On Speaking Up…

Years ago, my professor pulled me aside after class and said… “It takes spine to go against popular opinion. However, it can be quite risky. I recommend that you learn to keep your opinions to yourself if you want to keep your place here. I don’t say this because I disagree with you. In fact, I agree with you, and know first hand what trouble an unpopular opinion can cause.”

“Do you mean to censor me?” I asked.

“I am not censoring you. I am telling you that this society will. If not by convincing you, then by coercing you.”

The discussion that had just taken place in class was about a human rights crisis that I could not be silent about. The curriculum presented the situation from the perspective of the victor which, according to my own family history, is a very shallow perspective. The truth was a lot deeper, a lot more cruel, a lot more painful.

I told myself that I would not let my professor’s words prevent me from standing on the right side of history. I would not condone violence, theft, oppression, hostility, injustice, human rights violations, exploitation, etc. I would insist that silence is equal to agreement. I would not allow someone else to manage my language for me, to correct my choice of words, to tell me what to say and how to say it.

No matter the price.

Then, I grew up. I started getting in line. Like everyone else, I had something to lose if I spoke up. If I said “hey, you! You can’t continue to hurt others!” or “read this, it tells a different story,” I would be told by others to get back in line before one of us gets the boot.

Even yesterday, when I voiced a concern that we should avoid using oppressive language, after several incidents when I had kept my mouth shut, I was corrected: “it isn’t oppressive language when nobody is oppressed.” Smile. Put your head down. You can’t fix a broken world. If something is wrong, put a disclaimer on it instead of taking ownership of the mistake.

We are all programmed this way. We look, but we do not see. We hear, but we do not listen. Right under our noses, people are suffering, and we are taught to ignore them. Ignore them or you’re next. That’s the attitude.

Meanwhile, on the surface, we are taught to use nice sounding words and phrase our language in a politically correct manner. This allows us to appear fair and inclusive as a society. Look at us, we’re so humane. We are so forward thinking. We are servants of peace.

The problem is, this is all superficial. I learned a long time ago that appearance and authenticity are two different things entirely. I was a new student at a school made up of over a hundred different nationalities. I was very quick to grasp the concept that there are two forms of diversity: one that is superficial, that you can easily see when you look from the outside in, but that doesn’t necessarily function well as a whole, and one that is beyond the surface, where difference is nurtured and understood, and every single part contributes to the heartbeat of the whole.

The former is just a product of globalization. The latter can only thrive where there is an abundance of love. One thing we all know about love: it requires communication. You cannot love someone while simultaneously silencing them. And so this is where the problem lies. We claim to love everyone, but we are quick to silence those who call out for justice and fairness.

We are all responsible for the condition of our world. When we speak up, or when we are crippled by silence, we contribute tremendously to the future direction of our communities. If we want to build a world full of abundant love, then we must understand that it also requires abundant sacrifice.

On the one hand, my professor may have been trying to scare me in order to prevent my truth and history from being shared. On the other hand, he may have been scared for me, and trying to protect me from a world that often has its death chambers disguised as safe spaces for discourse. Whatever his intention, he was right about one thing: it takes spine to challenge popular opinion, and it is risky, even (maybe especially) when the new perspective is in defence of human rights and dignity.

But, without spine, where would we be? A politically correct superficial sanctuary built on the backs of the invisible… where we can pat ourselves on the shoulder for being such wonderful and linguistically inclusive people, all while ignoring the less rose-tinted reality just beneath the surface. What happens to a world like that?

The truth is… there is no one true truth. Everything is a matter of perspective, including history. Every event that takes place can be described from an infinite number of perspectives. Everything we believe can be challenged. Every action has a reaction of equal force, in the opposite direction. It’s crucial for us to remember that and question, question, question. Don’t just nod, smile, and adopt the new words they teach you so you can appear more inclusive and generous and tolerant. Be more inclusive and generous and tolerant by questioning everything, educating yourself, and standing up against hypocrisy wherever you encounter it.

Fortune and despair, love and hatred, freedom and oppression, unity and division, speech and silence are all separated by the thinnest veil. The distance between here and there isn’t as long as we may think. All you have to do is look behind the disclaimer. Look behind the silent nod. Look behind the forced smile. There you will witness the cost of inaction in an ailing world.

Food for thought.

And remember… we design our own luck!

