BilQis’ Budha Thoughts

Read baidara.wordpress.com for exposure to my other thought patterns.

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Response-able

As a conflict mediator at the Institute for Mediation and Conflict Resolution in South Bronx, New York, I was subject to professional development trainings.  At one such training, the director of the conflict Mediation center, Titus Rich, gave a speech about anger management.  Mr. Titus Rich stated that anger is a natural emotion that should not be eliminated.  Anger helps us gauge our feelings, communicate with others, encourage progress, and protect the individual, among other factors.  Mr. Rich argued that the best way to manage anger is to realize that humans are response-able.  Response-able refers to the power to decide how and if one will react to external stimuli.  While the amount of time one has to make this decision is approximately one fifth of a millisecond, the choice exists.  One has the power to decide whether an event is important enough to take control of his/her being.  An effective way of harnessing this control, Titus insisted, is by prioritizing interests.  For example, does someone removing your clothes from the washing machine before you are able to remove them really affect your well-being? Does someone not saying thank you really affect your sense of self or retard your ability to express empathy to another being on another occasion?  From the perspective of an individual whose supreme interest is survival, does this act threaten your existence or ability to grow?  You may practice prioritizing your response to stimuli and regaining or strengthening your sense of power over self by using a scale numbered from 0 -5 to shift your responses.  Zero can represent completely insignificant and five can represent “village pacification.

Another way of sharpening your response to stimuli is through your pattern of perception.  Practice developing a more optimistic perspective of life and your place in the world.  How do you habitually explain bad events? Do you perceive them as being your fault or the cause of a temporary circumstance?  Does your life completely fall apart when one aspect of it unravels?  In his text, “Learned Optimism,” Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D., insists that people learn helpless and that it stems from the way the person perceives his/her problems.  If after being downsized from your job you return to your new (now, super expensive) apartment and discover that it has been robbed, don’t view yourself as being cursed with bad luck.  Instead, compartmentalize the loss of the job and material items as a temporary loss.  You may say to yourself, “Right now the country is experiencing a bad economy, so jobs are laying folks off and some people are responding to it by seeking ‘five finger discounts’.”  Then, stop connecting this incident with the bad treatment you received as a child or in your past relationship.  Limit it to the moment and recognize that something really fulfilling can and will come your way as you always attract good luck, your rivals are inept, and you are talented.  Also, it may help to put your experience in perspective by thinking of others in worse situations, like those in Haiti and Chile who have recently lost even the roof over their head due to a natural disaster.  Removing focus from yourself (your fault, your loss, your bad luck) will boost your height and allow for a better view of remaining options that you might have overlooked, before.  Becoming aware of your explanatory style and actively working to alter it, if it doesn’t serve your best interests, is a powerful tool for change, including a more fulfilling internal and external life.

You may increase your personal power by alienating experiences instead of grouping them together.  If you become extremely angry at someone for judging you, most likely it is because you coupled that one event with the many times that others have judged you in the past and the ill way in which those experiences affected your sense of self.  Going back to the laundry mat, what if instead of interpreting this person’s decision to remove your clothing from the wash as an act of disrespect (because other people have done that to you in the past and you are tired of folks thinking that they can make decisions on your behalf without consulting you first), you decide to introduce yourself to him/her, tell him/her that you are busy and value time, too, and that next time he/she finds your clothing in the machine, you welcome him/her to verbally inform you.  When we do not alienate acts and, instead, associate each with past acts, we aggrandize them; implicit in this act is transference of power from the individual to the issue.  This may explain a phenomenon of experiencing heightened anger, instead of a lower or unaffected emotional state, each time you have the same experience.

Anger is a symptom of a conglomerate of factors, some connected and some disconnected.  Within the context of this paragraph, anger is a symptom of our perception of someone else’s intentions.  One way to decrease anger intensity is to reshape the model used to interpret others’.  Instead of ruining your relationships with insulting feedback, physical or emotional violence, or the “guilt treatment,” why not decide to interpret the reactions of others through the nonviolent technique of O.F.N.R., which is becoming aware of your observations (without judgement), your feelings about that which you sense, stating your needs as it relates to your observations, and making a request that you believe will make you feel better and improve your relationship.  Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D., father of Nonviolent Communication, esposes this technique.  Rosenberg argues that understanding one’s feelings and that of others creates a space for understanding and connection with others, which increases the possibility for collaborative relationships.  Nonviolent communication serves as a source of light to help individuals recognize and verbalize thier needs. 

Conflict and anger are necessary in order for progress to occur.  Be encouraged; do not render your power to external stimuli as every problem has a solution.  Solutions and problems are interdependent; an issue only becomes a problem if there is an awareness of an alternative.  If there is no alternative, then it is almost impossible to view the experience as a problem.  Evaluate your needs and the resources available and needed to meet those needs in a non-judgmental manner.   Do your best not to confuse having a lack of attractive alternatives with a scarcity of solutions.  Sometimes, the best solution to a problem is the decision surrender to the fact that while you do not control external factors, you are response-able and armed with many tactics to harness your strength, grow relationships, meet your needs, and affect positive change. 

