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Having Lunch in Dubai for World Peace

I have no doubt that the more time people spend together, and the more they understand each other, the less likely they are to hate or kill each other. I feel so strongly about this that I wrote a book about how truly understanding another person would make it far more difficult to kill them.

Every so often I discover a group acting on similar ideas to make the world a better place, and it fills me with joy. Yesterday I had the privilege of having lunch with members of such a group.

I’m in Dubai, the largest city of the United Arab Emirates. This modern, cosmopolitan city of over two million is a whopping 82% expats. They come from every continent, culture and religion and, in spite of their current location, they bring plenty of biases and misunderstandings with them regarding Muslims in general and the Emirates in particular.

Enter a group called “Open Door, Open Minds.” Their idea is pretty much what you would guess. Come have a meal with us. Let us show you some of how we live while you ask questions. Any questions.

This organization not only performs outreach to Dubai’s many residents born elsewhere, but they also invite tourists coming through Dubai to participate. I was lucky enough to be in a tour group that did so.

The food is plentiful, and the hosts are warm and sincere. They invite you to try on the traditional clothing worn by your gender, and they take you on a tour of an old home.

They also answer whatever awkward questions the group wants to throw at them. Ours was pretty polite, but I got the impression that not all others were.

A map in the hallway shows the many places these tourists have come from. Have there been enough of them to achieve world peace? Of course not. But  ….. it’s a start.

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2019 in empathy, travel

 

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What is that Woman with a Taser Thinking?

I had one of those worst ever travel days yesterday, with three separate you’ve got to be kidding incidents. Okay, by the end of event two I wasn’t at my best, but at least my belief in trying to put myself in the other person’s shoes got me through the first, and potentially most serious of the three.

You see, I’m not a person who likes to be told what to do. I’ve had a problem with TSA and airport security since the start of this millennium, largely because of what I considered petty enforcement of rules taking priority over common sense. (You’re going to take away my tube of mascara? Why? Oh it’s a 3.6 ounce container and 3.4 is the limit. Right.)

Yesterday I got the full body scan thing and it showed something suspicious around my chest. Turns out my shirt had sequins there. None-the-less, the lady had to feel around my boobs. Okay. Protocol also required her to check my hands for explosive-making residue. Much to my surprise, and hers, I came up positive.

“Have you been around fireworks? Fertilizer?” she asked. I hadn’t. I was taken aside, and two other women were found: one to do a considerably more thorough pat down of me and the other to make sure the first one adhered to policy.

This is the point where I normally would have started to loose it. But for some reason, I noticed the person doing the patting was as nervous as I was. This was all happening at a little airport in South Carolina, and I bet they don’t get a lot of women setting off alarms. This woman was being so careful, trying so hard to do it right. I started to see the incident through her eyes. What exactly was she supposed to do? Say “Oh you seem like a nice person, so just go ahead and get on the plane?”

You know, they don’t have the greatest job in the world. I don’t want people with bombs to get on planes either. It’s good they have some protocols in place, and good they’re trying to do things right.

I started to talk to both women a little, even joke a tad. They weren’t exactly chatty back (protocols, right) but the situation became less tense. I figured out the one woman was not only checking me for devices (of which their were none), but her gloves themselves were part of the process, as they would be checked at the end for suspicions residue, too.

The gloves were checked, and they triggered a second, more serious alarm. I was baffled, but it was clear to me the TSA people realized they had “A Situation.” All of my carry-on luggage was emptied and closely examined. All my electronic devices were wiped with cloths designed to detect … something. Once all my possessions were cleared, I was taken away to a small room with three women. My entourage was growing.

One began asking me the sort of questions I’d ask if I was trying to figure out if someone was lying. “Who are you going to visit? How long has it been since you’ve seen him?”

Then we began the serious pat down. The patter had obviously been told to explain everything before she did it. “I’m now going to run the inside of my hands down your buttocks.”

“You don’t have to tell me. Just do it.” Actually, hearing about it first was creepier than having it done.

“No, I do have to,” she said. That’s right. Protocols, partially designed to protect suspects like me. I should be glad they’re being followed.

“How about I just take off my shirt and pants,” I offered. “Seems like it would be a lot simpler.”

Three sets of eyes widened. “Oh no. Please don’t do that. That’s not the procedure.”

Right.

Luckily, this third exam was deemed to be negative, so I’ll never know what the next step in the procedure was.

They were very polite as I gathered myself back together. The whole incident took about half an hour. Had I cut it closer, I could have missed my flight because of this. No one apologized to me, but I guess they had nothing to apologize for. They were doing their job. Their job has a noble goal.

