Another uncomfortable truth

Ever since 2018 began, more articles than usual have been dedicated to Karl Marx. It shouldn’t be a wonder, since May 5th this year will be the 200th birthday celebration of the renowned mathematician/economist/philosopher/journalist. People’s opinions are divided, of course, from one extreme to another. And that’s just scratching the surface of his genius: he did not leave anybody indifferent, so even those who were against his scientifically-based analyses got themselves thinking.

Marx’s disciples are quick to defend, while his detractors are happily rubbing their palms in delight. Okay, that last one might be an exaggerated caricature… but kidding aside, his detractors must at least be smirking because evidently, the global community has not evolved into a socialist system (even though some countries are leaning  towards this tendency). Their enthusiasm is such, that they are willing to throw away a solid, logical framework explaining (and pointing out the weaknesses of) the capitalist system, just because his ‘prediction’ is not yet coming true.

Regardless of whether Marx (and Engels, and Co.) predicted or strongly wished for a global socialist system (socio-econo-politico), there was one thing that everybody’s overlooked: the fact that even before the invention of private property, human nature has always been frameworked by greed (need for survival?). This means that regardless of the prevailing system, as long as it risks falling into the hands of a human being, it will always be doomed to failure. So let us leave the socialist aspiration aside and discuss this topic with the least possible “noise”. Let us only refer to a global community. Bear with me, my point will come in 2 minutes (3, if you’re a slow reader).

Remember in history class? when our teachers would point out that in pre-historic times, everybody had a function in the community? Every member: man, woman, any child that has undergone his or her rite of passage, would contribute to everybody’s well-being. It might be as a hunter, a gatherer, a builder, a witch doctor, etc…

Do you remember when we were taught that back then, vulnerable groups such as children, old people, the sick and pregnant women were protected and prioritized during the distribution of food or resting area?

When private property was invented, people started to increasingly go berserk accumulating, using their talents and abilities for the purpose. It didn’t matter whether it be for their family’s security, or for the joy of it because it had become the standard for success. This way, the concept of “common good” started to be pushed back to satisfy individual interests, something still strongly rampant until now.

So, how can we currently aspire for a society (that doesn’t even have to be global) that protects the weak, when we are made to understand that doing so could go against our best interests?

This pursuit has crossed borders, spreading worldwide, inciting men to take ownership of lands (and other resources) not their own and making them resort to plunder, leading to oppression.

Historical events have eventually shaped the world as we know it, and have allowed for material accumulation be enough to end hunger, poverty, and guarantee education and free health for all- maybe threefolds, even. So if the global material requisite is already present, why the delay in evolving into a society concerned with the common good?

Becuase of us. People. The ones that make up a community. Competition had gotten us scared to the point of resisting wealth redistribution, and insecurity had convinced us to support leaders who will defend our current and comfortable status quo.

How can there be a global community (socialist or otherwise) when each time a revolution is won, its leaders seem to forget about the people whom they fought for?

Furthermore, it must be recognized that this material accumulation we are witnessing have been achieved at the price of great pain and injustice (slave-trading, economic protectionism, illegal occupation, etc). And no matter how far back we trace, its implications are still carried around genetically, socially and culturally by the exploited populations.

So again: how can there be a global, humanitarian community when people are hesitant to be united because there has not been/is not a sincere desire for closure for past hostilities? How can this closure be achieved in the first place, if aside from not owning any accountability, the offenders have not shown/do not show an earnest intent for restitution?

Why is this even important? for the simple reason that for a global community to function, people must be convinced to participate and commit to it, worldwide.

So if we can’t even count on people’s interest to advance the common good under “normal” conditions, within their immediate environment, how could we aim for the same after a great change such as a systemic shift on a global scale?

I guess Marx had too much faith in mankind: he really believed we would evolve to become these compassionate, critical and “learned” race, who would not tolerate inequality and social injustices. But the truth is that we are only replicating past mistakes. Worse, those mistakes haven’t really been solved in the first place, they were just well-hidden from the ever-insensitized public.

Did he consider ceteris paribus with regards to the society’s disengagement to a capitalist system? He clearly didn’t expect the rise of the numbed middle-class, lured into consumption, competition and accumulation. Numbed to the point of believing that they too, are rich and belong with the elite; sedated to being oblivious towards their surroundings, let alone their neighbor’s suffering.

In effect

Marx’s prediction is not yet coming true. But will it ever come true? Some people, in their own little ways are individually exerting an effort to break away from the current systemic order. Some countries seem to be keen to experiment with the idea of wealth redistribution as the base for progress. It just might work. Who knows?

