Tag Archives: Education

Teaching or Educating: What is the Difference, if there is any?

Someone asked me a really interesting question recently.  She asked me: are you teaching or educating a child?

My initial response made me look like a wide-eyed deer caught in the glare of oncoming headlights.  After a few clarifying questions though, I realised that her view is actually really thought-provoking, and thankfully she was OK with me sharing it here.

The way she defines teaching is as giving the child the information repeatedly until he absorbs it.  The way she defined education is as giving the child the opportunity to learn something, and the child repeats the same action until he absorbs.

My friend really felt that creating opportunities allowed for a parent to build on their children’s inherent capacities, and to eventually make up for their weaknesses.  For example, her son very early on started rolling around, but took his sweet time talking.  So, she provided him with a lot of safe space for him to roll around.  She indirectly encouraged the development of his vocabulary by naming the direction that he was rolling towards and the objects that would attract his attention.

Discipline, in each case, also looks very different.  My friend shared that discipline in the case of education is for the child to sit and follow instructions and absorb the information.  It’s something that isn’t inherent in young children.  In education, however, she felt that the inherent discipline that children have—to repeat, repeat, repeat, and repeat some more—is encouraged.

Now I have to admit that the only reason I kept listening to her was because of her own well-behaved, adventurous, curious, and hilarious children.  All three are between the ages of 5 and 12, and all three have this amazing combination of being mature children.  How was she able to raise these well-behaved children if she didn’t discipline them?

Because, she answered, they have it in them, and their father and I just brought it out. The couple always believed that each child is spiritual in nature and that a parents’ job is two-fold: to hone his inherent strengths, and to build on these strengths to develop more capacities.

My husband and I are still at the beginning of our own journey as parents, so we are focusing on what this means for babies.  My friend’s advice was simple.  Just like children, babies need a balance of both education and teaching.  There are some life-threatening things that you just have to teach your baby as soon as possible—sometimes using a physical reminder (ex: stairs are off-limits and here is a baby gate to remind you.)  But so many other things are opportunities for them to learn so much more than just an action.  My friend shared how letting her son to keep trying to reach for something on his own allowed him to develop perseverance and determination; letting her daughter to carefully examine things at her pace allowed her to develop focus and patience.

Is this going to work?  How well with it work?  And since nothing is formulaic, how will we have to adapt it to our baby?  We have no idea at the moment, and probably whatever idea we develop over the course of the next few weeks and months, well…  Let’s see how this is going to change over the next years, huh?

If you are a mom, I would love to hear about your experience of teaching versus educating!  Or even, if you think there is a difference between the two!  If you are a blogger and have written about this topic, please drop your link below with a small introduction on what you wrote about!

Learning To ‘Be’ From The Cradle Up: On The Desire To Constantly Entertain My Baby

One of the elements that I have come to understand as essential to one’s personal growth—mental, spiritual, and emotional—is the ability to sit quietly and just be.  Of course nowadays, there is always something (or rather, a bunch of things!) that is clamouring for our attention, and so we are often left without a second to ourselves.

As I was watching my friends play with my daughter, it hit me that perhaps there is another reason why we are not able to just sit and be.  From the cradle, there seems to always be a need for those around a baby to constantly be in their face.  OK, that sounds bad, but you know what I mean—we are always talking to babies, singing to them, waving toys in their faces, always encouraging movement, and never just letting them be.

I was particularly struck by how there seems to be a conviction that a baby left alone is a baby that is neglected.  My daughter has had the capacity to play by herself from very early on.  And so, my husband and I have made a conscious effort to let her be when she is happily entertaining herself.  And yet, although she is fed, clean, and safe, those around us seem to be quite uncomfortable that we are leaving our baby to her own devices, convinced that good parenting means constantly entertaining her.

But it is becoming increasingly clear that we should leave our daughter to herself when she is perfectly content to do so.  Because the adults around her already have such a tough time creating a space in which they can be by themselves; isn’t it giving our daughter a leg up that, when she does find a space to just be, she knows how to fill it up with joy and wonder?

