Change Agent

Such a lofty goal to want to change the world. We grow up reading about it and look up to those who have somehow left an impact in this big world. Growing up, it is easy to aspire to change the world. Then, adulthood happens. In a split second, we are left to face a sobering reality that maybe it is not possible to change the world, and yet again, it remains just as a lofty goal.

Even if we persist on changing the world, the hurdles are aplenty. The limitations of our own existence, personal responsibilities and of course the emotional quotient. Changing the world requires drastic actions, being able to call out to people and mobilise a movement. In today’s digitalized world, perhaps inventing something for humanity would go a long way.

The realist in me quickly realised early on that changing the world is not for me. I was already struggling with adulthood myself. Figuring out where I fit, career directions and of course people is already exhausting enough. So, I shelved the aspiration for another lifetime.

I was wrong. Changing the world is not lofty aspiration after all! I owe this realization to some ordinary human beings who try so hard to impact humanity positively. Maybe it is difficult to rally up a movement, have a trending hashtag or change the course of history. However, showing up in our daily lives with kindness and thoughtfulness is not. Interacting with our environment with empathy is doable. The size of the footprint left behind is not important, just that there is a mark.

Of course, all those are just words. Without actions, they mean nothing. When I tried it, I realized that helping people in need was easier for me than others. My struggle was on an emotional level, like refraining from making a sarcastic remark, to genuinely wish well for someone when I myself am not doing too well, to not be envious or even to show up in a positive way. My struggles were very apparent during times of difficulties. But it took some effort to not fall off the bandwagon and to practice kindness in a conscious way. This definitely shifted my perspective!

I began to realise that these people I so admire, who are trying to make an impact, have one thing in common. They are positive, kind and are willing to open their lives. Be it in sharing something material or their experiences. They touch lives because they empathize instead of judging. They smile, lift and encourage. That’s everyday leadership. Alone it may not look much, but a single act of kindness changes a person’s life at that moment. Collectively, that changes the world!

So, how do we fit in? I think we start with kindness, empathy, love and perhaps a small dose of courage. Because it is not only vital that we demonstrate kindness within our own circle, but it is perhaps more important that we voice out in the face of injustice. Start small, save that kid from being bullied, call out someone who is racist/sexist, share your story, avoid being mean and just show up for people. That also changes the world.

 

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Brave Girls

Disclaimer: I am not a parent. This piece is written purely based on my observations and from my experience in working with young children.

We are raising our girls wrong. In many ways, parents today are focusing on their girls’ education. They are interested in ensuring that their daughters’ have employment opportunities. Girls today are being exposed to various opportunities. However, there is one virtue that we don’t emphasise when we raise girls – bravery. We demand from them perfection instead of encouraging them to be brave. Think about it, how many times are we overprotective of our girls? Be it when they are leaping from one monkey bar to another, riding a bike or engaging in any activities that look dangerous. When the girls are allowed to do it, there is obviously always an adult hovering with careful supervision. We do it to boys as well, however, the extent of scrutiny is much lesser.

Parents are likely to be okay if the boys suffers bruises when partaking in these activities because it is perceived as a toughening up process. However, when it comes to girls, parents are concerned. An injury from a fall is magnified and instantly the activity becomes unsafe. We teach boys that risks are good, and that challenges will help them grow. But, with girls on the other hand, the narration is that risks are painful and too dangerous. This happens to even the most progressive parents who tend to caution their daughters more than they would their sons. So, we groom them to be perfectionist but not brave. We instill the idea that helplessness is cute.

We see the results of this conditioning outside playgrounds. In my classes, the boys are likely to be eager to try something outside their comfort zone in comparison to the girls. Even if the new thing interests them, there is a moment of hesitation before the girls partake in it. More often than not, the boys spearhead the enthusiasm. This hardly means that girls are not bright or not as intelligent, it just means that they are likely to play it safe.

There has been research that has shown that when challenging scenarios are presented to a group of children, the girls who are brighter tend to give up while the boys tend to view it as a challenge. This conditioning has resulted in girls finding it hard to move out of their comfort zones. You see this is their demeanor where girls strive to be likable and have difficulties expressing their disagreements or discomfort.  This carried into workplaces as well where women are likely to have difficulties asking for a raise or challenging an appraisal. This boils down to an upbringing where they are not trained to be brave, to ruffle the feathers. Hence, the status quo remains regardless of how bright the female is.

This of course may not be the rule, there are many parents who are actively trying to do better in raising their daughters. But, when posed with scenarios it is important to examine our prejudice of whether we are over cautioning our daughters. It is very important to drill in the virtue of bravery and resilience at a young age before they grow up to face the pressure of being perfect in their teenage years. Every bruise and cut will help mold stronger and bad-ass girls. This virtue is so important because life does not dish out challenges only based on our gender. So, it is vital to equip girls with bravery and a sense of adventure, to steer them to take risk and live outside of their comfort zone instead of striving for perfection.

Vulnerability

When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.