 

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A short note on: What we criticize as adults, versus our messages to children…

… the future adults!

As a grown-up and before having a child, I used to believe that third parties shouldn’t meddle when a kid misbehaves. I was convinced that it would be unethical. I was so wrong.

As a child, I never really stopped to think about why adults would scold me. But as time passed by, I observed that: I bonded more with nice kids; adults would be more pleasant and agreeable to me; people (young and old) trusted me more… Me and my friends didn’t receive any “prizes” for obeying. The “invisible” hand of our surroundings took care of convincing us that being “good” is better than not.

As a parent, I’ve become even more sensitive to what habits my son could potentially acquire. Suffice to say that I give him positive feedback and encourage him to replicate behaviors that I consider “good” (for instance, when he puts his toys and books in their shelves); I ignore him when he does things I don’t like but can tolerate, and that wouldn’t put him in danger (such as whining) and, I reprimand him if he does something I absolutely cannot agree on (like throwing tantrums, wasting food or hurting our cat).

I started to observe adults and children more. And this is what I’ve detected:

If we don’t like liars,

If we criticize overly-dependent people,

If we get annoyed at those who don’t acknowledge their faults,

If we stay away from people constantly grumbling, and

If ungratefulness offends us…

Then why are we showing kids that lying is OK,

Or that being independent is scary,

That asking for forgiveness is unimportant (anyway, time heals wounds),

That throwing tantrums could get them what they want, and

Why don’t we say “Thank you” enough in their presence?

The fact is, it takes a community to raise a child. For parents like me, the role we have to play in a child’s development is very clearly set. But how could other grown-ups, non-parents, non-family members contribute to a child’s “upbringing”? Here are a few ideas:

Refrain from lying

Adults would tell kids they’ll “come back later”, when they won’t; or scare misbehaving children by telling them “the police would get them”; or some grown-ups simply don’t call children’s attention when caught lying.

Children are not dumb (more on that later), they’d get the untruth of a lie. And believe me: however they might react when they realize they’ve been lied to, is less important than the message that stays with them, “adults lie, so it must be ok to lie.”

Don’t lie to children. Don’t underestimate their ability to process and assimilate information.

Encourage autonomy even in the smallest acts

There are those who treat toddlers like dumb human beings… and you know what? they are not.

Sure, they can’t discuss the socio-economical effects of a capitalist China (yet), but they are very sensitive to what goes on around them, and are perfectly capable of understanding and following instructions, according to their ages.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that if and when toddlers start to show interest to do something by themselves, we, as adults, should guide them in doing so– making sure they won’t get hurt in any way. Then, congratulate them if they get it, and encourage them to try again if they don’t.

(Click here for some ideas on age-appropriate chores for children. It’s just a list of ideas, because “carrying firewood” obviously doesn’t apply to everyone.)

Ask for their forgiveness…

… and ask them what exactly displeased them. This would teach them accountability.

As I grow older, I realize I’m not meeting a lot of adults who are able to acknowledge their mistakes, and even lesser ones who could recognize having hurt somebody else’s feelings and apologize for it.

A sincere “I’m sorry” would do.

Ignore kids throwing tantrums…

… and avoid laughing or showing any sign of amusement when a kid is being scolded for throwing tantrums.

Nurture an attitude of gratefulness

I heard somewhere that gratitude is one of the most empowering human feelings, because it’s something we can control. We can choose at anytime of our lives, regardless of how we feel, to feel thankful. Thankfulness also nurtures positive thoughts, which could turn to positive words, and in turn, could translate to full-blown, positive actions. Who wouldn’t want that?

Set an example by thanking children for any small favor they do for you or for others. A simple “Thank you” will do.

– The End-

We criticize so many things in our day to day lives- an activity that leads us to wish for the opposite of what we have in front of us. Most of the time, however, it stops there. Unfortunately. I mean, life goes on: the barista hands you the tall latté, your kid starts playing with boogers, the train arrives…

But, would it be possible for us to just follow through with an action, and not stop on the “wishing” phase? We can actually pursue that train of wishful thinking with a deed, try and turn that wish into reality. Sorry if I’m being demanding. Maybe we won’t live to see it, but we would have made a difference, no matter how small (marginal, as the economists would say).

Thank you.

 

 

Hidden-nomics (5): the unlisted, immeasurable, unfathomable value of the environment

Forest_Enchanted

Image courtesy of: https://josemariasison.org

Dear Reader,

The poem I shared was written by Jose María Sison, founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines. (I think it later turned into a song) I hope you would overlook his political inclination and appreciate how beautifully and realistically he depicted the struggle of our natural environment through the forest.

