Why I still believe in humanity

As I watch these videos about bombings and shootings that happen in one or the other side of the world, where people are crying over their killed loved ones, where everyone is in shock and despair, where children with half limbs are crying out for mercy and compassion, where parents are begging for help, I can’t help but to join them in crying and feeling angry at the same time, how can someone not? I’m feeling impotent, I am a “nobody” in this matter, sitting in the corner of my room watching how other humans, beings equal to me, are being literally destroyed into pieces, heartlessly and without remorse. I’m so angry at what I’m seeing I just want to yell at everyone to stop! and smash my computer against the wall.

But I can’t just cry and yell at my screen, and smashing my computer won’t help anyone, but I can try to be someone that adds to the cure rather than fueling the hate; we all can. I can use the very same computer I’m yelling at to channel my indignation towards contributing to the cure, to use my anger as a fuel to spread what I believe; and what I believe in is oneness and justice. Oneness means that we –as in all the creatures on this Earth – are one, our spirit is one and the same, and each of us represents one cell in the unique body of humankind. Justice to me means that each person should get what they deserve (punishment or reward) and the only way to exercise justice without falling into subjectivity is if it’s used in search for truth, and it should be moderated by compassion.

I don’t want to give up and just feel sorry for humanity like it doesn’t affect me in any way; and I can’t say that because I’m not directly involved I shouldn’t share responsibility for what our body of humankind is going through. Different people and governments are committing atrocities for different reasons, but the reasons why atrocities are committed are not what differentiates us as humans – it doesn’t matter why one kills, all killers have one thing in common and it’s that they kill, no matter who they are and where they’re from, they’re all convinced that their reasons are worthy of killing – what differentiates our quality as humans is our consciousness and subsequently our actions. And even if we are not the ones actually committing these crimes against humanity, but we are justifying our people or governments’ actions “for a greater good”, or if we are only sensitive to the sufferings of one side of the world over the other side of the world, then we are not much better than the killers; we are just the lesser evil.

This is why I say what I believe, because I don’t want to give up nor be just a lesser evil. I don’t want to stay hopeless and think that hatred is the rule, that war is inescapable, that greed and deceit are inevitable, that destruction of each other is inherent in our humanity. If I do, if I choose to believe all that, it would mean that I’m giving up my power, I would be no better than the killers and in fact I become like them by perpetuating these lies. So I believe in us, in our capacity of being better than this, of rising above this beast-like behavior we have become so accustomed to, as individuals and as world civilization.

We need to speak more about what we believe rather than just focusing on what we don’t believe anymore. Think for example about when children stop believing in Santa, when they realize that Santa is not the one bringing them gifts so they no longer need to be good, even if nobody is watching, what are we teaching them to believe instead? We teach them that they want to be good for themselves and for making others happy, and maybe that the gifts are tokens of their parents’ love. What I’m saying is that when we stop believing in something because it doesn’t comply with reality, we need to start believing in something else that does – at least to the extent that we can understand. We shouldn’t stay hopeless.

And we need to think where our beliefs come from, what is our background and context, who is telling us what to believe. For example, I cannot automatically and without thinking say that because some atrocities are happening misguidedly in the name of one religion then I don’t see the good that religion can bring to people, because the same type of atrocities are committed by others in the name of democracy, in the name of material growth, in the name of freedom. And I can’t just say that I don’t believe in anything anymore, because then what would be left of me? Hence, for example, I believe that God is that force that has neither beginning nor end that fuels our existence and that holds us together, God is gravity, is the force of attraction, is love. We each manifest the attributes of God when we feel compassion, sympathy, a drive to be fair, to listen and want to understand others, to be kind and to not break someone’s heart; it manifests when we feel moved and at peace when we contemplate nature (because God is the same spirit in us and in nature); all this is us being our true selves, the most real we can ever get.

I believe in our inherent capacity for being good. I believe we are better than this. We have to be. We are better than vicious machines, we are better than greedy beasts that extinguish everything that gets in the way of their own agendas. I say this on the individual level and collective level – because we sometimes manifest these behaviors in our personal lives, too.

We need to start by thinking how we, as individuals, carry out our lives and our relationships with others. What do we understand about our own societies? Do our love and loyalty go beyond our own families, countries or races? How do we treat strangers? Are we fair and compassionate individuals? Are we kind? Even to someone that harmed us? Are we truthful individuals? Do we want to always find and defend the truth even if it goes against our interests? These personal attitudes translate into the collective life.

In other words, the world is what we are, each of us; we are not disconnected from what it’s going through now. Everything we have learned and everything we teach to the next generation is what shapes our world civilization, what shapes our collective experience on this Earth – i.e. those in positions of power today who are committing these crimes against humanity were children educated by parents and schools once, and those who gang up together and commit similar crimes based on a misconception of a religion were thought to behave this way at some point.

We are all mainly the results of our education and our experiences, but until we don’t become conscious of those social forces that are influencing our thoughts and attitudes we are nothing but sheep blindly and dumbly following some wolf, until it turns around and eats us too – as we can see now, nobody is safe anymore. We have been played like puppets going from the hands of one greedy master to another for too long now, and in this time of mass communication we can join forces from all corners of the world, we can speak up and share our hopes for humanity; we have to for our own sake and of the next generations. We don’t need to be told what to believe anymore.

This is why I choose to still believe in the good of humanity and I ask everyone who still believes in something that is not destruction to speak out and to listen to what others believe. Otherwise disbelief and hopelessness will only fuel the destruction of the world and everything in it.

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#socialmediaisnotreallife

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True, it’s not real life. But it doesn’t mean that it has to be a lie, not if we tell the truth.

It’s not real life not only because of the obvious – it’s a virtual life – but also because it is actually impossible to portray the whole of a person’s day to day life, and thoughts and feelings, in a virtual world. But it doesn’t have to be entirely an illusion.

Essena O’Neill did a great job at waking up and realizing that she was not happy because she was not being real to herself, because she was addicted to external validation, because she was lying to herself and making us believe the lie, too (not that she forced anyone to follow her). I really congratulate her for that realization and I really hope more people open their eyes to whatever it is that they are doing that is subtly and showily making them unhappy.

Of course, what she realized is what a lot of people already know, but it’s not until it comes from an Instagram celebrity that this truth could have the potential of being assimilated by the masses. So I’m glad that she had the courage to stop and speak up, and I hope that all her 612 000 followers, and even more new people, follow her recent awakening. I hope we don’t abandon her now because if we do, it would prove that we and not just the models and the corporations, make social media an illusion, an unreal life.

Let’s not talk about social media as if it was extraterrestrial force imposed on us to brainwash us about what we like and want, and who we are. Social media is us, we give it the “social” aspect; whether we are of those who post unreal things or not, let’s not forget that we all make it social together and we make it fake when we encourage each other to be fake, when we celebrate frivolous behaviors. It’s us who follow and like and allow these illusions to exist. We all have a responsibility in that illusion, no matter what age we are, where we live and what are our dreams and fears, if we participate in social media we have the power of showing what we want to show, of choosing who we want to be in the eyes of others; therefore we are influencing it, and making it what it is. So who else is there to blame for the “isnotreallife” part, but us?

