Tag Archives: Change

Acting Means Doing

The purpose of this post is not to chronicle the protests taking place across the United States and, in response, the rest of the world.

The purpose of this post is not an outcry against society or systems. It’s not a tirade against power and authority.

This is a post about love.

I’m rereading Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving, a remarkably rich and very short book on what it means to love in all of its forms. Today I read the following:

The most fundamental kind of love, which underlies all types of love, is brotherly love. By this I means the sense of responsibility, care, respect, knowledge of any other human being, the wish to further his life. . . . If I have developed the capacity for love, then I cannot help loving my brothers. In brotherly love there is the experience of union with all men, of human solidarity, of human at-onement. Brotherly love is based on the experience that we all are one. The differences in talents, intelligence, knowledge are negligible in comparison with the identity of the human core common to all men.

Towards the end of the paragraph, Fromm quotes Simone Weil, whose writing is incredibly vibrant and actually quite apt for this current point in time. In his quotation she writes:

The same words [e.g. a man says to his wife, “I love you”] can be commonplace or extraordinary according to the manner in which they are spoken. And this manner depends on the depth of the region in a man’s being from which they proceed without the will being able to do anything. And by a marvelous agreement they reach the same region in him who hears them. Thus the hearer can discern, if he has any power of discernment, what is the value of the words.

Love is a verb. Verbs are actions. Love that is truly meant on the basis of our humanity and interdependence then requires us to act.

This post is a call to action, a call to doing something beyond what is immediately visible.

Participating in the Women’s March in New York City following the US election of 2016 was an eye-opening moment for me. I watched similar marches around the world. I watched as we were all swept up in solidarity and excitement and a sense that this was our time.

And then I watched as everything continued more or less as usual.

And I asked why. I had raised my voice in an outcry and continued to do so, but with the growing awareness that an outcry is only that. What is needed is action.

Thank you to those standing up for justice. Please do more than stand up. Please act in ways that may not be visible but play into the systems you’re trying to dismantle. If history tells us anything it is that protests are easy to organize, easy to join, and easy to let go. Although perhaps not electrifying, there are far more concrete ways to stand up and actually make the difference you believe in.

There are organizations that need your support to take cases to trial. There are organizations that need your support to provide meals, transportation, shelter, job training, clothing to those who need it. There are organizations that need your support to make laws. There are organizations that need your support to keep the doors to their clinics and offices open so that they can run campaigns to change the balance of power. And on. And on.

Yes, attend a peaceful protest and raise your voice.

And then act on what you say.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park – April 2019

Looking Forward

The grade 12 students at my school had their last required day of classes last week. Historically, this week would have been their reading week, their time to revise for exams in whatever ways best suited them.

In the present world, however, this week is different.

And we all know this. We also know by now that there is little purpose in dwelling on what might have been or could have been or should be. We know, as a guided meditation reminded me this morning, “This is the way things are right now”.

With this awareness, I have tried to uphold what I have always done when the time comes to say goodbye to my grade 12 students. In lieu of speaking with them in class, I recorded a video in which I told them what I wanted them to know. In the email with the video link, I added that there might be a blog post to follow.

Here is that blog post to follow.


The dates on the faded newspaper clippings tell me that I started my scrapbook when I was 13. In truth, that scrapbook was more of a phase than anything else. Its activity waxed and waned at various points but keeping it up was by no means a practice. The scrapbook probably looks like many scrapbooks by teenage girls: There are articles or comic strips pasted on pages decorated with stickers, attempts at calligraphy, and my commentary in the margins. There are pages of quotes culled from magazines and newspapers, as well as a page cut out of cardboard that may have come from the back of a cereal box. The middle of the scrapbook is devoted to quotes that I remember typing on my dad’s computer, each with a different font. I grouped them by category and wrote a few words of advice to myself on each page.

The change in my handwriting (unfortunately very little of this scrapbook is dated) indicates that time passed. What did not change through the years, however, is what mattered to me and how I understood the world. The comments in the margins of articles still make sense and the comic strips still make me smile. The quotations continue to move me in some way, though I have a more recent list elsewhere.

There is a quote by John Holt on a page that I titled “Character”. It’s typed in a font that I haven’t used in years and the smiley-faced stick figure at the bottom of the page suggests middle school. I just looked up John Holt for the first time and I think it fits.