The issue here goes beyond the hidden (read: unmeasured/unmeasurable/subjective) value of the environment. It’s the fact that most of people don’t even take the time to stop and wonder what natural resources mean to their existence.

Without clean air, they would be breathing toxins that would make them sick, rendering them perhaps sterile and sickly in the future.

Rising seas would eventually diminish land area, increase housing prices and affect agriculture, industry and services (imagine how the tourism sector would fare!) among others.

Wide-spread droughts would expand desertification and turn fertile soil into waste territory- useless for human, animal and plant alike.

Are more examples needed?

In Sison’s poem, the forest could have perfectly been substituted by the sea, river, plateau, mountain, meadow, ricefield, and so on. He would’ve talked about water nymphs, trolls and Bigfoot. He would’ve invoked fishermen, woodcutters and farmers as brave warriors protecting their homes against villains. He could’ve even talked about you, defending your own house from shameless vandals who would try to ransack it, empty it, and destroy it, leaving you homeless and bereaved of resources.

So why is it that some people still can’t relate?

The first time I’ve been made aware of the environmental problem was when I was 10. Since then, I haven’t stopped reading about forecasts, as well as materials about immediate and longer-term responses to the detected problems. I remembered being so impressed with what I read that I started then and there to voluntarily clean the beach near where I lived, reduce my fresh water consumption and recycle as much as I could. I would also scold people in my school whenever I saw them throwing trash on the ground. I took everything very seriously.

I remember handing stickers to my classmates and telling them about the things I learned, the dolphins and whales that are becoming endangered, the dodo bird that got extinct because of game hunters… some of my peers believed me, some just considered me a geek. Nevertheless, I know some of them took note and became more aware of their actions towards their surroundings.

23 years have passed since then, more than 2 decades since that first Greenpeace pamphlet I read explaining the locust plague. The same types of campaigns are still being carried out, but the effect is not the same. I ask myself what the problem could be (don’t you?). After all, the information was fact-based; data seemed solid and the campaigners didn’t scrimp in using alarming vocabulary.

Then it dawned to me: the constant bombardment of intense information, based on massive data has lost its effect. Perhaps in the ’70s, that kind of messaging was able to shock passersby. But in this millenia, people just look, read and go on with their lives, appearing to be desensitized.

How to reverse this? Go beyond speaking to the people individually: beat messages of empowerment and directly thank the citizens for their little daily efforts. Make them realize that when many small actions are summed with the rest of what others do, the outcomes become a great, big help to the environment! 

It is of no surprise that people feel a great weight on their shoulders, pressuring them, forcing them to save the sea turtle, the baobab or the elephants- elements that probably seem so far and unfamiliar to them. The fact is that when it comes to discussions on environmental issues, the initial reaction would be enthusiasm, then anger, followed by a common call for action. Afterwards, bewilderment will rise into their eyes when they start to hear about the tons of water they could save a day, the thousands of species disappearing each hour, or the volume of greenhouse gases they could help prevent from being emitted.

So why not, instead of asking them to DO, also thank them for what they’re currently SACRIFICING to contribute to the cause?

We should all gear towards the turning point. We should resist their despair. We should retaliate their common cry, “There’s no way we can help because a million others would be doing the opposite” with, “You’re already doing your best. Congratulations! Thank you! Keep it up! And when you feel ready to do more, go ahead and do it!”.

Let politicans do what they do best: politics. Let lobbyers influence decision-makers that their agenda is far more important than anyone else’s. Let the activists raise their voices in protest. Let the researchers continue their work on just how fast we are nearing to doomsday.

In the meantime, you, me, us, we can simply be more aware of our actions towards the environment. I’m not even talking about the Amazon rainforest or the Arctic. I’m talking about our immediate environment: how do we consume? what do we consume? what do we do with our waste? do we defend our immediate environment when harassed? do we tolerate vandalism?

It really boils down to what lives we want to lead, and what world we would like to leave behind for our children, or our neighbor’s children, if you don’t plan on having your own. The point is, we should start factoring in the environment when making decisions. Even if it just means saving on our monthly water and electric bill.

It couldn’t be too hard. Human nature has a great level of plasticity, in the sense that it is equipped to adjust according to the circumstances. We just have to will it. We just have to want it.

And as usual, dear reader, I will end this one by encouraging you:

Think about it.