                                                                                                  -Paulo Coelho-

I never quite understood the quote above, because there had been many things that I have wanted but never quite got. So, I never quite believed in luck, or that magical things would happen to me. I was a cynic who secretly enjoyed fairy tales and watched feel good shows. I now know that it was me trying to hold on to imaginary happy endings for an hour or two because I deep down believed that I won’t be lucky enough to experience unconditional love.

I was wrong, I found love. Love made me believe that I too deserve this experience. There was a spring in my steps, everything suddenly became beautiful and I felt worthy. Then one day, love decided to leave. Love left me in pieces, broken and insecure.

I struggled, trying to hold on and eventually resigned to believing that I need not get everything I want. Universe is not going to conspire for me. The cynic was back in full force, walls build high enough to ensure nothing gets in anymore. Then one day, as I was penning down my fears in a journal, I realized that my heart was too heavy. The walls were adding pounds that my little heart could not carry. I had to then decide whether to continue carrying the weights of my experience or to take down the walls. I started  to introspect and process my own emotions.

I realized I was right after all, you won’t get everything you want. You won’t get everything you want if you are not willing to risk the deepest parts of yourself. We all want to experience beautiful parts of life, such as love, empathy, kindness and joy. We wake up wanting the universe to show us that it is indeed beautiful and it is worth living. But then we are not willing risk our hearts, display our fears and insecurities in the most honest way possible. We hide behind pride, anger and nonchalance. How is the universe supposed to deliver goodness when our hearts are not truly open?

Now I know that love can’t leave, it merely shifted. Love never goes away with a person, it is not attached to a thing or even a place. It is something that remains inside, it is when we pick up the pieces of ourselves and honour the memories of our experiences. Love is when we learn to understand the other person’s situation and still believe in their goodness. Love is when you choose deliberately to see things with kindness and empathy. Love is not about what we receive, it is about what we give. We reap what we sow after all.

I have learned that when you actively give the world what you truly desire, it finds its way back in the most mysterious ways. It becomes liberating to give without expectations because you know you are living the life that you believe. Strength then is not in the height of our walls, but in our ability to believe that our spirit heals in vulnerability. It is a privilege to be able to touch lives with love and kindness. I am trying to take down the bricks, one by one, a day at a time. You should try it too.

#fatacceptance # fatally #fatlove

Whenever I scroll through Instagram/Facebook, I see women who are plus sized advocating body acceptance. These women are trailblazing in their respective fields, be it modelling, entrepreneurship, acting or fashion. They look amazing and glorious embracing their rolls, very much alike Greek goddesses. In the comment section, you either see adoration for their courage or criticisms that they are promoting an unhealthy lifestyle. I have always been conflicted about this because I relate to this on a very personal level. You see, I am FAT. Not slightly chubby or plump. Just plain FAT. I don’t ever feel like a goddess, it is a wonder if I feel human on certain days.

So, I don’t suffer from thin privilege. I have firsthand experienced taunts of strangers and people I know making fat jokes, having difficulties finding clothes that fits well and is in fashion, and endless advises from people who are extremely worried that I will never land a husband. I understand being left out and judged. So, it is safe to say that being fat had surely dented my self-confidence. I am my harshest critic because I don’t fit that small sized outfit. So, when I see all these ladies looking empowered in a body I can identify with, I find it empowering. However, I am beginning to realise that the fat acceptance movement is also turning into one that celebrates being fat. I think we need to take a pause, and understand what we mean by body positivity.

Body positivity is about being happy with yourself at any size or condition, which is not a pass to promote obesity or pretend that some of us don’t face any health risk by being overweight. It is about understanding that a fat person can be healthy and a thin person can be unhealthy and that our bodies are made differently. It is about understanding that a healthy body can come in different sizes but health is still paramount. Only with health can we enjoy what the world has to offer.

So, in my honest opinion, fat acceptance is not about resigning to being a certain size and stagnate improvement. It is about acknowledging the body we are gifted with and to ensure it is being taken care of, be it in the form of nourishment, exercise and self-care. We should not have to project that being fat is healthy or it is even a deliberate choice by many. Let’s not project an image that being unhealthy is alright. For many, panting when going up a flight of stairs is not the best life, increased risk of getting diseases is not the version of a best life, not being able to play with their kids due to lethargy is not the best life. I am aware that this can happen to thin people too, but it is important to recognise that the risk is higher when you are overweight and lead an unhealthy lifestyle.

For those who are not fat, who don’t understand the struggles, it is you who needs schooling. When you see someone who is unlike yourself and perhaps is struggling, you show empathy. You acknowledge that you do not know their journey enough to conclude whether their fatness is warranted. You leave them to their choices unless you understand their struggles because diseases, depression, food addiction could also cause obesity, not just pure laziness. So, the onus is on you to be empathetic and ensure everyone feels included in the mainstream society. A fat person should not have to demand fair inclusion in the society with some hashtags. It is granted because basic manners dictate that we do not make anyone feel small, or insignificant.

