Category Archives: compassion

the hijab and its purpose by mariyah rehmani

 

director’s note:  Mariyah is a dynamic, fun-loving, artistic, bright and compassionate 15 year old from Pune, India. When she arrived at camp 2 summers ago in NYC she appeared confident and completely at ease wearing her hijab around the city.  Some of her thinkpeace sisters had questions and even judgments, and she addressed them all graciously and with determination to educate them.  As our society becomes more xenophobic and fearful of anything associated with Islam, we think Mariyah’s study on the purpose of the hijab is more important than ever. We encourage you to learn about differences– racial, gender, religious, sexual, economic– and see that differences don’t have to separate us. In fact they can be the beginning of meaningful dialogue that can open our hearts and minds, bringing us together and truly creating peace. It starts with listening and respecting… Please join us as we journey into discovering more about differences every week in our thoughtful thursdays posts… Today we begin with Mariyah’s choice to wear a hijab. We will be posting sections from her ebook over the next few weeks.

 

The Hijab and Its Purpose

This eBook is intended for the purpose of helping the reader understand what the hijab really is, and what it stands for.  It has come to my understanding that the people around me, and those not around me too, have a very hazy perception of the hijab.  Many people ask me about why I wear it, and even if my dad forced me to wear it.  This inspired me to write about the hijab, and why it is close to the hearts of millions of women worldwide.
Inside, you will find everything you need to know about the hijab; everything from its origin, to its purpose, its message, its types, and even the science behind it! This will give you a holistic idea of what it is all about.  Understanding the hijab, and even Islam is very important in this age.  Islam is one of the fastest growing religions worldwide (“The Fastest Growing Religion in the World Is … – CNN.com.”).  Unfortunately, it is often portrayed in a bad light by the media, and ongoing violence and terrorism is almost always attributed to our peaceful religion. The hijab too has been shunned by many as being “oppressive” and “restrictive”, even though thousands worldwide can testify to it being exactly the opposite. My aim is to help clear misconceptions and preconceptions about the Islamic veil and dress code in general.  Along with this, you will find out more about the concept of modesty and about successful women who wear the hijab with pride.  At the end you will discover a gallery of pictures showcasing how different cultures affect hijab styles and the variation in the hijabs themselves, country to country. Finally, there also awaits a LookBook that portrays just how modern trends are seamlessly integrated with the hijab creating a whole new category of ‘Hijabi Fashion’.  So please do not hesitate, and flip through to find out more about this beautiful concept of the hijab.

hi-jab, (hĭ-jäb′) n.

1. Any of several cloth head coverings worn by Muslim women.

2. The veiling of women in some Islamic societies, customarily practiced in order to maintain standards of modesty.
[Arabic ḥijāb, cover, curtain, veil, from ḥajaba, to cover] (“hijab”)
Many use the following verses from the Holy Qur’an to help describe the requirements for a Muslim women’s dress:

Although this is not commonly known, there are also dress codes for Muslim men to abide and they include covering of the body from at least the navel to the knees and not wearing excessively tight, sheer, or flashy clothing. (Islam101.com)  Most rules regarding the Islamic dress code and the verses from the Qur’an that they have been derived from have been interpreted differently by different people. This is why that there is a diverse world of
views and opinions on whether women should wear the hijab or not, or to what extent. This will be touched upon in further detail later in this book.

 Modesty can be defined as “regard for decency of behaviour, speech, dress, etc.” or even “the lack of vanity” (TheFreeDictionary.com) Contrary to popular belief, modesty is not about “how much skin is too much?” or “How much can I leave uncovered until I get into trouble?”  It is certainly much more than what you wear or how you look.  Modesty means acting towards others in a way that is humble and compassionate. Modesty means avoiding vanity and striving to be pure in your thoughts, in your words and in your actions. It means dressing yourself in a way that not only makes you comfortable, but protects you from unwanted catcalls and lustful stares.  Of course, it is not a women’s sole responsibility for what goes on inside a man’s head, but she can certainly make a big impact through the way she dresses, speaks, and carries herself.  Men are accountable for their own thoughts and actions, and they too are expected to practice modesty in all spheres of life.  Ask yourself: “What impact do I want my personality and my appearance to have? What message am I trying to convey to everyone around me?” It is through the very concept of modesty that the hijab tries to make a positive change in society.

Why wear it?

The first important thing to understand about why women wear the hijab is that there is not one universal reason behind choosing to veil oneself. There can be multiple reasons for different people based on what they choose to believe or interpret. Some say the verses in the Qur’an indicate that they are obligated to cover their heads and chests. Others believe that practicing wearing the hijab is the best way to exercise modesty. Some wear it in order to stand as a symbol of their religion, to stand out from a crowd. A lot of people wear the hijab because it makes them feel more confident. Many claim that while wearing the hijab, the feel they aren’t being judged for their looks and rather for their manners, personality or intellect. Most of all, women wear the hijab because they like it, and they want to wear it. The bottom line is; women use the hijab and wear it for a multitude of reasons, each helping a woman grow and succeed in a different way. An article from UK’s Telegraph Newspaper that reads “Feminism, fashion and religion: Why Muslim women choose to wear the veil” beautifully illustrates the point I am trying to make. In the article, numerous women share their reasons for practicing the hijab on Reddit, a popular social media platform: A user named ‘Captain Monkee’ writes:  ”I like to use it to promote feminism, however it is very hard to express it because of how people view it. There ARE a lot of women who are forced to wear it, and I think that’s really wrong, no matter how religious or what country. The hijab is forced in some places in the world, or by certain people – especially men in many cases. I will not deny this. This is not feminism. I want to take this hijab and make it my own. First choose if I even want to cover or not. Define WHY and HOW. I will choose what colours I will wear. What materials. Not just black and white.”