 

 

Once my dreams have come true, what’s next to do?

dream-come-true

Image courtesy of: http://www.goodvibeblog.com

1. At the onset

I was once told by a psychologist that not only negative occurrences in life can cause stress. ANY change in one’s routine, habit, and even a realization that would modify a long-held belief could also be stressful. My face must have had the look of a bewildered fish because then she added, “To be clear, even positive changes can be a cause of stress. Of course, it will be of a different kind, but still stress, nonetheless”.

I’ve been turning this conversation over my head because of my everyday gratefulness for a dream coming true- getting to write for a living. Now that I’ve had time to reflect upon it, I can say that yes, when that ambition materialized, it demanded so much time and energy from me, aside from a reallocation of other resources (getting a nanny for Leo, transferring him to a better school so his needs could be better attended to, buying nicer clothes for work, etc…). And in a way, yes, it caused me some stress.

It’s not the dream come true that stressed me. THAT empowered me and simply made me want to be better. What caused the stress is the fact that I have to live through that dream: I signed a contract, I am committed to that agreement and I have to prove myself worthy of having done so (more on that later). So, in having to do all of those things, I found myself changing my habits, my routine and my way of thinking so I could adapt. THAT was the cause of stress.

However, there were proactive responses that helped me mitigate stress (and keep it under control):

  • Having taken the time to enjoy my triumph- I celebrated by eating out, skipping on household chores (even if they accumulated the next few days, haha!) and even treated people to a celebratory meal.
  • Facing the new reality- Once the initial excitement started to ebb, I laid out my plan. I started to look for a nanny, I drew up a monthly budget that I commit to, I inquired for a more suited school for Leo and our new situation. I also talked to people so I could verbally express my joy, concerns and most of all, so that the smarter friends I have could help me think things through.
  • Thankfulness- Each time I got daunted by the possibilities, or someone’s scary stories well-intentioned warnings got to me, I said a prayer from my grateful heart. It never failed to put things into perspective.

2. Living the dream

The first article I wrote that got published were actually four articles that got published almost simultaneously. I had to write them in Spanish and then translate them to English. They were life stories of four Latinamerican entrepreneurs- inspiring, invigorating and absolutely the best subject any newbie writer could ask for. I didn’t worry (that much) about the grammatical errors, I just let myself embrace the assignment and took a peek into the lives of the people I was writing about. I created my very own writer’s heaven.

When the drafts were edited, I saw the result and it looked like it was dipped in blue ink. It was so full of errors! and the most common feedback was that I use long sentences to explain something that could be expressed more briefly. It was so fun! The narrator in me felt a pang of hurt, of course, but the pragmatic in me encouragingly said, “This is journalism, not novel-writing! this is a corporate article, not a blog!” And life went on, with me knowing more and having learned many new things.

What I’m trying to say is that when I was writing, I was focused on the task, and every fiber in me had the intention of writing. And when my work was being corrected, no matter how hard it was at first, I was focused on the feedback and every fiber in me had the intention of listening to what I was being told. After that, I went on rewriting, focused on it, with every fiber in me… you get where I’m going, dear reader, right?

This is what philosophers, mothers, coaches, soulsisters or shamans mean when they say, “Live the moment”.

3. When they try to bring you down…

Some people find it hard being happy for others when the latter’s dreams come true. Some people don’t care, and others would actually try to rain down on your parade and even throw in a few lightning bolts and thunderstorms. It’s normal. It’s human nature. (I cannot for the life of me understand it, but it must have something to do with survival, as is with everything in our lives. But I haven’t discovered the link yet.)

In my case, I won’t say that somebody tried to bring me down. I honestly believe they weren’t even aware of the effect their words had on me. But I was brought down, for 10 seconds, that is. Because at the end of the day, I have the choice to be affected or not.

The mind is a very powerful muscle, and if we train it hard enough, we can block many psychological attacks that come our way. It’s not easy, just like boxing trainings or self-defense sessions aren’t easy either. We will still get hurt and it will still bruise us, but if we practice everyday, it will hurt less and the bruises won’t bother us much anymore.

I chose not to be affected. I could’ve thought that the person had a bad intention for having told me those harsh words, and it could’ve been true, too! but I chose not to care about the intention and pray for that person. That they may find peace of mind and that their dreams come true as well. I also took a very clear mental note not to trust that person anymore, if I could help it.

4. The “ideal” situation has turned into a routine

I haven’t really entered into this phase yet so everything in this part is what I think I’d do.

