of Sheba, the fierceness of Zulu & Masai warriors. I know I will forever be fascinated by tribal lore, shamans and healers, ancient knowledge and traditional medicine, of oral traditions that trace back history to generations long since gone.
When I look at my continent, our own history, I no longer see the narratives set by British conquests or how we were described in western narratives. I see what existed, what flourished for thousands of years even as invaders of all types came, went or assimilated. I see civilization that has evolved and a lot that has managed to remain the same. Holding on to some things are worth it, even as we fight to change others.
But for now … these quotes are dedicated to my love for the written word… that express things like nothing else ever could…
Last year was a lot of hard work and unexpected playful interactions when I least expected it. The highs were pretty high and totally awesome and the low points felt bottomless. My resolution for 2015 were several but the one’s that I did manage to stick to stood me in good stead.
I lost people in 2015 – one of them was a very good friend who was taken from us too soon. I still can’t speak of Cesare without tearing up, even when I laugh, there’s a deep sigh that comes up unbidden. I have lost people when I stuck to my resolution to treat people as they treat me. Some loved it, some hated it. It simplified my life. I lost the one’s who drag me down far more often then they pick me up.
2015 was the year that I learnt the meaning of what it means to be family. Most of us define the word family by the people we are related to by blood or marriage. Instead I learnt the following:
Loyalty, honesty, integrity – in everything that I do, every relationship that I develop whether in my career or personal life, in my actions, words and thoughts continue to remain my guiding stars.
Through out the year as people and opportunities walked in and out of my life, I discovered that the one’s who genuinely care and want me in their lives will always prioritize and make time for me. My one month of working in Ethiopia gave me not only invaluable work experience, a totally different perspective on the role of aid in developing economies but also a family and new friends and colleagues whom I enjoyed immensely.
While 2015 ended in a bittersweet note, looking back there is nothing that I would do differently. In each moment I had made the best possible decisions, drew my line in the sand and stuck to my guns where necessary and it is that integrity and faith in choosing what is right that allows me to move forward without looking back. Knowing that I have done my best, given my best and I deserve the best.
I look forward to 2016 because this life is an endless journey were the scenery is constantly changing and along with the props, the actors change, bringing in new perspectives, lessons, knowledge, wisdom and yes, even love. There will be new countries to see, new cultures to discover, new cuisines to try, new friends to make, new ways of thinking that will challenge my current one’s, ideas to discover, challenges to conquer and victories to celebrate. I look forward to the highs and lows and while the first 3 months are already promising me to be hectic, full of travels and new experiences and learning’s, here’s a nod off to the highlights of 2015 🙂
First off, thank you to the awesome people in my life. Thank you for reminding me that kindness exists every where. Thank you for lifting me up. Thank you for brightening my life every single day. Thank you for being honest & straight forward with me. Thank you to my family, friends, my mentors & colleagues. Thank you for showing me a thousand ways to love & live in every moment.
I saw this video a couple of days ago and since today is my birthday and I am stepping into 37 and staring the big 4-0 in the face – it seemed like a good time to take a look back on what has been a rather interesting journey so far.
It’s been 7 years since I started blogging. Putting my thoughts out into the open, for others to see, comment on and debate. It’s scary. Very scary. Mostly because I had this hang up on an unconscious need for approval. As life happened, I learnt that I really don’t need the approval or validation of others to be awesome.
I am a round peg in a square hole and maybe I don’t fit in because I am supposed to help create a new world. And I am – in my own little corner of the world, in my immediate sphere, I am making a difference and that’s enough. I am kind (mostly), considerate (maybe too much), empathetic (again, too much), loyal & protective (but these are things that I never want to change about myself). Most days I manage to retain a sense of humor – someday’s its more sarcastic & dry and that’s ok too.
I know in my bones that even though the night is darkest right before dawn, the sun will inevitably rise. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and all I have to do is to continue putting one foot in front of the other, to keep moving forward. I have learnt to say ‘no’, draw my boundary and roll with the punches. I know that no matter how many times I fall down, I am capable of picking myself up, dusting it off and going on.