It’s up to each of us what we want social media to be. We may not have control on the masses (us regular folks) but at the end of the day we do have control over ourselves and we choose what we share and like, and whom we follow and whom we celebrate.

Being part of social media is great, it’s a privilege of our time and there is nothing wrong with it per se; we’re just choosing to show certain pieces of our lives (from our physical appearance to spiritual awakenings) in order to connect with each other on some level – of course real face to face connections are deeper – whether for sympathy and solidarity or self-validation and marketing the point is that we are connecting with each other and it’s up to us if we make those connections significant and worthy of our time. By worthy of our time I mean a time that is just as privileged with information technology as it is doomed by it, so it’s a time where we can choose the path of humanity, for the future of our civilization; how do we want to go down in history (not just individually but collectively) as social media slaves or social media bosses, where social media is a means of bringing more diverse people together and bringing out the best of each other, not our lowest.

But on the other hand, I’m afraid that her awakening and courage will misguide some people to believe that we must now condemn and judge anyone who cares about their personal look and shares it in social media. There is nothing wrong with wanting to look nice, attractive and cool (in virtual or real life), we don’t need to condemn everyone who shares a nice photo of themselves or everyone who likes looking a certain way. I believe the standard is moderation for both sides (the one posting and the one judging) and this means that what we want to be careful with is not with letting our appearance control us, not letting our image and external validation control us.

Essena confessed that she was hooked to external validation, and I can see how that can happen in a mass global social platform as Instagram. It happens partly because it’s something that is constantly active; mass social platforms are on 24-7, so you can potentially get likes on one post for hours non-stop, so the gratification is constant. If you do this everyday, especially with staged “fake” images, you will have no choice but to define yourself by cold numbers and forget who you actually are and what you actually want. Waking up from the midst of that takes real illumination so, again, I congratulate her for it.

On this note, I’m not going to judge why anyone seeks external validation or even if their intention with dressing and acting in a certain way is for validation or not. I could say that seeking external validation is due to a low self-esteem and I feel sorry for those who only post photos of their bodies but I don’t want to put everyone in the same category because we can’t presume to know other people’s reasons, we can’t assume everyone is the same and we never know where someone’s behavior stems from, we don’t know their background and context, so we need to stop assuming and judging each other.

So let’s calm down with the judgments on who is sharing too much or caring too much (or too little) and let’s focus on what we are doing and what we are contributing to, instead of judging who is not “cool” or “amazing” enough, or on the other hand, not smart or deep enough. Let’s focus on what we, as individuals, are celebrating and promoting, and let’s make sure we are not lying to ourselves with a fleeting moment of “happiness” because at the end of the day we are the only ones who truly know why we do the things that we do and what we are trying to cover up. And when we are 80 years old there will be no amount of accumulated likes that will convince us that we had a happy life when we really just spent it satisfying others’ expectations. So #letsbegamechangers.

How our tolerance can sometimes be intolerable

Ever since the explosion of sad news – and some with happy ending – about the refugees and displaced people from conflict zones happened, people from everywhere have been saying and writing all sorts of things. There is so much to think and feel about this subject that I understand how overwhelming it can be, but I think in this discussion we are forgetting certain fundamental principles; principles that allow us to call ourselves a world civilization, as opposed to just a bunch of herds coexisting (hardly) next to each other. Which is why I think it’s very important that we revise some common concepts before we continue the discussion (though there shouldn’t even be a discussion in the first place), starting with one of the most used words around this topic: tolerance.

Some of us like to think of ourselves as good people. We tolerate those who we consider different to us, those who live differently, who think differently and look differently; we accept the fact that they have the right to live on this planet, too. We are good because we have no problem accepting those who have different views of reality, as long as they don’t disrupt our lives, and if somehow we have to interact with them – say, we work with them – we tolerate them but for the sake of harmony and peace, certain topics should not be discussed and certain behaviors should not exposed; and if they are, we put up with them and we say good on us, we are tolerating their existence.

To be honest, I don’t see the merit there whatsoever. In fact, “tolerating” someone under those terms is irrelevant and condescending. First of all, we don’t need to practice tolerance towards people or ideas that have no consequence in our lives – let’s say because they are in a far land or because they’re not relevant to our environment –, that’s not tolerance, that’s just us not being able to do anything about them, or choosing to ignore them, that’s us being indifferent. Second of all, it doesn’t require practicing tolerance towards people who we consider different to us but want the same things that we do and act like we do, at least in front of us; in other words, someone “different” who is trying to mold into our society. In this case, the fact that we “let” them live and try to fit into our society – as in, we are not doing anything to stop them from having the same opportunities we were just lucky to be born with, in a land that doesn’t belong to anyone but Earth– doesn’t mean we are practicing tolerance, it means we are barely being decent human beings.

Moreover, it does not qualify as tolerance if we are just putting up with someone, or with their ideas. Putting up with a person in front of them but then mock or degrade them when they are not around is not tolerance, it’s hypocrisy. To believe that differences in races, cultures or religious beliefs are legitimate grounds for divisions in the world, and potentially discrimination, but that we must bear with these differences in order to be able to call ourselves “good people”, is not tolerance; in fact, this is intolerable. To consider someone inferior or an enemy and “tolerate” them is intolerable. If tolerance is not carried out with sincerity then it’s not tolerance. It must come from a place of sincerity and respect, because to practice tolerance means to genuinely accept – and in some cases even celebrate – ideas and ways of life from people who are different and that do not want to be like us.

Tolerance implies accepting opposite ideas; ideas that are based on principles and convictions. Since these types of ideas could potentially be changed, we are being tolerant only when we choose to not do anything to change them in someone else. Tolerance only plays a role when we can, potentially, do something about changing someone’s mind – or behavior – but we choose not to for the sake of freedom of conscience. In a deeper level, tolerance is when something is against our own interest but we accept it for the sake of someone else.

Note that expressing disagreement with something doesn’t mean one is being intolerant; in fact, this is part of holding a conversation – as long as we are sure we understand that thing we are disagreeing with – and it is ok to express a different perspective on something if what we want is to find the truth, as opposed to just prove that we are right.

Nonetheless, tolerance is just one of the first steps in our journey to achieving genuine respect and love; it’s the bare minimum we should exercise as the civilized educated people that we consider ourselves to be. We are only talking about tolerance now because, as a world civilization, we are still quite far from practicing universal love. Tolerance is a first step and not the ultimate goal because its basis is the acknowledgment that something is unequal to us, that something is incongruent with our personal understanding of reality and in order to survive in peace with others we must tolerate it; it relies on differences, it implies that something abnormal for us must be treated as tolerable – this is why we often confuse this word with bearable, they don’t mean the same and we should not use them interchangeably. Tolerance springs out of love, out of respect, out of a genuine appreciation for diversity, with openness of mind. So ultimately, we want to replace intolerance not with tolerance, but with mutual respect, forbearance and love.

We want to tolerate based on the understanding that freedom of conscience allows widening of ideas, we tolerate for the love of truth, for the love of learning, for the love of expanding and changing our minds. Tolerance comes from the fact that we accept that we cannot know it all, that we cannot grasp the whole truth. Thus tolerance is rooted in humility, from accepting our weakness to grasp the whole truth. And it is our individual moral obligation to search for truth and uphold it; but this cannot be achieved by attaching to what we already know, or think we know, while we dismiss opposed ideas. When we hold on too much to an idea we become inflexible and intolerant.

