#71: Connect through compassion

CC licensed image by Flickr user John Trainor

CC licensed image by Flickr user John Trainor

It’s been a while since I’ve written and there’s a partially valid reason for that. I say partially, because I don’t want to make excuses for myself, but I was honestly not in the mood to write for the last couple of months because I was feeling quite ill. Nothing to be concerned about…on the contrary in fact; I’m expecting baby #2! I spent a little over 10 weeks feeling too ill to do much of anything. Nausea, migraines, fatigue and lack of sleep (I was tired but couldn’t sleep because of being ill) took over and the bitterly cold Toronto weather and grey skies reinforced my physical, emotional and mental state. As I lay in bed awake, nauseous and weak night after night, and as I forced my body to keep up with my beautiful little toddler throughout the day, I felt generally lack lustre and low, separate from the inner ‘me’ that I knew. Despite knowing that the cause of all this illness was positive, I found it hard to feel upbeat, as I could only focus on my immediate needs and had to continually push through the challenges of my physical state each hour at a time. To put it eloquently, I just felt completely BLAH.

During this time however, I gained some good perspective.  For one, I gained a small window of perspective into what it may be like for some people who must focus on their immediate physical needs above all else. I can never know what they actually feel and I know that what I went through is minute compared to what others go through, but that little bit of perspective was a gain from where I stood before: in a position of privilege whereby I rarely had to think much about pain on a daily or hourly basis. Secondly, through my personal experience, I was able to really internalize and consolidate some reflections I had been mulling over the past few years on the topics of empathy, compassion, mindfulness and human connection. While I was feeling ill, I longed for social support of a certain kind–caring compassion–and it gave me a more intrinsic perspective as to how compassion may be extremely helpful in connecting to other people, things and situations that are challenging. I’d like to share my reflections on 3 aspects of compassion that I have now come to understand. Continue reading

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#70: Shout out against Shadism

CC licensed image by Flickr user Vinoth Chandar

CC licensed image by Flickr user Vinoth Chandar

I’m currently taking a qualification course on equity and inclusion and, as one of the course’s tasks, was asked to reflect upon a personal experience dealing with inclusion/exclusion. I chose to write an honest piece about shadism. While racism is seen as discrimination between racial groups, shadism is seen as discrimination between shades of colour within a racial group. This discrimination has its roots in colonialism and classist hierarchies between those who worked outdoors in the fields and those with more aristocracy. Most commonly, shadist discrimination is against those who are darker, who are perceived to have an inferior status (related to wealth, attractiveness, and thus power, in general). However, shadism can also be against those who are fairer skinned, who may be seen by their racial or cultural group as ‘less pure’ or a deviation from the original heritage. Here is my personal account of shadism.

I’m fortunate to say that I did not experience much overt racism growing up, but upon reflection, I realize that I have been subject to ongoing and subtle forms of ‘shadism‘. I grew up with the message that a fairer complexion is considered more beautiful. This notion is quite predominant in South Asian culture (amongst others, such as East Asian, Caribbean, African and Hispanic), of which I am from. Every few years, my family and I would travel to India to visit my relatives and upon seeing me, I would get comments on how fair or dark I had become. Billboards, TV commercials and revered Bollywood actresses would exclusively portray fair South Asian women. Drug store shelves would be lined with skin lightening products. As noted in this article, this ‘snow white syndrome’ accounts for sales of whitening creams in India exceeding sales of Coca-Cola and Tea. This was the reality that I knew existed in India and although I didn’t think much about the meaning behind these messages at the time (perhaps in this case, ignorance as a child was bliss), I do believe that they played some part in shaping my identity growing up. When I reached high school, shadism became more obvious in my relationship to myself and others. At times, I felt a degree of exclusion by my fairer South Asian peers. It was not necessarily deliberate, but more subtle and most likely unintentional. I would often hear passing comments from them regarding other people, such as “He/She is good looking…but dark”. Such comments were never directed at me, but I always felt uncomfortable, knowing what they implied about people’s underlying thoughts around beauty and status.  Continue reading

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#69: Strive to give more than you take