Book Review: ‘Bossy Flossy’, by Paulette Bogan

About the Author

Paulette Bogan 'Bossy Flossy'Paulette Bogan admits she was bossy as a child. She is the author and illustrator of Virgil & Owen, which was chosen as one of Bank Street Best Children’s books of the Year 2016, Virgil & Owen Stick Together, which won a Mom’s Choice Award Gold Medal for Picture Books, and Lulu The Big Little Chick, which won a Children’s Choice Book Award. She lives in New York City with her husband, three daughters, and two dogs. They ALL think she is STILL bossy. But they’ve never told her to go to her room! More information about Bogan can be found on her website.

About the Book

Paulette Bogan 'Bossy Flossy'Flossy is the bossiest girl around. She’s bossy at home and she’s bossy in school. She’s bossy to her friends and she’s bossy to her cat. Sometimes she’s even bossy to her teacher! Flossy doesn’t understand why no one will listen to her. One day, Flossy meets Edward, a boy who may be just as bossy as she is. Has Flossy finally met her match?

Book Review

Paulette Bogan’s ‘Bossy Flossy’ is a great book in that it offers parents of children, bossy or not, the opportunity to think about what the meaning of that word.

The drawings are great both artistically and educationally speaking.  Each image is eye-catching with plenty of details for children to pour over.  The characters are drawn in a way that makes them very identifiable for children and rather endearing.  Educationally-speaking, there is a lot of information to digest in the facial expressions and body language of each character, be it Flossy, Edward, or the ones around them whom they boss around.  This can and should be used as a way for parents to reflect with their children on the effect of bossiness on those who are bossing others around and those are being bossed around.

I particularly appreciated the different expressions of bossiness portrayed throughout the book.  Well-know sentences are used, such as “You’re not the boss of me” which can really make a child think about his or her own potential bossiness—or that of another.

Another thing I appreciated is the way the bossiness got resolved—Flossy saw her own bossiness mirrored in Edward and realises the consequence of her behaviour on others.  This book therefore not only teaches children not just what bossiness is, but also the act of reflecting on one’s behaviour, which needs to be done quite literally at this age.

Thank you to iReads Book Tours for providing a
copy of this book for me to review!



Book Review: The We Generation: Raising Social Responsible Kids by Michael Ungar

The world has the potential to be amazing, but apart from glimmerings of awesomeness here and there, the overwhelming conditions are pretty terrible (sorry, Mother Earth). One of the reasons behind such a terrible state of affairs is the pervasive effects of both individualism and consumerism, which has led us away from what human nature is about: advancing both at the individual and at the community level.

Author Michael Ungar does a brilliant job of painting why, in a world that offers them more social connections in one year that a mere couple of generations ago would have had in an entire lifetime, children still feel alone, since they are inherently social creature with a desire to help others. He also does a brilliant job of explaining how parents (as well as teachers and coaches) can help children develop this inherent sense of altruism, enhanced by the shockingly contradictory reality offered by today’s “Me-society.”

The fact of the matter is that parents work day and night to provide their children with tuition to a great school, all basic material amenities and some extras, like a TV, a computer and more toys that they can play with, but nothing can make up for the basic, human one-on-one contact that was such an important part of the lives of previous generations of children.

Ironically enough perhaps, the fact that these children only have an abundant number of superficial connections makes them want to reach out even more, while the decreasing number of deep in-person connections has robbed them of the environment they need to develop the skills and capacities to do so.

So what can parents do? Is everything that they do wrong?

Certainly not, and that’s a great aspect of this book. Rather than assume that parents are all doing something wrong, the author assumes that most parents are loving, caring, and truly want what is best for children. However, because of the almost pervasive influence of the “Me-society” they live in, parents cannot elp but have their parental discourse be influenced by it. This book isn’t meant to make good parents out of bad ones, but rather to help good parents fight off the influence of the “Me-society.”

The book is divided into eight chapters, which the author presents in his preface. The first chapter underlines why and how parents are important, pointing out the things they do for their children out of love in the hopes of keeping them safe and happy, but sometimes that end up doing just the contrary. It ends with a tip list of things a parent can try out.