Also, no one could tell me why I’d set off a residue alarm twice. I haven’t a clue.

I do know that if my fascination with empathy hadn’t led me to try to see the incident through their eyes, it could have gone quite differently. That particular headline reads “Woman Ends Up in Federal Prison Because of Incident Caused by Sequins on Shirt.”

Of course, if they’d been belligerent or mean, all that empathy stuff on my part could have fallen by the wayside. Lucky for me, all three of them seemed to be trying to see it through my eyes too. Funny how well that works out.

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on July 18, 2019 in being better, empathy, travel

 

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Day 5. Yes Aretha. Respect.

I’m five days into this road trip, and yesterday one of my personal heroes died. Aretha Franklin was lots of people’s hero, and today the media is filled with tributes to her and snippets of her music.

I’m also into day three of a visit with my only sister. We live nearly a thousand miles apart, both of us in small towns not easily reached, We try to see each other once a year. The first couple of days are always of flurry of missing each other and getting caught up and then by day three we rediscover the many ways we are different.

We’ve gotten better at smoothing over those inevitable rough edges, I think, and it all boils down to a single word. I respect the person she is, and vice versa. She respects my beliefs even when she doesn’t share them. I respect her right to have different tastes. She respects my right to have different priorities. She gets to be her, I get to be me. And we both treat each other with — let’s spell it now — R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

It does wonders for us and I swear it would do wonders for the rest of the world too, especially in those areas where it is sorely lacking. I’m going to make it my personal Rule of the Road #5.

Thank you, Aretha Franklin, for all the music you gave us, and for all the inspiration. Tomorrow, I’m heading southwest into Nebraska, seeking song #6, and my sixth rule of the road. Tonight, I’m just going to enjoy the music.

If you’d like to read a short blurb from each day of my journey, check out
Day 1. The Journey of 6000 miles
Day 2. Rules of the Road
Day 3. Just Don’t
Day 4. Bloom Here.
Day 5. Yes Aretha. Respect.
Day 6. No Trucks. Just Corn.
Day 7. Cry
Day 8. There’s No Place Like Home
Day 9. It’s Okay to Ask a Human for Help
Day 10. Always Bring an Onion
Day 11. Gimme Three Steps Towards Nevada
Day 12. I Want to Scream.
Day 13. Dusty Virgin
Day 14: Magical ride
Day 15. As Nice as I Want to Be
Day 16. What Rules? What Road?
Day 17. If you get interrupted by a parade …
Day 18. I, Human
Day 19. A Border Crossing
Day 20. Someone to Help Me Get Home
Day 21. Time flies like an arrow and ….
Day 22. Stop, or Else …
Day 23. What’s Your Reality?
Day 24. If it seems ridiculous …
Day 25. Backing Up
Day 26. To Stop a Hurricane
Day 27. Lights Along My Path
Day 28. Grateful

 

 
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Posted by on August 18, 2018 in being better, music for peace

 

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A way to wish you joy and peace

sunriseI woke up to this sunrise today,  a reminder that every day brings us a fresh chance to embrace, improve and enjoy this wonderful gift we call life.

It’s been a tough couple of months for me, and for others who want to encourage tolerance and empathy. I’m looking for positive ways to deal with my concerns about the direction in which my country is headed, and I hope that you are too. Lucky for me, my sister, who is full of good ideas, had a suggestion for me.

With her encouragement, I reviewed, edited and sorted through the 159 posts on this blog and put the best of them into a new book called “Face Painting for World Peace.” This short (121 page) volume of essays attempts to be both humorous and thought provoking as it examines what I like to call “intra-species harmony” (aka world peace) from a wide variety of angles.

The eBook is available for FREE on Smashwords, for a short time. Soon it will be published on Amazon as well, and distributed by Barnes & Nobel, Apple and other retailers, at which point I will be required to charge ninety-nine cents. This is not intended to be a money making project; I have pledged to donate half of all proceeds to “Doctors Without Borders”.

Here is the description:

I am passionate about the cause of the world peace. From early 2012 on I have maintained a blog in which I often write about empathy and peace. I have arranged these short essays in book form, to be published for Christmas 2016. A lot has changed in the world over the past four years, but what has not changed is how I continue to cherish time with those I love, and how others do the same throughout the world. This book is my holiday card; my way of wishing hope, joy and peace to every human on earth, with no exceptions.

Please download, please enjoy, and please share with others. Meanwhile, I will try to wake up every day during this coming year, catch a glimpse of that beautiful dawn, and then seek out positive ways to add my voice to the chorus still being sung by those who believe that kindness should guide our politics, our words and our actions. I invite you to sing along, too.