This highlights the freedom that a woman has when she is wearing the hijab. She decides what she wants to do with it. After all, it is HER body, HER head, and HER choice. No one should be forced to do something they do not want to. The user ‘Pharmersmarket’ writes: “I genuinely like wearing it. It makes me feel put together and confident in a weird way. Maybe because it does take a certain level of courage to visibly separate yourself from normal society. To start wearing a hijab I had to stop caring about what other people thought and now I can be proud of that. (6) 10 “It definitely doesn’t stop street harassment, but men do treat you with a bit more respect. I don’t think it’s right to treat a girl differently because of how she’s dressed but it does happen.

She focuses more on what she believes defines being Muslim, or rather helps send a message to others around her. She also emphasises that in the end of the day, it’s a choice; you do it if you want to, or don’t do it. Another user ‘Boggle_leged’, who states she is a lawyer, begins:

“I, as well as most Muslims I know in the West, am not fond of the burka or niqab here, because it could expose an individual to unnecessary harm and harassment. Since there are strong religious opinions that permit just the hijab without covering the face, I personally feel that it is a better choice. (7) 11 In the end, however, as long as that individual has made the decision independently and knows why she is doing something, I respect her decision.” An important thing to note is that the only reason that she is not in favour of other women wearing the burka or niqab is that she feels it causes unnecessary “harm and harassment” to women. I believe that this is something that should be changed. Everyone has a choice to wear what they feel like and express themselves in whatever way they choose, so long as they do not cause any form of harm or hurt to anyone around them. Yet another user, possessing the screen name ’474064′, says: “Personally, I love wearing the hijab. Nobody could pay me enough to take it off. It honestly liberates me because I get to choose how much of myself I reveal to the public. It’s awesome. I have drawers full of a variety of vibrant colours and prints. I match them with my outfits and wear a different style every day. It’s kind of like a beautiful, religious fashion statement.” These are some of the many reasons behind why different women from different parts of the world feel the need to wear the hijab. I hope they not only help in understanding the concept behind the veil better, but also serve to inspire and enlighten.

 next week: different types of veils

on playing and giving, winter spring summer and fall

service

 

These past couple of months I often heard people refer to “the season of giving.”  The holidays seem to bring this out in people more than at other times.  It made me wonder, why is there only one season for giving?  Why limit ourselves?  There are opportunities to give every single day, 365 days a year.  Sometimes I think people equate giving with money only.  Sure money helps a lot but money won’t keep an elementary school kid from being teased or a middle school kid from feeling lonely or a high school kid from feeling overwhelmed or a college student from feeling lost or a new mom from feeling exhausted or a father from feeling pressure or a teacher from feeling unvalued or a grandparent from feeling forgotten. Perhaps the most important thing we each can give is, simply, kindness.

Still, thinking kind thoughts, wonderful as they are, is not enough.  Your smile, your compliment, your acknowledgment of another is action, real action that you can take that will impact another.  Similarly, thinking about poverty, homelessness, gender violence, global warming, etc. isn’t enough.  It’s a place to start.  The issues sound so big and we’re left feeling that there is nothing we can do that will really make an impact.  There is this pervasive belief that we’re all too busy.  We’re already pulled in a thousand directions– who has time to take on world hunger?  Sometimes I hear from other parents that kids need to be kids and have more time to play and shouldn’t be burdened with the harsh realities of the world around them just yet.  So they play a lot of sports and a lot of electronic games.  I love play! Love, love, love sports! And I still think we have time to care about others and give.  Recently I was watching my son and his friend laugh together while sitting side by side on the couch playing games on their devices.  I so love hearing the laughter but after an hour of this they seemed caught in a zone. I asked them if they wanted to take on a challenge.  Knowing me and my ways, they were instantly suspicious!  They took a chance and said, sure– bring it on.  I placed 5 food items in front of them and asked them to create a winning appetizer. My son’s friend hasn’t cooked much and began to get agitated.  He had no idea what to make. He stared at the ingredients for a long time.  5 random things.  We started to talk about food choices and how many we have and how we take it for granted that meals come easily to us.  Most of us. I asked the boys if they had any idea how much money the 5 ingredients before them might cost.  They were shocked when we figured it out.  We started to talk about the poverty line and how people can possibly manage to live on $1.25 a day in this country. They asked how kids living below the poverty line get lunch at school.  Fact is, more than half of American kids who attend public school rely on a meal at school for the only one they’ll get.  As my son and his friend talked and had fun while creating their culinary masterpieces they were thinking about hunger and poverty.  Then we talked about action, what could they do, how could they give of themselves to someone who is cold, hungry, homeless in our own community.  And so it begins…

There ARE things we can do.  Kids can volunteer at local shelters for certain needs.  You know that laughter coming from the couch of two boys playing electronic games?  What if those boys went to the shelter with some hot chocolate and sat with someone there and  played with them for an hour?  It’s a simple act, requiring no real money.  What if that smile shared felt so good that they went back again another evening?  I can honestly tell you that giving from your heart is just as addictive as video games or the adrenaline rush from a perfect shot on the court.  We can play and learn.  We can play and think about others.  We can play with others who don’t have much of a chance for play.  We can play and give.

It’s the little bits of good that each of us can do that truly can overwhelm the world.  Every day, every season…

P.S. the boys made the most delicious crostini with toasted marshmallow, basalmic-infused sun dried tomatoes!

Imagine.

so you want to change the world?

you can change the world

The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems. –Mahatma Gandhi

I was at a party last year, telling friends that I was excited about a class I was taking. After lots of “good for you” and “wow, that’s great” comments, someone asked what the class was called. I proudly said, “How to Change the World.” There was laughter. Eye rolling. Even a little snickering. And then someone said–out loud– “You really think YOU can change the world?”

Yes, I do.