Chapter Two focuses on the children, on how they react to various parenting styles and on what they do or don’t need. Amongst other topics, it covers that of compassion, of the parents to their child, of the child to his parents and of the family towards the others. It also includes a questionnaire that makes you think about the type of child you have, if he is a citizen of the world or not. It also includes a tip list — as do all the other chapters.

Chapter Three delves more deeply into the relationship between children and adults, while Chapter Four talks about the importance of touch. For as a society, we have been paralysed by the various “bad” touches to avoid even the healthy good ones, and the author shows us how that keep children from developing a true “We-oriented” identity. Chapter Five takes the concept of touch further, delving into the concepts of spiritual and emotional touching, including the confusion that often surrounds the concepts of intimacy and sexuality.

Chapter Six cashes in on the whole deal, prepping parents to invite their children to accept responsibility. It’s a crucial step for them to become socially responsible adults who will help advance their own selves in conjunction with advancing human civilization.

Chapter Seven covers the family’s space — i.e. the home — and how it affects our relationships. While there is a certain critical view about the monster houses typical of new, richer suburban areas, the author chooses to keep the principles basic, so that they could be applied to any form of house that exists. The recommendations in this chapter reinforce those from previous chapters, placing them in a concrete way that would help an overwhelmed parent start making the needed changes to raise socially responsible kids, rather than only responsible kids.

And, finally, the last chapter places the parents, the children and their house within the context of the community, showing how the former can affect the latter.

Throughout the entire text, the author insists on the fact that its contents are fluid; not all applies to all children, and the timelines can differ from child to child. Which is a great reflection of the reality of life nowadays, especially as the diversity of lifestyles continue to multiply as fast as borders fade into the background.

The text is also very action-oriented, for without actually doing something, be it the parents changing things about their parenting style or their lifestyle or actually contributing to the advancement of human civilization, no change can occur. There are some great tips sprinkled throughout the book. On the one hand, it was slightly disappointing; what of the parent who wants to develop the parenting style described in this book, but who doesn’t quite know how?

Fact of the matter is that this is probably a good thing; were the author to have offered a step-by-step and very detailed “recipe,” the parents might have simply followed it without trying to understand where it’s coming from and what it has to do with developing a “We-generation.” Parents have enough pointers to start immediately making a change, but not enough to dictate their every move, which implies they have to sit and reflect thoroughly on their contribution to the change of paradigm and how to instil such values into their child.

Another great aspect of the book is that the author is clear throughout that this is not about teaching children what to say and what to do, but rather encouraging them to learn to express their ideas and bringing out an inherent desire to help others rather than see it stifled in the “Me-world” they live in.

Although it’s pretty complete in answering all the elements of its argument, this book cannot be read alone. From its first pages, it clearly demonstrated that we cannot expect today’s children to consider themselves as socially responsible citizens of the world if adults do not take the steps necessary to become less individualistic and more socially responsible. One way of doing so is by consciously building a framework for social action based on the advancement of human civilization that goes against the “Me Myself and I” mentality that is plaguing our society today. This is a tough achievement to work towards, yet what more rewarding work is there that can at the same time help change the world for the better while establishing a strong bond with the younger generation?

The other thing is that this book provides for a beginning. While encouraging children to develop an outward looking vision of the world they live in and while caring for others and altruism is certainly recommendable, it isn’t enough to change the foundation of the world, upon which an order that created and perpetuates injustice has been built.

Responsibilities seem to be a big way of developing a “We Generation” vision in our children. The author speaks of giving responsibilities to them often enough through our book. But it’s a little limited. One major weakness is that the activities suggested that are meant to develop a child’s sense of “We” are too punctual. Yes, it’s great to contribute money to charity or to volunteer at a soup kitchen, but there is already a lot of that and not much long term and big positive change has come from it. Rather we need the kind of commitment to make everything about our lives about “We” rather than “Me.”