You never know when it might be the last time you speak to someone. As I lose more people who I love, I have learnt that death can come for any of us at anytime. It’s very important to tell the people you love that you love them. Let people know when you appreciate something about them. Give others compliments – genuine, specific compliments. Let people know when who they are, and what they do for you, lifts you up.
Love with gusto. I don’t get how people can love in half measures with a generous sprinkling of caution. That’s like saying I am going to the pool but I am not going to jump in, swim around or get wet in anyway. If you are going to love something, love with all your heart. I consider myself very lucky to have incredible people in my life, who care for me and show me that in a thousand ways.
Half measures & half-hearted efforts yield mediocre results. To cultivate high quality relationships takes time (sometimes years), sincere effort, devotion, honesty, integrity and most of all genuine kindness. You can’t do any of this in half measures, whether it’s your work or your people, give a 100% and more. Let go of attachment to results. The destination is important but it’s more important to enjoy the journey.
Be Grateful, cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Give more than you get, spread kindness, happiness – the world will always need more of that. When someone helps you out, thank them. Smile at someone who isn’t smiling today. Say good morning, thank you, ask how are you & really listen to their answer. Sometimes we all need a ear and a shoulder for support.
Life isn’t black or white. Choices aren’t straight forward. Decisions shouldn’t be rigid. Be prepared to change as things changed. If you are stuck in a position, take a break. Breathe, walk, come back later with a cooler head. More often than not, I find that it makes me more willing to take a look at the opposing perspective. No one is all good, all bad, no decision or action is a person in their entirety.
Bad things happen to good people all the time. And that’s ok too. Being hung up on good, bad, fair, unfair only creates discontent and dissatisfaction. Take life as it comes, instead of resisting, flow the way water flows around a boulder on a river. Death isn’t fair and sometimes it takes the one’s who are too young or too loved.
If you let people screw you over more than twice, then I am sorry but you really are a moron. And I have been moronic – too trusting, too giving, too sympathetic, too forgiving. Funny thing is, I don’t think I lost anything. I gained lessons. I learnt to lose people and sometimes to kick off the one’s that hang on and suck my soul dry. I am ok with living somewhere in the shades of gray but I know now that some things can never be compromised on. I have a better idea of what my ‘deal breakers’ are.
Success is mostly hard work, with a tiny sprinkling of luck. The harder you work, the more your luck improves. However, there IS a big difference between being smart, working smart and just being hard-working. Sometimes the lazy way to get things done, really is the best way, it leaves one with more time to do other things.
Be open to new things. It really is amazing to stay open to new opportunities, adventures, places, people, culture, food, experience. Test your boundaries – life begins at the end of your comfort zone. Be alive while you are still living. My places to see and things to do list is ever-expanding. At this rate I have given up on any hope of being able to tick it all off. However, every time I do tick off something, I do my victory dance – the cross between my chicken dance and pointy dance. Find your rhythm and do your funky dance, celebrate your victories & success, celebrate people & their kindness.
I have learnt the value of quality over quantity. It doesn’t matter whether it’s clothes, shoes, handbags or relationships. It’s better to have few very good friends, who lift you up, sing you the song of your soul when you have forgotten it. Then to have hundreds of friends whom you rarely, interact with. Small talk is over-rated. Don’t change yourself to fit with others. You are an original and it’s worth more than a copy. So be you, be awesome, be totally weird!
Commit to things but make sure that they are really what you need. We tend to confuse our wants with needs. I want a knight in shining armor who will ride off into the sunset with me, so we can have a house in the country with white picket fence and 2.5 kids. What I need is someone who will let me be the monk who meditates for a month in a remote mountain in solitude. Or go off in a grand adventure around the world with my friends. See the difference? Huge! What I think I want is what I have grown up with in fairy tales and the social expectations heaped on me. What I need is what my soul demands, the wanderlust in me who begs to be set free.
Don’t listen to other people’s advice, nobody knows what they are doing. People mean well – at least sometimes they really do. But if I wanted to run like the wind, I wouldn’t go to a turtle for advice. We are unique human beings and each one of us dreams of something very different from the others. If you listen to other people, they’ll either tell you what they have done, what has worked for them, or how you should or shouldn’t do what you want to do. So if you are going to take advice, better make sure that the people who advice you ARE where you want to be.
