Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Well, Who Are They?

" كلكم لآدم وآدم من تراب "

- النبي محمد صلى الله عليه وسلم

You are all Adam's offspring, and Adam was created from clay
- Prophet Mohammed peace be upon him 
Discrimination, for any reason, is an ugly thing. We are all guilty of believing stereotypes, even creating our own in our minds. It may be true to you, through your narrow experiences, and sometimes difficult to dispute when a lot of evidence seems to support such stereotypes. It is a trap of sorts; some may hate to do it but surely we cannot deny there is some extent of truth, otherwise the correlation would not have existed.

It's difficult to justify to myself when I have fallen victim to this trap countless times. As much as I hate to generalize, I find myself doing so anyhow. For whatever reason, our brains seem to gather the entirety of experience and exposure to categorize people. Perhaps it makes understanding people better, or dealing with people easier, if you are able to classify them to some extent. So would it be wrong then? If it is not meant to pass judgement, merely a benchmark to use in your personal life, is it acceptable then or am I still discriminating?

Is it okay to use your limited life experience with a certain group to describe the entire group? To generalize on a whole group based on the actions of a few? To what extent do we allow such stereotypes to affect how we see an individual?

I'm trying to view this as realistically as I possibly can. Stereotypes - whether predetermined by environment or created on your own accord - are hard to avoid. I would like to say unavoidable because I personally cannot rid my mind of them, but I won't because I still have a sliver of hope in humanity. But I still believe that as unavoidable as it may seem, there are limits as to how far you let that allow you to unfairly pass judgement on people solely based on such stereotypes. No matter how consistently the stereotype has been proven true to you, there will always be exceptions. I do love meeting the exceptions, they are the spice of life. A gentle reminder that you have not seen or heard it all. And if you allow the stereotype to take over you will truly be missing out.

Despite mental predisposition to pass judgement on people based on stereotypes, or even worse based on nothing, no one should see it as okay to impose such views on others. If you want to say everyone is entitled to an opinion, if you want to regard this as an opinion, then fine. But in this case, keep it to yourself please. Don't spread such poisonous thoughts as if it is the word of God. Even worse still when people use the word of God to justify such poisonous thoughts! God is great, he created us all, and I am sure us hating on each other we did purely on our own without the need of divine intervention.

It makes me wonder; as much as cultural differences between people are celebrated, is it not these very differences that cause divisions among people? I personally see cultural differences as a beautiful thing, but people sometimes take their culture as a form of superiority above others, religiously so. Culture slowly becomes some form of dogma for the elite.

Who's to say what is considered superior?! Who gets to decide? Such vain notions will do you no favors. And if these are notions of those around you, they can eat your dust. Why succumb to the insecurities and intolerance of such small-minded people? Don't let it dictate your life; if you do so to please others, they will never be pleased. The sad reality is that people will always find things to criticize, things to talk about, things to misconstrue. What you do to please one group of people, will likely disappoint another. You will never win and only you will ever pay the price for it. Is it worth the sacrifice; jumping through hoops just for the approval of a group of people who are unlikely to have your best interest at heart to begin with? Think of those who actually matter, those whose happiness are directly linked to your own. Those people will want the best of you regardless of whether they agree or not, because they love and support you no matter what.

The truth of the matter is I am no better than any other schmuck, unless he eats babies or something. Everyone walking this Earth has a story that you don't know about, a story that made them who they are, who they will become. Each person's life has formed them as a person, and we must respect that. We are all different in so many ways, but I bet there are a lot more ways we are similar if we think about it. A beautiful initiative started by Brandon Stanton called "Humans of New York" shows exactly that and so much more (now sponsored by the UN on a journey of 10 countries to raise awareness for the United Nations Millennium Development Goals). As hard as it is to respect the difference in those who are very different, I try, knowing full well that I am unlikely to be paid similar respect. At least I can say I tried, and I will continue to try, until someone threatens to eat my babies.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Value of Vulnerability

Many people view vulnerability as a sign of weakness, but I see it as incredibly human. It is not possible for us to be 'strong' all hours of the day for starters. Doing so may lead to a major crash and burn. I feel we sometimes expect too much of ourselves, myself included. We're always told to 'be strong' or 'toughen up'. But there are times when shit just hits the fan and you need to allow yourself to break; the sooner you break, the sooner you can build yourself up again. Holding it back will only make it fester and grow inside into an ugly monster that will slowly, but surely, consume you.

I find a little vulnerability goes a long way, even in every day life. It makes you more accessible. I actually believe that I have landed jobs by allowing myself to be vulnerable. It comes off more genuine than a false bravado, and I'd like to believe people appreciate that. I know I do. However allow me to highlight the difference between showing vulnerability and being downright needy; I find needy people to be one of the most off-putting because they are constantly looking for someone else to fix them rather than attempting to fix themselves. It's a viscous cycle that is set up to fail because they are so dependent on others to prop them up, and no one can possibly do that constantly for someone else. And down in the dumps they go until they find another poor soul to latch on to for support.

Know and understand your limitations; accept that there are things beyond your control and more importantly, have faith. Things may be bad today but they won't be bad every day. Rather than hiding from the world in your moment of weakness, trust that people will not eat you alive for it, especially those near and dear to you. The longer you hide from the world, the deeper into the pit of despair you go until one day it is too difficult to climb out. Allow yourself to be vulnerable around those you love and love you. Reach out and let them know you need them. More importantly, do not turn them away when they sense something and reach out to you instead. They are reaching out because they care, but they will not reach out forever. If someone in need reaches out, I don't think anything would hurt more than to turn them away in whatever fashion. Which is why perhaps people tend to shy away from the whole thing out of fear that in their time of need, no one will be there for them, and that is a harsh reality to face at a time like that. I have honestly have found solace in the most unlikely places, even from honest, well-intentioned strangers who were at the right place at the right time.