Another thing that I felt glimmerings of is the fact that parents have to be humble enough to allow children to learn from their mistakes and become better than them as soon as possible. And although the author adopts that approach himself in the reported interactions with various patients, I don’t know if it was reinforced enough throughout the text.

This book is all the more important to pick up now that the Holidays are coming up, and unfortunately this beautiful religious celebration that should be about “We” has become almost exclusively about “Me.” After all, a “We Generation” isn’t about blind compassion given to anyone at anytime; it’s more about developing a framework for social action based on compassion and the development of life skills meant to help children grown into adults that can not only talk about changing the world, but actually bring about deep, important and sustainable change.

First published here on Blogcritics.
First published on Sahar’s Blog on 4 June 2013.

Book Review: ‘Lighting their Fires: Raising Extraordinary Children in a Mixed-up, Muddled-up, Shook-up World’, by Rafe Esquith

Every child has amazing capacities inherent in him, and these gems of inestimable value must be polished. Most parents and educators alike are more than eager to do so, but the question remains: how?

Who better to ask this question to – and get an answer from – than Rafe Esquith. He has been a teacher at Hobart Elementary school for over twenty years, and his classroom, Room 56, has made quite a name for itself for all the right reasons.

His first book, There Are No Shortcuts: Changing the World One Kid at a Time, introduced us to Room 56 and its magic. His second book, Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire, is filled with great advice on how to make that magic happen. In his third book, Lighting Their Fires: Raising Extraordinary Children in a Mixed-up, Muddled-up, Shook-up World, Rafe Esquith continues sharing insights gained from his more than 20 year’s worth of experience as a teacher, expanding on some of the themes covered in his first book, to expand the magic beyond the classroom.

These aren’t only books about inspiring children to become great students. After all, that’s not what’s the most important about education. Rather, these books are about how to inspire children to become thoughtful and honourable people, making good decisions at each crossroad they encounter during their lives and whose every action is imbibed with wisdom.

And you know you’re getting good advice when the person dispensing said advice is following it, too. This reality leaps out of the pages of this book, as Rafe Esquith strives to make parents and educators understand why he is giving the advice he is giving, rather than simply giving out a list of do’s and don’t’s.

The other thing Rafe Esquith does is to place the advice he gives in the context of his own personal learning experiences. The overarching plotline of this book is a Dodger’s game to which he took five of his students, but other stories from day-to-day encounters with his students and various programmes Rafe Esquith started fill the gaps.

The success of Rafe Esquith the teacher is probably linked to his true love for teaching, as well as his confident yet humble approach to ten-year-old children; for those of you who have had the experience, you know that an arrogant person cannot hope to achieve a working, two-way relationship with a youngster that age – the type of relationship which is the basis of Rafe Esquith’s teaching method.

And don’t think this means that he takes it easy with his students. Quite the contrary; he expects only the best from each and every one of them, and the simplest of things becomes a lesson enormous in its scope.

For example, one of his first pieces of advice is that children should be taught to always arrive on time. Relatively simple, you’d think – until he explains that arriving on time not only teaches children to respect others, but makes them aware of others who are not on time. And that’s not all there is: he continues to explain how this knowledge, combined with that age-group’s increasing powers of observation and capacity to analyse, helps the children correlate the fact that people who do not arrive on time are usually the ones who also show other signs of disregard for others.

And it doesn’t stop here.

Making children aware of the need to arrive places on time makes them aware of how time is limited to twenty-four hours a day. Coupled with various interests, encouraged and honed through after-school activities, children soon learn to use their time in more productive ways, rather than wasting it, say, in front of a TV screen – voluntarily.

Doesn’t that sound like a parent’s dream come true: a child who chooses not to turn on a television.

One exercise in particular that the author does with his students that struck me is when he helps them plan their week-ends. He actually does the math with them: if they leave the school at 5PM on Friday and are back by 6:30AM (you read that right) on Monday, that gives them 61.5 hours of ‘week-end’ time. Barring nine hours of sleep, six hours eating meals and doing chores, 10 hours of pre-planned family time (church, visits etc), that leaves the students with a whooping 18.5 hours of time. Rafe is generous; even with 13 hours of time to play, a child still has 5.5 hours left to do something else.