M.

On Cities of Ice…

Image property of Hack: Dream Life [Marian D.] ©2018. All rights reserved.

Ah… November…

I’ve closed my eyes for all of a minute and we’re already halfway through the month! You know time is running when you’re used to writing daily and you look back at your blog and realize you’ve been snoozing a bit too long.

I’m slower when the winter comes. It’s just the way I am. I’m not built for this kind of weather 🤣

I have always found that people subconsciously reflect the weather patterns of the places where they live. I, for one, am a lot warmer as a person in warmer climate. When the cold strikes, there’s very little that can persuade me to get out of my little nook and live a little. Over the years, I’ve made a concentrated effort to combat my nature; otherwise, I end up eating and sleeping myself into oblivion during the winter months.

On the other hand, place me in a warm country and I am full of life, and there’s very little that can keep me sitting still. It’s a completely different reality from the one I live in the City of Ice.

Whenever I grow detached from myself, I remember something my dad once said to me: just like you have the power to furnish your home so that it brings you a sense of comfort and safety, you can also furnish your city. If you learn to fill your city with good memories, every place on earth can feel like home.

I get it; but I can’t pretend I’ve mastered the trick.

The City of Ice never felt like home to me, at least not until I had a chance to miss it. Walking around today, I was frozen to the bone, and somehow found comfort in the frozen feeling. Ah! November! I walked past Christmas ornaments that have been, I kid you not, consistently put up with absolutely no change in the design for at least 5 years. Ah! A sense of familiarity!

The City of Ice never fails to astound me with its redundancy, and yet it is ever beautiful. Every year, like clockwork, my mood changes at around this time. I become less patient, begin to experience more severe chronic pain symptoms, and want to roll up under a rock and sleep away the next half year. But, somehow, I revel in the magic of it all. It’s a great reminder that good times are coming, that transitions are necessary, and that difficult moments make the good ones all the more wonderful. It’s also a great reminder that life is worthy of celebration and that we need to fill our world with good friends, good causes, strong family ties, and as much love as possible. And so, this makes it the best season for giving. It is when you feel most cold at heart that you should extend your hand to help others.

That has always worked for me.

What about you? How are you handling the changing seasons? Are you excited, inspired, full of ambition… or are you ready to take a nap, like me? What do you do to keep your head above water?

How do you manage to remember that we design our own luck?

M.

On Crazy Pants Dreams…

Sometimes, we need to slow down for a moment to be able to think clearly. Before taking a chance on a new venture, idea, or goal, we need a moment to contemplate in silence. This is really only a moment. The longer wait tends to happen after the idea has been born… it is the space between inaction and action. It’s only human to get stuck in that limbo for a while.

I’ve always been quick to think but slow to act. I see this every day in people around me too; everyone has a great idea, but very few are actually putting on their crazy pants and getting to work. Why? Because your best ideas are often based on childlike curiosity, hope, creativity, and excitement… and as we age, we begin to lose faith that achieving these dreams is possible.

When I was a teenager, my dad and I were taking the train back home after work/school, and he was telling me about a potential job opportunity out of town. My dad is often quick to think and even quicker to act. That explains why I spent my life country hopping. I saw the spark in his eyes that day, the one that always shined through when he had a new adventure planned. This time, I wasn’t excited. We had just recently moved, again, halfway across the world. I still missed my friends. I was upset. I remember crossing my arms and saying “dad, we can’t do this again. This needs to stop.”

My dad was alarmed by my reaction. After all, he raised me living on the fast lane, never knowing when we would change course and always adapting seamlessly. Shed a single tear and move on. He didn’t expect The Shut Down. So he told me about his view that life is a journey through train stations at various destinations, and that every train goes somewhere different. “Sometimes, you only have a split moment to decide to hop on a train,” he said, “or else, you will miss the chance forever.” “But there will be other trains!” I insisted. “Yes, and you’ll have to live with where they take you if you decide to hop on one of them. But the problem is, most people are so afraid, that they spend their whole lives living in one train station.”

I understood what he meant even then. While moving too often was frustrating and often painful, stagnation was my biggest fear, and still is. Yet, here I am on a train this morning, every morning, and it isn’t leaving the station.

What is the cost of inaction?