I suppose the first thing I would do is to acknowledge my privileged situation and be thankful once again. Then I’d try to remember and thank those who helped me get to where I am: family and friends who cheered me up, my boss who put total faith in me and who keeps on empowering me, my colleagues at work who have my back and who trust in me to keep theirs safe, and you, dear reader, for always dropping by this site and letting me share my thoughts with you.

(Seeing that you’re already here, though, I might as well say it now: THANK YOU!)

And then, I would…

  • Find that bucket list and see what things need to be ticked off it
  • Open myself up to other endeavors and opportunities for learning
  • Mentor anyone who could put up with me
  • Read and talk to people to see what others are up to– that should inspire me to aspire for something new

Personal Interview

It was a fine Monday morning when a dear colleague from Human Resources approached me quite excitedly. I honestly thought she was going to ask or share some tips about child rearing, as we are both first-time moms. Never did I imagine that she would ask me if I wanted to be interviewed for the official, internal blog of the Foundation where I work.

Clearly at this stage of my life, I have already had various interview sessions both as the interviewer and the interviewee. However, this is the first time I got interviewed with the aim of sharing the content (ergo, my thoughts) to the public! I had to pause with disbelief. I’m a very opinionated person but then I thought, “Who would want to bear with me and my craziness on purpose?” I mean, would you dare, dear reader? If you would, then without further ado, let me share with you the translated version of the said article. (For those of you who wants to read the original version in Spanish, just click the following link: Entrevistamos a Karessa Ramos, Comunicación y Relaciones Externas _ Nos-otros)

-*-

We interview Karessa Ramos, from the Communications and External Relations Department

hirap sa pandinig

Briefly tell us: how would you describe yourself?

According to me, I’m flexible. According to Filipinos, “Marunong makisama” which roughly means someone who knows how to get along well with others. Lastly, according to my family and friends, tenacious.

Imagine that you could only have one hobby. What would it be? and why would you choose it?

Cooking and baking. I love the whole process, from going to the market to buy the ingredients, to tasting the finished product (of course). I don’t know exactly why I like it. Perhaps it’s because sharing food is vital within the social life of us Filipinos.

How did you come to work at the BBVAMF (BBVA Microfinance Foundation)?

I started out as an intern, hired to work for a few months in Bancamía (the Foundation’s entity in Colombia), with the Finance Department in 2010. Luís Germán Linares was still VP for Finance at that time. (Did you know that I got an offer to work for them?) When my “apprenticeship” ended and I had to return to Spain, I consulted  whether there was any vacant posts I could vie for in the Foundation. It turned out that a vacancy just opened up at the Finance Department and that was where I started: collaborating in the elaboration of the Annual Consolidated Financial Report, with my first mentor, Ana Nogueras.

Come on… Tell us a funny moment you’ve had in the BBVAMF.

It was during one afternoon in the office and I was checking some PPT templates. I had my headphones on and was listening to ’80s songs and when Kylie Minogue’s song played, I started singing without realizing it, and my officemates started to stare. I suddenly saw some of them turn their heads down smiling, or maybe they were laughing. Later on, I understood that it was because I sounded like a cat… Well, for me it was funny, but maybe for the rest it was annoying, hehehe! (Let’s ask Victor H.)

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

The lessons I learned are my greatest achievements. And among them, I really treasure having learned to be more assertive and empathetic (although a lot of work has yet to be done). If I may add another thing: I am also very proud of the relationships I’ve established through the years. I’m surrounded by good, kind, intelligent and trustworthy people. They help me think, they laugh with me (and at me, I suppose), they cry with me, eat with me… they offer excellent company and I learn a lot from them.

What has been your happiest moment?

When I survived my son’s birth in France. There was a moment when I was actually thinking of leaving final instructions to my husband because I already accepted I wouldn’t last for very long. So when the doctors announced that they could solve my issues, I felt really happy. Most of all, that wave of happiness came when I started realizing I was going to live for at least another day!

Where would your ideal vacation be?

In my hometown, in the Philippines.

If you could learn something new, what would it be?

I’d learn how to ride a horse.

If  you could transform into another person, who would it be and why?

I would like to be transformed into my grandmother, and experience how it is being my own mom’s mother, HAHAHAHA! Seriously now, my maternal grandmother was the first enterprising woman I’ve ever met. She was strong like no other: she separated with my grandfather, taking charge of her four children with a teacher’s salary, she learned how to cook many kinds of plants so her family wouldn’t go hungry… when she retired, she improved her cooking skills and started a catering business so she wouldn’t depend on her children for her expenses. Furthermore, as a teacher, she would stay until late in the school, tutoring the students for free and she wouldn’t go home until they caught up with the lesson. I would like to be a woman like her: committed, intelligent, creative, generous and with the desire to transform her environment. The reason is because I’m seeing the legacy she left behind, the values and principles my cousins and I possess. And I also see how we are trying to pass them onto our own children.