The true test of character is not how much we know how to do, but how we behave when we don’t know what to do. – John Holt

As we learn to walk in the world, there are times when we know what is expected of us. There are times when we know who we are and where we are. We are confident and comfortable when we feel safe and at home and among friends.

Now, this confidence is not always a good thing. It might stop us from seeing another perspective or asking a challenging question. It might prevent a difficult conversation that could lead to a better understanding of who we are and the world around us.

Holt suggests that character, the way we are made, is best seen in the situations that make us pause. These situations might be uncomfortable or scary, or perhaps just new. We might be facing an unknown time in our lives or a person who is unfamiliar to us. This is when we do not know how to behave. And this is when we see not only who we are, but who others are, as well.

My grade 12 students are about to walk into a new and unfamiliar world full of new and unfamiliar people. This is true for students pursuing higher education, taking a gap year, going to work, or joining the military. This is true for all of us who step outside of what we know and welcome what we do not know. And this is true for everyone right now in this world that we could not have imagined.

This is a good opportunity to watch ourselves closely, carefully, and critically and learn who we are. It is a good opportunity to better understand those around us. Significantly, this is a time where we can look closely, carefully, and critically at the world around us and ask the questions that we might not have asked before when we allowed systems to flow unquestioned.

And once we have watched ourselves, once we understand how to act in the different environments that life presents and around the people we encounter and engage with, we can make a choice. We can choose to remain unchanged by what we see and to continue doing what we have always done. This is easy. This is what we know how to do.

Or we can do the difficult thing, the unknown thing. We can do the hard thing, the right thing, the good thing. We can look at ourselves, the people we know, and the world around us. And as we look, we can make choices about how to act, who to be with, and how to create the world we want to live in.

It is never too late to be what you might have been. – George Eliot

Interlaken, Switzerland – January 2020

In transition

It’s interesting to watch the mind shift and change, ebb and flow. It’s interesting to experience from the inside, noting the sensations and thoughts at hand, while also experiencing from the outside. That is, watching the self have the experience.

This is what I was doing yesterday when trying to come to terms with what I will call “the dark streak”.

Ever since I can remember, I have always had a streak of dark thoughts. These are the not-so-pleasant ideas that I know are there and every now and then under times of self-doubt, uncertainty, or stress, make their presence known. The dark streak, which I have previously also called the “demons“, is common enough that I am not especially bothered by it anymore. Rather, I am curious.

After yesterday’s encounter with the dark streak that annoyed me because I really hadn’t planned on it being there, I sat down to deliberately make observations. This is what I noticed:

  • The dark streak is likely to rear its head when I experience a sense of isolation. It goes away with a tangible reminder that I am actually not as alone as I might have thought.
  • The dark streak is imaginative rather than destructive. It likes to ponder a range of possibilities and actually gives me a lot to think about when I follow it.
  • The physical sensations that I experience at these times are more closely linked to the part of my brain that is observing the experience. The dark streak might be running hot but my body and mind remain calm and cool if I am watching the dark streak rather than running with it.
  • While the dark streak can paint a vivid image that stays with me, there is a difference between experiencing the image from inside and watching myself experience the image from outside. The latter perspective is that of the observer that I mentioned above.

I don’t ask why this happens – I’ve had help figuring that out. Instead, I can simply ask whether this is normal. But with that question on the tip of my tongue, I can also think of the idiosyncrasies that people have pointed out over time and all I can do in response is shrug. Put all the weird things together and that’s what makes us individuals, right?

There’s a dark streak in me and that’s okay. It’s hardly surprising that we’d become acquainted again.

Society has been experiencing a dramatic transition in the last weeks and months, and this will continue for the weeks and months to come. There will be economic and political effects felt for years, and perhaps a reckoning of social structures that have gone unquestioned for far too long. With transitions come the opportunity to change, reinvent, renew, and restore. Transitions allow us to look around, to ask questions, and to take the time (after all, we are not so busy any more) to do the hard work of figuring out who we are and who we want to be.

I will not romanticise here and claim that I am grateful for this time. (Rest assured, I was crushed when Singapore announced on Friday that we’d be joining the ranks of the rest of the world with school closings and movement restrictions.) But, as I have said for a long time, we need to take much more time to think and much more time to understand ourselves and one another. We have this time. Use it wisely.