This week, I started the process of getting my business idea registered. I have been developing two ideas: one is fun, creative, and appeals to my youth. The other is more formal than my day job, and doesn’t really excite me. I decided to venture forward with my intuition, the inner guide that says “yes, you can only make X dollars per hour starting with this business idea, while the other will make you XX dollars, but… you know what… it’s time to put your crazy pants on, and do what you actually want to do!”

I can’t say that I’ve hopped on a train to a whole new life like my parents often do. They raised me with guts and survival instincts, but I am not quite ready to go back to the Bedouin life. For now, I am still a little stuck in my train station… but I’ll be opening up a shop instead of waiting around.

What’s your crazy pants dream? What are you waiting for to make it come true? Let me know in the comments below!

And remember… we design our own luck!

M.

Goal Achieved!

As my readers know, I have been rooting for support for Angelina, a 7 year old girl fighting Lyme disease with her father. This weekend, Angelina’s family met and surpassed the goal of raising $20K for the treatment!

Check it out at: https://www.gofundme.com/angiefightslyme

This is what people are capable of achieving when they put their hands together in the name of love. We are all creators of miracles in this life.

Cheers to everyone who helped support the campaign by donating and/or sharing it. Thank you for sending your good thoughts and keeping Angelina and her dad in your prayers. Please continue to pray that the treatment helps improve the symptoms they are experiencing. And “may the odds be ever in your favour” 😉

And remember… we design our own luck!

M.

On Paying it Forward…

We have all been offered a hand up at one point or another. It could have been something as simple as a smile, as complex as a chance, or as generous as a financial blanket. Whatever it was, it helped us survive. But how many of us are paying it forward?

I am surprised by how often people criticize others for the same faults that once belonged to them. For example, the man who has survived the gruelling life of homelessness looks upon a homeless man today with contempt, rather than mercy or compassion. The now successful man believes he achieved his success by the sweat and blood of his own brow and judges the homeless man for sitting on the ground and begging for money. Does he remember that, before he could stand up, many people passing by lent him a hand? How could he not remember?

The confident executive, with chin up, may look at the young woman biting her nails during an interview with a piercing gaze. The candidate has glowing credentials, but she isn’t dressed well. Her hands are shaking. She looks like a deer in headlights. Does the exec recognize her reflection sitting there? Does she remember that she once was that girl, and that someone looked beyond her fears and chose to be confident for her? Or does she walk away with eyes rolling, wondering why kids these days have no spine, and never give the young woman a call back? How can she not remember?

The man and his wife having breakfast at a family restaurant snap at the new parents beside them because their children are being too loud. “Can you control your kids?! Some of us are trying to have a good time! What’s the matter with you?” they exclaim. They react without considering the embarrassment they are subjecting the parents to in front of their children. When the young family goes home, the dad might tell his child to go do his homework, and his child may snap back: “what’s the matter with you?!” Society has successfully taught him how to disrespect his father like that. And meanwhile, the couple trying to enjoy their time do not recognize the harm they have caused, nor do they remember how difficult it was to raise children in a judgemental and impatient society. How can they not remember?

We have all been given a hand up. Whichever way you slice it, even if you are convinced you are the victim in every situation in your life, or believe you have succeeded single handedly, you have been helped. One hand cannot clap alone. Perhaps you have not noticed the help. Perhaps you don’t remember it. But that doesn’t mean that it was not offered to you. And so, when you have a chance to be helpful and kind to others, take it. Try to see the world through other people’s eyes. Be compassionate and kind. Remember that, no matter how successful one might become, he is worth nothing if he cannot love.

And remember… we design our own luck!

M.

On Homesickness…

Anyone who knows me knows that I struggle with the occasional bout of homesickness. A privilege reserved for Third Culture Kids, expats, immigrants and refugees, this is the sense of belonging everywhere and nowhere, all at once.

Every year, September brings a crisp freshness and a promise for change. We know what’s coming next… a cold, hard winter that will most certainly seem impossible to crawl out of. But, before that, there is Fall… the time for contemplation.

The homesick among us quickly learn to greet the changing environment with open arms. We know that it is futile to hang on to the fleeting, so we might as well enjoy the new view. It is during this season that we remember the cyclical nature of life, and recognize the absurdity of existence. Here today, gone tomorrow. The Phoenix must burn to ashes before it can be reborn.

