Love through wonder

I know I’m late to the party, but I am finally learning to appreciate podcasts.

I think I’ve always liked the idea of listening to podcasts, but I never really found the right moment for them.

I usually put my headphones on when I need something to either pick me up or chill me out. I use music as a backdrop for an activity and always avoided audio that would occupy more than 5% of my brain capacity.

A couple of weeks ago the stars aligned perfectly and I found myself in “right place, right time, right amount of attention span bandwidth”-situation, as I stumbled upon a Ted Talk about revolutionary love by Valarie Kaur.

valarie kaur

Valarie’s choice to start her talk by describing the experience of giving birth to her son as an analogy for the deepest, most intense and unconditional type of love, is one I can follow rationally. I understand that women that go through labor, experience indescribable pain while simultaneously being flushed with hormones, enabling them to love and care and protect the new little creature more than they’ve ever loved anything else, including themselves.

I love the idea of feeling so connected to this little helpless being, and realizing it is an extension of yourself and your legacy for the future. I can see how this deepens the connection you feel to you mother, and her mother, and her mother and how this makes you realize you are part of something bigger than you. I can imagine this is both humbling and empowering at the same time.

As much as I appreciated the anecdote, it did not motivate me to explore my own ability to love. I see the beauty of it on a poetic level, but it does nothing for me on an emotional level. Some people say I need to have kids of my own to understand this. Others say it’s a clear sign I’m not meant to have them. Who knows.

RevLoveBut Valarie continued explaining how she learnt the lessons of revolutionary love and started reeling me in as she went…

The desperation in her voice when she reminded me that hate crimes are the highest they have been since 9-11 drove a cold chill over my spine and an ache into my heart.

The realization that, despite her efforts to bring people closer together for the last 15 years, so many of her compatriots chose to vote this hateful figure into the white house, is heart breaking.

The tears that filled her eyes as she acknowledged that her son is likely to be labeled “terrorist” at least once in his life, is just infuriatingly sad.

She shared her realization that answering an act of hate with more hate would be understandable but pointless and counter productive. She explained:

We love our opponents when we tend the wound in them. Tending to the wound is not healing them — only they can do that. Just tending to it allows us to see our opponents: the terrorist, the fanatic, the demagogue. They’ve been radicalized by cultures and policies that we together can change.

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She then admitted that removing hate from her own heart required a conscious effort, or as Valarie puts it: “It becomes an act of will to wonder.”

And all though the point of her childbirth reference was lost on me at the very start, she drove it home when she presented me with her final lesson in revolutionary love:

 

This is a feminist intervention. Because for too long have women and women of color been told to suppress their rage, suppress their grief in the name of love and forgiveness. But when we suppress our rage, that’s when it hardens into hate directed outward, but usually directed inward. But mothering has taught me that all of our emotions are necessary. Joy is the gift of love. Grief is the price of love. Anger is the force that protects it.

Now that is some superhero stuff right there.

She concluded her TED talk by revealing the three directions in which revolutionary love must be practiced: towards your direct surroundings, towards yourself and towards your opponents. The method: wonder.

Yepp, that’s it. She’s wonder woman.

But as it turns out, so am I!

wonder woman

And now I’m wondering about you… Are you OK, sister? How was your day, brother? What did you learn to day, uncle?

Let’s connect.

 

Fighting intolerance by popping our filter bubbles

It’s Political Crunch Time in the Netherlands.

Just two more days before election day. I am ready. I have decided. I know who I’m going for, or at least which party, which in itself is a mini victory as we have about twenty political parties to choose from this time around…

As many places in the world, our country is going through a phase of polarization. It’s not so much “left and right” anymore, though… The logical question to ask is: Ok, if it’s not about left- and right-wing politics, what is it about? Well… I can’t explain that in just one sentence, because it took me some time to figure out… In fact, I think I will need more than one blog for this.

Let me start by pointing out the white elephant in the room:

Geert Wilders.

geert wilders tulp.jpgThis man is quite something.

I know many people say he’s the Dutch Donald Trump but I really think that gives him too little credit. Contrary to the Donald, I actually don’t dislike Geert Wilders as a person. He does quite well in one-on-one interviews and is a very talented speaker. I think he is a much better politician than the current POTUS and deserves some props for that.