CC licensed image by Flickr user Nicolas Raymond

CC licensed image by Flickr user Nicolas Raymond

The holidays recruit a host of sentiments about giving, and the message to ‘give more than you receive’ is expressed readily and at-large. It feels good to give generously to others and to engage in many kind acts. I often wonder however, to what extent people actually strive to give more than they receive (or rather, take), on an objective, quantitative level. Admittedly, I have a lot of work to do in this area so one of my goals for 2015 is to be more aware of my give-take balance and strive towards reducing my giving deficit.  Continue reading

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#68: Misbehave about Misbehaving

CC licensed image by Flickr user Dietmar Temps

CC licensed image by Flickr user Dietmar Temps

Most of us who are parents or middle school teachers have experienced ‘that child’ before: the one running when he/she should be walking, the one chit chatting instead of listening, the one smashing another child’s snow fort, the one tearing up your basement during your child’s birthday party instead of playing more gently, the young one biting or pulling another child’s hair (which may result in you wanting to pull out your own hair!), or the one that simply seems to do everything that goes against what you are trying to put in place. Many of us experience these children with exhaustion, exasperation, frustration and disapproval. Consequently, these children are often perceived and labeled as being ‘misbehaved’, ‘difficult’, ‘unruly’, or even ‘bad’. Furthermore, classism, racism and gender bias may unjustly compound this label. For example, boys may be perceived as misbehaved more so than girls if they simply have more energy. The quiet girl who may be writing inappropriate notes about another child may not be subject to the same admonishment as the boy who is tumbling through the classroom instead of sitting at his desk. Alternatively girls who speak up for themselves and exercise independence may be seen as misbehaved and not following orders, whereas boys may not be subject to the same perception or may in fact be praised for their confidence. (For more literature on gender bias and equity related issues, edchange.org is a great tool. See for example, this article). Continue reading

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#67: Teach through the A.R.T.S.

CC licensed image by Flickr user Judit für NEUE STIMMEN

CC licensed image by Flickr user Judit für NEUE STIMMEN

Last month, I facilitated a workshop at the Educating for Peace and Justice Conference at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education on ‘Teaching Ethics and Social Justice through the A.R.T.S.” While the workshop provided teachers with arts-based activities for engaging students in expressing their ideas, it mainly focused on 3 aspects of my classroom teaching and learning about social justice (and many other subjects, for that matter) that I have found to be recurrent and foundational in my pedagogy over the past 7 years. My workshop drew mostly on my classroom experience, along with my knowledge acquisition over the years on issues of social justice, along with my lifelong passion for the Arts. This blog post will provide a brief overview of those 3 foundational components (more on the arts-based activities in another post).

A: Awareness. These days, students are bombarded with information from a wide array of sources. Raising a critical awareness in students is an essential first step to being well-informed, effective agents of change. Teaching students to identify bias in different contexts of their lives and understanding something as seemingly (but often not) basic as the difference between facts and opinions, sets students up with important building blocks to becoming critical thinkers. Teaching the students to embrace critical feedback and challenging them to ask questions that venture into new thinking paths, can help instil not only the skills, but the confidence to navigate the complex web of information that surrounds them (from their peers, the media, adults, faith groups, family, news articles, books and more). One simple yet foundational activity I do with my students in order to set the stage for thinking and learning about justice is to identify the difference between a fact and an opinion. Surprisingly, even youth have difficulty with this concept. In response to a provocative media piece, students come up with one sentence that is either a fact or an opinion about the issue they just witnessed. They then share that sentence with another student, who then passes on their partner’s sentence to someone else. It’s eye-opening for students to see how difficult it is to really listen to what their peer is saying to them and then repeat it to someone else without changing the language to fit their own biases. As students learn to be critically aware of the way information is portrayed and how they themselves portray information, they can then get one step closer to being critically aware.

R: Relatability. Relatability is about compassion. Students may have a great deal of awareness but they also need to feel a deep sense of compassion and connectedness with the issues at hand in order to embrace social justice as a personal value and a way of living and being, and not just as an isolated classroom project. Making the content relatable to their lives and their communities helps bring about this compassion, which can lead to empowerment. Animals bring about a great deal of compassion in kids as well. Using music and voice is a great tool for helping kids express their fears, dreams and questions about issues of equity and justice and ‘feel’ each other through a compassionate lens.