Being firm in our principles is one thing but being set in our ways in terms of paradigms and standards can actually be detrimental for our evolution as civilization. What we want is to constantly learn more, refine our thoughts and understanding of reality – visible and invisible. We don’t want to be conformed with our understanding of something at any point, understandings can be constantly improved. Our paradigms can change and they must change, they must improve, we must change our minds constantly as we learn new views. As individuals and as societies, we don’t strive because of “firm beliefs” or being short sighted; we strive for continuously expanding our knowledge. And a genuine respect and love for different people, firstly manifested through tolerance, is the key for success in that matter.

However, this brings up the question of if universal love is the purpose, does this mean we must be tolerant with the intolerant? Where does justice play a role? If we are tolerant to everyone including the dangerous behaviors then our society would be wiped out. Of course one must stand in the face of injustice, for the sake of tolerance and universal love one must not be indulgent with injustice. The purpose of tolerance, we need to remember, is unity. Being tolerant with divisive behaviors such as racism, religious discrimination and sexism is counterproductive for tolerance. We would be perpetuating an unjust society. However, it’s these behaviors what we must not tolerate, not the perpetrator. But bearing in mind that it is one thing to find offense in what others say or do, and another thing is to feel aversion for what they are. We regard some actions as despicable but not the person. We may not accept what others say or do but we accept what they are: humans that can learn, like all of us. Everyone can be educated under the standard of justice – that is, to be committed to truth as oppose to lies or misconceptions – and kindness. Let’s not forget that just like we are tolerating someone, someone else is tolerating us.

Empowering with love

I used to like the word empowerment, but now I hear or read about it so often, specially around the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit celebrated recently, that its meaning is becoming blurry, almost vanishing. In an attempt to make it regain sense and remember its influence in my life I looked up the different definitions of this word from different sources.

It’s a very common word in a variety of fields of endeavor. Depending on what field you are standing on, it will acquire a special meaning and will have different implications in practice. It has different theoretical and practical expressions in psychology and the social development field, and its effects vary from the legal world to the business world. For example, according to businessdictionary.com, empowerment is a management practice of sharing information, rewards, and power with employees so that they can take initiative and make decisions to solve problems and improve service and performance. Empowerment is based on the idea that giving employees skills, resources, authority, opportunity, motivation, as well holding them responsible and accountable for outcomes of their actions, will contribute to their competence and satisfaction.

There is plenty of information out there about its different meanings and manifestations in practice, from different fields’ perspectives, but there’s not enough information about the attitudes that it entails on the human level. The reason why I always liked this word was because I felt that it starts from a place of justice and equality, and it implied a noble human driven to help others achieve their potential. But many of the definitions I hear now make empowerment sound like a mechanical practice, an equation where one party who holds some sort of “power” shares some of it with another party that is “powerless” in order to achieve a predictable outcome – an outcome that has been decided from the beginning. In some cases, this equation – this transaction of power– is performed primarily for the benefit of the empowering party (as in the business world), and in other cases, it’s primarily for the benefit of the empowered party (as in the social development field). In any case, looking at it from different fields, we could say that the generalized definition of empowerment can be related to words such as enabling, equipping, autonomy, freedom, participation and capacity; and it can be inferred that empowerment is practiced through sharing knowledge and/or capacity (material or immaterial) from one party to another. However, the definition that I want to recover is the types of attitude in the mental and emotional aspect that are involved in true empowerment from one individual to another, regardless of the specific field.

Empowerment is not a concept that can only be expressed in a professional field. Outside our professional life, in our regular daily interactions with other people, we are also constantly given opportunities to empower someone; it could be a family member, a friend, a romantic partner, a coworker, a stranger, a crowd or a community. We also often find ourselves being empowered by someone else, sometimes without noticing it.

Both in vertical and horizontal relationships, empowerment happens when someone is helped to expand their vision, capacity, and volition in order to act effectively towards bringing their own well-being and prosperity. In other words, where the person in need is not treated as a passive object to be helped, but as an active author of his/her own happiness. It doesn’t have to be a person in desperate need of help; it could be a person that at some point in their life could use assistance in taking charge of their own growth and in improving their material or emotional situation –basically, all of us.

Empowering means to create the conditions where a person, viewed as a conscious subject of their own growth, can develop capabilities to achieve it. This implies enabling the empowered to define their own purpose in order to act upon their own needs and, throughout the process, they must be encouraged to value their own abilities and respect their own selves as much as they respect their mentor.

It is understood that generally, empowerment entails that one party participates in a learning process and is the beneficiary of the products of knowledge or material resources; but this is not enough, even if they have a say in certain decisions for themselves. Empowering is more than allowing someone to participate in something. Just participating in an existing process doesn’t necessarily mean having the capability to influence it or change it; empowerment, on the other hand, involves that capability.

Teachers can teach without empowering, parents can educate without empowering, a friend can help without empowering, an organization can provide the material and structural means for a community’s development without empowering the members, and employees can be trained, given authority and awarded without being empowered.

Developing someone’s capacity for intellectual investigation – that is, to think systematically about their situation and search for solutions, and to deal efficiently with information rather than responding unwittingly to something or somebody else’s will – is only one aspect of empowering someone. Another aspect is to allow the empowered to exercise the knowledge that is being learned, applying their individual talents. In other words, to offer the time and space for the learner to learn by doing. But these two aspects suggest that the approach of the empowering person (or entity) is one based on trust. Trust that the empowered will learn in their own way and exercise the knowledge in their own style, according to their specific talents and goals; in doing so, the empowered will be influencing and generating new knowledge, and contributing in a substantial and meaningful way to their own and general well-being. Without this trust, just passing knowledge and enforcing the outcome of their learning, the result will be nothing more than repeating and perpetuating existing systems, and ultimately can turn out in oppression rather than empowerment.

In other words, it’s not about enforcing the solutions, or kind of life, that we think is good for someone, nor about imposing knowledge as if it was the absolute truth; it’s about allowing the empowered to discover and manifest some inner powers neither party can specifically anticipate; this way, those powers will add to the general knowledge and well-being.

Empowerment is a dialogue where both parts share, learn and grow. Nobody is the holder of the absolute truth. In an employer-employee, a mentor-learner or an NGO-community bond, it’s important to differentiate the roles but also to harmonize them, this means to understand and practice the idea that both parts complement each other – without a learner there would be no mentor. Therefore, a cooperative attitude is necessary, and the empowering should manifest the same level of commitment and care to the process as much as the empowered. Equally, when it comes to empowering someone in a horizontal relationship (for instance, a romantic partner or a friend in a given situation), the attitude is not to advise and leave, nor to enforce a perspective; empowering someone means to help liberate them; it’s about encouraging self-discovery, removing obstacles that prevent them from being their true selves, such as fear because fear is the enemy of learning and growing, fear only empowers stagnation.

