How to Be Happy


One of the problems that naturally occurs when a light is shone on pain and suffering is that those who are looking at this picture are overwhelmed by pity.  This might seem like a good outcome – surely if we are sorry for someone we’ll try to help?  Well the answer to that is not a definite ‘yes’.  Sometimes when we feel sorry for people we also feel angry, or resentful or superior or confused.  We wonder how this can happen and why they can’t help themselves just like we have to do and if they have some inherent shortcoming that precludes them from building a wholesome and sustaining life for themselves… Continue reading

Believing is Seeing


I’ve been thinking.  Why is it that on the one hand we are so terrified of change we’ll go to extreme lengths to avoid it, while on the other hand we are told – and tell ourselves – that real, sustainable change is impossible?

These are contradictory beliefs.

I believe all change – including change for the better – is totally possible.  But we have to want it and also really sincerely believe it can happen.

Have you ever misplaced a shoe at home?  You know it’s somewhere in the house.  Maybe the dog hid it under the sofa?  Maybe you accidentally kicked it under the bed.  Maybe one of the kids ran off with it.  But you know it’s there somewhere so you keep on looking until you find it.  You truly believe that all the frustration and searching is going to be worthwhile because it simply has to be in the house somewhere.

Social change is the same.  It is completely within our control, even if it doesn’t seem that way.

Traditions are man-made and not immutable, no matter what anybody tells us.  Traditions and practices can – and must – be changed if they are harming us.

Step one = we have to do whatever it takes to convince ourselves that this change is possible.

Try something.  The next time someone says to you – ‘Yeah, I know it’s terrible/wrong/unjust – but that’s just the way things are – you have to accept it.’  Instead of accepting this awful ‘truth’, try this for an answer –

‘No – if we all agree it’s wrong then we don’t have to accept it – we just need to change it.’

Slumkids are Kids Too…


In 1999, Sugata Mitra – now Professor of Educational Technology at Newcastlle University in the UK, was working in Delhi when he had a crazy idea.

The complex in which he worked was surrounded by a slum and he wondered what would happen if he embedded an internet-enabled computer in the wall of the complex at kid-height, so that the children running around outside could reach it?  Would the children ignore the computer?  Break it up?  Or – most unlikely of all – would the children learn to use the computer? (Preposterous notion given that these were slum children who hardly ever went to school, never saw the internet and didn’t speak or read English)

So – what do you think happened?

Have a look for yourself.

P.S. – Fun fact – when Vikas Swarup read about Sugata Mitra’s experiment he began to think about slum children educating themselves and was inspired to write Q&A – the novel that was adapted to become Slumdog Millionaire.

Do Some Children Matter More Than Others?


Roméo Dallaire – Canadian Senator and ex-Commander of the United Nations Forces in Rwanda during the genocide in 1994 – is dedicating his life to trying to eradicate the use of children as weapons of war.

Senator Dallaire has a foundation dedicated to this cause.  The Child Soldiers Initiative is, by it’s own description – A partnership to build the will, knowledge, collaboration and tools necessary to eradicate the use of child soldiers.  This is what Roméo Dallaire himself has to say about the project –

At any given time there are a quarter of a million child soldiers globally experiencing a suffering that most of you cannot even imagine.

These children are routinely abducted violently from their families at a tender age, and are subjected to forcible confinement, torture, threats, rape, brainwashing, slavery, starvation, intoxication through drugs and sleep deprivation. They are forced to carry heavy loads, including human bodies, not just weaponry. They are often paired up and killed if their partner escapes.

People are often surprised to hear that 40 percent of child soldiers are girls. Girls are often forced to become sex slaves as well as soldiers, cooks and nurses and must deal with pregnancy under these conditions too often.

The use of child soldiers is horrifically true and is taking place now. The status quo is completely unacceptable and international proposed solutions are in danger of failing.

While many groups have been working on demobilization, reintegration and rehabilitation of Child Soldiers, which is absolutely essential, I have discovered in my research at the Carr Center For Human Rights Policy at Harvard University, that little if any analysis of this problem is being done through the security lens, to better understand the tactical how and why child soldiers are being used.

Why is this child soldier weapon system the most sophisticated, low-technology weapon system on the battlefield today? What makes that weapon platform so effective?

We must work to stop recruitment during conflict.

I want to identify ways to do this, to render it ineffective to use Child Soldiers. I want to eradicate the use of child soldiers. This is why I have founded the Child Soldiers Initiative.

CSI is working to build the political will now needed to properly enforce laws that protect children and bring perpetrators to justice.

The CSI team is also working to build the will and technical capacity of military, human rights and humanitarian organizations, as well as host nation actors, to stop the use of child soldiers.

The aim is to bring all these actors together so they work cohesively for better results. The CSI team itself is a unique mix of stakeholders from the humanitarian, academic and security sectors.

Some people think that the child soldier issue can never be eradicated as long as there are wars. To this I respond that humanity has created other evil things which we have had the morality and good sense to abolish such as slavery, apartheid and chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction.

CSI is a call to action to put stopping the use of child soldiers on everyone’s agenda.

Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire (Retired)

LGen The Hon R.A. Dallaire, O.C.,C.M.M.,G.O.Q.,M.S.C.,C.D., (Ret’d)

In the video below Senator Dallaire describes his understanding of the lives of child soldiers – 40% 0f whom are girls – and his proposals for eliminating this evil practice.  If you have time listen to the entire discussion, it’s well worthwhile.  But if you are short of time just listen from c. 52 minutes onwards – he asks some interesting – and challenging – questions.