I can change the world because I believe in the ripple effect. What change I want must start with me. It takes real action to create change. It takes steps…

1. Change yourself.
“You must be the change you want to see in the world.”
Holding onto negative thoughts like anger and jealousy, keep us from fully engaging in the real work of creating change in the world. When we change ourselves, let forgiveness, compassion and positive thinking take hold, it opens us up to all kinds of possibilities. The world around us changes because we radiate positive energy! Honestly, so often it is our own ego that gets in the way of changing the world. So many of us think that we are “not enough” or that someone else is “better than” us. What if we decided that we are enough and that comparing ourselves to others only leads to more problems and conflicts– what if we could shake those feelings off?
2. You are in control.
“Nobody can hurt me without my permission.”
That whole comparison thing we do eats away at our potential for happiness and real difference making. You can choose to dwell on negative feelings or wishes that your life was different. You have control over these thoughts. What if you choose to think of yourself in a more positive way? What if your own thoughts, ideas and actions mattered the most to you? What if you could look in the mirror and say, “I matter.”
3. Forgive and let it go.                                                                                                                                              “An eye for eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”                                                          Have you ever wanted someone else to hurt as much as you have been hurt? Fighting evil with evil won’t help anyone. Hurt is hurt, no matter what. I remember when Malala Yousafzai was asked about seeking revenge on the men who shot her… “I’ve always been a daydreamer, and sometimes in lessons my mind would drift and I’d imagine that on the way home a terrorist might jump out and shoot me on those steps. I wondered what I would do. Maybe I’d take off my shoes and hit him, but then I’d think if I did that there would be no difference between me and a terrorist. It would be better to plead, ‘OK, shoot me, but first listen to me. What you are doing is wrong. I’m not against you personally, I just want every girl to go to school.” You can always choose how to react to something. Forgiveness can open us up to endless possibilities to move forward. Living with negative memories won’t help; you’ll probably just cause yourself more suffering which will keep you from taking action to heal the world.                                                                                                            4. Without action you aren’t going anywhere.                                                                                        “An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.”                                                                   I have this amazing friend who is a Priestess. The thing that makes her so amazing is that she not only preaches, literally, but she also PRACTICES. Every. Single. Day. And the thing that makes her beyond amazing is that she actually practices by the ounce! People are always saying “What can I do, I’m just one person, one vote, one insignificant voice.” I see people posting on Facebook daily about things that stir their souls, break their hearts, anger their sense of justice. I’ve done it myself. I read articles and books on social injustice and I post, post, post. When I realized that posts were being “liked” and no action was being taken, I thought more about what my goals were. My Priestess friend preaches about concrete actions that can be taken and takes them herself. Sometimes they are small actions. Sometimes they are huge! An ounce here, a pound there… it adds up to a whole lot of good work getting done.

I took that class, “How to Change the World” and read and studied issues facing the world. The best part of each week’s class came when the professor said, “Okay, so now you have read about the issue and studied it in depth. Now, what are you going to do about it?”
It’s so easy to say that we’re doing our bit to change the world by “raising awareness.” And yes, awareness needs to be raised! AND then what? I think that to really create change, to understand yourself and your world, you need to practice. Books, articles, workshops, classes can mostly just bring you knowledge. You have to take action and translate that knowledge into understanding and results. Ounce by ounce.
5. Everyone is human.
“It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.”
Remember that thing about not “being enough” or someone else being “better than”? This being human thing means that each of us has strengths and weaknesses. There’s such a tendency to elevate others to some mythical status of perfection. When we put others on pedestals it automatically makes us lower, or less, and creates a lack of connection between us. What if we could believe that each of us has value? What if we accepted that we all are human? What if we knew that being human means making mistakes and having successes? What if I could celebrate you AND celebrate me, recognizing that we are different in many ways and commonly human no matter what? Instead of beating yourself up over mistakes that you have made, look with a bit of clarity where you went wrong and what you can learn from your mistake, with no comparison to others. And then try again.
6. Persist.
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
Be persistent. Find what you really like to do, what you feel compelled to do, what you want really do. Then you’ll find the inner motivation to keep going, going and going. When we know ourselves and trust that we are absolutely enough– the next step is persistence. Real change in the world will come when we persist in our work. Many times, when the self-doubt and inner sabotaging sets in, I have been tempted to give up. These are the moments when it’s vital to dig deeper. There aren’t magic wands or quick fixes to the world’s greatest challenges… it takes work. It takes rolling up the sleeves, getting sweaty and dirty, opening up our hearts and minds and making the commitment to persist. After a while you will not be ignored. You will not be laughed at. You will not be fought. Because your persistence will have opened someone else’s heart and mind and they will join you, in their own way.
7. See the good in people and help them.
“I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.”
Growing up my mom would often tell me that there was always something good in everyone. I absolutely believe that in my heart. People have rolled their eyes over that conviction many times throughout my life and some have even gone so far as to try to prove it wrong. Human rights atrocities around the world can really mess with this belief I continue to hold. When I focus on the bad it seems too big to change. By shifting my focus to the good it becomes easier to motivate myself and others to be of service. By being of service to other people, by acknowledging their value, seeing the good in them, you make their lives better and your own. In time, the people you help may feel more inclined to help other people. Together we can create an upward spiral of positive change that grows and becomes stronger. What if we lived each day with kindness and respect? What if we focused on the good in people?
8. Be authentic; be your true self.
“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”
So this is the big one. We live in this Facebook world now, where what we put out to the world is what we want the world to see. Some people are full of love and hope. Some people want others to see the bad stuff. Some people want to showcase themselves. Some people share things that lift them up, or bring them down, or twist them around. The point is, does your “Facebook world” reflect who you really are? Is your Facebook world authentic? If you can’t sleep at night because you’re worried about the unethical treatment of animals or the kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls, are you finding ways to take action? Are you walking the walk, not just talking the talk? People really like authentic communication. And there is much inner enjoyment to be found when your thoughts, words and actions are aligned. You feel powerful and good about yourself. Then the most amazing thing happens! Your VOICE is heard. People will be motivated to do more than press the “like” button. They will listen to what you’re saying. You are communicating without mixed messages or perhaps a sort of phoniness. When your actions aren’t in alignment with what you’re communicating you start to hurt your own belief in what you can do and other people’s belief in you too. Let your voice be truly heard!
9. Continue to grow and evolve.
”Constant development is the law of life, and a man who always tries to maintain his dogmas in order to appear consistent drives himself into a false position.”
A good friend of mine in college was a serious Conservative– swimming alone in a sea of very vocal Liberals. Knowing him changed my life. He challenged me daily, and himself.  He was there to grow. He was there to listen and evolve.  By sharing our differences we discovered our similarities. Though we had opposing belief systems, we stayed open minded and curious and were able to learn more about ourselves and the world. We helped each other see that there is more than one way, one position. In a fast-changing world it’s important to keep taking in new information. It’s also vital that we understand that each of us is important to the work of changing the world. I want to share the job with you. We are capable of so much. I starts right here, right now, with me, with you.

