One of The Most Widespread of All Human Rights Abuses…

In 2008 a ten year old girl in Yemen, Nujood Ali, succeeded in obtaining a divorce from the husband who beat and raped her.  She has been allowed to divorce but has to pay more than $200 in compensation to her husband.

In 2009 a twelve year old girl, Fawziya Ammodi – also in Yemen – died after three days of excruciatingly painful childbirth.

Her baby also died.

Obviously legal protection is needed to shield girls like these against being traded and married and abused.  But the real key to the end of this suffering is education.

We need to become creative about how we might deliver education to the child brides that survive their awful experiences and then, at least, there will be a hope that their daughters will be spared the same fate.

If you are interested in this horrendous abuse of little girls then you may also be interested in  a study called – The Worst Places to Be a Woman – Mapping the places where the war on women is still being fought.  This study is by Valerie M. Hudson who is professor and George H.W. Bush chair in the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University.  It makes interesting reading –

Green Eggs or Ham?

When my eldest son was little, I’d pick him up from play-group and we’d walked happily home discussing what had happened that  day, what we were going to do or where we were going to go or the many adventures of Superman.

Mother and small boy happy and glad to see each other – until…

“OK – so, what would you like for lunch?”

He’d have a think before he answered and then he might say – “I’d like chips”, or “I’d like potatoes and chicken,” or “I’d like ice-cream.”

So, I’d say – “No, no – you can’t have ice-cream or chips for lunch, you need to have something that’s healthy.”

“Like potatoes and chicken?”

“OK, like potatoes and chicken – you can have that later.  Not for lunch.”

“But I want it for lunch!”

“Well, you can’t have it for lunch – choose something else – how about beans on toast or a cheese sandwich?”

“But I don’t want that!  I want chicken and potatoes or ice-cream…”

Anyway, you get the picture – he’d be angry and upset and I’d be angry and upset and both of us would be full of self-righteous indignation as we stomped home.

And then, one day I finally realised what was happening.

He was answering the question I’d asked.

Which would have been fine except that I was actually asking a different question than the one I was forming with my words.

I was asking him what he wanted to eat for lunch and, as he was a small child, he was taking me at my word and answering the question.

The fact was, though, what I was really asking him was, “What you would like for lunch from  a) the food at present in our house and b) food present which also satisfies my criteria for what constitutes a healthy lunch.”

So, I changed my questions.

“OK – what could you like for lunch – eggs, or cheese or bananas?”

“Ham sandwich or peanut butter?”

“Chicken noodle soup or cheese on toast?”

And because he was as reasonable as all small children, he immediately adapting by answering the question and choosing between the options I presented.

Problem solved.  Happy walking home for mother and boy after that.  Back to talking about important things like Superman instead of bickering about lunch.

As adults we ask – and answer – questions and unconsciously try to interpret the background nuances and circumstances and expect others to do the same.

We rely on other people to do some of our thinking without our ever stating what we really think – “I can’t believe she asked me to do that!”

We rely on others to make it alright for us – “How could he accept that second cup of tea I offered – didn’t he know I was tired?”

To second guess our needs – “I know I offered but…”

Maybe we should try being more accurate when we express ourselves?

Would it prevent more misunderstandings?

First, though, we’d have to know what we want to say ourselves – and maybe that’s the really difficult part?

What do we truly want to say?

Who’s Sorry Now?

The topics of loving our enemies and seeking justice naturally bring with it another idea – that of forgiveness.

Traditionally, forgiveness is seen as a passive and almost negative quality and has, throughout history, often been portrayed as a last resort – albeit a noble one – when all hope of change and progress is forsaken.

It is, generally, seen as a position of the high moral ground.  Forgiveness is where a victim makes a loud statement to ring in the ears of the person who has caused her or him pain.

This statement says, “You think you are better than me and that you have the power to hurt me but I have news for you, I am better than you because I forgive you and that means you can’t hurt me.”

Naturally that isn’t true – no matter how much we might like it to be the case.

If someone hurts us – it does hurt.

Often we seem to think that if we acknowledge the blow and the pain we feel, this leaves us with only two options –

a) Scream out in pain and nurse the wound and resentment against the perpetrator forever.

b) Try to render the perpetrator powerless by saying it didn’t hurt.  The playground tactic – ‘Ha-ha – you are so insignificant that no matter what you do it doesn’t hurt me.’