And if you can spare more time perhaps watch this as well.

http://childsoldiersinitiative.org/index.php

Love the One You’re With


Newborn child, seconds after birth. The umbili...

The field of interpersonal neurobiology is an exciting new area of research. The more that is discovered about how the brain works, the clearer it is that it is endlessly open to development and change as it rewires itself every single day. It turns out that how you choose to think really does have an effect on your brain – especially when it comes to love.  Loving relationships have the greatest effect on the wiring and rewiring of the brain.

In 2006, researchers in Virginia gave electric shocks to the ankles of women in happy relationships and measured their anxiety beforehand and pain levels during the shocks.  What they discovered was that the same level of electricity administered when holding their partner’s hand reduced their blood pressure and their brains showed a lower neural response to the pain.  Women in troubled relationships didn’t experience the same relief from holding their partners’ hands.

To quote from Diane Ackerman‘s very interesting article, The Brain on Love

All relationships change the brain — but most important are the intimate bonds that foster or fail us, altering the delicate circuits that shape memories, emotions and that ultimate souvenir, the self.

Every great love affair begins with a scream. At birth, the brain starts blazing new neural pathways based on its odyssey in an alien world. An infant is steeped in bright, buzzing, bristling sensations, raw emotions and the curious feelings they unleash, weird objects, a flux of faces, shadowy images and dreams — but most of all a powerfully magnetic primary caregiver whose wizardry astounds.

Brain scans show synchrony between the brains of mother and child; but what they can’t show is the internal bond that belongs to neither alone, a fusion in which the self feels so permeable it doesn’t matter whose body is whose. Wordlessly, relying on the heart’s semaphores, the mother says all an infant needs to hear, communicating through eyes, face and voice. Thanks to advances in neuroimaging, we now have evidence that a baby’s first attachments imprint its brain. The patterns of a lifetime’s behaviors, thoughts, self-regard and choice of sweethearts all begin in this crucible.

We used to think this was the end of the story: first heredity, then the brain’s engraving mental maps in childhood, after which you’re pretty much stuck with the final blueprint.

But as a wealth of imaging studies highlight, the neural alchemy continues throughout life as we mature and forge friendships, dabble in affairs, succumb to romantic love, choose a soul mate. The body remembers how that oneness with Mother felt, and longs for its adult equivalent. (1)

So, what can we learn from this?

That we need love to be healthy and balanced and happy?  We all probably knew this.

But it also says that every smile, every loving touch, every kindness is worthwhile because it resonates and shapes the brain of the recipient.  It says that we should be careful with each other – even when it’s difficult.   And generous with our love – whenever possible.

This song reminds me of Diane Ackerman’s article – I have no idea why, the link is pretty tenuous – but I really like both the song and the video anyway.  So, here it is –

(1) Diane Ackerman, The Brain on Lovehttp://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/24/the-brain-on-love/

Common Humanity


Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Article 5

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

Roméo Dallaire is a Canadian senator, widely known for being Force Commander of UNAMIR (United Nations Assistance Mission In Rwanda) between 1993 and 1994.  He is also known for his efforts to stop the genocide waged by extremist Hutu Rwandans against their moderate Hutu tribesmen and, more especially against the Tutsis who were the other ethnic group in the Rwandan conflict.

During the genocide, with dwindling troops and no help from outside, most of Roméo Dallaire’s efforts were focused on defending areas where he knew Tutsis were hiding.  In spite of the fact that Dallaire had such limited resources and help, he is credited with directly saving somewhere in the region of 32,000 people of different races.

While Dallaire survived the genocide in Rwanda and many of his associates weren’t as lucky, he makes no secret of his struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his experiences and is an outspoken supporter of all efforts to tend to veteran’s mental health.

Now, as well as being a senator, Roméo Dallaire has devoted his life to working for human rights and the prevention of genocide.

Dallaire has written two books – Shake Hands with the Devil – The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda (2004) and They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children (2010), a book about child soliders.

Slavery is Alive and Well…


               Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Article 4

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms

____________________________________________________________________________________________

http://talesfromthelou.wordpress.com/2012/04/06/2-4-million-victims-of-human-trafficking-worldwide-says-un

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/9185811/2.4-million-victims-of-human-trafficking-worldwide-says-UN.html

As We Agreed Earlier*


Universal Declaration of Human Rights

 Article 2 

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

*1949 to be exact

Blind Spots


Nowadays it’s widely accepted, in our rapidly shrinking global village, that we need to learn to work together – learn to live together.

And yet we resist it.

We insist on concentrating on the differences between us.

Colour, race, nationality, religion, politics, culture, gender, age, status, beliefs, thoughts.

Sure we’re different.

There’s no doubt about it.

But how about the ways we are the same?

Why don’t we really concentrate on what we share instead of what separates us?

I really mean that as a question – why don’t we?

What stops us trying to work together?

What are the obstacles to our seeing our similarities?

Can we talk about that?

Love And Protection


Given all the controversy in recent times about social action via social media, here is a very interesting initiative.

It seems like a great idea to me –

Especially as this is the response –

Here is an interesting newspaper article about this phenomenon –

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/iran-blog/2012/mar/26/message-israel-iran-love-you?newsfeed=true

And many thanks to Talesfromthelou for posting this in the first place –

http://talesfromthelou.wordpress.com/2012/03/28/we-love-you-iran-and-israel-real-people-movement/

__________________________________________________________________________