So, you want to change the world? What steps will you take?

stay here, please (a repost)

Director’s note:   We chose to repost this blog from our Program Intern, GARMIN, following the news of actor Robin Williams’ death. Today was supposed to be the beginning of a new series on our blog called #TakeActionTuesdays.  There are many important things that you can do with your life, but helping someone else believe in their significance, their value…  supporting someone in need of finding reasons to LIVE… that is truly invaluable. Too many people we know suffer from depression. If you, or someone you care about, are feeling empty or hopeless, please reach out. No matter what problems you are dealing with, we want to help you find a reason to keep living. In the U.S., call 1-800-TALK (8255) or go to www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org . Internationally, go to www.iasp.info and click on HELP. You matter, you really do. We are so glad you’re here. Check this out http://stayherewithme.com/  and…thank you for living! A dear friend of ours  posted this quote today: “ I pledge to love all living things, just love them, help care for them have compassion for them. As long as anything living thing draws breath may I remain to ease their suffering.”  Peace.

YouTube Preview Image

About a year and a half ago I heard a poet say “if you’re not writing the things you need to write then it’s a waste.” Those words clung to my soul and I have consciously tried to live them each day since and yet last week when I sat down to write this post, the words stopped at my finger tips and refused to come out. I know why. I know why, I have fought myself on this many times– putting thoughts or feelings to paper makes them real, it gives them life, it creates proof either for or against you and the part I often forget- it liberates you.

Like Ash Beckham {in the TedX talk above}, I have lots of closets. There have been plenty I have come out of and I could tell you about any number of them- the big ones and the small ones; the queer one, the dyslexic one, the artist one, the chronic disease one, the autistic brother one, and so on and so forth. And yet, there is one closet that I have stepped out of only partially. I say partially because my immediate family and friends know and yet, it’s not a thing I talk about, mention, bring up, or advocate for blatantly. It’s a thing that still sits behind a clear sliding glass door.

Two weeks ago I celebrated my one year anniversary of living. I know what you’re probably thinking: “GARMIN, aren’t you twenty-one, how can you be living for only one year?” Just hang tight. Not long before the time of Halloween and Hurricane Sandy last year I found myself standing about ready to jump out of my fourth floor bedroom window out on to the busy East 29th Street in New York City. Fear, undealt with events, trauma, flashbacks, and masked depression had brought me there. As I stepped one foot up to the ledge, my phone rang. It was my friend. She said “Hey there buddy, what’s up?” Frantically not knowing what to do I said, “I’m standing on the ledge of my bedroom about ready to jump out. I’m done.” Slowly, calmly and gracefully she talked me down from the ledge, and back into my bed and then put me on hold while she called our mutual friend who could help me. The next day I managed to get myself out of bed and went to a support meeting. A week later I found myself home at the kitchen table sobbing and recounting what had happened to my parents who had no idea. And there it was: suicide. Attempted suicide. One more breath and I could have been dead.

Just like that I had another closet- a closet of a past suicide attempt. When people asked why I was late to studio or why I randomly went home on the weekends, I would make up something instead of saying “oh, I had to see my therapist or I was having a hard time getting out of bed because I was sad.” And then not long before my one year anniversary of living I decided I was done- this time done in a different way. I was done hiding. Hiding that I had once attempted suicide or that I am on anti-depressants or that I still go to therapy to help undo all that crap that led me to that ledge. I decided that the next time mental illness, depression, suicide, or any related topics came up I was going to say something. Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to wait long. In one of my classes this fall, upon talking about bullying and suicide in the art classroom, a girl said “well, it’s the person’s fault if they get to that point of committing suicide.” I interrupted her and I said, “IT WILL NEVER BE MY FAULT THAT I WAS STANDING ON THAT LEDGE.” I continued on to support my statement and the room fell silent. There I was. Stepping out of my closet and choosing to ‘throw my grenade’, as Ash describes it.

I wish I could tell you that I was met with “Can I have a pancake?” like Ash. Alas, unfortunately it’s not always like that.  And that’s ok. The point is the fact that you have the guts, grit, bravery, and courage to throw your grenade, to put it out into the universe, to go liberate your heart, and to live into your authenticity. It’s not easy. In fact anyone who tells you that coming out of any closet is easy is lying. There is a reason we have stayed in our closets for far too long- it’s a scary world out there. It took me three months to tell my best friend I am queer and nearly a year to tell my parents, and these are people who I knew without a doubt in my mind would continue to support and love me.

While I personally love, love, love this video for all its content and ideas, I think she glosses over the moment in which you do actually step out of the closet. It’s liberating. Seriously, liberating. The only way I can describe that feeling is like flying through the Mexican jungle on a zip line with your arms wide open, smiling, and giggling, combined with the anticipation of Christmas and your birthday, winning a million dollars, and crossing the finish line of a marathon.  Seriously. Open your arms, take that step, PowerGirl, and hurl that grenade as hard as you possibly can. I promise, you won’t regret it.