The misconception that empowering entails a person who is in a position of power or privilege and has the capacity and volition to share some of it with someone in a disadvantaged position, cripples any attempt to help anyone to reach their real potential and true happiness. I want to go back to when I thought this word had a deeper meaning and believed in the idea that empowering begins with a person who holds the power of love, kindness, solidarity, honesty, and wisdom, and shares these powers with whomever they have an opportunity to do so (sometimes even only through a conversation), with the purpose of bringing out the gems hidden within them. Gems that are sometimes unknown to both sides; without specific expectations or trying to dictate the outcome of the empowerment journey.

Following this understanding of empowerment, a crucial attitude that the empowering party must genuinely manifest during the entire process is sincere humbleness and detachment, as well as a developed sense of equality and justice.

We must strive for mutual empowerment in our relationships at all levels of society.

How some celebs’ feminist moves can be problematic

Little to our surprise, Beyoncé’s recent feminist move caused, once again, a great deal of polarization in women’s opinion. Like most of her feminist moves in the past, this one wasn’t free from dividing reactions either: on one side, people are glorifying her contribution to the promotion of the feminist cause and, on the other side, her behavior is being condemned as anti-feminist. Disagreeing responses come from women across diverse age groups and cultural and racial backgrounds. Stances go from she’s objectifying herself and being a bad role model, to at least she’s exposing the feminist cause to bigger audiences, and all the way to she’s a powerful free woman who’s making smart use of her voice for the benefit of us all. A similar division in opinion, although based on somewhat different stances, was caused by UFC fighter, Ronda Rousey, by saying that a woman who “tries to be pretty and be taken care of by somebody else”, is a “do-nothing bitch”.

These women’s moves in the name of feminism, whether we find them right or wrong, are not necessarily problematic, the way we respond to them is.

I enjoy learning from the diversity of people’s perspectives on feminism, whether they call themselves feminists or not, but I find this particular conversation draining, mainly because it seems divisive between individuals. Many of the opinions are shaped by individual preferences, and they are explicitly targeted to Beyoncé, or Rousey –individuals themselves. The lack of a spirit of unified purpose is concerning.

Our cause has an individual and a collective aspect so, undeniably, its promotion should be done with wisdom, which means that we must strive to ensure that our individual actions are the cause of progress for all. This implies two areas of work: on one hand, feminism is an individual effort, a personal responsibility; on the other hand, we share our efforts with others and maintain a dialogue; this way we continue educating ourselves and our societies along the way. But it doesn’t mean, at any point, that we must be concerned with monitoring and criticizing other women’s efforts, or lack of efforts, and then undervalue them as less than intelligent humans, whether celebrities or not.

Perhaps most feminists would agree that the main purpose of today’s feminism could be simply defined as the pursuit for the establishment of equality of opportunity and treatment for all humans. An equality that is not just to be manifested in the systems and structures that run our societies, but an equality that would be engraved in all our minds and that will shape our attitudes towards all humans. However, the journey to that goal is different for different people. And that is ok.

Our different understandings of the practice of feminism come, in great part, from our education and from our different experiences with discrimination. For instance, some experiences with discrimination are more intense and more frequent, so they require more immediate attention, but, naturally, when society doesn’t give them enough attention it causes more anger and indignation, which is why some expressions of feminism would come off stronger. We must understand this because policing each other’s efforts based on a lack of understanding of each other’s struggles undermines the validity of those experiences and weakens our efforts to bring about universal equality.

It’s a known thing that, unfortunately, women can be very cruel when it comes to judging other women, from looks to life and career choices –or lack of –; but we need to realize that disunity amongst us will not add to our cause, it will destroy it. We’ve had enough centuries of teaching girls to compete against each other for the attention of boys; our future girls don’t need to transform that rivalry into who practices feminism right and who doesn’t.

Feminism is not about hating men, it’s not about being condescending to women who don’t call themselves feminists, and it’s definitely not about belittling women who make choices we don’t agree with (whether she is a self-objectified woman, or a stay home mom, or a single career woman). It’s about being free to choose who we want to be while expressing love to all. It’s about celebrating freedom of choice over imposed standards, including those choices we wouldn’t personally make. It’s about wanting freedom for all individuals to develop their potentialities in the path of their choice.

Feminism also suggests that all of us have complete freedom to express our perspectives and practice our own principles in life, as loudly and firmly as we like; but we have to be conscious that directly offending another woman’s expression of feminism will destabilize our cause. The goal of our cause is bigger than our personal preferences. We don’t have to agree on how we practice feminism, it’s ok to disagree and it’s ok to express our perspective as strongly as we want, but not by putting other women down, because it reinforces our differences instead of encouraging equality. Turning away the attention from the main goal (equality of opportunity and freedom of choice) to our personal values is counterproductive for feminism; it’s self-righteous. The most productive thing to do would be to use our voice and example to share what we believe without belittling other women’s actions; in this way, we would be having a fair conversation about feminism. We must remember that we are having a conversation.

Feeling passionate about a subject is beautiful, having the ability to converse about that subject is even more beautiful, but the most magnificent thing is to direct that ability to bring us closer. So what I suggest is that when we are about to share a passionate opinion, whether about a celebrity or the girl next door, we think about how our words are bringing us closer, as one humanity. The goal of our cause is more certain than its journey, which means that together we are learning what the best way to achieve our extraordinary goal is. No single attempt will be perfect, but they will all contribute to the conversation.

It won’t be too hard to maintain a fair conversation if our purpose is equality for all. Our experiences and our struggles may be different in form and intensity, but by having widespread and inclusive conversations and caring for all through empathy, is how all our perspectives will contribute to achieve that main goal many of us share: to live in harmony. Harmony will not be achieved by imposing personal principles, or by superficially listening to each other, it will come from our unity. Conversations that are nondiscriminatory and encourage universal participation will lead to unity. It is in this sense that I ask us to think what will be more beneficial for all, criticizing each other in the name of equality, or conversing about equality with a spirit of unity?

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Insta-happiness

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The filtered happiness that dies after 40 likes

Hot vacation spots, sculptural bodies, extravagant dinners, business cocktails, diplomas, promotions, weddings, babies, and the occasional quote about gratitude and the beauty of life. Everyone seems to have their life together and on a fast escalator –or at least everyone in the cybernetic world.

Those I know in the real world, on the other hand, often express frustration, fear, dissatisfaction and anxiety. I hear a lot of people complaining about their own lives compared with their friends on social media, to the point that they don’t want to look at their Instagram or Facebook news feed anymore. Ironically, if I didn’t know some of these people in real life –i.e. if I only got their life updates through social media- I would think they also have a cotton-candy-life and have it all figured out.

On one side, many people want to share their good moments with the rest of the world through social media; it may be attention seeking, or to show off – that is: after receiving enough likes it’s like the moment didn’t even happen – or it may be that they are genuinely happy and positive people who wish to share their blessings with the world. On the other side, not many people would dare make public their unhappy thoughts and feelings. Nobody wants to share I was fired today and I’m feeling insecure, I am sick and it really scares me, the person I love doesn’t love me back… I mean please, stop depressing everyone. We don’t like saying or reading those things because we don’t like feeling them. But these feelings are very real and manifest constantly around us, if not in our own lives. Honestly, sometimes my mind is blown by the happiness gap between the world I can touch and the virtual one.