Avoid toxicity – at all cost – in everything. You only have one life to live, one body to live in, one mind that will be with you for the rest of your life. So be kind to yourself, to your body, your mind. Avoid toxic people, junk food, negative thoughts. They take out more than they put in and in the end, it’s really not worth it. Cut out the crap, exercise, meditate, take long walks in nature, hold hands and hug your loved one’s.
The only person you should be competing with is yourself. Don’t compare yourself to others. You don’t really know what they are going through. Also, you may not really want their life if you knew. What others have to say about you is none of your business – it’s a reflection of them, not you. Also what others do is none of your business unless it has direct negative impact on you (like a physical threat). In which case – hit first, hit hard, neutralize the threat and remove yourself from the situation.
Discard labels. Tags and labels are for stuff – clothes, shoes, bags, accessories. Not human beings. Do not allow others to label you – beautiful, smart, stupid or whatever. Good or bad – your life’s narrative is your own. You decide how you want to write it and do it your own way. If you don’t, others will. Choose your words wisely – the way you describe yourself – verbally out loud or silently within your own head – is what you project out into the world.
If you are stuck, keep hammering at the door to new opportunities. If it stays closed, then sneak in through the window. The only one who can really help yourself or change your life for the better is you. Pick your heroes and mentors carefully, they do shape who you become but even they can only show you the door, the decision to walk through is exclusively yours.
Be awesome, be kind, charity starts with yourself and in your own home. Be the best version of yourself. Be your own best friend. Learn to love your life and be comfortable in your own skin. Believe in yourself and stop being your own worst critic.
The Cherokee Indians have this saying as a yard stick to measure our lives against and for Cesare this was certainly true. He passed away from a horrific tragic incident on Monday and left the rest of us crying in his wake. We lost a great deal that night – a great friend, colleague, doting father, son, brother, loving boyfriend. He was many things to many people, much-loved, respected and truly dear to all who knew him. If I had called Cesare a great man on his face, he would’ve laughed at me. But he WAS a great man to work with – kind, humble, knowledgeable, with a wicked sense of humor. He was efficient and practical about getting things done. As a professional colleague if you had a problem that you needed to get resolved, he was the person to hand it over to.
Cesare and I met earlier this year when he took over the job of leading PROOFS, our food security project. We hit it off from the very beginning and quickly developed an easy camaraderie. He was that kind of person, he had a way of putting people at ease. A man of his word, he earned trust through his actions. One of his favorite sayings was that ‘we don’t have to like each other but we must respect each other’ and that sums up the way he was with the people around him. The respect that he gave to even the bearers or drivers in his office was telling of the way he treated all people with dignity. He was not impressed by titles, status or hierarchy – he was impressed by how much people would bring to the table and could contribute to improving the lives of others. He had a way of cutting through the bullshit to get to the heart of the matter. He called a spade a spade but was tactful, diplomatic & always had a smile on his face.
As we became friends, I discovered that there was no BS’ing around him, none of the tedious small talks that barely scratch the surface. Our conversations jumped topics, ran deep, was heated, long & would range from our frustration with our work, how change doesn’t happen fast enough, to our weirdest travel experiences, our kooky retirement plans or wildest dreams. He was easy to talk to, to get to know, to let your guard down with. He was so positive with this ‘joie de vivre’ about him that you could not help but be utterly charmed by his enthusiasm for life and all that it had to offer. Decades down the road, Cesare hoped to buy an island to retire to and Kate & I tried our best to convince him to let us live on it as caretakers. The island dream was something that would materialize far into the future but we talked about it like it was right around the corner.
The day he passed away, we exchanged messages back and forth about the long weekend get-away (respite in nature) in which he was supposed to join our group but decided at the last moment that he couldn’t. He teased me about being a city girl for loving the comforts that civilization/technology offers us and declared that my love for air-conditioning is the reason Bangladesh is sinking from climate change and our Island would disappear before we ever get a chance to retire …. “I love to swim but to swim on a permanent basis….”.