Another Note from the Director of thinkpeace workshop:  I first met GARMIN not too long after the event she describes. We were participants at a workshop on white privilege, power, and social change. I was captivated by how honest and open, curious and supportive, focused and determined she was, with her self and with others. We spent 2 1/2 days together, learning and discussing and holding each other accountable. On the last day of the workshop we all faced each other and told each other what we appreciated about the person across from us. When I got to GARMIN it was just so easy: I appreciated her integrity and grit that was so beautifully blended with a giant, warm, sensitive heart. It was clear that she  was going to reach out, help others, share of herself, and live authentically. When she asked if she could intern with thinkpeace, I was delighted to look into her friendly, mischievous and highly alert eyes and say, YES. I am so glad that she is here, alive and ready to live a great big life as a thinkpeace powerGirl!

on forgiveness

http://filmraise.com/beyond-right-and-wrong

Sometimes the difference between right and wrong seems so clear. Passionate beliefs often cause us to not be able to see the gray area between black and white.  And even if we could see it, believing in something means taking a side, right? Taking a side sometimes requires us to take extreme steps to protect our values.  The problem is that between my right and your right, wrong happens– wrong that neither of us wanted. There are victims and irreversible damage.  In our determination to be right we hurt others.  We convince ourselves that there is no one person we’re hurting– that we are going after fixing the wrong, no matter what the cost.  The cost has no face.  So what if someday we encounter the person who we hurt, or their loved ones and we listen to their story and they ask us to tell ours. Is it possible for there to reach an understanding or for there to be forgiveness? Is it possible that once we forgive, we can heal in ways that create real peace?  Imagine.

Recently we watched the incredibly moving documentary, “Beyond Right and Wrong”, which explores what happens to the victims from three different conflicts from recent history. For years, killing and hurting each other has been the way to take a stand for what we believe in.  At what point can we instead come together in a room and see each other as human beings? Jo’s father was killed by Pat in Northern Ireland.  Beata’s five children were killed by Emmanuel in Rwanda.  Bassam and Rami, a Palestinian and an Israeli, learned to see each other as human after losing their daughters.  As adult men, neither had actually had a conversation with someone from “the other side” before.  Their common grief brought them together. As they all heard each other’s story, they realized something pretty profound.

“Beyond Right and Wrong” shows what happens after the conflict, after the violence, when survivors and perpetrators work together to rebuild their lives. Is it possible to balance a need for justice with the desire to forgive?  Survivors of conflicts often see themselves as prisoners.  Elie Wiesel wrote in his memoir about the atrocities he faced in concentration camps during World War II, “From the depths of the mirror, a corpse gazed back at me. The look in his eyes, as they stared into mine, has never left me.”  He stated that while he was able to survive the concentration camps he was held prisoner in, he simply could not see himself as truly alive. The experiences he faced, the horrors he witnessed, and the terrors he lived killed him on the inside. Even though he survived physically, he no longer recognized himself. Still, Elie Wiesel has dedicated his life to speaking up for victims of genocide and oppression with a steadfast faith in humanity.  The only way for him to do this has been for him to forgive, yet never forget. So we ask… what does it take to be able to forgive?

Can whole societies recover from devastating conflict? Can survivors actually live with, talk to, smile and laugh with someone who hurt them, raped them, killed their parents, or slaughtered their children? Can victims and perpetrators work together to rebuild their lives? The Director of “Beyond Right and Wrong” didn’t really know what to expect when she started this film. Lekha Singh wrote, “When I visited Rwanda several years ago, I did not expect to find more healing than horror. I witnessed the resilience of people living in unimaginable circumstances: How was a mother whose children were killed able to sit with the man who murdered them – even able to converse with and smile at him? As I saw more interactions between victims and the ones who wronged them, such questions became more pressing. How could any person in that situation forgive the person responsible? Seeing the entire society move towards forgiveness was even more staggering.”

She was deeply affected. “I had so many questions about these efforts to cope with trauma. Why do some victims take the path of revenge, while others work towards forgiveness? Can forgiveness get in the way of justice? Is forgiveness a requirement for healing or moving on?”  She was compelled to explore these questions through the stories of survivors in Rwanda, Israel, Palestine, and Northern Ireland. The survivors share their personal stories that show that there are alternatives to blaming.  As the survivors and the perpetrators share their stories in person, a face is put on the conflict.  Faces change everything.  Each person’s story matters and gives us hope that there is another solution to conflict other than violence and hatred. This is the beginning of the transformative role of forgiveness and, ultimately, peace.

Yes, imagine.

 

what you resist persists

Director’s note:  At thinkpeace workshop we encourage girls to embrace their truths: those qualities about themselves that are fundamental to feeling good about themselves. Sometimes it’s easy to let other voices get inside and create self-doubt. Holding onto our truths is important to standing in our own strength in the face of pushbacks from others. Lately, intern GARMIN has realized the power of knowing and owning her truths. It’s an ongoing process for each of us. 

“What you resist persists” by GARMIN

During my last yoga teacher training weekend we had a grueling 2-hour hip-opening practice. Our teacher kept saying, “What you resist persists” meaning that whatever we kept holding back from would continue to be there.

In her acceptance speech for the John Steinbeck Award, MSNBC host, activist, PowerGirl, (and my big girl crush) Rachel Maddow, said this about being out as queer,

As a general rule, if you can be out, you really ought to be out because, A) you will be happier, being closeted is a sad thing to be. It also makes you vulnerable. When you are closeted people can always have something to use against you and so you are never actually operating from a position of strength even if you feel like coming out is something that would make you vulnerable in the world, being closeted is a much more vulnerable thing to be. You can never speak from a position of strength unless you are speaking from a position of honesty.