I dislike him in debates, that’s for sure. What happens is that he gets so fired up, that he degrades any good argument he may have had into a vulgar mud slinging contest. I do get it though. I mean, it must be incredibly frustrating to have practically every single person in parliament go against your propositions and ideas, sometimes purely on principle…  But still… Not chic…

I can not deny I feel sorry for him as well. His ideas have put him in a position where he needs security 24/7, preventing him from conducting politics in the same fashion his colleagues can. He can not simply go out and shake hands with people on a random market place, even though I believe he would like to.

bruce hulk.jpgAll though I can follow his rhetoric up to a certain degree when he explains it calmly in interviews such as this one for Europa Magazin, he completely loses me with the way he chooses to bring it across at rallies and debates. I can sympathize with his Bruce Banner version but he seems to prefer the Hulk, which is nasty, ugly and rude.

Until this morning, I had nothing positive to say about Geert Wilders, besides feeling pity for his security issues and the burden this must be on him and his family. But I made an effort to truly look into this guy, who is so easy to dislike. So many people apparently agree with him that I felt I should at least try to get it. At least one honest look. So I took off my filtered glasses just for a bit and started reading, watching and listening.

All though I have always tried to be conscious of the fact that my reality is based on how I was brought up and which lessons I was taught, it has been increasingly difficult to sympathize with the “Trump voters” across the pond and the “Wilders voters” in my own country. It’s so easy to just dismiss them as “angry white men”. The shameful murmurations inside of me about the ignorantes who don’t know what’s good for themselves nor for the greater good, can hardly withstand the light of day…

Last weekend though, I read an article about the phenomenon of “filter bubbles”. It wasn’t something that was new to me but for some reason it really hit home at that moment. I realized how unfair I was being and that I really needed to read news from other news sources and open my mind to the Wilders voters, even if they may not be prepared to show me the same courtesy. Or was that just an unjust preconception as well?

I watched several full length interviews with Geert Wilders and read articles I would otherwise have dismissed as populist propaganda or clicked away from in annoyance, without even giving it a listen.

And boy is it important to do this every now and then. Because it turns out we’re all actually not that different from one another and essentially want the same things. I know, shocking right?

And do you know what? Don’t take my word for it. Go figure it out yourself!

I recommend it.

Having said that, I’m still not voting for the guy. I disagree with him on many different levels, which I will not be going into right now (but maybe after the election results are in). But at least now I know why and can look myself in the eye when I stand up for my version of what is right.

quote-spend-5-minutes-at-the-beginning-of-each-day-remembering-we-all-want-the-same-things-dalai-lama-53-96-23.jpg

Insane asylum seeking

Last week I went to a meeting about language coaches for refugees in Leiden, the town I live in. I heard that in the month of August between 70 and 80 refugees received their residence permit and were assigned a home here. This is the same amount that was granted a new home in the first 6 months of 2014.

inburgeringscursusThis rise in numbers is partially because there are more people arriving and partially because the asylum process has been streamlined so that more requests can be evaluated in a smaller amount of time. Each person that receives a residence permit must do a so called “inburgerings cursus” which boils down to a course that helps someone become a Dutch citizen. This involves a language course as well as lessons about our culture and customs. At the end of this course, every person must take (and pass) an exam.

Each new resident must attend language classes once a week and is assigned a language coach to practice with for about an hour a week on top of that. A language coach is always a volunteer that does this beside their regular job. It is therefore most common for a language coach to be assigned just one person. You can imagine that if in one month there are more than seventy new people starting their citizenship education, there is a great need for more language coaches.

During the meeting I went to last week there were about 15 new candidates. Their motives varied from wanting to do something practical to compensate for their very theoretical study at the university, to expanding their CV with something different. Some had already worked in schools and wished to find a new challenge in the education of foreigners. Others were just lonely and wished to get back in touch with society and remember what it felt like to be needed (this last part is my own interpretation).

I was quite surprised that besides me there was only one other person that said they were sick of watching the news and feeling helpless. I don’t say this to humblebrag, I promise. I have a genuine feeling of urgency to do something but with no clue about where to start. I for one am sick of feeling so powerless. Also it is just starting to feel wrong to voice my opinion about something that I only know about through the colored stories of the media. It’s time to see it for myself and to know that no matter what side I choose I will be able to look myself in the eye at the end of it.

refugee-word-cloud

But I must admit I do feel torn. Just the other day I started deleting “friends” from Facebook that have voiced opinions that I find discriminatory or unbalanced, to say the least. I am sure there are still some rotten apples in my list as not everyone voices their opinions on the web. One of the people I deleted is a girl I used to babysit. She is in her twenties now and has recently gotten married. She posted a video of refugees showing someone around the camp they were staying in, pleading for better conditions. She commented something along the lines of: “What did you expect, a five star hotel? If you don’t like it, go back home, you ungrateful a**holes!”. The fact that these people’s home may very well be reduced to rubble, went unnoticed to her.