However, I’m lucky to know some wonderful people in real life who are both accomplished and generally content. There’s one thing that stands out to me about these people: the fact that they don’t tend to overexpose their personal lives but are open to share their journey when the opportunity arises. They tend to be sympathetic, simple-hearted and creative people. They seem to have developed their personal interests and abilities in pursuit of the common good, and I see excellence in their endeavors. Not the kind of excellence that comes from comparison with others less achieved, but the kind of excellence that comes from failing and trying your very best every time; the real kind of excellence. This is a very valuable characteristic; it’s pure in essence. However, many people tend to twist excellence into rivalry, which instigates egotistic attitudes and often results in abuse of power on one hand, and in envy and resentment on the other; emotions and behaviors that originate when we assess our happiness and success in relation to others’. But this seems inevitable when all we see is everyone else being happy in different aspects, without any apparent struggle.

However, it is inevitable to compare ourselves with others once we realize that doing so brings nothing but confusion and egocentric feelings. It’s okay for people to share their happy moments with the world, and they shouldn’t stop sharing their happiness and achievements, but when we’re going through our social media parades we must remember that those displays don’t depict the entire reality. You shouldn’t want to stop looking at your friends’ photos and statuses, but you may want to start looking with a discerning eye; don’t be easily fooled. And if you feel jealous or envious, stop yourself; it’s not that their accomplishments come from taking away yours. Besides, what makes you think that if others have a fulfilling life you can’t have one, too? Who says there’s a limited amount of happiness in the world? And – this one is very important– who says that what makes them happy will make you happy, too?

This is, partly, where our feeling of inadequacy comes from: by comparing ourselves to others. It’s not social media’s fault, and it’s definitely not our friends’ fault: it’s our own fault. One side of this comparison may be based on material wealth, which we often relate with capacity and success; another aspect in which we may feel inadequate is when we’re not following society’s expectations in terms of looks and status –i.e. what we should be doing after a certain age. In later posts I might expand on the repercussions of comparing ourselves with others in each of these specific aspects, but for now I’m interested in talking about individual excellence vs. excellence based on comparisons, particularly via social media.

Besides our own friends’ posts we are also exposed to a vast amount of information from the pages and people we follow. The opportunity of sharing and learning from each other all around the world is a privilege of our time. However, it’s shocking how many sadly famous characters on Instagram promote distorted perspectives of happiness based on exaggerated worship to money and to the body – to material things in general. Characters like that one guy whose average photo is him surrounded by several half naked women, jewelry, cash and luxury cars, who has millions of followers who often express their admiration towards him and how much they wished they were like him; or fitness models (male and female) who are not there to share fitness tips, and even when they do, many of their millions of followers are from the opposite sex – I wonder how many fitness tips would apply to them. What is being promoted there but a fleeting sense of validation?

This adds to the false sense of happiness that our societies have already been promoting for decades through media in general. Easy global access to social media is just enhancing that. Our societies have been promoting a transitory happiness that depends on specific milestones throughout our adult lives: once you graduate high school you must get into the best university, graduate, live alone, become well connected, get yourself a prestigious job where you can climb up the ladder quickly; and meanwhile have a lot of fun, be free, sleep with whoever you fancy, forget what people think – but always look awesome –, travel and go crazy, then calm down, marry someone good enough – that looks like you – and settle somewhere where you can continue climbing that career ladder, try saving money – if you’re lucky enough not to possess any debt –, make a few children, keep on with the ladder –especially if you’re a man, if you are a woman you may wanna calm down from here on, just continue trying to look your best–, take care of that family until your children leave and you can retire, perhaps travel a little more, babysit the grandchildren and die.

I don’t see what’s wrong with that picture, if that’s what one wants. But is that what we all want? What we all must want? If you don’t want it, is there something wrong with you? No. Simply conforming to society’s imposed ideals is a waste of our potential and leads to frustration, without us even understanding why. By following society’s expectations in these terms of success we’re ignoring our own capacities and potentials, and by doing that, not only are we missing out on developing skills and talents, but we’re also depriving the rest of the world from the benefits of a diverse set of experiences and perspectives that could contribute to the advancement of our civilization.

We all have a unique combination of capacities, interests and experiences; comparing ourselves with others is completely illogical by definition. We are all exceptional in this sense, however, by comparing ourselves with others we give up on our own excellence; we give up our individual potentialities, our principles and dreams, and along with them any possibility of lasting happiness.

We want our basic needs covered, we want to be safe, we want our loved ones close, we want to be happy in terms of these elements, but after fulfilling them, happiness looks different for different people. Happiness is a state of mind, of spirit; we can’t expect the same lifestyle to satisfy all minds and souls in humanity. We are creating a uniformity that is killing many dreams and capacities and what’s worse, this uniformity is based on a low facet of our world: materialism.

We will never be satisfied if we are constantly wishing we were doing what others are doing, whether it’s people we see on social media or in real life. This doesn’t mean that other people can’t inspire us; being inspired by the experiences and achievements of others is a very healthy thing to do, not by putting someone up on a pedestal but by allowing certain characteristics of that someone to motivate us to emulate. This implies certain level of maturity, of knowing yourself and what you want, what will cater to your capacities, interests, principles and dreams; knowing what could bring you happiness.

So, dear readers, don’t tell me you all want the same things. Get out of that mental numbness and think who you are and who you want to be, without fear and justifications, and then try comparing yourself with others –you can’t. See how many people you can compare yourself with –none. See how unique you are and how excellent you can be, and how much the world needs you to know that. Don’t deprive us from your exceptionality and don’t deprive yourself from experiencing the kind of happiness that does not require any filters and is beyond any amount of likes.

Yes, Trump, we don’t have time for total political correctness

But this doesn’t mean that we do have time to call Rosie O’Donnell a fat pig.

During the Republican primary debate last week, Megyn Kelly, moderator and regular Fox News host, called Donald Trump out on misogynistic comments he’s made in the past. His response was: “I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct. I’ve been challenged by so many people and I don’t, frankly, have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time, either.”

To prove his remarks, a day later he said on CNN that Kelly is a “lightweight” for whom he has “no respect”, and that “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever.”

I’m not interested in giving my opinion on him as a presidential candidate or even as a human being. What I’m interested in is in taking a look at political correctness in our societies and, hopefully, contributing to a fair discussion that will allow people to deliberately choose what they want to believe.

After I heard his comments, my main worry was the overwhelming cheering from the audience and later the amount of support these comments received in different media sources. I’m not going to describe the main demographic that’s supporting these kinds of comments (I’m assuming any relatively smart person can figure it out), but I am going to say this: Political correctness wasn’t created for the sake of people who aren’t minorities. The fact that you’ve been delivering casual slurs about people who are different from you, in one way or another your whole life, and that now those people are calling you out on them, doesn’t deprive you from your right of freedom of expression, it deprives you from being a total jerk; so calm down, do yourself a favor and listen to those people, because they’re giving you an opportunity to improve yourself.

Taking into consideration the influence that our words have on our own thoughts and the thoughts of those who listen to us—a seemingly innocent term may perpetrate some stereotype or reinforce marginalization—political correctness is a key ingredient for harmony.