T.S. Taking a Stand. One can be aware and one can have compassion but ultimately, effective, sustainable action is needed to bring about change. Taking a stand is about standing up for issues that the students have come to embrace as important, crucial and perhaps unjust. It’s about using effective communication strategies to speak about what they want to change and it’s about working collaboratively and uniting together to have a voice around the issues that matter to them. Writing letters to political leaders, using movement and drama to express critical, challenging issues and visual arts to give visibility to those who feel invisible are some ways of taking a stand.

This is a complex topic that I’m continually navigating and tweaking, but it was a privilege to be able to share some of my ideas with fellow colleagues who attended my workshop.

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#66: Let us remember…and let us learn.

CC licensed image by Flickr account, UK Ministry of Defence

CC licensed image by Flickr account, UK Ministry of Defence

Lest we Forget…and lest we not learn. On this Remembrance Day, I hope we can unite in not only reflecting on, remembering and paying homage to the incredible soldiers who fought and sacrificed their lives for justice and peace, but on the critical learning and perspective that needs to come from such life events, in order to strive for true justice, today and tomorrow.

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#65: Nominate!

image from here

image from here

I would like to humbly thank Aiyshah who blogs at Aiyshah’s English Page, for nominating me for the Liebster Award. I was pleasantly surprised and very appreciative, humbled and honoured upon receiving her nomination.

It takes a special person to nominate someone for an award. Such a person is extremely selfless in appreciating another human being, by going the extra mile to seek out a relevant award and taking the time and effort to complete the nomination requirements. They do this simply because they want to acknowledge the value of another person to this world and put a smile on someone else’s face. This remarkable demonstration of appreciation is humbling to me and while nominating someone for an award is intended to celebrate the outstanding recipient, I’d like to take a moment to also acknowledge the everyday heroes who so selflessly nominate others. Awards do have their value. In being a nominee or an award recipient, it is certainly uplifting and encouraging to be so thoughtfully recognized by others, but the best rewards are intrinsic–that is, the true fulfillment coming from a completely authentic, internal sense of motivation, not reliant on external factors–and I think this can be achieved by nominating someone else. It’s truly a win-win situation, and it’s a beautiful thing.  Continue reading

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#64: Put on your perspectacles

CC licensed image by Flickr user Christiaan Triebert

CC licensed image by Flickr user Christiaan Triebert

I’ve woven the topic of gratitude throughout this blog; the appreciation and even disbelief I often have that I am safe, happy, well-nourished and free to pursue my aspirations and goals, in my great country of Canada, while many others have very little of that. However, I too occasionally get caught up in stress-ridden traps of narrow-mindedness and neuroticism over relatively minor things, which at the time seem insurmountable. One way for me to overcome this is by putting on my ‘perspectacles’–a term that is so congruous with working towards equity and gratitude, and a term that I came upon in this well-expressed article by Glennon Doyle Melton. If you are like me and have a financially, socially, emotionally, politically and physically stable life, you are living the lottery by global standards. Putting on your perspectacles and letting go of the need (and STRESS) of having ‘more’ (whatever form that may take) can get you closer to being freer and happier, by allowing you to focus on the wonderful experiences and moments you do have with friends and family. Furthermore, it can make way for more giving in your life. I couldn’t have said it better than Glennon did in her article. 

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#63: Let learning run freely

CC licensed Flickr image by Pink Sherbet Photography

CC licensed Flickr image by Pink Sherbet Photography

As the dawn of a new school year approaches, I hereby pass on a few personal and professional reflections on the topic of #learning. These are no doubt inspired by educational leaders from my own schooling, watching and working with other amazing educators, the media (I am so grateful for this episode on TED radio hour on ‘Unstoppable Learning’, which speaks to me in so many ways), and my own experiences over the last decade as a teacher myself. Here they are: Continue reading

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#62: Don’t feed the wildlife!

pigeons

I saw this signage recently at Dana Point, California. I like how it also provides an explanation; understanding the reasons behind a requested action can help provide greater impetus for people to follow through. Kudos for good signage and promoting a useful message with some education.

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