On Blending…

Today, I’m giving you some homework. Ask a traveller, an immigrant, or a refugee about the great “melting pot” or “stew” that they are now a part of. What does it feel like to be the key ingredient?

Don’t know a traveller, an immigrant, or a refugee? Then it’s time to get out there and meet someone a little different.

It’s human nature to define the world in binaries. I’ve heard it all in people’s descriptions of “us” and “them”. They, the others, are referred to in various ways, not all flattering.

(Side note: my stream of thought was just derailed by a woman yelling at another woman not to touch her. Incidentally, the second woman was veiled. The irony of witnessing this while trying to write a post about assimilation is astounding. This is the second time I witness aggressive behaviour towards a veiled woman in a week).

Being different is quite difficult. It’s also exceptionally difficult to have to change in order to fit in with others, and consequently give up your own values, ambitions, and dream for your life. Every Disney production encourages children to embrace what makes them unique and to fight for their dreams against all odds, then they grow up and the world tells them to get in line and keep their heads down. Be like everybody else, so nobody can judge you. If you can’t change your skin, change your mannerisms and accent and hope to God nobody will notice. Blend in, but please identify your ethnic background, sexual orientation, and religious affiliation accurately when prompted by your workplace/community centre/census so that they someone can use you as a statistic to boast their equity and diversity indices… like a refurbished trophy.

What is it like to be seen but unseen?

I can tell you a thing or two about that.

I’ve come to the realization that the world is just one big high school, and people carry forward in their respective cliques until their dying day. Then, they’re often buried in a multi-ethnic cemetery because the world is just too diverse and there are just too many people to organize by “type” underground. You may be buried alongside a political enemy, or someone who doesn’t look like you, or someone who believes in another God with the decline in religious cemetery space. So… maybe it’s worthwhile to get to know them and share the earth before, you know, having to physically share the earth.

Nobody is better than anybody. No race is superior. No religion is superior. Ignorance breeds hatred and, with hatred on the rise, none of us are safe. So your homework is to stand with me today and be a beacon of light. Guide the way for a better world by making the effort to understand what it’s like for someone else to live in a strange new land with a new language and culture. Ask them about blending. You may come to realize that the person you’re speaking to is not very different from you.

And if you are, like me, often the stranger, try to connect with anyone who is willing to listen. I know they seem to be few and far between, but many people would like to get to know you but are afraid of offending you if they note that you are indeed different. It’s the phenomenon of selective ignorance. Give them a chance.

You may come to realize that the world is just one giant high school and it’s time for everyone to take a stand against bullying.

Now, excuse me while I get off this train quickly and make sure that rude woman doesn’t take another jab at the nice lady who just looks a little different.

And remember… we design our own luck!


On Diplomacy…

Diplomacy may be defined as the skillful art of approaching people with tact and sensitivity in order to improve mutual understanding and efficiency. No… it isn’t just for politicians.

In order to cultivate luck in our lives, we must approach others with an open mind and make sure our first instinct is one of compassion and empathy. Why? Because it is quite unlucky to live one’s life feeling misunderstood, and our mission should be to alleviate this. George Eliot, a female writer who use a male pen name in order to be heard, wrote: “What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?”

One who seeks luck must also be active in cultivating it for others. Whenever you can, open doors for the burdened, the underserved, and the unheard. Lend an ear. The greatest struggles endured by humanity often result from a lack of common diplomacy and mutual understanding. If we’ve learned anything, it is that the world cannot and should not be defined as black and white – figuratively, and quite literally. Your average fool may contest this point and claim that there are indeed absolute truths and an absolute hierarchy on the human scale of life value. Approach the fool with diplomacy… perhaps you both stand to learn something.

Life is anything but simple. The human story and condition is anything but straight-forward. It is incredibly arrogant and ignorant of us to have formed a weighted opinion about the types, ambitions, intentions, and essence of people. A simple viewpoint is always, without exception, only exposing the landscape of the mountain. If you could witness the history of every stone and pebble of sand, imagine how your perspective of the mountain would be transformed.

Human beings are so complex, they hardly have enough time in this world to get to know themselves… yet they are quick to pass general judgments and make colloquial claims about others. The paradox is baffling.