However, sometimes we pay more attention to what is said than to where it comes from, or what its intentions are; we’re more concerned about what should be said than what our words should represent. It’s not a mere matter of creating rules to regulate our language—and consequently our thoughts—, it’s about how we feel about each other. Whether something is PC or not is an important issue, but what defines the issue is what the slur represents.

Saying that political correctness is a problem isn’t completely off. Political correctness is only one of the first stages in regulating a society that is still taking baby steps in realizing that its members are actually equal, and what’s more, that its members are pieces of one great body. We do need political correctness, today and always, but those of us who like policing it must be careful that we don’t indulge in self-victimization or make others seem as helpless victims, while at the same time making the perpetrator feel and look like a hopeless monster. We want to be aware of not falling into an extreme apologetic behavior or encouraging phony respect. In these ways language policing can sometimes turn into a tool for manipulation.

What we must strive for, now that we’re learning the challenges and benefits of political correctness, is to instill a sincere attitude of unity; an attitude than comes from a better understanding of our human nature and our human civilization. In our human nature we have more similarities than differences. Our human civilization can benefit more from unity than animosity. Once we understand these truths we realize that political correctness is not the ultimate goal, it’s only one piece in the puzzle towards that social harmony many of us believe in and desire. It’s one way in which we manifest that sincere attitude of unity.

Thinking that mere political correctness is the ultimate goal is a problem, because this way we expose it to easy manipulation; we turn it into a toy ball jumping from the hands of one angry oppressed group to another. Simply policing each others’ words is a waste of time and energy. At this stage of our social evolution what we want is to actually educate, to promote the benefits of equality and unity, so that the future generations don’t have the same struggle of regulating who says what to whom.

So you might say differently abled, under-resourced, first nation, person of color, undocumented immigrant, same-sex marriage and so on, but what will determine whether you’re a good person or not is how you actually feel about the people you’re referring to.

What we say must actually represent how we feel, and how we feel must manifest our best selves, and that means understanding and applying the principle of oneness in all of our interactions. It’s not enough to force ourselves to be respectful to one another; we want to actually transform discrimination, prejudice and stereotyping into sentiments that would manifest the principle of oneness. Sentiments such as respect, patience, solidarity, justice, compassion, love.

So, yes, being politically correct can be a problem. We don’t have time for political correctness [only]. Just regulating our words, without changing the attitudes behind them, is a waste of time. But it doesn’t mean that we do have time to disrespect people; it means that it’s time to move on to the next level: unity in action.

“Whoever gives reverence receives reverence.” Rumi

The cultural intelligence of a “gringo”

confused-tourist

I have met plenty of gringos in my life, all from different countries. Gringos who know nothing about other cultures and are not interested in learning, gringos who think their ways are the only acceptable ways, gringos who feel superior to the rest of the world but are terrified to have new cultural experiences, gringos who are easy to fool, gringos who would take toilet paper to Bolivia because they thought they wouldn’t find any there.

For those who don’t know yet, “gringo” is how people in Latin America and Spain generally refer to Caucasian or English speaking foreigners. Its origin is widely debated; one of the theories is that it derives from the word “Greek”, referring to an unintelligible language, so it refers to anyone whose original language is not Spanish, and who has trouble learning Spanish. Another theory is that Mexicans used to scream “green-go!” to US soldiers, whose uniforms were green, during the American Civil War.

Over time and across different Spanish speaking countries this term acquired different meanings and connotations. It can refer to anyone from a non-Spanish-speaking western country, to European immigrants in Latin America, to people from the US, or to any foreigner who’s not of a clearly distinct race. Sometimes it’s used in a derogatory way, as it implies certain undesirable attitudes and behaviors that I will explain later, or it can be simply used to indicate the person’s race or nationality—sometimes it can even be used as a cute nickname. As the slang that it is, the meaning varies a lot and can be determined based on the tone of voice and context.

Its derogatory use, in terms of attitude and behavior, can refer to someone who, when travelling to another country without knowing much about local culture, will act with an air of superiority, but at the same time will be afraid of pretty much everything, from the people to the food. Sometimes the good kind of gringos will feel pity for the apparent poor reality that some locals live in so, at best, they try to help in some very paternalistic ways—perhaps because they feel guilty to be born in such advantaged societies. And some other times, gringos are overexcited about everything but, actually, can’t really handle the local customs. For this reason, gringos become an easy target for all sorts of exploitations, as they can be considered weak both physically and emotionally by locals; they are also often ridiculed. Consequently, it turns into a vicious circle as their fears materialize.

It takes no genius to see the lack of cultural intelligence in someone who acts like that. Cultural intelligence is, as Professor David Livermore explains, the capability to interact effectively with different cultures, and to be able to apply wisdom to those interactions. I recommend taking a look at some of his books: http://www.culturalq.com/tmpl/resources/books.php

Personally, I don’t like making general distinctions based on race or nationality. The reason I’m describing the term gringo here is because I want to expand on the attitudes that it sometimes implies. The way I see it, gringo behavior is not something characteristic of any country or race in particular. We can all act gringo wherever we’re from and wherever we go. It’s mostly a matter of how we view ourselves and the new culture we are being exposed to. All over the world there are people who are blinded by their paradigms and their own understanding of reality, so much that they may find others’ behaviors threatening; sometimes something as simple as what people of other cultures eat or wear may be a trigger for judgment and belittlement.

For instance, many expect immigrants to mold into their culture so that they don’t disturb their reality; they want them to dress, eat, speak and think like they do. Or they expect tourists to behave in a way that wouldn’t attract too much attention (because the fact that they look different is outrageous enough). This view of the foreigner will shape our attitude when it’s our turn to travel (if we do at all), whether for tourism or to stay. Many people see foreigners as no more than strangers, disassociating themselves from the others; in fact, they even treat some of their own co-nationals as outsiders when they don’t look the same. This is because our understanding of world civilization is greatly categorized by races and social class (very co-related in many instances), or by religions and ideologies.

Another way in which we can all be gringos sometimes is by feeling pity for someone else in some other part of the world: pity for those who live in poverty, for those who live in conflict, for those who don’t have opportunities, for those who are ignorant about the world, for those who are ignorant about their own countries, for those who are brain-washed by their governments, for those who are immersed in consumerism, for those who live stressful lives without motivation, for those who live in individualistic societies and feel lonely, etc. I say: stop! Nobody needs your pity anymore. The world doesn’t need more pity (it’s a condescending, belittling and egocentric emotion; and often leads to patronizing and limited aid); what we need is sympathy (feeling compassion for someone who you consider equal to you, which may drive you to listen to their perspectives and help them create opportunities for their own wellbeing) and, more so, we need to be conscious of the oneness of humankind so that we can view our differences as opportunities to become more well-rounded individuals and, as a result, a richer world civilization.

Our understanding of our world can be so segregationist that we create distance from each other. Our eyes are so misguided by superficial differences that we attribute those differences to our human essence. Our minds are so numbed by the stereotypes we have learned that we miss out on learning new perspectives. We end up missing out on so much that it’s actually sad; it’s especially sad coming from people who brag about how many places they’ve visited but consider foreigners as just exotic or unfortunate people in need, at best; those people may have traveled wide, but not deep.

The more consciously we engage with local cultures, the more we will be able to defy ethnocentrism, to be less gringos, because even if you are a good person and you aren’t racist, when you’re faced with new cultures you will realize how much of your sympathy is bound only to your own environment.