A child who realizes how precious time is will realize what a real treasure those five hours are; a child whose curiosity has been aroused and who has various interests will use these hours to satisfy that curiosity. While every second of the child’s free time doesn’t have to be pre-programmed, having a vision of its potentialities will help guide his decision between doing something constructive versus doing something destructive.

How can we further reinforce these lessons about time? Rafe Esquith has noted time and again (pun not intended) that one of the most efficient ways to do so is by teaching children how to play an instrument. On the one hand, the student has to be on time for his music lessons and has to make time to practice. But the student also has to know how to time each piece played to the beat of the metronome and, when the student plays with others, he or she learns that it isn’t playing well that counts, but also playing in time with the others.

By the same token, putting on plays (again, pun not intended) helps to reinforce the concept of time. The student has to make time and be on time for rehearsals and preparations, but also has to learn the importance of timing, especially when it comes to comedy routines and punch lines.

As if Shakespeare wasn’t already deep enough.

Another one of the important topics covered in this book is that of helping a child develop focus. It’s a well-known fact: focus is needed to achieve things, and, yet, because of the increasing distractions that surround them, children have a hard time developing it (and, it could be argued, adults have a hard time keeping theirs, too). It probably won’t come as a big surprise that television is one of the big culprits. However Rafe Esquith doesn’t tell us to turn off the TV or to get rid of them. Rather, he encourages parents and educators to make the children turn off the TV themselves. How they can manage this is intimately linked with the development of an appreciation for time and its limitless possibilities. Why sit and watch hours of TV when one can do so much other things?

Seriously, this book is brilliant, and no review less than fifty pages long can hope to sum up its awesomeness. It’s all the more inspiring that the author doesn’t only expect the best from his students; he also expects the best from parents and educators. While he is the first to admit that it’s not easy polishing the gems in each child, that it takes a lot of effort and time, he does make it sound remarkably simple once the basic principles of his philosophy are understood.

Of course, neither the philosophy nor the book is perfect. There are a couple of little things I don’t agree with. One of them is that Rafe Esquith presents altruism as something that needs to be taught. Having working with 11 to 14 year olds for over 10 years, when I myself was a teenager, I have come to realize that most kids (if not all) have a deep sense of justice and an innate sense of altruism. Parents and educators are only there to make that inherent gem shine, which is a task all the tougher since altruism is one of the first victims of today’s egocentric individualistic society.

Despite its weighty topic and the wisdom behind each piece of advice, this book is not only easy but a delight to read. It is a must not only for parents and educators, but for aunts, uncles, older siblings and cousins whose lives are blessed with children they love and would like to help become thoughtful and honourable.

Rafe Esquith’s book, Lighting their Fires: Raising Extraordinary Children in a Mixed-up, Muddled-up, Shook-up World, hit bookstores in August 2009. You can read more about what is happening in Room 56 here.

First posted here on Blogcritics.
First posted on Sahar’s Blog on 3 June 2013.

Book Review: Reimagining Education: Essays on Reviving the Soul of Learning, edited by Dennis Patrick Slattery and Jennifer Leigh Selig

Education is one of the most important things in the life of every single person on this planet. After all, man is a mine rich in gems of inestimable value; education alone can cause it to reveal its treasures. However, the definition of education is very broad; it varies from culture to culture, and even within each culture, it varies according to background and school of thought. It also varies according to the needs of the person being educated; some people like to learn by reading, others by seeing, other by doing, etc.

In an attempt to control just about everything around us, the definition of education in places like North America has drastically been reduced. Education has become more about efficiency and results, through such tools as standardised and impersonal tests, rather than nurturing of individual talents.

The fundamental argument at the heart of Reimagining Education is that we need to get back at the essence of what teaching is about: polishing the inner gems that every individual has. What happened to the nobility of the teaching profession? How can we, as a society and, for those of us who are teachers, bring it back? How can we make education about mining and polishing inherent gems within each human being, rather than making it about filling human beings with knowledge?