Only when we stand amongst the trees do we begin to understand the nature of our own lives. As we feel the first and final breaths of life at our fingertips, the homesickness begins to bubble up again. The imminence of death sparks the nomadic instinct to go, go, go. Hit the road, Jack, it’s time to go back home.

Every year, I ignore this instinct, nestle into Autumn jackets and decorate my house with pumpkins. I cocoon myself into that warm shelter, close my eyes, and visualize the places and people I love. I vow that my love will persist, even through the piercing winter. Over the years, as I braved every falling leaf, I somehow learned to love the foreign just enough to let my anchor rest a little longer.

But Spring is always just around the corner, despite the perceived endlessness of the winter, and the wind of change is bound to blow. Every year, it’s a little louder. How long can sleeping dreams lie?

Hit the road, Jack. It’s time to go back home.

And remember… you design your own luck!

M.

On “What If”…

By the time I hit my mid 20s, I could already see that much of my life has been shaped by patterns of small, often seemingly irrelevant, decisions. Like a “choose your own path” storybook, life unfolds in a boldly unique direction whenever we make a series of choices or, sometimes, even a single choice.

It is no wonder then that so many of us are plagued by the curse of “what if”. What if I had not given up on playing the piano? What if I had taken up the Political Science degree? What if I had chosen the other job, when two offers came on the same day? What if I had been more patient? What if I had apologized? What if I had stood up for myself? What if we were still friends?

Nobody is immune to contemplating their choices and imagining alternative results. Who puts down a “choose your own path” book without turning back the pages to read through all the alternative endings? Not me. Our natural curiosity about how our lives may have turned out differently, had we made different decisions, is a testament to the human will to always grow, learn, and improve. Learning from past trends in our lives helps us steer the direction of our future.

This is the upside to asking ourselves the question. Looking back is a fundamental element in growing forward. However, “what if” could also be heart-wrenching, and it is at those times that we most need to trust that our instincts have served us well.

In the attempt to find out what could have happened if we had chosen differently, we tend to reach back into the past and try to find some clues. Have you ever reached out to someone from ten years ago in pursuit of that friendship you lost? What did you learn from this?

I’ve learned that, if someone is no longer a part of my life, there is probably a good reason for that. Now, this doesn’t mean that we can’t be friends going forward. After all, time persistently regenerates and makes new people out of us. But there is no use in wondering what could have come from a different decision in the past, because nine times out of ten, we followed our instincts and they led us in a particular direction for an important reason. The reason may not always be clearly known, but that is where faith comes in.

Have you ever contemplated going back to school to pursue another career path, or even gone back to school for it? When you take a few classes, you will undoubtedly draw connections between your past and present learning. My undergraduate degree theoretically had nothing at all to do with my graduate degree or my career, yet it somehow still plays a fundamental role in my success. I went back to school to fulfill my “what if,” and ended up discovering that nothing learned is in vain.

Every small decision you make can alter the path of your life forever. I once decided I was too shy to ask my friend’s dad to pick me up, despite the fact that he was such a kind man and would have certainly agreed. I didn’t go to the party and went to school the next morning wondering “what if” I had missed something fun, only to be greeted by the somber eyes of all my friends who knew well ahead of me that there was a big accident… and he did not survive. I learned that day that there is no use in the fear of missing out. There is only what we decide, and what is written for us.

A few years later, I met a brilliant 18 year old man on a trip and we instantly got along. He was one of few people who seemed genuinely interested in my writing, and I expressed to him that I was experiencing some severe writer’s block. “Why is it that there are no people like you at my school?” I asked him. “Why do I always click with people who I have to leave behind? If I had never left my home, I would have so much to write about!” His response was simple… “don’t worry so much about “what if”. Things happen for strange reasons; we only understand in retrospect. Just make the most of what you do have, and write anyway.”

Before I said goodbye, I told him that I would write, eventually, one day. He laughed and told me that indeed, I would, perhaps a few years after he’s gone. I rolled my eyes at him, not knowing how soon he would be gone. “Don’t be so dramatic. You’re 18. If I have to wait till you’re gone to write, I’ll be like… 90!”

“Don’t forget to dedicate the first book to me!”

He died two years later.

For four (or so) hours spent with someone I will mourn for the rest of my life, I understand now that God was doing his protective work.

There is only choice, and what is written for us.

Forget about “what if”.

And remember… we design our own luck!

M.