I deleted her immediately, especially after I noticed she had re-posted it from a page that sympathizes with our very own, well known and homegrown right hand populist; Geert Wilders. It did stick with me for a while though… Especially since I did kind of agree with her… These worked up men were pointing at everything that was supposedly wrong with their conditions and showing the camera how muddy it was and how few toilets there were but in reality, it wasn’t all that bad… Sure, the weather was shitty, but who can you blame for that? It was a temporary solution for an overwhelming situation that was absolutely better than nothing. Nobody was starving neither from hunger nor cold. I only dared admit this to myself after I had deleted her from my account.

[The video in question, which I had embedded in this post on right this spot is no longer online, but since I believe we’ve all seen and heard about these type of situations I decided not to replace it. | 29-08-2016]

These men… All men… So so agitated. And for what? I hate mobs like this. They scare me. Men stirring each other up in this aimless frenzy. Running around, pumping adrenaline through their veins and some crazy idea that they will get their way if they just push hard enough. They seek out confrontation hoping it will help their plight, if only they manage to show the world something shocking. It sickens me and I find it very difficult to find sympathy for these people. I know they do not represent the majority, but it is inevitable that some problems will arise with these new citizens. And what if they’re not satisfied with what we have to offer? How much are we willing to give in to accommodate them?

Anyhow, I am now on the list of volunteers of the local refugeework organisation. I will be attending some classes of my own before I get assigned a new resident of my town, most probably from Syria and help him or her in the next step of their long journey to become a European citizen. I can’t wait to find out more and report about my experiences both to myself as to you.

I tolerate you. :) Happy now?

us-vs-them-295The world is shifting. Not the world as a planet, but the world as a society. The status-quo may not have been ideal. We all enjoyed giving it a good kick every now and then, but at least you knew where you stood. There was left, there was right. There was socialism and there was capitalism. Tick a box and join your crew. Easy as pie.

Last week, while casually conversing with my co-workers, I accidentally cruised into the “Black Pete”-discussion again. I tried to change it’s course, tried to keep it short and friendly, but in the end I found myself exactly where I didn’t want to be. But as I had promised myself (and have declared openly on this blog) I will not be running from socially uncomfortable discussions without having planted my (more moderate) opinion for those around who may still be open for it.

After my little chat had died off into an uncomfortable “agree-to-disagree” truce, I took a sticky note and wrote down the following sentence to remind me to blog about this later on:

To maintain and protect our friendly, open-minded, “everyone-is-welcome” society we must incorporate an element of intolerance (as a guard dog?) to keep out the (truly) intolerant

tolerance

I remember we used to say Holland was one of the most tolerant places on earth. We used to pride ourselves in this. I think we still do. Even last week I read this article naming the top 5 women-friendly cities of the world and Amsterdam was right there at the top, saying:

Amsterdam, It’s not only woman-friendly, it’s everyone-friendly – gay, straight, old, young, black, white, Asian…

That’s great! Or does it only show me how messed up the rest of the world really is….?

fightSo now I’ve got my brain all in a knot and my thoughts fighting eachother in cartoon-style cat-and-dog hustle and bustle. Because let’s be honest… Isn’t tolerance kind of strange word to be proud of? It doesn’t imply acceptance or inclusion. I think we would have quite a hard time looking ourselves in the eye and declaring in truth that we are open and welcoming as a society. And then again, tolerance is a good start, I guess.

So then I ask myself:

How active do we have to be in including outsiders into our society?

How protective should we be of our culture (and thus, how open to intercultural exchange)?

And then, finally the question that has gotten me most confused:

What if our inclusiveness allows intolerant elements to blossom and in the end threaten our very foundations?

In the ideal world I would have hot chocolate and sandwiches being served at our borders and let new comers tell us their story so we would know how best to assist them in finding their feet in our little flat nation.

But what if the newcomers take our hot chocolate but make us out for fools behind our backs?

brain-washingHow well do we expect people to integrate into our society?

What elements of their culture do we allow and of which do we disapprove?

And even if we disapprove, what then?

Do we kick them out?

Do we put them through brain wash programs so they learn to think like us?

That’s bloody creepy! So many questions and I don’t have any acceptable answers yet. And even if I did, it’s not up to me… or is it?