Reimagining Education is a collection of 18 essays that each share reflections on the aforementioned questions. The diversity of the book’s contributors add depth to the topic, as we are given insight into the question of the nobility of teaching by teachers of different ages (the youngest are in the forties and the oldest, in their eighties), from different disciplines (including but not limited to philosophy, English, history, science and, yes, mythological studies), to different educational venues (public and private schools, workshops, institutes and home schools), different age groups (from elementary school all the way to adult education), and different positions within the educational field (teachers, principals, school presidents and teacher educators amongst others).

One of the best things about this book is the fact that, beneath the global theme of reimagining education that brought them together, are many differences of opinions. And so, reading this book becomes an educational process in itself, as the reader must strive to develop his or her own understand of what is needed to bring the nobility of the profession back into teaching.

Reimagining Education is not only for teachers; parents, those who have children in their extended family and those interested in their own education should pick up this book and reflect on their participation in the process. After all, a teacher is there to accompany the student in his or her learning; even the best of teachers can only do so much if the student doesn’t participate wholeheartedly. Reading these essays will definitely affect the way you choose to participate in your education. Who knows; maybe it will even make you a far better student that you ever imagined you could be.

First published here on Blogcritics.
Published on Sahar’s Review in June 2013.

Blog Review: ‘kate in the classroom’ by Kate

kate in the classroom on Sahar's ReviewsName: Kate Akhtar-Khavari
Blog: kate in the classroom
Her favorite post: tbd

There are a lot of girls out there who are trying to break into the style blogging world that is has become important for bloggers to create a brand that is both broad enough to appeal to a wide audience while at the same time having a unique twist that will keep readers coming. In kate in the classroom, teacher-to-be Kate is all about style within the unique context of the career she is pursuing—yes, education.  You might already be able to tell why I enjoyed writing this blog review!

The ‘it’ factor for this blog is reflected in its categories: seasonal capsule, classroom approved, beauty, in my future classroom, and reflections. Just like last week’s blog, Elle is for Love, Kate is clearly striving to be more than just another fashion blogger. She is trying to tie in her love for fashion with her love for teaching, and infusing all of it with a sense of dedication to the betterment of the world. Her future classroom feature makes me want to send her all the children I know and love to be educated (world citizen? Yes, please!) especially after taking a look at all the resources she has put together in a series of six Pinterest boards.

Kate’s endeavor is still a relatively new one—she has only been blogging since January of this year. But the space she has created since then as well as the content she has been generating make this blog well worth keeping an eye on.

First published on Sahar’s Reviews on 14 August 2015.

Fuel for my Current Midnight Musings: Five Great TED Talks

Ted Talks on Sahar's BlogMany people I know have playlists that vary according to their mood, the period of their lives they are at, and what they are going through at that time. And not just musical playlists—playlists of funny clips on YouTube, of inspiring videos, or of brain food like TED talks. And while there are always one hit wonders, there are some that just stick for the long haul, popping back after absences as long as a few years to take their spot in the pantheon, fulfilling their job of inspiring you as needed before slipping away into the darkness again.

Current concerns of mine, as reflected in the topics recently covered on Sahar’s Blog, include finding tools to pursue personal development; learning how to have conversations with others; contributing to the building of strong communities; and The X-Files. And so, the only surprising feature of my current cycle of TED talks is the lack of paranormal activity.

Beware: this is not the most original of lists, bringing forth little known talks. Quite the contrary, actually. If you or many of your Facebook friends are avid TED Talk fans, you have probably listened to these already or seen them lurking on your feed. But if recent posts on this blog have resonated with you, these talks just might hit just the right spot—even if they are not freshly pressed.

Matthieu Ricard: The Habits of Happiness

Everyone wants to be happy; the pursuit of happiness involves the quest for foundational elements such as contentment. Thankfully, these foundational elements are relatively easy to put in place, but it is their systematic application that can be a challenge. This is all the more difficult as we are encouraged to do more, better, and faster, which does not give us time to do so, or even to enjoy the simple things in life. Matthieu Ricard is a French Buddhist monk whose TED talk on The Habits of Happiness cycles through regularly on the playlist of many of my friends. It remains timeless because it is not a prescription for happiness; rather, it is a reflection of sorts on how to achieve it. You might not agree with everything he presents—I don’t!—but he always manages to stimulate insightful reflection.

