What Makes a Man Conference 2014

Toronto, ON- White Ribbon is a worldwide organization that enables men and boys to join the fight for sex and gender equality by becoming allies and has been around since the 1991. Recently, they invited a whole host of speakers to Toronto, to the What Makes a Man 2014 campaign. Along with MC’s Jeff Perera and Britta Binoculars, they had speakers on feminist issues, photographers, and, the man of the hour, Terry Crews giving a rather candid interview to Nam of the CBC. He was promoting his book on manhood called Manhood: How to Be a Better Man–Or Just Live With One. I only arrived there on Day 2 of the conference–wish I could have seen Day 1–but what an amazing experience it all was.

The Twitter hashtag #WMAM2014 served for me and the majority of the people there as the main social media blogging feed. So I will take you through some of my twitter posts of the night.

Women in STEM Panel Discussion
Women in STEM Panel Discussion — correction: Lindsay Kirkham: @HisFeministMama

Ramona Pringle, Saadia Muzaffer, Lindsay Kirkham, and Natalie Zina Walschots began the day (at least, at the time I got there), with a vibrant discussion on men’s roles in Women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). One of the topics discussed, which even I wasn’t aware of was Shirtgate, where one of the scientists responsible for the success of the Rosetta mission was wearing a rather inappropriate shirt for a press conference. The impact of this shirt, as explained by the panelists, was that it told women that they are a caricature and a joke, and that they do not belong in STEM.

Sid Naidu, who I didn’t even realize was sitting next to me initially, then presented his Heart and Hustle series of photographs.

Following Sid, came another panel discussion on male sports culture, concussions, and showing weakness:

They also presented the trailer to The Dark Room, which is an upcoming film on concussion injuries in sports. One of the former athletes candidly admitted that he thought about suicide during the worst of his concussion recovery due to the pain, disorientation and loneliness of being cooped up in bed, recovering for a period of many months. He also stated that what saved him was calling his then girlfriend, now wife, and confiding in her. And subsequently, the following points were made:

Then, MC Jeff Perera asked us the question:

Presenting us with a picture of Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run in the Boston Marathon in 1967, despite some men trying to sabotage her while others ran by, watching, others ignoring, and a few, stepping in to stop the jerks from attacking her, Perera posed us the simple question of who we are in that picture? Are we the person getting victimized? Are we the people who act as bystanders? Are we the aggressors?

He went on, to ask us, whether we are, ourselves, a nurturing safe space in which others feel comfort.

Britta B then came out with a powerful spoken word session on Domestic Violence:

And the following line shook me to the core as her shaking, booming voice said it, about the importance of speaking out against violence against women:

Then came Hamza Khan–whom I connected with later on during the break–who chatted about how our teenagers have warped ideas of success, mostly thanks to media consumption sans media literacy. He spoke about how he used to be a huge 50-Cent fan, until he read his book, in which he compared fortune to a woman you must beat into submission.

My own personal reaction to his presentation, speaking from experience, was:

And media literacy is one of the main pillars of my pedagogy.

Elliott Bayev, is a martial arts athlete, and currently trains women in self defense. His program is called FLAG, or Fight Like A Girl. He spoke about overcoming the ridiculous notion of the Reptilian, selfish, dominating, egotistical Alpha Male, and promoting the balanced, society-oriented, giving Mammalian Alpha Male, or the Higher Alpha:

Then, a graduate student from Ryerson, Tara Farahani, came out to discuss how that which is perceived to be masculine, in society, can be harmful, even dangerous. To Tara, as someone from a “traditional” household:

…meaning that, men have the privilege to choose what they wish to do, whereas women were meant to control their desires.

Probably one of the most intriguing portions of the evening–though the competition for this title is pretty damn tough–was Attiya Khan‘s upcoming film A Better Man, where she has a sit-down discussion with an abusive ex-boyfriend of hers, who agreed to the project, and, from the trailer, seems genuinely committed to changing his ways. The film requires funding, so please help out: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/a-better-man.

A Better Man, a film by Attiya Khan
A Better Man, a film about Attiya Khan
Attiya speaks about her personal experience with an abusive partner
Attiya speaks about her personal experience with an abusive partner

This was the only part of the evening, when I was there, that I realize now, that I did not tweet. There’s a reason for that: it hit home.

Then came some words of wisdom from Chuck Winters, former football player:

Then, Randell Adjei, from Rise Edutainment did a spoken word piece on the need to change the education system to promote love and equality.

Finally, Nam from CBC came out to introduce and interview Terry Crews.