Sometimes we forget that the diversity of cultures in our world is one of the major facts that makes our world rich and worth saving. Different cultures represent different views of reality, our cultures shape our behaviors and principles, so the more we familiarize ourselves with different cultures the richer our minds will be, the greater our knowledge and therefore the greater our opportunities; and also, it will make it easier for us to navigate our diverse and increasingly globalized world. On the other hand, by learning about other cultures and other perspectives, we are able to understand what forces mold our own cultures and values, which will allow us to free ourselves from imposed roles and reassess how we feel about certain things. Finally, when we open our minds we see that all humans have more in common than we have differences. Humans everywhere are concerned with covering basic needs, with caring for those who we consider family, with being happy. So let’s not confuse personal attitudes with culture, let’s not assume that one person’s behavior defines a whole culture or nation -like thinking that a whole population is violent based on the behavior of a few, or thinking that a whole nation is arrogant, or ignorant, based on the behavior of a few gringos. This is being culturally dumb.

Of course we don’t need to know everything about all cultures to be culturally intelligent, but we could try learning about what happens in other cultures in the subjects we are personally interested in –art, food, fashion, politics, economy, etc. Besides, cultural intelligence is deeper than just knowing facts about other cultures: it means that we try exposing ourselves to different ways of being (other cultures, other religions, other political views, etc.), that we try to be open-minded in our interactions and that we are wisely respectful in them, with a genuine interest in learning something new. It also suggests that in our interactions with someone different we don’t assume things; we try thinking about the reasons behind their perspectives in life. So my suggestion is that we all make some effort in developing our cultural intelligence, even if we don’t travel, just for the sake of becoming more interesting and improved people, so we can deal better with our diverse societies and promote harmony.

“The difference in adornment of color and capacity of reflection among the flowers gives the garden its beauty and charm… Even though each soul has its own individual perfume and color, all are reflecting the same light, all contributing fragrance to the same breeze which blows through the garden, all continuing to grow in complete harmony and accord.” – Bahá’í teachings

qino y emma

For a short and humorous explanation of cultural intelligence, click here

Women are not complicated. Men are basic

“Who can understand women?” – With a defeated tone of voice and sometimes with disdain, says almost every guy I know. I hear it in daily conversations, in television and it’s all over the internet; sometimes said directly, but many times alluded to in subtle ways. Well, the answer to that question is simple: women.

Women are seen as complicated because most people (including them sometimes) don’t understand the complexity of their psyche. Our poor understanding of the female psyche, in my opinion, lies on two main aspects. One has to do with the complexity of her body, and the other has to do with the imposed gender roles. Due to these two aspects, women are seen as complicated, hysterical, emotional; to the point that many women have become convinced of this too.

Taking into consideration that our general knowledge of psychology, anthropology and sociology are male-centered: that is, examined from a male point of view of a male subject of study; and that there aren’t as many female specialized researches, we naturally don’t have much choice but to believe that women are no less than complicated. I say if the world was female-centered, it would be more common to hear that men are just basic.

Thankfully now, compared to just half a century ago, there is a lot more interest and many more studies about the female body and psyche from the perspective of females. One book I really enjoyed is Women Who Run with the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estés; I strongly recommend this book to women but also to those men who think women are ungraspable beings.  In her book, she intertwines the female spirit, energy, and psyche, as the Wild Woman, that true female nature we have beneath our masks (gender roles) assigned by society throughout the years. This Wild Woman archetype is strongly characterized by originality, freedom as well as instinct, and this instinct is intensely protective, creative, ingenious, loyal and constantly moving. Her psyche is, without any doubt, complex. It responds organically to the complexity of her body and of her surroundings.

As we all know, the female body is very complex; we cannot expect a body capable of carrying human life within itself to be simple. However, many of us females underestimate the complexity of our bodies, which is one of the reasons why we sometimes get frustrated for not understanding exactly why we feel the way you we do; that’s when we blame our “hormones” (without necessarily understanding what that means), the moon, the waves, or whatever our culture tells us that has an effect on our bodies and minds. Sometimes we feel crazy for no reason so we try to suppress it.

On top of that, we must comply with all the expectations of our societies, expectations associated to gender roles that are sometimes unrealistic and many times unfair, such as: maintaining a certain type of body, staying forever young (I really don’t get this one, why is it frowned upon that I, a living being, age?), focusing from a young age primarily on the poetic and romantic aspects of life despite our natural interest for the exact sciences, not expressing too much of our minds and bodies yet always smiling (when women are told “put a smile on your face”, “why so serious?” by a stranger in the street when just walking and minding her own business).

A woman that doesn’t understand her true nature, complexity, and is forced to comply with unnatural requirements, will certainly not be able to express her true self, especially not in a way that would be graspable for men. As a result, some women prefer to hide their feelings, thoughts and desires because they don’t want to be seen as too weak or emotional, which is looked down upon, and sometimes choose to adopt manly attitudes, at the risk of being called names such as b*tch or sl*t, due to society’s double standards. To explain this differently, think of the gender stereotypes we are often exposed to. When you imagine a girly girl what adjectives come to mind?

I have always considered myself a girls’ girl, as female as it gets, I can understand women well. However, I never enjoyed shopping, I never asked my girls to accompany me to the public bathrooms, I do not cry during romantic movies, I didn’t dream about my wedding day as a little girl, as a child I liked sports and outdoor activities, as a teenager my favorite movies where action movies, I do not expect a guy to pay for my things, I do not like heart-shaped chocolates, I do not believe in Valentine’s Day, and I do not believe in flowers as gifts (they should stay in the ground where they belong; give me a potted plant instead). These preferences don’t make you more or less of a female/male; whether you enjoy these things or not is a matter of personal preference. Humans should be able to have these preferences without being subjected to labels (girls being called tomboys and boys being called sissies). The female psyche is a lot deeper than superficial preferences.

So please, let’s not attempt to describe womanhood on the base of women who have been molded and adapted to gender roles. We must define womanhood on the base of a woman liberated from those gender roles, a woman true to her authentic nature. When we remove gender roles we find a woman who responds to the complexity of her body, to her cognition and to her transcendental self (spirituality). What mainly defines the female psyche is that these three aspects often overlap and are expressed simultaneously (integrated consciousness) which gives rise to intuition; for this reason, female views of reality can often be less compartmentalized, more holistic.

I believe males are definitely equally integrated beings, but throughout history, they have convinced themselves that their physical capacities and their evolving survival capabilities (which in modern times translate into dollar earnings) are the only things that define their worth; they conformed to a less evolved version of who they actually are. Many of them are expressing only one aspect of their psyche rather than all three and only awareness of all three will allow them to live more holistically. So when I say that some men are too basic I mean they choose to think, feel and act too basic. The word is basic, not simple, because the way I see it “simple” implies humbleness, detachment from egotistic desires, whereas “basic” implies a strong attachment to our most primitive selves (bodily desires). Basic men act as if they had little more than just an animal body. I think male humans, in their essence, are as capable of self-control as female humans, their minds and souls are also connected to their bodies and therefore they are equally complicated. However, many times they choose to ignore this and go with their basic instincts. And this choice has become so engraved in their behavior that it is misinterpreted as the main manifestation of their nature, to the point that it’s common to believe that there is nothing they can do about it.

