Tag Archives: Charity

Building Peace: A Time for Giving

I live in a country obsessed with stuff. We have a lot of malls and shopping centers, a lot of sales, many opportunities to spend money. There’s a lot of getting new things, getting rid of old things, and keeping up with trends. I work with very privileged teenagers and for many of them, getting each new iPhone is the norm.

The focus on materialism has struck me sharply this week based on what I’ve seen and heard around school and I started to wonder: Why isn’t this a time for giving?

After talking with an administrator, I was asked to write a few lines for the parent newsletter and submitted the following:

With the prevalence of advertisements and sparkling lights it can be difficult for young people to remember that this time of year is a time for giving. We are lucky to live in Singapore where there are ample opportunities to give back to the community, volunteer time, and donate money to local causes. In Advisory, students are bringing in food donations for Food from the Heart, a resource bank for a variety of non-perishable items. Please consider emphasizing the importance of giving as you talk with your children around this time of year. There is much that clamors for our attention, but giving lies at the heart of what makes us human. As the IB mission states, we aim to develop “caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world”. Thank you for helping us raise these young people.

So for this post, let’s talk about giving.

‘Tis the Season

Many of us are attracted to shiny new things, as the advertising industry well knows. But once we’ve received the shiny new thing, does it make us as happy as we hoped that it would? Does it solve the problem we hoped it would solve? Sure, sometimes we love it and we’re glad to have it. But other times, we find ourselves using or missing the same comfortable old thing instead. Advertisers don’t talk about that part.

This is the time of year where we’re supposed to want the new thing. We deserve it, we’re told. We’ve worked hard. We can treat ourselves. 

And we have worked hard and we can treat ourselves. Sure.

But we can also give.

Giving is a verb. It is an action. It is something you do with purpose in whatever way you’d like. Giving means doing for another without expecting a response. It means thinking about someone else and removing yourself from the equation. Give because you want to and then step aside.

Giving doesn’t actually have a season, but this opportunity is as good as any. We can decide that this is a season of giving and we can promote giving as a peaceful act.

How to Give

Giving is easy because you can give anything.

We can give small moments to people in our lives just to see them smile when they realize we’ve thought of them. We can send a few “thank you” emails. We can offer a compliment about a new shirt or tie. We can smile a bit more, laugh a bit more, appreciate each other just a little bit more. We can ask after one another and listen, really listen, to what people say.

Giving, after all, is a verb.

And if we have it, we can give time. We can set aside our phones and other distractions and give people quality conversation, a friendly phone call. We can volunteer almost anywhere. For those of you in Singapore, we have ample opportunities to do just about anything.

If we’re lucky enough, we can give money. There is no shortage of good causes (and advertisements for causes that might not be so good). I know that this can be overwhelming, so if you’re looking to make the greatest possible impact, here is my favorite place to start.

A Peaceful Act

I haven’t written much about peace and peacebuilding since I published my book back in June, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I’ve been trying to live it with my students in our discussions about prosocial behavior in psychology class. I’ve been talking with friends from outside work to gain new and different perspectives. I’ve been meditating daily to grow in my ability to be open to sensations, experiences, and people.

So this is my request for a peaceful act: Please, amidst the holiday parties and glittery ads, think about giving. 

As I’ve written before, I see peace as the keystone in the arch of what comprises a better world. Giving, in any way you choose, will help make that world a reality.

Dance. Share love. Forgive.

I’m not a big fan of “stuff”. The more I move around, the less I want to own things that I have to move from place to place. The less I want to own things in general, really. If I can’t or won’t transport it, whatever it is, I just don’t need it in the first place. If I haven’t worn it in a year, forgot I had it, or have other things that could substitute for it, that’s one more item I can donate to someone who might find it useful.

There are exceptions, of course. I have a few boxes of memories in my parents’ basement. Photos, dolls and children’s books I’ve been saving “for someday”, thirteen years of yearbooks, textbooks from college and graduate school that I might reference if I ever pursue a doctorate.

Overall, though, I make an effort to use what I have and think very carefully before I buy anything new. Again, there are exceptions. Namely for books.

I’ve been thinking about consumerism a lot lately because it’s that time of year where we turn from being thankful for what we have to becoming obsessed with acquiring more.

I had to laugh when I first saw this. Original from here.


Back in February I spent a long weekend in Ubud, Bali, recuperating from a week in Battambang, Cambodia with the grade ten students at my school. It was a deliciously relaxing three-day period in which I did yoga, walked for hours, ate delicious food, made photographs, read a lot, and wrote even more.

While exploring Ubud, I wandered into more than a few jewelry stores. I’ve always admired really classic pieces that are elegant, subtle, go with everything, and will never go out of style. Bali produces a lot of silver, my favorite metal because of its versatility. It took me three trips to the same store to look at the same necklace before I finally decided to buy it.

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I wore that necklace to school today and a couple of my students asked what it said. I turned over each side and read it aloud to them, “Dance. Share love. Forgive.”

Dance.

Share love.

Forgive.

Dance.

Share love.

Forgive.

Repeat.

That’s what living is all about. That’s what the holiday season, the sprint between Thanksgiving and Christmas (regardless of whether you personally celebrate), really should be about.


It’s the middle of December.

People are excited about the time of year, perhaps anxious about entertaining family members and friends, finalizing travel plans, and looking for ideas of what to give those they love. We all aim for something meaningful, something that is put out on display and remembered rather than something that ends up shoved in the back of the closet, regifted, or donated. We want to express our love towards the people in our lives through actions (love is a verb!) rather than presenting our people with “stuff” in the hopes that they find a use for it. We want to do something that shows our people that we hear them, we’re listening, we’re there for them, we understand, we care.