While this is the speech that pushed me over that metaphorical edge to come out to my parents, Maddow’s last line, “You can never speak from position of strength unless you are speaking from a position of honesty” is the line that popped up again for me last week.  These past two weeks have been hard for me. I installed my thesis and then it has been one event after the next: openings, meet the artist, showcases, and more events– literally non-stop. While there have been happy, exciting, and liberating moments, there have been just as many frustrating and annoying times. Our class of 11 is disconnected, and consumed with what we call in yoga teacher training, “a concern for looking good,” which basically means they will do whatever they can to make themselves look good and everyone else look bad by playing the “ame” game- shame, blame, and complain.  I decided that it wasn’t worth my energy to continue to be around people that brought me down. You see, I value myself, my power, and my strength and when I was putting myself in a position of powerlessness by being around people who didn’t value me I was taking myself out of my life. I wasn’t speaking from my position of strength because I wasn’t in my full honesty and truth of myself.

In typical GARMIN fashion, I walked right up to my thesis teacher and said, “I’m not coming to the group meeting of the class anymore because it’s bad for my mojo. I value myself, my strength, and my power.” She said, “OK. Have a great day!”

And just like that I was standing back in my full power.

However, just like the hip-opening practice “what you resist persists”– I had been resisting initiating this conversation with my thesis teacher. I had been frustrated for some time and it had to get to a point of me realizing its persistence to do something about it. When I surrendered to what was put on offer (the hip opening practice), initiating the conversation, it wasn’t so hard. Holding back was actually harder.

I think we as young women hold ourselves back ALL the time. From my experience, we hold back for a variety of reasons: we play small so others can play big, we don’t think we are worthy, we are operating out of fear, etc. In this past week’s U.S. version of TIME magazine, the cover highlighted Beyoncé, pop mogul, mom and PowerGirl. In the closing paragraph, writer and Facebook VP Sheryl Sandberg wrote,

In the past year, Beyoncé has sold out the Mrs. Carter Show World Tour while being a full-time mother. Her secret: hard work, honesty and authenticity. And her answer to the question, What would you do if you weren’t afraid? appears to be “Watch me. I’m about to do it.” Then she adds, “You can, too.”

Step into your greatness PowerGirl!

what do we mean: ‘never again’?

It has been 20 years since the 1994 Rwanda genocide that killed 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in a 100-day rampage.   Following our work with One Million Bones, Students Rebuild, and CARE over the past two years, on raising awareness about ongoing genocides, the thinkpeace community is deep in thought and conversation about what happened in Rwanda, is still happening in Sudan, Somalia, Burma, Syria and the DRC, and what lessons have really been learned that can help prevent future atrocities. Since World War II, the international community has said “never again,” a yet our failure to act has continued to cost lives.

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Memorials across Rwanda are constant reminders of the brutality that destroyed the nation. In the United States there seems to be little coverage regarding this anniversary– and even less discussion. Last night, on Facebook, I saw that a friend had changed his profile picture to the Rwandan flag, in honor of the victims and  survivors of the genocide. He has spent time there for his work, and loves the people and the land. No one knew what his picture was for– what it meant to him, personally, to celebrate a rebuilding Rwanda. And yet, to the children born during or after this time in Rwandan history, awareness about genocide is vital. “Never again” must stand for something. We must know what happened and why… and see that it’s not over and we must not stand by again.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has urged the international community to learn from its failure to stop the genocide in Rwanda, and to take stronger action to confront current crises, like the conflicts in Syria and the Central African Republic. “The international community,” he said, “cannot claim to care about atrocity crimes and then shrink from the commitment of resources and will required to actually prevent them.” The UN was not effective in preventing the Rwanda genocide, much less in stopping it.  The international community’s silence was wrong. Much more could and should have been done–  instead, peacekeeping troops were withdrawn when they were most needed.  “The world has yet to fully overcome its divisions, its indifference, its moral blind spots,” he said, citing the atrocities that occurred in Srebrenica in 1995, and the current conflicts in Syria and the Central African Republic. ”There is a truth to the human condition that is as alarming today as it was 20 years ago; the fragility of our civility. The bonds that hold us together can swiftly disappear.”

So here’s the question: when we say “never again” what do we really mean? What can we do to end genocide? How can we strengthen the “bonds that hold us together” in a world that seems full of anger, righteousness and extremism? What role can you play? When you see or hear about any human being (actually, any living creature) in need or distress, SPEAK UP!  Celebrate diversity in your every day life. Failure to act is not acceptable. When we say “never again” it means that each and every one of us takes a stand. As we laid bones on the National Mall last summer as a visual petition against genocide, we felt it– the connection to others who had been brutally killed because they were different. We asked ourselves: underneath it all, aren’t we the same? Looking out at the Mall covered in one million symbolic bones, we cried for the blood spilled, the lives lost, and the damage done to future generations. There is another way. And together we must find it. Never again, means that we must be accountable to each other and to promoting peace, love and understanding.

“We really do belong to each other.” -Naomi Natale

 

shake, rattle and roll into Spring by GARMIN

I am constantly surprised how a small thing, comment, or act can change something or someone for the better.

On Wednesdays, there is a ceramics class in the studio during the time that I have my thesis class. In the class is a boy who is, from what I understand, high-functioning autistic. He reminds me a lot of my brother- he paces, flaps his hands, talks to himself, yet unlike my brother, he is an incredibly fine artist. He rarely speaks in general, and when he does it is absolutely mind blowing. In the throes of my thesis he came up to me while I was throwing my cups and stood next to me and waited until I took out my noise-canceling headphones. He simply said two words, “wheel sculpture” and walked away. My mind was absolutely blown– you see, as an artist who has struggled to find the middle ground between my sculptural work and my wheel thrown functional work, it hadn’t occurred to me that wheel throwing could in fact be sculpture. The boy, as I later came to find out, didn’t see things in terms of functionality, he saw them in terms of their physical shape; as they were.