You see, I am very much attracted to the male body, but my integrated consciousness (the one described above) allows me to focus on other things besides tall-muscular-dark-hairy men (my favorite kind). Thanks to my capacity of seeing further than my animal instinct, I don’t need to think about them 24/7. As integrated humans, we don’t need to act on our impulses all the time not because we’re afraid to get hurt, or because it’s “immoral” in the traditional sense, or because it’s frowned upon or illegal in some forms, but because our rational minds and souls can understand that that is not what we really want at a certain moment. If you think this makes me complicated then consider yourself basic to me.

The misunderstanding that human nature, as studied by men, is primarily controlled by basic instincts has been the cause of many unfortunate behaviors, such as oppression of one group over another, unhealthy competition, abuse of natural resources, harmful expressions of sexuality, violence, uncontrollable materialism, repression of inner feelings, dichotomizing between mind and heart, dismissing transcendental reality, and a large number of more misconceptions of humanity that resulted in millions of frustrated men (and women) today.

So my suggestion is that in the face of complicated feelings, or people, first of all, be grateful that your consciousness is not basic, and then trust that there is a real reason for that complication; it is primarily because one is not being true to what the integrated consciousness really wants, one is not honoring our inherent complexity. Once we realize what our holistic self wants, we become simpler. In other words, I think all humans are complex, and how integrated each individual chooses to think and act is what will make them less basic, and moreover become simple which paradoxically requires complexity and integrated consciousness.

‘The man who has begun to live more seriously within begins to live more simply without’ – Ernest Hemingway.

basic vs integrated

Responsible freedom of expression

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Many societies have established this right as a law, and in general, they recognize freedom of expression as a human right that needs to be guaranteed in order to call a society free and democratic.

Some of us are lucky to be born in one of those societies, where this human right is guaranteed, to a certain extent at least; and, despite the inherent ethical limitations this law has, such as hate speech or children’s pornography, it has become acceptable to express almost whatever is in our minds and hearts, under the claim that it is our born right to express what we want.

I believe it is without a doubt a right that everyone in the world should be able to enjoy from the moment they are born; but unfortunately, we still live in a time where this is not the norm in many places, be it because of political views, religious beliefs, gender, social class, race, or another classification established by man in regards to freedom privileges.  It is a shame that our so called world ‘civilization’ is still struggling with this principle even in its very basic form.  It may not be the case of our countries but the presence of this issue elsewhere does affect our world civilization and so it makes all of us accountable for this problem.

However, in those places where this right is already an established norm, where many platforms are offered to us to publicly express what we please, and we are free to say what we want to whoever we want, I feel that it’s being used irresponsibly.  Indeed this norm contains some limitations, but in general practice, this right seems to have many blurry lines. It seems like this freedom has become a free pass to mock and offend each other while priding ourselves for exercising this ability. We gave this freedom an individualistic twist, responding to our egocentric desires. We turned it into a tool for oppression defeating its original purpose.  And the result: it’s adding more disunity amongst people.  In other words, now that enjoying freedom of expression is not an issue for some of us, the issue is what we express. So my main suggestion in the following paragraphs is that we consider that the practice of our personal freedoms must go in harmony with the wellbeing of the whole, and for that, each of us must attempt to express our best selves.

I one aspect, being really free to express who we truly are implies trying to be free from judgment, as judgment is a reflection of our insecurities, our ego, and is not of our conscious selves.  When we see or hear something we don’t agree with from someone else, we should view this as an opportunity to teach and learn, not self-righteously, but understanding that each of our views is a result of what we have been exposed to through family, culture, friends, experiences, through inner search and awakening, something we once heard, etc.; and that maybe there’s a greater understanding that we can reach together. I once heard “freedom of expression implies tolerating bigotry”, I think that doesn’t express the whole purpose of this freedom, I think that even though everyone should have the right to express their thoughts, this freedom also implies that it is our right to express our disagreement with them, but our attitude and purpose of expressing our disagreement is what will matter. We can’t go around life just complaining and pointing out at what we don’t agree from each other, that’s not doing anyone any good. And sometimes, if others don’t agree with us, the healthy thing is to let go; it doesn’t qualify as universal freedom anymore if we’re trying to impose our views.

One of the implications of freedom of expression is to tolerate ideas that are different from ours; however, in my opinion, there should be more than to just tolerate one another, the purpose should be to connect and learn from one another, to share knowledge so that we can create more knowledge.  Being only tolerant sometimes suggests a conceited attitude and a self-righteous approach; meaning, we are so conformed with our ways that we feel we are being open minded enough by putting up with people who are different from us, whether we interact with them or not.  We get so comfortable in that thinking that we don’t allow ourselves to explore and see what positive things we could gain from our differences.  So I believe tolerance needs to go by the hand of genuine respect and, even better, by respectful curiosity and openness of mind and heart. And this is where freedom of expression plays an important role, as it is the tool we use to approach others and share thoughts.

This also applies to our freedom to express our perceptions about the traditions of other cultures. I believe in comedy and good sense of humor, using our differences for laughter is fine, but I think it’s irresponsible to use comedy as a way of demeaning others and inciting others to do so as well, like we are world bullies. Our expressions should show that we enjoy our differences and in general they should bring out positive qualities, rather than judging people, stigmatizing them, stereotyping them, ridiculing them and ending up perpetrating more prejudice and hate. We end up adding to society’s categorization tendency, a tendency that is divisive in nature, instead of contributing to unity.

On the other hand, if we say something we should expect people to criticize it, and at the same time we shouldn’t take offense so easily by what others express. Also, I don’t think we should expect to find some spokesperson of our opinion (confirmation from others), nor should we fear that some self-appointed expert will correct us.  However, even though in many places we have the legal right to hate and to voice it -which is fine, I believe no one should regulate our thoughts- we should regulate our own thoughts and expressions; there must be a certain level of self-imposed censorship, censorship of what is unfair judging or prejudice, because if freedom of expression is really a freedom, we need to make sure it’s safe.

On some deeper level, I believe that our attitude towards ourselves and our own society has a lot to do with what we express, if we are humble to recognize our strengths and our weaknesses, and those of our society, we will be humble in assisting others to improve too, we will be educating with our expressions like we were educated; if we don’t see our own flaws or are too indulgent with ourselves, we might act self-righteous or hypocritical.  Hypocrisy is a very easy flaw to overlook in ourselves.

Regardless of different societies’ interpretation of the limitations of this freedom, which is too complex to get into in this post, my main point here is that we are entitled to our thoughts and feelings, but what makes us civilized responsible humans beings is that we try to orient those thoughts and feelings towards love and unity, those that will shed more light and awareness on our physical, intellectual or spiritual reality; this is the main standard we need.  Now that we have achieved this right in the free world, we need to honor it. How else can we call ourselves civilized, if we can’t even exercise such basic principle with respect and consideration of our fellow humans?

So what I suggest is this: that we remember that as much as it is our right to express, it is also our duty to be responsible with this right, meaning to be conscious of not causing harm with it. More so, we should make it our responsibility to ensure that our expressions contribute to the betterment of our society and even of our world civilization.