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2016 in being better, empathy, peace, writing

 

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Happy International Day of Peace, Lahcen and Najet

The Airbnb site says my hosts at the Riad speak English, French and Spanish along with the local Arabic, but it only takes a few minutes for me to realize that the claim regarding English has been exaggerated. Lahcen, the helpful house manager who greets me, probably does know several hundred words of English, compared to my several dozen words of French and two of Arabic, but his ability to answer my questions is limited. Najet, the cook and custodian who assists him, speaks some French and no English at all. Soon the three of us are communicating with gestures, key phrases and facial expressions, and it’s not going as poorly as you might think.

img_3275Still jet lagged, I get a slow start the next morning and Najet is anxious to begin cleaning my room. I am sitting in the public area getting organized for my day when she gestures to her cleaning equipment and my quarters and gives me a questioning look. I nod my consent. She pauses.

“No douche?” she asks clearly and politely. I’m sure that my eyes widen before I remember that douche is the French word for shower. “No douche aujourd’hui,” I declare, thinking that sometimes even a few words in a common language can make all the difference in the world.

When I return that evening, there are lots of things that I want to ask Lahcen. Is Najet his wife? A relative? Is he from Marrakesh? Is this his full-time job? What does he think of tourists, of Americans? But every time I start talking he nods and smiles and looks confused, which is exactly what I do when I can’t understand someone.

img_3290The next day he volunteers some information. “I love Hollywood,” he tells me. “I love your movies, but I watch them in French.” He shrugs, a little embarrassed. “In English I can’t tell what they say.” And I get that I’m like one of those movies to him. He thinks that he ought to understand me but I talk fast and use idioms and shortcuts and make no sense to him at all.

“I wish my French was half as good as your English,” I reply and I mean it.  I think he understands me for once because he gives me a genuine smile back.

“I think that all of your country should learn Arabic. In school,” he adds. I’m sure my eyes widen at the idea. “And we should all learn English here. In school.” He looks at me hard for signs of comprehension. “If we could understand each other, then we would get along.”

img_3284I get where he is going with this and I have to admit that I like it a lot. I appears that my gracious host is a kindred spirit of mine, someone hoping to bridge the gap between cultures, filling it with empathy and a compassion born of recognizing our common humanity. I lack the vocabulary and the inclination to argue with him about the practicality of his plan, so I just say “I hope it happens.”

When I settle my bill, ready to move on to my next destination, I leave him and Najet a generous tip. He takes my luggage to the cab and speaks to the man in rapid Arabic. I realize that he is using part of my tip to pay my cab fare, which I also notice is a only small fraction of what the cab drivers have been charging me. I appreciate his gesture.

I remember my last encounter with people with whom I could not speak. A few months ago a couple in Portugal named Alberto and Maria helped my husband and I rescue our rental car when it became stuck on a dirt road. A few days later, when I discovered it was “International Day of Peace,” I wrote a post about them, and about how the wordless experience was so intense that Maria and I hugged each other afterwards with tears in our eyes.

img_3304I have enough cultural sensitivity to realize that a hug would be inappropriate with Lahcen, especially in such a public place. But I am equally grateful to him and Najet and I wish them both joy and peace, even if I do not know how to tell him so. I can only nod my thanks to him as we part, two souls seeking the same harmony in a fragmented world.

(For more about my trip to Morocco see  That’s Why you Make the Trip, I see ghosts , It’s an angry world in some places and My Way on my other blogs.)

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2016 in empathy, peace

 

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Do less harm

Is a course of action better if it results in less harm? Most people would say yes, at least until they are confronted with the reality of the choices made by those who struggle to improve the world without making it perfectly right.

What am I talking about here? Well, drug addiction and educating women in Afghanistan and preventing pedophiles from molesting children and female genital mutilation and pretty much everything else I’d rather not discuss or think about. It turns out that there is a lot of icky stuff in the world, and it’s hard to make it any of it go away.

Enter the British news magazine “The Economist.” It shows up every week, and recently I read about the plight of Aziz Amir, an Afghan cardiologist trying to raise funds for an all-female university in Kabul. Dr. Amir particularly wants to offer medical training to women in a world where many females will risk death rather than visit a male practitioner. He knows that some families who would never allow their daughters to attend a coeducational college might relent and allow them to attend his university. But foreigners are reluctant to support gender-segregated education.

life lessons1I agree with the foreigners. I believe that by studying and working together, young males and females learn to respect each other as human beings. But I also agree with Dr. Amir. He is trying hard to make the world better, in a way that will work. My high-minded ideals matter little in a situation in which many girls will be denied any schooling and many women will not have access to any medical care. The issue seems to me to be about whether I am going to look at this through my own eyes, or through the eyes of the girls of Afghanistan.