Dasani, 12

Likewise, this past December a HUGE New York Times multi-part article came out exposing (and that’s putting it lightly) the decrepit New York City homeless shelter system for families. It featured a little girl, Dasani- a girl just trying to put one foot in front of another and trying her hardest to keep her family together and functioning. I can count on one hand the number of times the quality and content of news reporting has brought me to tears and this is certainly one of them. Andrea Elliot, the NYT writer, was troubled by the lack of regular reporting emerging about this topic and the fact that thousands of New Yorkers live in squalor and with such regular anguish of cockroaches, the threat of sexual assault, and overall insecurity. (If you haven’t read the article it is seriously worth the read. http://www.nytimes.com/projects/2013/invisible-child/#/?chapt=1)

In a few short months, thinkpeace will take to New York City for our annual summer camp. While we are busy getting ready for our girls to become change-makers-in-residence, the city is making its own change! I love NYC politics and culture, and I could talk about them all day. As we prepare to take to the streets of the Big Apple I think it’s important to continue to stay informed about the issues that are affecting the area in which we will be doing our work. For twelve years, former Mayor Bloomberg’s office policies about homelessness and shelters flip-flopped, going from at one point giving families priority in receiving long-term housing, to being replaced with short-term subsidy-based housing meaning that the homeless rate bounced back up to 52,000– the highest in city history. While Bloomberg excelled in many other areas in running the city, this proved not to be one of them. On January 1st, 2014 when new Mayor Bill DeBlasio stepped up to the podium to take his oath of office, next to him stood little Dasani from the NYT article. DeBlasio, much of whose election was won on Bloomberg’s short-comings, advocated for reversing the previous administration’s policy and vowed to lower the city’s homeless rate. In a follow up article on Truth-out.org (http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/22758-how-a-twelve-year-old-homeless-girl-helped-more-than-400-children-find-safer-shelter), it was announced that the homeless shelter that Dasani lived in would soon no longer function as a homeless shelter for families due to its unsafe physical structure. Come June, all families will be moved into safer, healthier, and overall better facilities and it’s all because of one little girl. A girl who believed in better.

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. Desmond Tutu

While credit should be given to Dasani for the change in the shelter situation, we cannot fail to recognize Elliot who equally believed that Dasani’s story should be told. She realized that in knowing the truth of the situation, the story must be told– for if she didn’t she would continue to be a part of the problem; knowing it and not advocating for change and therefore continuing the circle of oppression. When we choose to not take action when we see injustice we may as well sign up to be the oppressor- the one creating the wrong. It is people like both Elliot and Dasani who create change, they are at their core change-makers.

Whether you know it or not yet, PowerGirl, you are a changemaker as well. Changemakers live well in their places, expose the truth of situations, and then take action. They are action-takers, evolution-starters, protest-initiators, flash-dance-mob-organizers, conversation-starters, and active listeners. And so I urge you to start this new spring season with a sense of urgency, a sense of taking notes and observing the places you will change. Where will you step into your Dasani-ness and shake and rattle things up?

meet a wannabe thinkpeace girl

I have a dream… that someday any girl who longs to connect with the global girl community and learn what she can do to help heal the world will be able to come to thinkpeace workshop summer camp.  This year, in particular, I have been touched by the stories of two girls who have reached out to share a little of  why they want to be thinkpeace girls. One is a brave and bright girl from Afghanistan whose family left behind the difficulties in their home country to start a new life in Michigan and the other, who is a compassionate and concerned 15 year old from Indonesia. In forty-five days we will see if the efforts of our US thinkpeace girls to raise funds will cover the trip for one of these girls… It’s not easy to be a grassroots organization full of teen girls with hearts of gold  but limited resources. Still, we will try. Because Grisella and Hadia need to be heard.  They have voices that can tell stories of things other girls can’t imagine.  Voices that can open minds and hearts to new perspectives and possibilities. We’ll be talking about our fundraising campaign on facebook, twitter, instagram and here… hoping that not only my dream can come true, but perhaps theirs as well.  Imagine!
Today I’d like you to meet Grisella. Grisella contacted thinkpeace via twitter after seeing a tweet about our summer camp in NYC.
Dear Kelly,
Sorry to bother you
My name is Grisella and i am from Indonesia
I want to ask some things about the summer camp
Is the Summer camp held yearly ? i wish it is because i can not join the camp this year because of the flight fare is too expensive and i have not saved my money for it and oh how much is the camp fees ?
That is all. Thank you very much for your attention. I look forward to hearing from you.
Best Wishes,
Grisella

I wrote her back and told her all about camp and asked her about what she cared about, thought about, and told her a little about my kids.  She got right back to me:

Yeaaah! I’m so incredibly excited for the summer camp next year oh my God! Hahaha. I’m going to be 15 this year and i’m in my last year on junior high. Well, i can say i care for a lot of things -not to brag or anything. Since, i live in Indonesia i started to think there’re a lot of things to be fixed. People here are barely well educated. They can’t afford for school fees. That’s why Indonesia stays the same.  They don’t make any better change and even worse they seem like they don’t care. And there’s health problems. This one really hurting. Bunch of people from small area come to Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, looking for job and because of a lot of them didn’t get good education it’s difficult for them to have a well-paid job. Then, because the bills are more expensive than the wage, they can’t afford to buy a house but they still need a place to stay right? To solve it they build houses in the river banks, they use the river’s not-so-clean water for their daily needs such as bath, laundry, and even to cook and drink. I am also concerned about global warming. Why don’t we start to plant trees ? Like one or two trees are already helping the environment right ? Well, that’s about the conditions around me. Globally, i am really concern about bullying. Bullying is almost happening in every school all around the world. The bullies usually are not aware that they are hurting someone else. They are not aware of their words, their actions. They might think that by bullying someone it is proof that they’re strong or they are really envious because other person can enjoy life while they can’t. They might had a bad/dark past. That’s why i think every bullies should not be judged or punished. We must talk to them softly and tell them that what they’re doing is totally wrong and what they do can make the person they bullied commit a suicide. I also support noh8 campaign. Well i guess everybody should support this one because love is all we need. Why need to hate while you can love someone ? I’m 100% sure this world will be a so much better place if we do that. And there’s child labour. I think this is the worst problem ever! Children are supposed to be at school, learning things and socialising with their friends and not to work like adults. They usually do hard jobs which is really really bad for children. I don’t really know how i can solve this because this usually happen in Africa right ? And yeah I’m still under my parents guidance and it seems impossible to solve this by myself though. One last thing i want to stop is racism. Everyone is precious in every skin complexion just don’t judge everyone only by their looks.