For the last year, I’ve made donations to several organizations (including GiveWell, Against Malaria, SCI, and CARE) in honor of a number of people in my life for a variety of gift-giving occasions. All of those people have told me that they were, indeed, honored. They were glad that they’d helped others who need it, glad that they could play a role in improving society for all.

I find immense value in cultivating connections with others in our increasingly fractured world. I am willing to argue that human connection is the greatest gift we can all give or receive. Ten months ago, I bought a necklace to remind me. Today, I remembered.


Dance. We are, all of us, trying to create a world where we can live peacefully, eat well, sleep soundly, fulfill our desires, learn endlessly, and be our best selves as frequently as possible.

Share love. We have the ability to give in everything that we do. We can share anything from a smile to a good book, from an idea to a call to action. The positive things that we do for ourselves and those around us are acts of love. They are easy and cost nothing.

Forgive. We owe it to ourselves to move forward, to the greatest extent that we can. Dialogue and reconciliation about what has hurt us can free us from those feelings, form common ground from difference, and allow us to turn our energies elsewhere.

In the frenzy of the weeks ahead, I will be doing my best to remain grounded and to give what I can in the ways that I can. I encourage all of you to join me and to do the same. Together, we can create the world that we all deserve to inhabit.

To my students, today and every day, thank you for reminding me about what counts.

Who would we be if we could not sympathize with those who are not us or ours? Who would we be if we could not forget ourselves, at least some of the time? Who would we be if we could not learn? Forgive? Become something other than we are? – Susan Sontag

Having Children: Addendum

About three months ago, Kyle and I wrote and self-published a Kindle e-book called Having Children: A Dialogue. Since we find great value in freely sharing ideas, we also made the full text available on each of our blogs, which you can see here and here. The dialogue elicited a lot of discussion among our friends, both in person and on Facebook.

One of my oldest friends pointed out her disappointment that we hadn’t discussed adoption at all throughout Having Children. Instead, we focused on morality behind bringing children into the world; ways we love children as opposed to adults; whether having children is actually in the best interests of the child, parents, or society; how having children does or does not take away from other actions that we could be taking to alleviate hugely pressing global issues; and ideas of raising children who work towards benefitting humanity. However, as my friend Rachel eloquently expressed in her Facebook comment, adoption “needs to be talked about and celebrated”. She’s right, and that’s why I’m writing this addendum.

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Having Children: A Dialogue – Addendum
I was in kindergarten when I was first introduced to the concept of adoption and I’ve been fascinated with it ever since. Rachel is the one who brought it up. My (likely distorted) memory of it now is that she explained that being adopted means that a family who doesn’t give birth to you takes you to be part of their family because the family that did give birth to you can’t take care of you. Rachel’s clear pride in her identity immediately told me that adoption was something positive, something helpful and good.

Not bad for being five years old.

Rachel was one of two children in my kindergarten class who were adopted and there were four or five others in our school who I came to know well during my elementary school years. In fourth grade, I wrote and illustrated a story about a family who adopted a little girl. A best friend and former boyfriend are both adopted, as are easily a dozen others friends or acquaintances I could count off the top of my head. Some of these friends are in contact with biological mothers (interestingly, none with biological fathers), others have attempted contact, and still others have no interest.

Adoption is a very comfortable idea for me. I’ve talked to more than a few adoptive parents about how and why they made their decisions to adopt, and the adoption options that are available. Some went through public agencies and others have had private adoptions. Most of my friends were adopted domestically but I also have a few friends adopted from overseas. I’ve asked about open and closed adoptions, as well. In all cases, it was about difficulty biologically having children but still wanting a family.

My mum was the one who introduced me to the concept of adopting even when you can biologically have children. Over the years, I have pestered her about her personal experiences from when her family fostered a little girl when she was a teenager. Before having children herself, my mum considered adopting but my dad was not supportive. He’s a doctor and has all sorts of concerns that stem from his studies of biology and genetics. The way my dad sees it, you know about more about your own genes and medical history when you have a biological child than you do when you adopt. To be blunt, you have a better idea of “what you’re getting”. I don’t need to get into all the scenarios in which this is not necessarily the case. Children are, after all, a product unto themselves and not a carbon copy of either parent or an even mixture of one or the other.  

While my dad’s concerns are understandably, the way I see it is that there are children in this world who need loving homes. My parents did not adopt, but adopting has long been the only way I plan to have children of my own. I’ve always wanted a family and I also want to help improve the world as much as I can. However, I understand that my own resources are limited and I will need to make choices, much as I do now, about what I do for the world and what I do for myself. Currently, I make a monthly donation to GiveWell and a variety of donations to other causes and organizations. My ability to do that will change as my circumstances change. Having children means fewer resources to donate to effective projects in developing companies, but having children also means being able to fulfill dreams that I have for myself, as well as hopefully allow me to raise children who also believe in improving the world.

In the Having Children dialogue, I explained why having children is important to me on a personal level:

I don’t disagree that the amount of money it could cost to raise a child in the developed world is badly needed elsewhere and would have incredibly positive impacts on the lives of people in developing countries. At the same time, though, I see it as partially my responsibility, as someone who cares about the world and improving the world, to have children in order to develop more people who care about the world and who will work to create a better and more peaceful world for all those who inhabit it.

As an educator, I have some ability to develop such individuals, but there’s definitely more I could do with my own children than others’ children, particularly because a teacher’s direct influence is often only a year long. Parenting lasts a lifetime. It’s important to me to continue impacting the world in positive ways and I think having a child, for me, is a way to do that.

If my goal is to make the world a better, more peaceful place where increased well-being for all is a real aim of people and governments around the world, I see few better places to start than in one’s home. Adoption is just one more way of making good on that goal, and one more option to consider in the ongoing conversation about having children.