A dream?

I wish for women’s situation to be normalized. That is to say, for us to stop feeling pressured to prove ourselves as valid as men; for us to fearlessly express our femininity whichever way we want to; that our happiness, value and aspirations not be measured with masculine metrics; that we stop judging ourselves and the competition that supposedly exists among us be converted into solidarity and cooperation.

While we’re dreaming… What would be your super power?

I would like to have the power to teleport. Is that how you say it? I like traveling a lot and that would cheapen the fare, hahaha!

Anything else you want to share about yourself?

I love eating. And you know it!

The former interviewee would like to ask you: if you could travel to the past, where and insist period would you have liked to live?

I would like to travel to the Philippines during the precolonial era.

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What do Motherhood, Women’s Issues and International Cooperation on Development have in common?

While the smarter lot of you mentally ennumerate the common denominator of these three most important aspects of my life, let me get ahead and share what’s on my mind: MEDDLERS. I’m thinking about meddlers.

1. Motherhood and meddlers

I’ve only been a mother for 20 months, and one thing I can tell you for sure is that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to the same problem suffered by babies and mothers. Despite of this fact, there are those who still insist on imposing their beliefs, recipes and answers on other people.

Generally, I’ve observed that mothers are usually open to suggestions. Yet, I can’t help but notice the initial reactions to an advice they reject: insistence, further display of proof on the recommendation’s effectiveness, openly unfair judgement and finally, criticism. Surely, one should not have to go through all these just because they decide not to follow an advice. As for the “well-meaning” purveyors of knowledge… don’t they understand the fact that each of us is molded by our particular circumstances, pasts, beliefs and aspirations? Therefore, the solutions or remedies we end up choosing are adapted to our unique situation.

I always wonder whether “wanting the best” for the mother and the baby is the real reason why some people really force their opinion on others. The way I see it, if somebody truly desires the best for the other, then there must first be comprehension: of the problem, of the context and most importantly, of the diversity. This would allow for a better flow of communication. This would facilitate the process of achieving that “best” for the person in need.

In my short experience in motherhood, I learned that happy babies (a common goal for parents) result from being well-fed, well-rested and being around happy caretakers. Equally important is the confidence with which their caretakers do their jobs: if the caretaker is relaxed, the baby is most probably also going to be relaxed. So basically for me, what would really help mothers taking care of a baby is to feel empowered, to have self-confidence and be convinced that they’re doing a good job in raising a human being. The rest can be learned from books and online fora.

I’m lucky to be living where I am, to have resources that I could tap and people who truly support me. This period of my life would be much tougher otherwise.

2. Women’s Issues: when the champions become the meddlers

Currently, I find that that the foundation of women’s rights movement from the past has been eroded in time. I’m talking about solidarity and compassion. These two characteristics are strongly present in the feminine and have fueled the fight for women’s freedom and equality (equity) with men. Lately I’ve been noticing though, that a lot of arguments supporting the advancement of women’s rights sound more of a modern-day colonization than a genuine concern for our sisters’ well-being and progress. By “wanting the best” for all of us women, the very champions for our rights and development are forgetting that even though women may have the same basic needs and rights, the manner of procuring what they need, and the way with which they exercise their rights (if ever they choose to, at all) should be delegated to them- they know better than us what it means in their own societies to advance and progress. They know better than us how they want to live their own lives.

Consider how women’s rights movements started locally, where women gathered and started the battle for a more just treatment socially, economically, and politically, to name a few. When globalization came about, it was only natural for these initiatives to be projected onto other territories, crossing the national frontiers. Even though the intention was (it still is) noble, the explanation of its necessity as well as the method of implementing it are both flawed. Flawed because I believe some activists skipped a couple of vital steps in order to practice solidarity and compassion: inquiring and then listening. One can’t help but think some simply assumed that women in Sub-Saharan Africa have the exact same concerns as the ones living in Phoenix, Arizona.

From then on, a certain type of mentality has been imposed and women who did not adhere to such beliefs were criticized and in some cases, even marginalized by those who were supposedly fighting for their sake. Ironic.

3. International Cooperation on Development: helping or meddling?

When I graduated from college, the main lesson that really stuck was: “There is not a ‘one-size-that-fits-all’ solution to the same problem experienced by two or more different groups/communities. The answer should always be adapted to the specificities of each situation. “

The goal of exerting efforts towards cooperation for international development is to redistribute resources: from those who have them to those who do not. Obviously. Easy enough to understand. Now comes the dilemma of “how” to do it.