He of course arrived in pomp and style, with Punjabi Dhol players preceding him, and a stage of dancers doing a hip-hop/bhangra fusion dance, which mister Crews joined in on:

After the awesome entrance, Mr Crews got down to the nitty gritty right away. He discussed how men define themselves by their wins and losses–so much so that they become their wins and their losses. The subsequent loss of self-esteem can be devastating. He gives the analogy of a $100 bill; you may crumple it, step on it, tear it, spit on it… whatever. But the value of that $100 bill will remain the same; you can trash talk it into thinking it’s only worth five bucks, but that doesn’t mean you can reduce its inherent value. He then delved into psychopathic behaviour, such as the one that Pimp Culture promotes, mirroring emotions to gain someone’s trust only to benefit from that trust for oneself–this part hit home as well, having had a close family member deal with this.

I can certainly relate to his story about wanting to hurt his father–though he actually did cross that threshold, whereas I never did–in revenge for his mother and the abuse she suffered at his hands. He said something which had long confirmed my suspicions and made me glad that I never went down that road: he was still empty and angry, and felt even worse after that incident.

Terry ended the evening with a quip about cherishing everyone, even the guy who cuts you off in traffic. And apparently it was Britta’s birthday, as well:

So, she got a theatre full of people singing to her, including Terry Crews.

All in all, a great evening. Thank you to everyone who made it happen. Looking forward to #WMAM2015

See you then!

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Harry Potter and the End of Bigotry

Want your children to be less racist, xenophobic and homophobic? Have them read the Harry Potter series, which the author herself describes as “a prolonged argument for tolerance, a prolonged plea for an end to bigotry.

In the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, three studies conducted showed that students who read the novels while being taught the central themes of racism, slavery, and acceptance, showed that they identified with the eponymous hero and against the villain, Volde… I mean… He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

The study’s findings support what was already known about the effects of reading fiction: it makes you less racist.

In the stories, Harry not only battles against his archv-enemy, but a host of other coming-of-age issues. Harry’s schoolyard rival, the character Draco Malfoy, almost stereotypically embodies racist, bigoted, and ignorant ideologies.

Even if your child’s school has not read the books, parents should read the novels with their children and discuss the issues therein. Not only will it foster a love of reading, but it will allow them to work through coming of age issues that everyone faces at some time or another.

sources:

http://mic.com/articles/95236/psychologists-find-a-surprising-thing-happens-to-kids-who-read-harry-potter

 http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/.Uxfg4s7y2jc#.U__0PWPsZbU

http://www.psmag.com/navigation/books-and-culture/reading-literary-fiction-can-make-less-racist-76155/

http://www.psmag.com/navigation/books-and-culture/harry-potter-battle-bigotry-87002/

https://shop.pottermore.com/en_us/books/536/bundle-en-gb

Happiness Revisited

 

 

Happiness

This is a topic that I have blogged about before, but I feel like a more personal touch is necessary this time around. I have recently listened to a few podcasts (links below) which have focused on what the latest research on Happiness shows. Incidentally, the last major research on Happiness was conducted by Psychologists in 2009. Here are a few ways that we approach happiness and my personal views on each. 

Money-centric

Buying Items vs. Buying Experiences

Research has shown that when we purchase items we often experience momentary fleeting happiness. This causes us to get onto what is called the Hedonic Treadmill, the tendency of people to continuously buy items to get their “fix” of happiness. I have definitely been victim to this; I have bought books which I have not read, bought shoes which I end up feeling “meh” over, and bought gym memberships which I have not used. We all have been there. But that initial step makes us feel good. We need to actually stop purchasing items and purchase experiences.

An experience is much more long-lasting. When reading a book, playing with a football, or going to the amusement park, we accumulate new experiences which allow us to create new memories and have enjoyable experiences over a longer period of time. In many ways, in the above examples, I was attempting to purchase experiences, such as with the gym membership and the books, but I needed to follow through with them as well. Consider recently, I began reading a book which I had purchased a while back, Elizabeth Sims’ You’ve Got A Book In You, to help me with my writing. It has certainly put me back on the path of trying to write a novel, and I am very happy with that. I get in the zone when writing, which, when I am flowing, allows me to experience a Zen-like nothingness, and actually makes me happy. Of course, a word of caution: I also experience downs, like when writer’s block hits. Just because you are purchasing an experience to make yourself happy does not mean that you will always be happy during that experience (especially if it’s something you’re passionate about!)