We spoke briefly barely an hour or so before the incident, which made it that much more harder for me to wrap my head around the fact that I would not be able to pick up the phone and hear him on the other end anymore. The hours since then has been interminable. Why? How? Who? The what if’s? And in the midst of this crushing grief, this sudden loss of a great person, a friend, I am now confronted by questions from others on what was he like? how will he be remembered?
The answer to that is I want him to be known not for the tragic way his life ended but the incredibly kind, passionate way he had lived & dedicated his life to a cause, to the greater good.
I want him to be remembered as he was – warm, loving, kind, funny, intelligent, a witty gentle old soul. He’s the only Italian I knew who didn’t care for coffee at all but was very specific about how he wanted his pizza. He doted on his daughter, loved his girlfriend and was very close to his family.
I want to remember Cesare the way I had seen him – always relaxed with the creases around his eyes deepened by his smile. He smiled with his heart, it sparkled in his eyes and lighted up all those around him. A truly remarkable human being who gave selflessly of himself to the service of others.
It is incredibly sad that Cesare’s life ended so soon and I cannot put into words how much we will miss him. Cesare was a positive person and would not want us to be sad today. If he were here he would tell us to cheer up, smile and remember all of the great memories we all shared. Even though Cesare may be gone, his memory will live on in all of us forever.
Buddy, you will be sorely missed! May your soul rest in peace … much love from all of us you left behind, to follow in our time.
(All pictures of Cesare is by Laurent from their joint visit to the PROOFS project in June 2015).
This long weekend, I did something I hadn’t attempted before. I went hiking up a trail to reach a lake, at 1072 ft above sea level. The short hike of 1.5 hours, took me almost 4 hours. Up and down the mountains, scurrying from one to the other, picking our way around trails washed away by landslides, trying not to fall into the abyss as we gingerly attempt to find strong footholds, I watched the locals in pure awe as they went up and down, sure footed, nearly sprinting through the trail. We were left in their trail dust and I kept falling further behind from the group. My head was buzzing, my heart had felt like it would burst through any moment. In those moments, I felt the effect of nearly two decades of smoking, more acutely then I had ever felt before. Towards the end, very close to our destination, I stood on a ledge, unable to take one more step, unwilling to tumble into the abyss, I leaned on my stick as I tried to make up my mind on whether I wanted to throw up or lie down in a place I could not even stand properly. I almost gave up right there.
And I remembered then – it’s darkest right before the sun rises. In the midst of the chaos of life, we become blinded to it’s blessings.
Once we reached the village and soaked ourselves in the lake, I could feel myself relaxing and settling into my new surroundings. We went to bed early only to wake up 3 hours later. The village was quiet, all lights were off and yet it was bathed in silver moonlight. I took a walk through the valley, admiring the full moon, a sky full of stars, the cleanliness and quiet of village life. My group asked me the next day if I had been afraid.
And I realized something else – I am wary of people, not nature or anything that is part of it.
I stayed put the next day while a major part of the group hiked up higher to the 5th highest peak in Bangladesh. I went for a walk through the village, photographing children, watching people at work, admiring the serene beauty of my surroundings. I couldn’t help but notice that the children of the village were wary of us, outsiders. We had descended on them like locusts. Large groups had arrived that morning, we were loud, obnoxious and littered everywhere. A clean village turned dirty within a minutes. The local shop keepers watched us from a distance, cleaning up their parcel of land as soon as groups moved on. We had drifted so far from nature, from any sense of belonging that we had no problem polluting our environment wherever we went.
And I knew the reason I am wary of people – we are unaware, unconscious, inconsiderate of anything other than our need to consume and our greed for more.
As I walked on, a lady on a loom caught my eye, we smiled at each other and I joined her on her veranda. It was mid-day by then and already quite hot and humid, a few minutes after I joined her, she muttered something and got off her loom and went inside. I sat on the veranda wondering if I had somehow offended or disturbed her with my presence. For the few minutes that I was left alone, I debated slinking back to where I came from, ashamed of what I considered to be an intrusion. But she returned with a drink of water and a bunch of bananas. It was probably what she had at hand to offer, as she indicated that I should eat and drink, I settled down again into enjoying our mutual company. A few minutes later, she took the loom apart and wrapped it up and once again I wondered if I should leave. But an elderly lady came by and helped her set up another loom, this time with bright yarns of green and red, she was going to weave another shawl. I sat on the floor, part of her scene, trying to stay out of her way as I watched their hands deftly set up the yarns in place. The repeated motion was soothing, the dedication and attention to detail felt like meditation.