Studies have already proven that solutions imposed by developed countries with no grassroots basis usually end up becoming a waste: of money, time, effort and natural resources. Any Developmental Economist would agree that the solutions must come from a collaborative effort between the one who’s helping and the receiving end. That’s why it’s called “cooperation”, right?

However, it has always been the donor “wanting the best”, the donor’s criteria that seemed to dominate in this field: what they believe is “just”, what they think is “effective”, and what they “know those people need”. Thankfully, times are changing and workers in international cooperation are more sensitive to this topic. More and more, the aid given to a target community takes the form of enhancing the existing, local capacities rather than imposing a foreign technique. There is still a long way to go but awareness of this issue is already a big step forward.

Conclusions

While motherhood is a relatively new event in my life, it has deepened many notions in me, and is currently opening up other aspects of my understanding that I never even thought existed. On the contrary, women and development issues have always been part of my life, having grown up in a family whose bread and butter comes from the intent to make this world a better place.

Knowing what I know, I try to believe that it is truly the sense of compassion that moves people to torturously insist on the reliability of their solutions. I try to convince myself that they simply wish to see in others the same fruitful effects of their applied techniques.

Unfortunately, no two situations are equal. So basing on this, the person receiving the advice may consider that the proposed solution doesn’t fit his situation.

In my constant need to map out methods, this idea occurred to me: within the framework of “helping”, I suggest that under the “advice” category, two sub-categories be opened in the form of advice accepted and advice rejected. Help that was given or offered doesn’t have to end in relaying an opinion and leaving it as that. A person with a real concern to help, to make a change, would see if the other would take up on his counsel or not. And in the case where it is rejected, he would try to find out why; perhaps not to annoyingly try to solve the problem, but to learn.

Advice

Learning would mean the world between the meddlers and the “legit” bearers of help. An informed person in front of another who’s in a dilemma could do more by simply listening, than one who would blindly exert an effort to achieve a change in the situation.

I encourage you to think about it.

10 Inputs for Rookie Employees (Fresh graduates, I see you!)

As I celebrate 10 years since my first employment, please allow me, dear reader to give unsolicited advice for those who, for the first time are reveling in the wonderful world that is: the workplace.

1- Just how urgent are urgent tasks?

They are pretty urgent. However, a common rookie mistake is to be stressed because their superiors would give them five tasks that are simultaneously labelled as URGENT. The more prepared interns/fresh graduates would pause and actually ask, “Okay, but which of these is the MOST urgent?”. To which the manager would respond, “All of them are equally urgent”. This is a lie. Because even if you, little grasshopper, are a wizard of all sorts and were able to finish all the tasks punctually, your manager CAN NOT POSSIBLY revise them all at the same time.

This is why I would suggest you rather ask, “Which of all these urgent tasks would you like to revise first? Could you give me a deadline for each of them?”. This means that your manager would have to sit down for 5 minutes with you and decide, say, Task 1 should be on his desk in 1 hour, Task 2 to be submitted in 2 hours, Task 3 in 2 hours and a half, etc… And if he refuses to do this, then feel at liberty to prioritize the work yourself.

Tip from my mother: If your manager DID sit down and classify the tasks with you, remember to write him an email confirming what you just talked about. This would be your safeguard against any future “misunderstandings”.

2- Gossiping is One Train You Should Not Hop On

Avoid gossip. Even if you’re only a “listener” and not a “contributor”, do not be around people who gossip. It’s a waste of time and it only brings distraction. Besides, being a “listener” is just as bad as contributing because it means tolerating trash talk about somebody who can’t give his side of the story.

If you want something cleared up, talk to the person face to face. Also, don’t criticize anyone behind their backs unless you’re 100% sure you can repeat the same words in front of them.

Most importantly: Don’t use gossip as a weapon if you’re not sure you can take the fire.

3- Doubts Will Arise

I know 40-year olds who are still not sure what they want to do with their current lives, let alone their future. So be kind to yourself and consider that as a young person starting to explore a new world, it’s only natural to feel doubtful and undecided about things.

NEVER be afraid to take a step back and evaluate your situation. If you feel the need to go back to studying, take a sabbatical, change career directions, or whatever you feel that could make you grow, go for it.

Still, it’s absolutely important that you be clear on your purpose. Ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” Is it for the money? for personal needs? for professional fulfillment? or for sheer curiosity? Afterwards, ask yourself again, “Would this change be able to sustain me until I get my bearings back?”