Education

Learning something new and being proud of your achievement

Ever try a How-To project by yourself or take a course for something that you always wanted to learn? I recently braved the website KhanAcademy.com to teach myself some long-forgotten basic high school math. Pre-Algebra and Algebra. I must say, I remember more than I thought I would. But I have also forgotten a lot, too. But once again, being in that Zen state, and learning and relearning stuff that I found torturous in school has its rewards. Go learn something new today!

Reading books

An interesting note on the study of happiness: if you wait a while before using your purchase you will find much more satisfaction from it. As I stated in the Buying Items vs. Experiences paragraph, I began to read a book which I had purchased at least 4 months ago. But I am glad that I picked it up. Reading is a great way to unwind and mentally stimulate yourself–not to mention, in many cases either learn something new or be entertained by a great story. 

Mind-Body connection

Exercise

The Mind is typically seen as the one that controls the body; but the body’s health often has an effect on the mind. Exercise is a great way to keep fit (whatever your method of exercise may be), and be more energetic throughout the day. Eating healthier is another great trick to aid in this. 

Meditation

Yoga and other forms of relaxation are linked to lower levels of stress hormones. Consider picking up a meditation or Yoga exercise DVD or join your local gym for classes. Om to the next point! Haha… get it? Sorry. Please keep reading…

Hiking/nature walks

A good hike combines physical activity and meditation into one relaxing day in nature. Human beings, as resourceful as we have evolved to be are not meant to stay cooped up indoors all the time. Talk a stroll down your local trails, or go a little out of your way to a national park for a weekend camping trip! 

Community Service

Another form of a quick pick me up is to help pick others up! Getting involved in the community could mean working at a soup kitchen, at your local school (teachers always need all the help they can get!), at a rec centre… so many possibilities of giving back! 

Social

Friends, Family, and Lovers are a great sources of happiness. These relationships of course require give and take and you might not always find happiness from the same person from day to day. But they are there as a source of comfort, peace, and support. And if someone from one of these circles is not providing that, talk to them about what you feel is lacking; maybe there is a genuine misunderstanding between the two of you, or maybe you need to find better people!

Reflection

Different from meditation, this is taking taking inventory of either daily or monthly or even yearly achievements. If we actually track how we are growing over the long term, we can truly appreciate ourselves.

(Not Really) Last Thoughts

We can conclude that happiness is not a sustained emotion, but rather a very fleeting state of being. many of these strategies are to help us maximize our rate of encountering it. I must also emphasize that these are my personal experiences; perhaps for you, buying items makes you happier than purchasing experience. We’re all unique and what works for one will not necessarily work for another. The important thing is that we continuously monitor our own levels of contentment and prioritize them; think about what hobbies you like to engage in and see how the above list can foster those hobbies. We will never be always happy all the time. That’s why we pursue it. But we can certainly be happy as often as possible. 

Sources:

Stuff You Should Know Podcast: Do Objects or Experiences Make us Happier. http://www.stuffyoushouldknow.com/podcasts/objects-experiences-happier/

Stuff to Blow Your Mind: The Mathematics of Happiness. http://www.stufftoblowyourmind.com/podcasts/the-mathematics-of-happiness/

 

 

Why Robin Williams’ Passing is a Lesson for us all

As a new blogger, one of my biggest hurdles to face is my own personal demons as I write each post. I get to touch upon some aspect of what makes me happy, sad, angry, bitter, content, excited, and all sorts of other human emotions. It is an emotional outlet for me.

Some people turn to family, friends, sports… whatever makes them at ease. Sometimes, these vices are overtly self-destructive and hazardous; drug and alcohol abuse is an overt expression of unhealthy ways to deal with emotion. But, strangely enough, these vices are likely less destructive than what, according to a recent Cracked.com article states is behind the death of Robin Williams, and so many others who seem happy-go-lucky: being funny.

It seems really counter-intuitive. Happy, humorous, socially adept people have for time immemorial, suffered from strong, devastating bouts of depression. 

On the surface, we can understand the irony of the situation, and perhaps even be initially confused by the seemingly contradictory emotions being present in one and the same person. After all, if you spent much of your childhood in the late 80s and early 90s, like myself, you can recall movies like Mrs Doubtfire, Hook, and Dead Poets Society, where Robin Williams plays a relatively chipper character. 

His Inside the Actors Studio interview was simultaneously the most entertaining and the most frustrating one I have ever watched. One anticipates James Lipton just about to burst saying “Damn it, man! Why must you torture me thus!” 

And yet, considering what has transpired, it isn’t surprising to see that even on a television show where actors are required to bare themselves he was still “on”.