They chatted quietly between themselves and smiled at me while pointing for me to have more water or banana. A man passing by joined us and she repeated the same ritual, went inside to get him a drink of water and more bananas. He could speak my language, so we struck up a conversation. The ladies were curious and had quite a few questions – we traded answers back and forth, smiling, giggling as we shared our lives in languages we do not speak. Her neighbors joined us and five more kids. The man left, he was going to walk back to his village and it would take him the rest of the day, she offered him more bananas to take for the way. I sat there for nearly an hour longer, the ladies around me talking, the kids playing, slowly relaxing in my presence. When they first arrived, they stayed out of reach, as they relaxed and lost themselves in play, they inched closer, until they started initiating games with me.
I had not remembered to ask permission to take photographs when the man was there, so I kept my camera closed. Recording the moment in memory. A group of ladies and their children, enjoying a lazy afternoon, working, weaving, catching up with each other and watching over their kids. An hour later, I decided to make my way back to the house I was staying at, as I waved goodbye, the kids waved back and the ladies smiled.
On the way back, I stopped to admire two kids playing, I took a picture of them, one turned around immediately and said ‘no’. I apologized as I showed them the picture. The other one had been playing on the veranda, she said ‘yes, more picture’, so I took a couple more. Each time I snapped a pic and showed them, they giggled.
And I learnt once again – We are all strangers in a strange land, until we stop, smile and acknowledge each other’s presence. Hospitality is a state of mind, not material status. Trust must be gained and respect offered if we are to coexist in peace and tranquility with each other.
As I returned back to the home we were staying in, the lady of the house offered us lunch. I am not a big fan of vegetables but that fresh vegetarian meal was so delicious that I took three more helpings. She was obviously pleased that we were enjoying her meal and we lingered afterwards chatting, drinking tea, trading more questions back and forth. Her husband came by and teasingly asked us whether we think that his sweetheart is more beautiful then him, she said something to him in their own language and they lovingly teased each other before he turned around to tell us that he too had been very handsome in his young years. The couple has 3 children, two of whom are studying here in my city, the youngest is living with them in the village. They run the home-stay during tourist season to make extra money while the rest of the year is spent in agriculture, running their little shop and handicraft sale. They have tried to diversify their income base to give their children an easier life then what they had.
People and their resilience continue to surprise me. For them the market is a day’s walk away, for others it can take up to 2 days. The village people rarely get sick, but they think it’s partly because they have no doctor in the village and the closest health complex would take a day to reach on foot. I think it has more to do with their environment. Ingredients are fresh, they drink water from the mountain springs, the air is clean and they have close to zero carbon emission. It’s one of the purest, cleanest places I have been to in this country. They have an innate sense of belonging in nature, a respect for nature that is missing in most of us city folk. Their bond with each other and their community strong, everyone looking after each other.
And I realized that our dissonance lies in our disconnection – from each other, from nature, from having lost our sense of community or belonging. In the cities, we don’t know our neighbors, we are so busy rushing from one task to another, we rarely stop to check on the people around us. In our greed for more, we hustle and we forget to slow down, to enjoy the moments that make up our day, with the people we share our hours with. Our children no longer has childhood of free play and easy camaraderie with fellow playmates. It’s scheduled and supervised as we control every moment of their lives.
I used to travel and find pieces of my soul in far flung places. This time when I traveled, I learnt to shed the excess baggage of expectations, vanity, ego.
I learnt to ask for help as I gasped my way through mountain trails.
I learnt to pace myself and respect my ability to get things done in my own time.
I learnt the meaning of “wabi-sabi” through witnessing it first hand among the tribe we lived with.
I settled into the art of letting go of expectations of how things should be and instead admire what is.
I learnt that digital detox is not about being off from network but resisting the urge & expectation to be hitched to a digital leash.