Look, being fat or thin is just an outlook. It should not define anyone’s worth as human. There is more to a person than their external shell. Their ability to love, empathize and persevere through struggles is what determines their beauty. We should view others, and ourselves through the beauty of their spirit (I am trying). Maybe then, we would become better at recognizing that people don’t need any more judgement, just a hell lot of love.

Being A Woman

I am a woman, 28 years of age. My biological make up apparently comes with a manual. There are guidelines on how to speak, how to dress, what kind of tasks that I would be naturally good at, the activities I should engage in and even to the extend of the kind of opinions I can have. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am hardly oppressed at home. I am an independent, modern woman of the 21st century who is an educator, a professional. I am free to walk about, earn a living and engage in whatever the world offers but all within a limit. Now, herein lies the problem, I am told to pursue my dreams, learn to be independent and have a mind on my own but I should not over do it because it is very unbecoming of a girl. On a personal level, I am luckier than most. I was raised by parents who are not trail blazers in ensuring gender equality, but they allowed me to grow. They never curtailed my learnings. But, I am struggling. On one end, there are conversations that women are equal to men and on the other end, women are also conditioned to ensure they don’t cross boundaries that challenges patriarchy.

I speak from personal encounters where I have been expected to exist within societal expectations and have experienced the subtle/blatant sexism. Out of countless incidences, I shall recollect a few. I have been taught to view certain tasks as responsibilities that are unique to my gender like cooking, cleaning and anything that remotely relates to homemaking. Now, this has always dumbfounded me as home is not exclusive to women. We are depriving our boys from basic life skills. Let’s assume the boys are able to do these tasks, we praise them and view them exceptions but we do not accord the same praises to women. This extends to the idea that I must be dressed a certain way to be viewed as being respectable. I remember once wearing an outfit where my bra strap was unfortunately peeking out. I had people (females who are responsible in moulding the society) who had no business coming within my personal space to adjust it for me. It is a bra strap, not a slithering snake. Attaching a sense of shame and importance to a common article of clothing is absurd. I have had men be surprised that I am able to drive a manual car, or be able to park really well.

Out of all that experiences of subtle sexism, there is one that really hurts me. It is when I am mocked when I identify myself as a feminist. I am looked upon as someone who hates men, and have zero respect towards my roots. I get labelled as an opinionated young female who has yet to experience the “realities” of life. The word feminist has such a bad connotation that I am instantly deemed as difficult. I struggle to tell my story without someone who has enjoyed the privilege of patriarchy shut me down as an angry
young female. It hurts more when fellow women fail to stand together.
It is so important, especially now, to admit that our gender colours our experiences in life. In the course of my limited years of existence, I have stood up against sexism and I have also succumbed to it to ensure I take care and maintain goodwill with people around me. But it is stifling, to be pretending that this does not affect me or million others. We as a society must now have the difficult conversation of asking ourselves, “How have I allowed gender to shape experiences of women in my life?” We know women are capable of handling greatness yet we ask them to shrink their spirit, to fit a mould that is no longer relevant. We have evolved from the stone ages a very long time ago.
I don’t ask for much, only to be viewed as equals. I am aware that there are laws allowing women to be as successful but the real change is only when the collective mind set changes. I am aware that there are physiological differences between men and women, but the world has evolved. We no longer need strength to live, we need intelligence and knowledge to thrive. Those are not gender specific qualities. Let’s not continue encouraging patriarchy, nurturing boys to have fragile ego and teaching girls to cater to that. Lastly, for those who use the culture argument, it is about time to realise that culture is about preserving people, it should serve both men and women. We make culture, it not the other way round.
Note:
To women who don’t identify as feminists, take time to understand the movement. The movement (which includes women we call grandmothers and mothers who have stood up against discrimination) have struggled, so you are able to do what you take for granted, like exercising your personal choice. There are girls in many parts of the world who have no access to education, economic independence and even their lives only because of their gender. Be part of the movement, identify yourself as feminists.
As for the men who have not thought about this, start now. You make half the world, so we need you to evolve as well. Identifying as a feminist is critical because we want to be equals. We want men to not be defined by such narrow idea of masculinity that the idea of an equal scares them. Men who believe in and practice equality are attractive and masculine.

Therapy

I am what you would call a ‘word person’, I process happiness, sadness, love, grief and every nuances of emotions using words. Growing up, most days were spent with a book or writing something in my journal. But, only last few years made me realise how therapeutic words can be. It was a period where I felt that I experienced so much pain and loss and I tend to suffer in silence. Words became my personal therapist, helping me cope and grow.

As I wept through the nights grieving, stories that I have read of love and loss kept me company. The poems I read kept me hopeful and my own love letters kept me sane. That is how I coped. There is magic when someone translates their journey into words and shares it. That is akin to sharing an intimate part of themselves, and sending it out to the world for judgement. There is courage in that, humility too. A recognition that humanity is diverse and full of various perspectives, stories of human experiences are diverse. In those stories, we find similarities and eventually a spark of hope.

I have always struggled to tell me story, I carry them within me. I have always allowed my insecurities to stop me from sharing the parts of me that are most vulnerable. But, I want to give my words a chance. For words have magic in them, they heal and give hope.