Brene Brown: The Power of Vulnerability

Building a new type of community in which everyone is fulfilled requires recasting fundamental conceptions. One such conception is that of vulnerability. While perhaps in prehistoric times or in the Middle Ages, being vulnerable led to being killed by wild animals or one’s castle being stormed, we live—in North America, at least—in an era where being vulnerable doesn’t put us in mortal danger. Furthermore, certain forms of vulnerability are essential to the building of new communities; they allow for consultation to happen with the key focus being the problem at hand, rather than trying to prove the worth (or invulnerability) of our opinion. Brene Brown’s talk is all the more important that we seem attached to conceptions of heroism that are disempowering to the masses.

Kevin Robinson: Schools Kill Creativity

The arts, especially music, are a ladder to the soul. But current educational systems, for the most, doesn’t nurture our creativity. Mistakes, an important part of the learning process, are considered a bad thing which stifles creativity and create the burden of guilt. And yet creativity is also vital to the process of building elements of a new society, including, perhaps ironically enough, a new educational system. Kevin Robinson’s talk discusses how schools are killing creativity and will make you laugh—this guy has quite the sense of humor.

Kelly McGonigal: How to Make Stress Your Friend

I have been long fascinated by how our perception of reality is just as important as reality itself—if not more so (Fringe, anyone?). Stress has been labelled as one of the Big Bads in North America. But in her speech, Kelly McGonigal proposes that it in itself is not a bad thing, but that our perception of stress is.

Dan Pallotta: The Way We Think about Charity is Dead Wrong

Rethinking the status quo is one of the first steps in recasting reality in a new light. There are a lot of good people out there who sincerely would like to do good. A number immerse themselves in charity work making this talk both difficult yet important. Just like with some of the other talks in this list, there are limitations to it. But the eloquence with which Dan Pallotta explains how broken the system created to help the most vulnerable of our brethren helps listeners acquire the vocabulary to discuss it amongst themselves and consult necessary changes.

Image courtesy of TED.

Personal Boundaries and Selfless Participation in Community-Building: Not A Dichotomy

An increasing number of my friends have been focusing on learning more about creating harmonious communities in which each individual can fulfill the purpose of his/her existence, that is, to know and to worship God. As the number of people involved in the process of community building increases, so do the various point of views shared during consultations. When shared in a spirit of humble learning, these create the opportunity to refine the community building process. But when shared in a mindset that is infected, either with the ego or with lack of faith, things can go very wrong.

Troublesome discourses sometimes arise even from within a detached, dedicated group of people. These discourses seem to be driven by good intentions, that is, by the desire to make the world a better place, which is what makes addressing them particularly hard.

Take the example of selfless service and personal boundaries. All people who love God and their fellow men/women want to dedicate their lives selflessly to the betterment of the world. For some, who have the physical and mental capacity and the material means, this translates into full-time participation in community building activities. It is incredibly heartening to see people dedicate themselves like this.

But what happens when this sort of participation becomes the standard to emulate within a community? It feels like often, in the name of encouraging others to align themselves more fully with their purpose in life and to abscond worldly distractions, we start comparing them to what we think is a higher standard of selfless service. We end up drawing comparisons between people of very different means, and very different physical and mental capacities, which brings us to unfair conclusions that can severely bruise hearts.

The other tricky thing with such comparisons is that they are flawed from the outset; that is to say, there are many reasons why selfless service does not mean lacking personal boundaries. The first and foremost is that you have to be selfless out of love for God. This means that you also love such things as justice, and when someone does not respect your boundaries and treat you unfairly, it does not seem to be in accord with the Writings of any major religion to just let yourself be abused. Another reason is that we do not know everyone’s reality; for example, it might see to someone who is able to survive on 4 hours of sleep that the person making the space to sleep for 9 hours is not as devoted as he/she can be, when in fact, the individual is dealing with an emotionally exhausting spiritual challenge that requires them to sleep more.