Desmond Tutu talks about the concept of Ubuntu, in the context of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation process that they embarked on after apartheid. He says it means, “My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours; we belong to a bundle of life.” A bundle of life. The Truth and Reconciliation process started by elevating the voices of the unheard.
In a world torn apart by wars, in the face of our humanity decimated by our greed to control precious resources, we have lost our ‘Ubuntu’. We lost it when the body of a 3-year-old Syrian boy had to wash ashore for us to wake up and notice the plight of the refugees fleeing wars. We lost it when Charlie Hebdo created yet another cartoon mocking this death in the name of freedom of speech. We lost it when our headlines continue to be titillating news of latest celebrity scandals instead of the very real scandal of how we are collectively failing humanity.
The refugees, the poverty, the wars, the fight over control of resources, the new wave of colonialism that is sweeping through, it is cleverly disguised. Cleverly labeled as economic migrants looking for the easy life, a war to install democracy by bombing out entire cities, their citizens nameless, un-reckoned casualties, the news swept away, tucked somewhere in page 12 in a small column in international news. The number of these casualties unrecognized, unknown to the general population. The new colonialism that talks about integration, globalization, ensuring access to resources, for who? to what end?
We talk about the Millennium Development Goals and what a huge success it has been. So now we are talking about Sustainable Development Goals and how certain things need to be prioritized in order to ensure quality of life for everybody – “To leave no one behind”. Our narrative on poverty however has hardly changed. A large portion of our actions are still top-down, driven by political agenda, prioritized towards winning votes for parties, influence within the country or in international sphere. We cater to political leaders, to speeches to be made in parliament, to achieve goals that will look good when put up in a billboard. We cater to specific themes because that’s where the money is – that’s where the funding is.
In all the South-South talk and the North-South cooperation, how many specific areas for development were targeted because that’s where the real on the ground needs are?
I don’t know… maybe because I haven’t looked enough.
I want to know though. I want to know it the way I know the SDG’s. I want to see real life solutions coming out of grass-root movements, that impact on the people whose very lives we claim to want to change for the better. The people we don’t want ‘to leave behind’. Maybe the way we see things has to change, maybe that’s still a long way to go, maybe we’ll get there in one generation or ten. Maybe the change has to start now, with us, in this moment. Maybe we have to filter what news we consume and how we allow it to shape our narratives. Maybe we have to start questioning everything – including our deep-seated assumptions – even on issues that we believe to be ‘written in stone’.
If we are to live up to our promise of working for the people, with the people, for the greater good of humanity, then we have to rediscover our ‘Ubuntu’ and live up to it. And in this thought provoking talk by Mia Birdsong, she invites us to do just that.
The first people who lived on the northern plains of what today is the United States called themselves “Lakota,” meaning “the people,” a word which provides the semantic basis for Dakota. The first European people to meet the Lakota called them “Sioux,” a contraction of Nadowessioux, a now-archaic French-Canadian word meaning “snake” or enemy.
The Lakota also used the metaphor to describe the newcomers. It was Wasi’chu, which means “takes the fat,” or “greedy person.” Within the modern Indian movement, Wasi’chu has come to mean those corporations and individuals, with their governmental accomplices, which continue to covet Indian lives, land, and resources for private profit.
Wasi’chu does not describe a race; it describes a state of mind.
Wasi’chu is also a human condition based on inhumanity, racism, and exploitation. It is a sickness, a seemingly incurable and contagious disease which begot the ever advancing society of the West. If we do not control it, this disease will surely be the basis for what may be the last of the continuing wars against the Native American people.
…excerpt from Wasi’chu, The Continuing Indian Wars,
Bruce Johansen and Robert Maestas
with an introduction by John Redhouse
Aaron Huey set out to photograph poverty in America, but somewhere in his quest, he ended up in the Lakota Indian reservation and the focus of his photography changed. In this impassioned Ted Talk he talks about something that has been and is still going on all over the world – the process of how history is rewritten by the victor – the original immigrants and how the defeated are truly wiped out. In poverty, ignorance, systematic exclusion & persecution. He talks about how our collective apathy leads to us repeating the same mistakes, silently witnessing destruction of entire nations, with an unapologetic shrugging of our shoulders in the dark, absolving ourselves of any and all responsibility, while we stand in the side lines questioning – “My God what are these people doing to themselves? they are killing themselves”.