And this brings us to the issue at hand, which is such a convincing case brought to us by Cracked.com: he used humor, or legalized insanity, as Williams put it, to deflect personal issues from being raised. Comics, alongside many people who have been praised for their strong artistic or academic skills, have used their gift–in this case, humor–to push people away. 

The scariest thing about this article, and what raises alarm bells, is that many of the funniest people in our own lives, past or present, are using these very same techniques to keep us at bay. We may think that some have their life figured out when in fact they are just at the brink of their own breaking point. They hide it because they are afraid of others’ reactions to their condition.

However, if you are one of those people who using humor to deflect, please talk to someone. Do not shrug it off or laugh it off. You, just like any other human being on this crazy planet, are not alone in your anguish; many times we feel like the victims, or make ourselves the martyrs for a greater cause (in Williams’ case, his depression stemming from perhaps the Parkinson’s that was debilitating him… or some other deep-seeded reason). 

Williams was a beloved actor, writer and comedian; but he was human. He was prone to the same shortcomings that we all are. Let’s remember to good he did, but not forget why he passed away, nor lose sight of the lesson his passing can impart on us. 

I am not someone who believe that everything happens for a greater good; but I do feel that we can make good out of a poor situation depending on the narrative we tell ourselves. Make it a point to reach out and talk to someone who keeps themselves guarded: and damn well be prepared for them when they open themselves up! 

When asked about death

Death and other things

Sorry for having been away for so long. Work and other commitments did end up taking some priority for these past months, but I am back and ready to continue posting.

I want to share a video today by the British Humanist Association titled “What should we think about death” narrated by the wonderfully talented Stephen Fry.

Death has been a major part of my thought process this past year; I lost a friend back in December, and another friend this past Tuesday. Both were in their late twenties and both passed suddenly, with no warning. 

I had never been to a funeral till this past December, and the shock of another one was no better. Though I can (for whatever reason) remain uncomfortably stoic, seeing my friends breaking down around me and knowing that my own friend is in a casket being buried before my eyes is a lot to take, still. 

What should we think of death though? In both instances, my friends and I have celebrated the lives of our late friends over laughs, drinks, and heartfelt conversation. Truly, they’re not gone, but survived in the hearts and memories of their friends. 

This post is dedicated to them.

Vignette 3: Regret

There is a really good song out right now that seems to be hitting all sorts of emotional chords with people. The song is called “Let Her Go” by Passenger.

It has been out for a while. I first caught wind of it as a background song for a YouTube video of a girl’s tweets compiled from the moment she arrived in Ottawa to her being diagnosed with cancer, and her final tweet before she passed away. Very powerful stuff.

She expressed the desire to actually live her last three months, travel to South America, reconnect with her mother, and not spend it in a cubical.

The song is very appropriate to the video, and for the this post’s topic of Regret.

The song hauntingly echoes the sentiments of a person who breaks up with their girlfriend. The chorus uses the low burning of a candle, the sun’s heat versus the winter’s chill, distance from home and happiness in contrast to sadness as analogous to being with this person versus losing them.

We often are not grateful for the things and people around us until we lost them.

Regret in all of its various forms can be a weight that some of us carry for a very many number of years; indeed, many spend a lifetime swallowed in its hollow caverns.

How do we tackle regret? I believe there are two way: Growth Mind and Carpe Diem.

First, I have talked a very many number of times about the attitude a growth mindset fosters. Put simply: the Growth Mindset allows us to learn from our past experiences, be they mistakes, failures, or even missed opportunities.

Rather than wallowing in regret, we should channel our focus on these experiences into bettering ourselves the next time we encounter them.

The second method, Carpe Diem, is much more pertinent to the Twitter Compilation video. Carpe Diem, a Latin phrase, means “seize the day”; don’t let any opportunities slip past you. Almost always be prepared to say “yes” when new opportunities present themselves to you.

For the girl in the twitter video, unfortunately it was when she was presented with the reality of a significantly shortened lifespan; she immediately reassessed her priorities and, Carpe Diem, went to South America and Cuba. The rest of us should keep in mind our fortune of health and take full advantage of it. I don’t mean run off to Spain on a whim, but certainly don’t let great opportunities pass you by due to fear or laziness.

Regret is a lot worse than failure. Be a doer more often than not. It will change your life. Think about Jia Jiang and his 100 Days of Rejection, where spent 100 days requesting ridiculous favours from strangers and how he was sometimes pleasantly surprised, such as his wonderful Donut story.

Personal Growth, Inspiration and Affirmation of Life

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