But still i really want to stop bullying and child labour.
Well thank you so much for the information. Sorry if my english are terrible. You know, it’s not my language so yeah..
While we may not be able to get Grisella here in time for this year’s camp, we are determined to find a way– for next year. So stay tuned for more information on how to help a girl like Grisella or Hadia realize her goal, to be a thinkpeace girl! They see and feel the issues facing girls globally (and boys too, actually). Together, girls are such a big part of the solution. Global girl voices, and hearts, and hands, working together might just be able to CHANGE THE WORLD. Imagine!

take a deep breath

  •                                                                                                                                                                                         This is part one of my to-do list for the next 12 days. Things you won’t see on this to-do list include: eat sushi for breakfast, care for dying cat, sleep, read bedtime stories, drive in the country listening to TSwift, discuss politics, and be 90% technology free and yet, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing since Friday. I think the universe has a way of telling us to (excuse my language) slow the f*** down. 

I don’t know about you— my life is slightly out of control at the present moment. And by slightly, I mean really. Really out of control. There are only so many hours in the day.  And our go-go-go culture expects us to get everything done, on time, and with 100% accuracy all. the. time. Sometimes, it just doesn’t happen.  I decided months ago to take this weekend off, to go see some friends, see my favorite slam poet and PowerGirl Andrea Gibson perform, and to then go home for the night, sleep in my own bed, get a detox push, and hop on the next flight back to DC. Alas, come Sunday my train to go home was delayed and then we got stuck somewhere between Rochester and Albany and what was supposed to be a 4 hour train ride turned into a 6.5 hour soul-searching-mojo-finding-session on the train. Continue on to Monday, I was supposed to be on a flight back to DC-  oh, don’t you know, DC got 9 inches of snow and my flight was canceled. I then tried to get on a different flight for Tuesday and last night at 10pm I got a call saying that flight was canceled. I’m tentatively scheduled to be on a flight for Wednesday morning.

Now, prior to maybe a month ago this whole fiasco would have been just that, a fiasco. I would have been so mad, I would have been screaming out to the world “HELLO UNIVERSE. CAN’T YOU SEE I HAVE A THESIS DUE IN 12 DAYS? I DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THIS. WOULD YOU JUST SUCK THE SNOW BACK UP AND UNCANCEL MY FLIGHT AND PUT ME BACK IN THE STUDIO? THANKS!”  And yet, this time I literally can’t do a single thing. I don’t have my computer, I don’t have any books, I’m not in the studio, and no planes are moving and so, I’m here. Grounded. Quite literally. Feet on the floor, being still and slowing down, and looking my overachieving-perfectionism in the eye.

Often talked about here on the blog PowerGirl Brene Brown says this about perfectionism: “When perfectionism is driving, shame is always riding shotgun — and fear is the annoying back seat driver. We struggle with perfectionism in areas where we feel most vulnerable to shame. So we’re all comfortable saying, ‘I’m a little perfectionistic,’ which is code for ‘I do things really well’ — but I’m not comfortable saying I have shame. It’s a way of thinking that says this: ‘If I look perfect, live perfect, work perfect, I can avoid or minimize criticism, blame and ridicule.’ All perfectionism is, is the 20-ton shield that we carry around hoping that it will keep us from being hurt.”

Woof. Let that sink in for a moment. I’ll wait.

 

 

Really. Let it sink in.

 

She hits it right on the head. I’ve been living in the perfectionism mindset about my thesis. My thinking goes something like this, “If I do a perfect thesis then a perfect collector will buy my work and then I’ll have money in my bank account and then I’ll be able to go to Mexico on a perfect vacation and then I’ll be able to come back perfectly all blissed out and then my life will be perfect.” Do you see how many times I say the word perfect in my thinking? WAY. TOO. MANY.  My high school advisor at one point said, “Why are you trying to fit in, when you were born to stand out?!” HELLO. TRUTH BOMB. In the past few days my thinking has changed to “Ok. Deep breaths. Your thesis will turn out exactly how it’s supposed to turn out. There are plenty of people who will have a ‘perfect thesis’ there is no need to add yourself to that category. Now, go take a nap and drink some green juice and it will all be ok.” WOAH. Big difference there.

Finally, for one more reinforcement— Germany based PowerGirl-run graphic design/social practice art project ‘Work is Not a Job’ believes that what you create is more important than what you do. When you wake up excited, full, and fresh you create more exciting things and in turn, when you create more exciting things the world changes. I don’t know about you but I don’t create exciting things when I don’t sleep because I’m too busy ‘perfecting’ the hell out of everything. And when we don’t sleep we become what my friend Ellen calls “a walking safety hazard.” I don’t want to be “a walking safety hazard” perfecting everything, I want to be out there knee-deep changing and shaking things up.

Now, I don’t know what the ‘thing’ that you try to perfect the hell out of is: it could be your thesis, or it could be your relationships or your AP Exam, or your college apps, or your sleep schedule— I have no clue and yet, my guess is that ‘perfecting’ it has only left you exhausted and frustrated. And so, just as a possibility for this week, what would happen if you let go of perfecting your life? What would you gain? What could come of it?

As always, send your thoughts, comments, and questions. garmin@thinkpeaceworkshop.org