A few pages later I was drawn into an article about Stop it Now, a group dedicated to reducing the sexual molestation of children. This practical group runs a hotline for pedophiles, and has been criticized for being “offender friendly”. In fact, the group is trying to understand what can be done to prevent pedophiles from acting on their desires, and getting such information requires talking to potential offenders with compassion, and trying to offer them realistic ways of coping. Other similar groups face related challenges by offering confidentiality to those seeking help.

Of course I agree with those who never, ever want the identity of a child molester to be kept hidden. And yet I understand those who point out that if you take that approach, you have effectively decided not to offer assistance to those seeking ways to behave better. Do you really want to do that?

The issue here seems to me to be about whether I am even capable of looking at the world through the eyes of a potential child molester. Am I?

How about seeing the world through the eyes of parents who would insist on mutilating their own baby daughter’s genitals? I can think of few actions I personally consider more despicable, and yet I have come to learn that these parents accept this religious procedure as necessary to their daughter’s upright moral behavior in later life. Luckily, even a tiny symbolic prick with a knife often will suffice for the parents, but a modern doctor willing to perform such a ceremony is understandably condemned. Unable to find a doctor, the parents then turn to non-medical religious personnel who insist on performing a far more horrific procedure.

It seems like what I am talking about here in every case is harm reduction. So I was surprised when a quick little search showed me that the term harm reduction, according to the Harm Reduction Coalition, is actually “a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use. Harm Reduction is also a movement for social justice built on a belief in, and respect for, the rights of people who use drugs.” Those working in this field accept that “licit and illicit drug use is part of our world” and they choose to work to minimize its harmful effects.

wise and quietSo the term harm reduction is about practical ways to improve the lives of drug users? That sounds like, you know, once again looking at the problem through the eyes of the ones you are trying to help.

I’m starting to see a common theme. I can look into my own heart and try to make the world a better place. Or I can dare to experience the world through the heart of another human, one as imperfect as me, and allow myself and others to try improve their bad situation using compassion instead of my personal sense of how the world should be.

It’s that old empathy thing again. It just keeps on showing up everywhere, even in “The Economist.”

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2016 in empathy

 

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More in Common

This post is barely about recently murdered British Member of Parliament Jo Cox.

That’s because it’s kind of about how the book x0 was supposed to take place in Saudi Arabia, where my book’s hero, the oil hunting geophysicist Lola, was going to run up against all manner of things she did not understand or agree with, but as a budding telepath she was also going to learn that she had far more in common with those around her than she knew.

peace1Only the book ended up being about Nigeria instead. You see, in 2010, when I started to write it, Americans on the whole considered Nigerians scarier than Arabs. I had just taken a job with a Nigerian oil company where I often worked late in a common room and couldn’t help but overhear the phone calls of my young, male Nigerian co-workers as they called home. These “nefarious” young men spent their free time helping their younger siblings study for exams, assuring their mothers that they were eating well, and telling their girlfriends how much they missed them. I watched them struggle to overcome physical disabilities, inadequate training, and prejudice while noticing that all of that was usually overshadowed to them by their worries for those back home.

And I thought, we could not be more different demographically, and yet how is it that the same things occupy our hearts and minds? It was an eye opening revelation. So, thanks to a handful of Nigerian geologists, Lola went on to have telepathic experiences in Africa, and part way through writing her story I added this to my dedication:

to my Nigerian coworkers and friends, with thanks for reminding me every day how the ways we are all alike are so much bigger than the ways we are different

But this post is only kind of about x0.

That’s because according to The New Yorker’s beautifully done coverage of Jo Cox’s funeral, Brendan Cox spoke about how his late wife had —

“come to symbolize something much bigger in our country and in our world, something that is under threat—her belief in tolerance and respect, her support for diversity and her stand against hatred and extremism, no matter where it comes from. Across the world we’re seeing forces of division playing on people’s worst fears, rather than their best instincts, trying to divide our communities, to exploit insecurities, and emphasize not what unites us but what divides us.”

It was an eloquent tribute, made all the more fitting given that the words she used in her first speech in parliament were

“[we] have far more in common than that which divides us.”

This blog is about the fact that I never heard of Jo Cox before her murder, although I wish that I had. I’d like to write a dozen pieces about her, even though I’d stay away from the subject of Britain leaving the EU because it seems to me to be an internal decision that the people of Britain were entitled to make.

No, more than anything, this post is about Jo Cox’s core values.

And it is about how I believe with all my heart that what she said holds the secret to world peace.

others

 

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2016 in Nigeria, peace

 

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