History repeats itself in today’s world and perhaps we are doomed to it for all eternity because we refuse to become wise to our “Wasichu” ways. After all, the survival of the fittest & strongest rules is the dominant philosophy of every day lives and choices, while ‘altruism’ lies dead on our wayside. It’s the reason why climate change and it’s very real impact on societies who are drowning now still need to be debated by nations haggling over climate credits and fund allocations.
Its the reason entire wars can be launched in the name of democracy, saving humanity, giving dignity to oppressed people or fighting terrorism / fundamentalists – pick whichever option is suitable to sway the majority of voters. Once the troops are on the ground, work out contracts for rebuilding, for mining, for extractions of precious resources and award them to your fellow countrymen, in contracts with corporations, negotiated behind closed doors.
We conveniently forget that the very people who are supposed to be saved are the one’s being bombed, until nothing is left and they are forced to move. Then we deny these very people, any human dignity or consideration. We leave them on boats to die. We watch them wash ashore – dead. We rally and cry out against this encroachment on our hard-earned easy life. We brand them as economic burdens, pariahs, each country doing it’s best to stem the flow, to close its borders, to shove off as many as possible to its neighbors to share the burden.
We do the same here, we do it with the tribes in the hill tracts. We sign treaties, we violate them, we flood their lands with new settlers of the dominant community. We have no option – we are too big in numbers, we need land to farm, they don’t know how to manage their communal properties. They are backwards and inefficient and in desperate need of our technologies, health system, and education designed to brainwash and indoctrinate children into accepting authorities without question. We award quotas for college and university education, jobs in the civil service. We know they are not going to make it because the systematic persecution is too great. But we sugar coat the truth, we extend hands in friendship and with promises of greater economic prosperity. We destroy lives, culture, history, language and we wipe out anyone trying to hold on to an identity that doesn’t blend in with the ones we want to establish.
The Australians did it with the aborigines, or perhaps I should say that the original immigrants from the British Empire to Australia did it. They did to the Maoris in New Zealand, who by the way, are still fighting for their lands and their rights in the court systems. The Spanish did it to the Incas – wiped out. We have been doing it over and over and over again. We wipe out indigenous population, we wipe out age-old wisdom, we destroy the very fabric of the society. We install progress, democracy, individual wealth economies, we are even wiping out the earth with our fast resource depletion.
Then we sit back and question, puzzle over and research into why there is so much strife and disorder in this world. Why and how we are destroying the only planet that we have to live in. Why and how we do not recognize, refuse to acknowledge, bury our heads in the sand, when it comes to seeing the very real threat of the imbalance we have created in our ecosystem. We wring our hands as we bemoan the lack of human connections that lead to school children shooting up their classmates. We hold candle light vigil over great injustices and inhumane incidents of crime and torture wrought on members of our societies. We question where and how we lost our humanity, whether we had it, or can ever hope to salvage it.
What are we doing to ourselves?
Regret… now that’s an emotion that we are ALL familiar with, some perhaps more than others. Unless you are a sociopath, in which case you do not have the brain function necessary to feel the emotions associated with ‘regret’. So anyway, I did a quick search on this blog and turns out I have written exactly eight posts were I have tagged ‘regret’ as a key word. It’s a word that I have associated with coming out stronger from adversary, in making life choices, with death, with honesty, with having more than others – a myriad of situations which on the surface are not related to each other.
But looking at these posts, basically I have associated it with any situations where I felt there was a choice (ok, death was not by choice but maybe I have survivor’s guilt). So even though we love the feeling of having options – unfortunately, the minute we make the choice – any choice (it really doesn’t matter what we choose) – we immediately open ourselves to the very real possibility of experiencing regret – for not picking the option we didn’t choose.