Approach everyone you meet (and everyone you don’t meet) with tact, sensitivity, and an open mind. Being diplomatic will show you that one can be right and wrong at the same time, kind and cruel at the same time, just and unjust at the same time, good and evil at the same time, worthy of hatred and love at the same time… simply put: it isn’t simple. If you think it is, you’re missing the entire picture.

Be kind to one another… even when you are unsure that someone deserves the kindness. This is how you begin cultivating good luck for yourself and for the rest of us.

And remember… we design our own luck!


On the Pursuit of Happiness…

What makes you happy?

Is it good weather? Time spent with friends? Love? Wealth? A nice house? Travel?

The majority of the world is charging ahead in pursuit of individualistic happiness that we can hardly define. I say “the majority,” because there are still a few cultures out there that seek out the greater good over individualistic happiness. In those places, group survival and success is happiness. Meanwhile, for the rest of us, theories of happiness are typically linked to very personal goals and ideals, and “happy” moments are often celebrated alone.

I’ve been quite dismayed to find myself standing friendless during my hallmark “happy” moments. My family, with its Eastern values, stretched far and wide across the globe to celebrate these moments with me. But my friends, a backyard distance away, didn’t show up when I needed them.

For someone who defines happiness by the extent of self-sacrifice she commits in order to help others in her community and attract joy to them, the realization that the world doesn’t quite agree was a hard pill to swallow. Most heartbreaking was the impact it had on who I became.

I was once the girl who would drive you 45 minutes out to the city at 1am without you having to ask. I became the woman who lets you take the bus.

I was once the girl who would pick up groceries for your mother on my way to visit you. I became the woman who doesn’t bother to visit at all unless there’s an occasion.

I was once the girl who was always, always on time. You left me waiting so often that I became the woman who, if she has no desire to be on time, would rather cancel entirely.

I was once the girl who would cook for you when you were on your own, until I was on my own for a decade, and nobody asked.

During the most difficult years of my life… nobody asked.

I was once the girl who would take the shirt off her back.

There is only one person in this world today, who isn’t family by blood or marriage, that I would give my shirt to.

This is heartbreaking.

Out of ashes, the Phoenix rises. Over the course of the past few months writing here, I’m falling back in touch with the girl I once was, and realizing that I was never wrong to be kind. I was just kind to the wrong people. The path to modern “happiness” is a very lonely path, and it isn’t mine.

There is no happiness in the hallmark moments… if you are celebrating on your own.

A few weeks ago, my husband was surprised when I skipped on finally buying myself some new clothes in order to buy a gift for a new friend. He said: “Marian! Wasn’t the plan to put yourself first? Haven’t you learned the hard way? Are you going to try this again? What if your new friends are all the same?”

I thought about it. “What I learned… ” I said, “is that: just because other people don’t have time, courtesy, or community values, does not mean I have to be the same. The only thing worse than your friends not showing up, is them turning you into a friend that doesn’t show up. I won’t be robbed like that.

The worst thing about heartbreak is that it makes you a heartbreaker, if you let it.

And so, it has been decided… for me, happiness means being true to yourself, even when you don’t fit the mould. Why? Because God made you and broke the mould. There is no one out there who is quite like you. That is, unless you choose to blend in… but, what’s the fun in that?

“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light” – Albus Dumbledore

Be the light. Be Dumbledore. Even if it means you wind up at the bottom of the tower with your integrity intact.

And remember… we design our own luck!


On Our Helpers…

Wherever you stand in your life today, someone else helped you acquire your blessings.

“I don’t have any blessings!”

“Nobody helped me, I did it all myself!”

“Not all of us have a daddy or mama to turn to!”

“You can be so naive, Marian.”

Someone I respect very highly once told me… “credit is due where credit is deserved.” So… who are we discrediting when we pump out our chests arrogantly, stick our noses in the air and proclaim that we have nobody to thank for anything?

It is not I who is naive. We cannot take full credit for our successes and achievements while simultaneously blaming others for our setbacks and failures.

In order to help you, someone does not have to write you a cheque or pay off your student loans for you. You can do that yourself. Help comes in many forms, and we sometimes don’t even recognize it as help because it’s painful.

Read More »