These approaches are problematic as:

Option A leaves us nursing an open wound – forever.

Option B is – well, it’s simply not true – some things not only hurt, they hurt quite a lot.  When Nietzsche remarked that anything that doesn’t kill us makes us strong, he was also implying (necessarily) that some things do kill us.


Is there an Option C when dealing with our pain?

And if there is, might this option be buried somewhere deep in the concept of forgiveness?

If there is an Option C, it is likely that we need to re-evaluate our understanding of the concept of forgiveness in order to recognise it. Scary as this might be, we’ll have to forget the traditional face of forgiveness – the wimpy, weak, long-suffering image it has cultivated in the past. But we’ll also need to forget the modern, formulaic ‘just do it’ face we now use for forgiveness. Instead we’ll need to reassess it entirely.

But maybe if we do that we might see something new in this concept that can really help us to heal our wounds? It strikes me that there must be something powerful in forgiveness as it is a principle in every religious tradition in the world since ancient times.

Let them pardon and forgive. Do you not love that Alláh should forgive you? – Islam

Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else but you are the one who gets burned. – Buddhism

Where there is forgiveness, there God resides. — Sikhism

Who takes vengeance or bears a grudge acts like one who, having cut one hand while handling a knife, avenges himself by stabbing the other hand. – Judaism

And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. – Christianity

…let your adorning be forgiveness and mercy. Therefore, do not look at the shortcomings of anybody; see with the sight of forgiveness. – Bahá’í Faith

Forgiveness subdues (all) in this world; what is there that forgiveness cannot achieve? What can a wicked person do unto him who carries the sabre of forgiveness in his hand? …Righteousness is the one highest good; and forgiveness is the one supreme peace; knowledge is one supreme contentment; and benevolence, one sole happiness.  – Hinduism

The way of the master is fidelity and forgiveness – Confucianism

I don’t know how forgiveness actually works but I imagine if it has any chance of it being more than a superficial slick of niceness then the very first step has to be to acknowledge the pain – small, medium or large.

Don’t minimise it or explain it away or say it doesn’t matter.

This might be just personal to me but I can’t bear being told something painful doesn’t – or shouldn’t – hurt.

If it hurts it hurts.

It didn’t help me to be told that when I was a child.  It doesn’t help me as an adult.  The sole judge of how much something hurts me has to be me.  Nobody else can feel it so they can’t definitively know.

As that is true for me, I assume it is true for others and so I try to let them be the judge of their own pain.

I probably don’t always succeed but I think I should always try.

After that, though – I’m not sure where to go next.

How is real forgiveness built?

Does it have essential components if it is to be substantial?

If I forgive can I actually forget?

Can you fake it ’til you make it?

Answers on a postcard…

Miss Guided

Recently I’ve been thinking – and talking – a lot about how women are portrayed in the media.  I’ve also been thinking about how women are seen in society – and in, particular, how they see themselves.

Yesterday I watched the aptly titled, MissRepresentation, a documentary that explores the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America in particular, and the role the media plays in this. If you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth watching.

There is no denying that women used to be seen as possessions for the convenience and entertainment of men.

There is no denying that that is possibly even more the case than ever.

Women are increasingly packaged as sex objects and everything is now sold to everybody, using women’s bodies.

I am not suggesting that women are to blame for this phenomenon.  I don’t think it’s caused by hormones or cattiness or any of the other rubbish accusations designed to disempower women.

But I am suggesting that women stop supporting it.

Stop believing the illusion that tells you that being thinner, younger-looking, compliant and presented like a sex-object will make you happier.  It won’t.  It can’t.  And when you aren’t happier even though you are complying it isn’t your fault – you’ve been sold a big, fat lie.  Even if you have to wrestle with yourself until you retrain your psyche – do it – that might actually make you happy.

Don’t buy the handbags or the magazines or perfume or clothes that are advertised by women portrayed as objects of sexual fantasies or with distorted, unnatural body-images.

Don’t watch the films or TV shows that reinforce the stereotypes.

Do watch the films and TV shows that don’t.  One of the interviewees in the movie (a man) makes the point that in the cinema of the 1940s and ’50s, women could get to play real people in movies – bitches, saints, moms, murderers, adventurers – not so nowadays, shockingly.

