Girl Power – International Day of the Girl Child


Last Thursday, October 11th, 2012, was the first UN International Day of the Girl Child.  Nowadays most people agree that one of the keys to the well-being and prosperity of the planet lies in the education, protection and enfranchisement of girls and women.  Unfortunately, most people doesn’t include the parents of millions of girls who are forcibly married off every day.  Or the government of Iran who have recently banned women from 77 university courses.  Or the Taliban in Pakistan who shot 14 year old Malala Yousufzai in the head last Tuesday, October 9th, because she had spoken out in favour of the education of girls and said –

“I have rights.  I have the right of education.  I have the right to play.  I have the right to sing.  I have the right to talk.  I have the right to go to market.  I have the right to speak up.”

Fortunately, more and more girls themselves are beginning to object and because many of these marriages are arranged out of love and concern for the child and a fear of stepping outside tradition rather than any cruel motive, more and more parents are also listening to their daughters.

If you have time today perhaps you’d like to read what Desmond Tutu and Ela Bhatt said about this last Thursday – Today, A Promise to Girls.

Or maybe you’d like to watch this short video about one girl’s stand against marriage – and her family’s surprising reaction –

Or maybe you’d have time to see what Mary Robinson and others have to say about child brides –

If you have a minute you might go onto the Amnesty USA page to send a message of protest about the shooting of Malala Yousafzai.

Even if you haven’t got time to do any of those things maybe you’d just think about the problem of girl brides and talk to others about it so that gradually we can all become aware and support those little girls when they say ‘no’.

So? Anybody Interested in Changing the World?


The people who don’t believe the world can be changed will say there’s no way it can be done.

They’ll say there’s no point.

They’ll ask you – ‘Who do you think you are?’

Ignore them.

The people who think the world can be changed will be willing to keep trying things until we work out how to attempt it.

This is a very interesting talk by Clay Shirky on how we all might start to change the world and how some people have already started…

and just to add to your tool-box –

And finally – a more recent talk by Clay Shirky – this is longer (but will download as a podcast from the Big Ideas site – here – Clay Shirky – Cognitive Surplus, so you can listen later) and it is really a very good sweeping look at the ‘new’ media.

Do You Feel The Love?


The first step in changing our world is an examination of what actually constitutes reality. We are all products of our environment and as a result we inevitably take many things for granted, believing them to be the natural order of things.

Social reality is an expression of human agreement, someone is the president of a country and has the powers of that office because a system of government is created and acknowledged by the inhabitants of that country. When the fundamental agreements which frame belief and behaviour change, social reality will change.(1)

In the early twentieth century, Antonio Gramsci, who spent most of his life in one of Mussolini’s prisons, identified a phenomenon he called cultural hegemony. Gramsci used this term to describe how we all believe that the way things are is the natural order of things.

A good example of how cultural hegemony operates is slavery. There was a time in the Western world when slavery was considered ‘the natural order’. Certain people were seen as a slave class and were owned by other people. Social realities, and even the economies of the time, were built around this idea and nobody – even the slaves in all likelihood – thought there was anything that could be done to change it.  Slavery was, in fact, so much part of social reality that wishing to escape from it was seen as an illness.

In 1851, American physician, Samuel A. Cartwright described a mental illness he called drapetomania – an illness he believed afflicted slaves who were inclined to run away. Cartwright said this illness was a result of masters who, “made themselves too familiar with [slaves], treating them as equals.“(2)

He went on to say that,

“If any one or more of them, at any time, are inclined to raise their heads to a level with their master or overseer, humanity and their own good requires that they should be punished until they fall into that submissive state which was intended for them to occupy. They have only to be kept in that state, and treated like children to prevent and cure them from running away.“(3)

It’s now clear to us that slavery is not the natural order of things but rather a social reality based on economic motives and mistaken ideas. People like us made that reality.  And, equally, people like us changed that reality.

So, how do we tell the difference between unchangeable reality which is outside of our control and reality that can be changed? As someone pointed out to me recently not everything is possible.  But what happens if we just accept the limitations (as we see them) and don’t try to change things? If God had wanted us to fly he’d have given us wings…

The question is tricky.  How can we tell the difference between mutable and immutable reality before we begin?  Maybe there is a solution just around the corner which we can’t see from where we stand?  Which seems like a good reason to start out.  And yet it is true that some efforts to effect change will be futile – so, how much banging our heads against the unchangeable can we stand before our heads explode?

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, by the way.  Sorry.  But maybe you do.

I have been thinking about it though and all I can come up with is that I wonder if the answer is something to do with love?  Not Hollywood love but real, raw, visceral, never-giving-up love.  The kind of love that parents have for their children.  The kind of love that holds the atoms of a stone together.  Where nothing is too hard or not worth the effort even when the chances of success seem slim.  The kind of love that makes us try and try and try even when we fail and fail and fail – and then when we’ve tried everything possible – we try something else.  Maybe we try the impossible.  Because it matters.

________________________________________________________________________

1) Paul Lample, Revelation and Social Reality, p.9

2)  Cartwright, Samuel A. (1851). “Report on the Diseases and Peculiarities of the Negro Race”DeBow’s ReviewXI.http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4h3106t.html. Retrieved 2007-10-04.

3) Arthur L. Caplan, James J. McCartney, and Dominic A. Sisti (2004). Health, Disease, and Illness: Concepts in Medicine. Washington, D.C.:Georgetown University Press. p. 35 ISBN 1589010140.

The Big Picture


It’s all about perspective.

Perspective isn’t just something for art class – it’s essential for understanding.

It’s indispensabile in our quest for truth.

It’s vital for our ongoing safety and security.

And most of all it’s absolutely irreplaceable in the pursuit of personal and societal happiness.

In every sense perspective helps us get the whole picture.

And nothing delivers perspective better than films like this (well, for me anyway)…

Tell Me About It…


We have no control over many of the things that happen to us in our lives but if we can make sense of what has happened, we will usually construct a narrative to explain it to ourselves.  This narrative is more than just a story, it’s our escape hatch after trauma.  It’s what we can use to help us to overcome whatever horrible disaster has befallen us. Climb over it. Make good our escape.

Dan Siegel maintains that people who have horribly traumatic childhoods make excellent parents once they can make sense of their own story – no matter how awful.

 

No matter what happens – once you can look it in the eye and make it your story it loses its power to control you.

We have told stories since forever which means they are commonplace in our societies.  But common as they are, they are still essential to our well-being, safety and resilience.

We explain away myths and legends as primitive ways to explain the natural world – and they did indeed have a function in this regard – but it’s possible that they mean more than just that to us. It’s possible that they explain truths and experiences that are too subtle or difficult to approach in other ways and it’s possible that they allow us to construct narratives that function like ladders on which to climb out of the holes into which we may have been thrown.

If this wasn’t the case, then why do we still love to tell and hear stories? Whether it’s science fiction or vampires, rom-coms or action adventures surely our attraction to stories – myths – is because they are still fulfilling the same purpose for us that they have since time immemorial?

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.

Transferable Skills


No matter what you do, if you care enough to use your skills and talents and ideas to make the world a better place, you’ll succeed.

You don’t need to be Mohandas Gandhi or Mother Teresa to effect change in the world.

You just need to be you.

And do whatever it is you do.