I personally get upset when I try reaching out to someone I know is down with no success. I understand it may be hard, but the way I see it, if you're not ready to come out just say so, but promise you will let me know once you're ready. When I make a genuine effort with someone, this is me being vulnerable to allow you to feel comfortable doing the same. More often than not it works. But when it doesn't, it really hurts. Some say I get over-sensitive about it and I tried to understand why. I am beginning to think that showing someone you care for them is in itself a form of vulnerability. So when you extend a helping hand and you come back with a handful of shit, it's not very nice. But then again, when you successfully get a response, it is incredibly rewarding and humbling. So I put up with the odd handful of shit every once in a while knowing that it will be worth it every other time.

What I find very strange is that I see this mostly with couples. A lot of people refuse to be vulnerable towards their significant other, which I think is preposterous. However, I do understand why, and it is a sad reality. It is not easy giving another person so much power over you. They know you love them, and they supposedly love you too, you two know each other well enough to know what buttons to push, and there is a speck of fear that one of you will push those buttons. So what ends up happening is they guard themselves against each other for fear of getting hurt, which I think is incredibly sad and no way to live. 

It begs the question; if you are constantly in fear that the person you are with may hurt you with what he/she knows will destroy you, are you with the right person? Or is it something that lovers must always endure?

Is the solution to never be vulnerable around each other? Or are we doomed to experience the pain it may cause?

I, for one, have tired of trying to constantly appear strong and in control. A little vulnerability does go a long way, and I have been able to truly connect with some of the most truly interesting and genuine people because of it. It is an immensely gratifying feeling, almost addictive, and I truly feel there is real value in that kind of connection which is very much worth letting your guard down around the right people. With time, you will be able to detect who those people are in a heartbeat. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Be A Man

What does it mean to be a man?
What do I perceive as manly qualities?
I began to delve into this topic and found myself conflicted. Ideally, I know that today's idea of a 'man' is greatly deformed, but I find myself drawn to those stereotypical qualities. 
So I took some time to rid myself of these preconceived notions and start afresh. 

What do I, myself, see to be a man?

Humanity. First and foremost. On the most basic level, I don't want to sense there is a difference between man and woman. We are all human before we start to break ourselves down into groups and races and nationalities. When I see a man and sense he stands before me as a human, and views those around him as fellow humans, I can then perhaps describe him as a 'man'. 

Empathy. Being able to feel and try to understand what goes on within and beyond. There is something robotic and frightening about someone who is unable to feel for anyone other than themselves, if they feel at all. Although, not giving into feeling is promoted as a manly quality, it is this very trait that gives birth to dominating, abusive, egocentric, even violent and evil men. There is comfort being in the company of a man who allows himself to feel, and also be felt. It is not easy to be that vulnerable but it is beautiful and refreshing to see, and humbling to be able to see that side. 

Humility. Man's greatest downfall is the ego. How it manages to get so self-inflated sometimes is beyond me. There's nothing more unappealing then egocentricity. Not to say one should be insecure, that is probably slightly less unappealing than a big ego. Confidence is important. Being able to recognize your self worth and believe in your ability is crucial. But don't taint that confidence by making yourself the center of the world. The world is vast, you are but a tiny speck, but you are a speck nonetheless. 

Authenticity. Being open, honest and sincere by default. No ulterior motives. No hidden agendas or meanings. Oh how simpler the world would be if people allowed themselves to be genuine.  

Loyalty. Not to a a particular family, faction, flag or faith. Loyal to those around you, those directly involved in your life, those who deserve it. Loyalty to your values, ideals and beliefs (key word being your). Being able to consider more than just yourself, your wants and needs. 

Commitment. When you say something, you mean it. When you do something, you get it done. Being 'a man of your word'. Not to be an overachiever, but to know and understand your abilities and your limits. Know what needs to be done and what it is you can do to get there. Know when to draw the line and when to push forward. Know that giving up should not be an option unless all other options have been exhausted. 

Responsibility. Towards your fellow man. Towards your planet. Towards yourself. Towards your loved ones. Having a deep sense of duty and living up to it. You are accountable for your words and your actions so bloody act like it.

Kindness. Such an underrated quality but it goes such a long way. Be kind to those around you. Be kind to total strangers. Don't underestimate the importance of being a gentleman in the true sense of the word. Not in an effort to get laid, just for the sake of being a decent human being.

Respect. Before you demand respect, make sure you deserve it. It would be a start to respect others; their thoughts, beliefs, ideas, actions, even if they may conflict with yours. Who are you to judge? As long as they do not harm you then what reason do you have to disrespect them?

As I go over the list in my mind I realize these very attributes are universal. They are not limited to a single gender. Nor should they be. Man, woman, we should not be measured any differently. Going through this was a healthy exercise for me. Not only did I compile a list of what I look for, it is a list of qualities I aspire to embody. I imagine the list is subject to expand and/or change, but it's a start.

Oh men of the world, before you go pounding your chest and grunting, rethink what it is beyond your anatomy that truly makes you a man. And ladies, start to appreciate these qualities a little more. Get it out of your head that the bad boy will somehow be good for you. It's in the name, he will be bad for you, and this boy will be no 'man'.