Stop believing that you have to be like a man – or be liked by a man – in order to make a success of your life.  Let’s face it, men are not any happier than women and have, largely, made a very unfriendly, unhelpful, unsafe and unsatisfying world for themselves as well as women.

Don’t get me wrong – men need to get on board with this boycott as well.

But women – come on – let’s stop waiting for the men to come along – maybe they’re not the early adopters they think they are?

How about we just stop supporting the system and stop accepting the stereotypes and stop conforming to the ‘way things are’ and try to create a new way for things to be – a way that is good for everyone, not just women (let’s not make the same mistakes as men).

Worst case scenario, if it all blows up in our pretty little botoxed faces we can always go back to what we have now…

Let’s Dance

And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.  – Friedrich Nietzsche

It’s easy to believe in war and injustice

in greed and corruption

in hatred and prejudice and violence.

It’s harder to believe in equity and justice and unity and peace.

But once upon a time…

Slavery was the norm – nobody thought it unreasonable that one human being own another.

Everybody believed women were inferior to men.

White people were genuinely thought to be superior to everyone else.

Appendicitis was usually a death sentence…

The thought of human beings flying was ludicrous and nobody had ever dreamed people all over the world could communicate almost instantaneously…

All change happens because at the very, very start someone believes it is possible.

We see what we believe so if we believe something is possible then we will search and search until we find the way to make it a reality – for better or worse.

So – while peace, love, understanding, equity, and justice might not be that easy to envisage, the first step in attaining any of those things is to believe they are attainable.  Strain your ears until you hear the music and then – dance…


Who Am I? (And Who Are You?)

Antonio Damasio is a neuroscientist who has spent his life researching the functioning of the brain.  His research has led him to offer a number of theories on how neurobiology influences our thoughts, decisions, feelings and actions.

His latest work is centred on our sense of self – that inexplicable feeling we all experience of having a distinct self.  Sometimes this self is clouded, sometimes confused but there is always, within every human being, a strong consciousness of self.

Here he speaks about some of his theories surrounding this fascinating subject –

Peace on Earth – Goodwill to Girls

Rape is used to destroy not just individuals but entire communities. Rape is so commonly used as a weapon that Major General Patrick Cammaert, a former UN force commander said –

“It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in armed conflict.”

In 2008 the UN declared rape, ‘ a weapon of war’.  In the resolution, the UN Security Council noted that,

“…women and girls are particularly targeted by the use of sexual violence, including as a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instil fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group.

Rape is a heinous crime, acknowledged as torture by the United Nations and yet apart from the physical, emotional and psychological scars that rape inflicts, there is another source of pain for rape victims – social exclusion.  In many countries the shame experienced by the victims after rape is as traumatic as the incident itself.  Many women kill themselves as it is seen as the only way to restore honour to their families.

How can this be true?

Surely the perpetrators of heinous crimes are the ones who should be ashamed?

And who are the people who exclude or look down on these victims?

Do these excluders and condemners include women?

If so – why?

What is it about rape that makes the victims ashamed and not the perpetrators?

When will men – and women – begin to speak out against this violation?

What sort of social conceptual framework exists to support this victimisation of victims?

If we could find it could we dismantle it?

All thoughts appreciated.



Did You Know…

Signature of Dr. Seuss

Did you know that The Cat in the Hat was written in 1954 using the reading vocabulary of the average 6-7 year old?

It was mainly written in an attempt to create something interesting for children that might attract them to read.

Theodor Geisel – aka Dr. Seuss – was supplied with a list of 348 words – he used 238 words (13 not on the list).  And he definitely succeeded in the interesting part.

Just in case that wasn’t good enough – four years later in 1960, Theodor Geisel wrote a book using only 50 words –

a, am, and, anywhere, are, be, boat, box, car, could, dark, do, eat, eggs, fox, goat, good, green, ham, here, house, I, if, in, let, like, may, me, mouse, not, on, or, rain, Sam, say, see, so, thank, that, the, them, there, they, train, tree, try, will, with, would, you.

I’m sure you’ve recognised Green Eggs and Ham from that list.  It is still one of the best selling children’s books of all time.

This may not seem much like the FUNDAEC rural university* at first glance but it uses the same logic. Rather than forcing people to meet the needs of the existing systems, it had a go at adapting the systems (in this case reading systems) to better fulfill the needs.

Clever Dr. Seuss…