I was watching the movie “About Time” last weekend, and the main character in it reaches the age of 21 and discovers that part of his inheritance is the ability to time travel. Now I tried imagining that given this ability there would be events in my past that I would choose to erase (trust me, I have a vivid imagination). The thing is, just like in the movie, if the butterfly effects of things changed means that I don’t meet certain people, experience certain situations, fundamentally, who I am, would change. And surprisingly it turns out THAT is a choice that I am not willing to make.
I like me, I am me because of everything that has happened to me, through the years, with the people, in places and situations, which at the time I had thought were the worst thing that can possibly happen. Yet, there I was, slapped on the face with the realization that I don’t want to lose or change who I am.
You know what that means? I don’t.
I think it might mean that I am letting go of the regret I had felt at the decisions I had made through life. That I had somehow made peace with my choices. Now knowing me, before I make any choice, I do weight them on a scale (I am a Libra so that figures my obsession with the scale thingy). I do the whole exercise of columns and rows of alternate scenarios and in most cases, I had chosen, what I believed at the time, to be the best possible option/choice. I can be quite obsessive with having a plan A (for action) and back up plan B, C, D… you get the picture.
Now, if you watch the Ted Talk below you will notice that at 6.15, she outlines what people regret the most – or rather the choices that people regret the most and funnily enough these are related to – education, career, romance, parenting, self, leisure, finance, family, health, friends, spirituality and community – in exactly that descending order. And that basically means that we most regret the things where we feel that we had a choice and we could’ve chosen something else. But what if like me, you get to a point, where you realize that at the moment of choosing, you had weighted all your options and you had made the best possible choice you can?
Would you still then hold on to regret? Or would you let it go?
So, here’s what I am going to be doing…. I am going to get myself tattooed this weekend and then be damn happy that I at least had the courage to do something that I had always wanted to get done. And if I regret my tattoos, then I guess I will learn to love my imperfect flawed creation 😉
The lesson that I ultimately learned from my tattoo and that I want to leave you with today is this: We need to learn to love the flawed, imperfect things that we create and to forgive ourselves for creating them. Regret doesn’t remind us that we did badly. It reminds us that we know we can do better.
BTW, hindsight is always 20/20, so don’t bother looking back.. just keep moving forward 🙂
When we’re ashamed, we can’t tell our stories, and stories are the foundation of identity. Forge meaning, build identity, forge meaning and build identity. That became my mantra. Forging meaning is about changing yourself. Building identity is about changing the world. All of us with stigmatized identities face this question daily: how much to accommodate society by constraining ourselves, and how much to break the limits of what constitutes a valid life? Forging meaning and building identity does not make what was wrong right. It only makes what was wrong precious.
What do we do with the worst things that has happened to us?
Live with shame? Lose ourselves in what could have been? Live with a lifetime of regret, anger, hurt, shame, betrayal, inability to trust?
Or could you take all that and build for yourself something more – something that is bigger then what could have been, had ‘it’, the hurt and pain, not happened. What do we appreciate more? The things we easily achieve, or the stuff for which we have had to struggle for long and hard?
Rebuilding a life anew from the ashes of one in which I had sacrificed and lost everything that I thought gave meaning to my life, I am no stranger to struggle or building new identities. Some days I still wake up and have to remind myself that ‘today is all there is and tomorrow is promised to no one’. Each day comes with 24 hours and each hour comes with 60 minutes. It’s a deposit in your bank that you cannot save for tomorrow, neither can you borrow from what’s to come – so all you really have are these moments in which you are still alive. What we do with that is really who we are choosing to become.
Our words shape our narratives. The one we play on a loop inside our head. The one we verbalize or project to others. Instead of worrying about what could be or what was, the question that plays the most in my head is “am I doing the best I could do in this very moment?” Am I being who I want to be? consciously and unconsciously do my words and actions align with my core being?
We humans have searched for meaning through out time with the most basic question of all “why do I exist?” and in this beautiful talk Andrew presents some brilliant insights into how we come to be who we are – by persevering through all of life’s ups and downs.
Writer Andrew Solomon has spent his career telling stories of the hardships of others. Now he turns inward, bringing us into a childhood of adversity, while also spinning tales of the courageous people he’s met in the years since. In a moving, heartfelt and at times downright funny talk, Solomon gives a powerful call to action to forge meaning from our biggest struggles.