Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Did You Just Tell me to Relax??

Last night, in a social situation, there was a minor difference of opinion.  The very tense woman who disagreed with me told me to relax.  Like Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, I held her with my eyes and said "Don't ... ever ... tell me to relax."

Nothing makes me more tense than people telling me to relax.  What do those words really mean?

All communication is a projection of some kind.  When I communicate with you, I am projecting my identity through my thoughts, ideas, and feelings.  Even a statement that seems factual, like "The Romneys have five sons," is also a projection of my attention to the 2012 US election.

However, the worst projections are made when people project their own tension and impatience on others by telling them to "relax" or "be patient."  This is irritating for several reasons:
  1. The speaker has become tense and thinks her tension will go away if she issues the relax instruction to everyone else.
  2. As soon as the speaker gives that perhaps tenderly meant instruction, she is making a judgement, thus acting superior by implying that the speaker herself is relaxed and patient.
  3. These statements draw attention away from the instigating incident and make it about the other person's supposed tension or impatience, thus creating new conflict.
I could go on... but the next time someone tells me to relax, I'll try and smile.  Then I'll scribble down the website to this blog and entreat them to read it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

What did K'naan say?

A close reader of this blog would know that I am a K'naan fan.  His concert in fall 2010 was one of my all-time transcendent art experiences.

My daughter informed me that K'naan would be the keynote speaker at the NDP provincial convention last weekend.  She had to work, so she gave me her delegate badge and I disguised myself as her.

The conference was held in the Hamilton Convention Centre.  Close by is Sir John A. MacDonald High School.  The school's online fact sheet says that 40% of the students are born outside of Canada, and, after English, Somali is the language most spoken in the school.

How wonderful that the NDP gave Sir John A. students over 150 tickets to K'naan's keynote. Before the event, I stood at the door with many of these kids who could not contain their excitement.  The keynote was primarily a question-and-answer session.  Most of the questions were asked by young people.

Here are a few of the questions from kids in the audience - and K'naan's answers (at least the best I could scribble down at the time).

Q.  How can I get more youth like me involved in politics?

K'NAAN:  Do you want to be involved in politics?  ... The question is how do people approach their yearning for more involvement. 

In Africa, politics is life.  This question is never asked by a Somali kid because they have to be involved.  ... Remove the blinding mask that is between you and what politics means in your life.

I'm often asked, "What can we do for East Africa?  How can we help?"

[pause, a look of sad hopelessness seems to fall across his face]

It's more powerful to ask why before you ask what.  Why should you help?  Unpack those questions and you will see that humanity is humanity.  Helping people is a privilege, not a right.

Q.  Has anyone helped you get where you are in your career?

K'NAAN:  My mother would always say, 'They give you everything the moment you don't need it.'  First you have to do the work - and that inspires them to help you.

Q.  What can I do if I have difficulties in school, like not fitting in?

K'NAAN:  i would encourage you not to fit in.  Fitting in robs you of your identity and forces you to be other than you are.

Q.  How long do activist youth have to spend in the shadows?

K'NAAN:   In politics, youth can spend a long time in the shadows.  In change, youth are in the forefront.

Q.  How do you deal with stagefright?

K'NAAN:  I had stagefright all the time in high school.   If it looked like I might have to give a speech,  I'd stay home the whole week.  When I began writing songs and singing them, I decided to think of my songs as paintings I would hold up to the audience.  This helped me separate my ego from my songs.

There was much more.  Finally he sang three songs:  Take a Minute, Fatima, and Wavin' Flag.

Friday, April 6, 2012

How Do You Observe Passover?

At the Passover seder, we meet to celebrate the freeing of the Jews from slavery to the Egyptians.  We read, discuss, sing, and perform rituals as set out in the Haggadah, a book assembled by The Rabbis between 170 and 300 CE.

Near the beginning of the seder, we find the passage beginning Ha Lachma.  We point to a plate of matzah and read:

This is the bread of affliction that our forefathers ate in the land of Egypt.  All who are hungry, let them come and eat.  All who are needy, let them come and celebrate the Passover with us.  Now we are slaves; next year may we be free.  Now we are here; next year may we be in the land of Israel.

For many years, we focussed on the line, “Now we are slaves; next year may we be free.”  Each person would discuss the way he or she is still a slave, or whether they are more free this year than last.

At one point, we switched from slavery to “Now we are here; next year may we be in the land of Israel.”  Each person would consider what it means to be here now.  We asked, "Where or what is your promised land?"

At Passover, we must get rid of chametz, which is bread and other foods containing yeast.  The chametz can also symbolize anything in our personality that is puffed up or arrogant.  One year we asked,  “What is the chametz in your life?  How can you get rid of it?"  The next year we asked, "Have you got rid of last year's chametz?"  Year after year our conversations deepen as we become closer to one another.

This year, I mentioned to my mother that it might be interesting to consider "All who are hungry, let them come and eat."  I was thinking about our willingness or unwillingness to be charitable, but my mother said, "Yes!  Let's ask, 'What are you hungry for?'"

There is much to be hungry for.  Some of the guests will say, "Food!  Let's eat now!"  (We tend to go on for hours before the festive meal is served.)  Others will think about the oceans of complaints and restless longings for love, connection, and understanding.  We may talk about our hunger, but a little later we sing "Dayanu" which serves as a reminder to appreciate what we have.

I might retreat to my original interest in discussing charity.  I found this quote from 19th century rabbi, Yisrael Salanter.  He said,  "We must prioritize spiritual matters over our material desires, but other people’s material needs are our spiritual concerns."

Passover is also a time for me to remember to stop thinking about other people's flaws and develop more compassion and resourcefulness.

          "In depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."  - Albert Camus