Sources:
Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, by Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D.
Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, by Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D.
Titus Rich, Director of the Institute of Mediation & Conflict Resolution
My personal life experiences and experience as a conflict mediator in the South Bronx

…at City Center Mall Pt. 2

City Center Mall of Iskendreyah wasn’t just a commercial center full of Western stores and style; it was a mecca of self-expression. While in the mall, people appeared to wander the halls unburdened; they freely participated in activities that allowed them to fulfill their needs and build relationships with others.  Surely, the retail stores created opportunities for intelligent, multi and unilingual citizens to earn money, contribute to the well-being society, and learn.  Carrefour employees carried themselves with poise, and were very enthusiastic to help consumers.  Men, women, and children wandered around the mall wearing hijab, tight jeans, with fully made-up faces, assisted by a cane, pushing a Maclaren baby stroller, all while smiling, joking, admiring wares, sipping coffee, and people watching.  Muslim and Arabic speaking people are not that different in the way that they interpret, express and protect their interests than people and consumers elsewhere in the world. 

Assuming that the West is dominating another culture each time that you see an aspect of Western capitalism in a country may indicate that your present thoughts are not as supportive of the abilities of the native culture as you think.  Static thoughts about the behavior of a diverse population is an attempt to freeze a constantly changing entity.  Perhaps people who inhabit areas outside of “the West” are intelligent enough to make up their own mind about what they like and dislike; perhaps they are not easily convinced to accept ideas espoused by Western nations.  When we assume that particular groups of people are forecefully influenced to accept aspects of Western culture, in essence, we rob them of their dignity as humans – the power to choose and define themselves.  The next time that we use an inflexible “the West is trying to dominate the world” lens to understand a foreign experience, let’s step back and explore how our thought may undermine who we think we are and limit those whom we aim to understand further.

…at City Center Mall Pt. 1

Today marks one week that I have been in Egypt; I traveled here from New York to learn the Arabic language.  This is my very first time learning a language that does not contain Latin letters and my very first time living in an environment dominated by Islam.  Consequently, my first week, here, has been a bit of a struggle.  I am grappling with the language and with false ideas of what it means to be a Muslim. I embrace this conflict as I will surely come out victorious if I, simply, submit to the experience and the birth of the improved version of myself at the end of my journey.  Implicit in this statement, however, is the central role of patience – a characteristic I have lacked since my physical birth, I am certain.  Since patience requires a certain level of selflessness or submission to an order above one’s own plan, and the Arabic language is full of words expressing such selflessness, then I am certain that the process of learning Arabic will aid me in being less self-centered and more submissive to a higher order, insha’ allah.   

Today I decided to visit the hyper market, Carrefour.  I felt anxious about visiting because the brand “Carrefour” brings back fresh memories of living in the Zona Norte of Rio de Janeiro, across the street from Carrefour.  I would always catch really great sales and find great items of all sorts – Deus mi livre!  En route to City Center Mall, I couldn’t wait to discover useful (to me) and unique products in the Egyptian Carrefour.  As I entered City Center Mall it shocked me to discover that there was absolutely nothing different about it from any shopping center in the U.S.A. – the mall was large; there were signs and advertisements in the English language; mainstream stores, like Zara, Bebe, Tommy Hilfiger, The Body Shop, Aldo, H&M, and a Starbucks Café.  I was shocked as I had hoped that the mall would be completely different.  I had imagined, without realizing that I had imagined it, that there wouldn’t be stores with lingerie with the word “sexy” printed across in cubic zirconium, make-up counters, stores that sold tight jeans and halter tops, shoe stores with ostentatious high heels (heels that no pious woman would dare wear).  Hedonism and capitalism rang from every corner of this place and everyone inside of the mall – from the woman wearing a burka to the teen chatting on her cell phone while clutching her violet color Hannah Montana bag – was the backup choir.  I felt disappointed.   

As I stood in H&M, pushed around by women dressed in hijab in search of the perfect blouse, I realized that I, like many others, had an unrealistic impression of life in the Middle East and Africa.  When we come across aspects of Western culture, which is largely interpreted as one based on consumption, in places where we often view natives as static beings unaffected by “the market,” we assume that the “West” is attempting to dominate the original culture.  In the mind of the skeptic, the word “nouveau colonialism” may not lag too far behind.  While investing time in this thought, allow me to suggest that one analyze so-called Western values and institutions in “static” societies from various angles before settling on a final perspective.  First, ponder over whether culture, in fact, is static or fluid.  (Be forewarned that if you insist on being stubborn and declare that it is static, then a truck load of Social Psychologists may come after you.)  If people create culture, and if, over time, not only do people change intellectually and creatively, but also their needs and interests, then perhaps Starbucks and Carrefour in what was the desert many years ago is evidence of such change.  Second, question whether your philosophy robs or allows the subjects of your thought the power to do/create/make decisions.  To suggest that the West is coming in and taking over suggests that the natives are idly standing by and not making decisions about what they want and what they do not accept.  It is possible that this Western entity is part of the native culture.  Is socializing in a coffee shop drastically different from drinking tea and eating sweets at a street side café, or in one’s front yard?  Not really.  In the 21st century more people have access to diverse means of making and spending capital, the wish to seem exclusive still exists as strongly today as it did back in the Pharaonic times.  Perhaps Carrefour and Starbucks exist in places like Egypt, now, because the consumers only now have more options and the capital to consume these products.  Perhaps it is oppressive to view people as static objects; westerners are not the only people who yearn for change and advancement. Egyptians may enjoy Chili’s restaurant or Starbucks coffee just as much as do U.S. Americans because these entities are convenient, affordable, tasty, and fit into their hectic schedule.  It is possile that these entities are not a far cry from their present culture and may have been just the thing that they had wanted but didn’t have the wherewithal to realize.

Raison D’etre

I have created this blog out of self-interest and the hope that my self-centered tendencies may spark productive conversation and change beyond my immediate being.  The content on this blog will consist of my musings and opinions all shaped by my unique background of being a foreigner in various senses and in various settings.