4- Is it Wise to Mix Personal and Professional Life by Making Friends at Work?

Personally, I think it matters little whether this is wise or otherwise (pun intended). Human beings are social animals so whether we like it or not, we will always be drawn to gatherings, socializing and eventually consolidating one “favorite” group of people from work. What is wise though, is to choose your work friends prudently.

In this light, think 50 times over whether it’s worth “hooking” up with an office mate. ‘Nuf said.

5- Honesty Really IS the Best Policy

Be as honest and frank as possible with your direct manager. Even if she isn’t totally honest with you, be transparent with them with whatever issue you have that might affect the quality of your work.

Your manager’s lack of “honesty” could be explained by the fact that some work-related subjects should remain only in the hands of the “upper crust”. I’m not talking about this kind of honesty. Any topic that relates directly to you or your work is a topic you have the right to know about. Similarly, your manager has the right to be informed about anything that could directly affect the accomplishment of the objectives she set for you.

In my case, I opened up to my former supervisor regarding my problem when I get hungry. You might think this is an exaggeration, but “cranky” is an understatement in this case because I would suffer a complete shut down of all my systems: I become a friend of none and an enemy to all, I make bad choices, I start remembering past offenses… try to get the idea of that kind of co-worker.

6- Drop the Delegation Drama

KNOW that it is your manager’s obligation to properly train you for whatever is written under your job description. He should know that whatever mistakes you (or anybody else under his supervision) make would directly reflect on his performance. So if he’s wise, he would adequately teach you everything you need to know to deliver a quality output. If he’s not, he would hoard all the tasks while you sit on the sidelines- that way, the deliverable would be quasi-perfect and he would not risk his attention being called.

One of my former managers was like this. I described the experience in this post.

As a newbie, it would be normal for some time to pass before some major decisions or operations are to be delegated to you. But don’t lose heart: it will come. And the first step towards that direction is to reflect the seal of excellence in every deliverable that bears your name.

7- The Value of Knowing Your Place

When you argue with your boss, LET YOUR OBJECTIVE BE TO BE HEARD and not to win/change his mind/make him side with you. While you’re at it, be as eloquent, as respectful and as precise as you can be when letting yourself be heard.

Trying to get into an argumentative battle with a superior will only leave you badly wounded and demoralized. Think about it: managers have had years and years of “training”, having had more experience in almost any type of arguments in this life. Sometimes, a smile is the best response. This way, you save time which you could use later on for whatever you wish for! PLUS, you save energy and keep your happiness.

8- Commitment Issues

It’s okay for you not to love your job. However, don’t make it an excuse to under perform.

It’s very important to leave a good impression in your job, especially if it’s the first one, and you achieve this by committing to produce the best results you possibly could.

Talking to a friend the other day, we both agreed that nothing is forever. But if we want something to last, there should be a conscious effort from our side to wake up each day and make a decision to get through the day, everyday. Work-wise, it’s the same.

In my opinion, problems could arise the moment your job starts to go against your values. A friend once told me she turned down an offer from a company that manufactures weapons for war. Another one told me that he had to leave his former company because ethically, he didn’t agree with its new strategy. When this happens, thoroughly weigh your options and be realistic about how you’re going to pay the bills and fund your dreams when a regular flow of income gets cut off.

9- Understand Your Contract

Back in France: each time I signed a new contract, an HR personnel was always beside me and ready to answer any questions I might have. Even if I took my sweet time to carefully read the 12-page document, they would patiently wait without interrupting me. They would explain anything, from something as simple as the personal tax deducted each month, to something more complex such as the legislation applicable to my situation.

Even more necessary is for you to understand your paycheck or pay stub. Keep track of your monthly expenses starting with the automatic deductions from your revenues. Don’t forget, you’re “adulting” now!

10- LET GO OF EXPECTATIONS

This final advice is the toughest one I’ve learned, because I’ve known it to be true for quite some time now.

I know it works for everyone who has tried it. However, I just wasn’t able to apply it in my own life. Now that I’ve started to do so, I’m much more fulfilled and happier than ever before.

The key to peace of mind is: not to expect anything. One thing is to bear in mind things like: scheduled meetings, DEADLINES, patterns of behavior and so on… but another thing is to be open-minded enough to ACCEPT THAT EVERYTHING IS SUSCEPTIBLE TO CHANGE. Remember, disappointments only exist because they were pre-determined by an expectation or two. So in this equation, the less we expect, the less we tend to be disappointed!