At its most basic, personal boundaries in the context of community building allow for us to become a lean, mean, service-oriented machine. By taking the time to sleep enough, eat well and exercise, we ensure that our bodies stay healthy for the longest time possible, so that we can best serve humanity.

The next level is mental health. Taking the time to not only get an education, but to excel at it, allows us to acquire both knowledge and virtues. The knowledge allows us to influence discourse; we cannot hope to influence governance, health, humanities, etc. if we do not know what we are talking about. It makes us sound like utopians, rather than skilled physicians understanding the nature of the illness and applying the specific spiritual treatment needed. As for the virtues acquired when in an educational facility, such as discipline, focus and collaborative learning, they allow us to develop our spiritual capacity, our purpose in life.

Setting personal boundaries also keeps us focused on finding the truth. Taking the time to reflect on the discourse in one’s community keeps us from being dragged into what those with the loudest voices think is the right way, and reminds us that unless everyone is participating in the discourse, the truth cannot be uncovered.

It is up to each one of us, who is participating in the community building process, to never judge one another. Because although we might think we are on the right path, it cannot be so when we do not have universal participation. And taking the time to listen and consult with those individuals who have concerns about the community building process will no doubt remove barriers, and make us all even more efficient in creating a new, better world order.

These are Not the Tiaras You Would Want Your Toddler to Wear: Why the Sparkle of TLC’s Toddlers and Tiaras Worries Me

Until a couple of weeks ago, I had never even watched a single one of its episodes, and was already horrified by its central concept: TLC’s show Toddlers and Tiaras documents pageants in which little girls, some as young as one, dress up (or down, at times) and, their faces caked with makeup and bodies covered in paint, compete to win prize money based on their looks. Then I figured that I was being unfair; how could I have an opinion about a show I had only heard about? Surely there had to be something good about it, if it was still on air after its January 2009 debut.

But after watching a couple of episodes, I have to say, there really does not seem to be anything good about it, other than to bring to light the systematic sexualisation of little girls for the sake of winning money. These pageants teach girls that sexualising oneself at an age where sex is something one cannot understand for the sake of winning money is commendable.

It would be easy for me to start railing at how horrifying this is, but I don’t think such an attitude would help. It’s also easy to portray the parents that not only allow, but encourage their children to enter these pageants as evil and self-centered. But I do not think that is the case. I honestly believe that a majority of these parents do have the well-being of their children in mind. The questions rather is to figure out how this came to be.

All species have in mind their survival, and for that reason, the adults teach their young ones skills to survive in this world so that they can, one day, also procreate and so, ensure the survival of the species. With this in mind, one only has to look at the decadence in society to realise that perhaps this is what these parents are doing. So perhaps this culture of pageantry is just a way for these parents to introduce and hone skills their children would need to thrive in a world that is increasingly rewarding sexualisation. These parents could simply be empowering their daughter to use their beauty in a way to get them the money needed to live a secure life.

So railing against these parents would not only alienate them out of a much-needed conversation. It would also deter from addressing the core issue: there is something wrong about a society that not only allows for, but rewards over sexualisation. This is all the more problematic that humans have a noble purpose of knowing and worshipping God. Humanity is not supposed to be led by its lower nature; rather, it is supposed to be controlled by its higher nature. This higher nature allows for the lower one to be expressed in a way allowing humans to still be as noble as they are meant to be. A beautiful little girl, appropriately well dressed, is after all a sight that touches most hearts.

A species survival is guaranteed by the way it nurtures its young ones. Sexualising little girls and further toying with them for the sake of our collective entertainment is wrong. Perhaps this is what the books in the Hunger Games trilogy really are about. Stripped from the outward glitz of Toddlers and Tiaras, it feels like these pageants are in essence doing the same thing to our children as the people in Panem were doing to theirs. We all need to look at ourselves and at our contribution to this kind of society, and reflect on what we can do to create a society in which skills honed in pageants as they are currently held are not only unnecessary, but harmful.