Tag Archives: Peace

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.

Antisemitism Among the Internationally Minded

“How much is a taxi to the airport? I have to pay it myself. My school doesn’t give me a per diem.”
“Oh that’s too bad. Why not?”
“It’s a Jewish school so they’re stingy.”
“Hey!”
“Well that’s how they make all their money.”

And then we made eye contact and she looked away.

My only contribution to this conversation was the interjection, “Hey!”. I’m not sure whether it was enough. I’m never sure.


I’ve spent the last three days at an IB professional development workshop for the DP Psychology course that I teach. People came from all over – Singapore, Indonesia, China, Nepal, India, New Zealand, Hong Kong, and Abu Dhabi were represented among 24 psychology teachers. And that’s just where they teach now; where they’re from is a completely different list.

Context is important here. What I like most about the IB, and what gives me legs to stand on when discussing controversial topics, is its mission:

The International Baccalaureate aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect. . . .
These programmes encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right. (emphasis added)

To this end, the IB highlights international-mindedness throughout its programs, though the way this actually looks is heavily discussed and debated. The point, however, is that this is who we’re supposed to be as an IB community. We’re supposed to be internationally minded, emphasize intercultural understanding and respect, and accept difference.

I’ve seen antisemitism all over the world and it no longer surprises me. But I was taken aback to see it in a woman about my age, also a traveler, who teaches a psychology course that includes a sociocultural unit. She’s obviously frustrated at having to pay for what was likely a required workshop, so I’m not questioning that. Frustration is why she made the claim – we blame others when things that we don’t like happen to us. My question is why the claim was antisemitic in the first place.

Since she teaches at a Jewish school, she knows more than nothing about Judaism and she knows Jewish people. She likely has Jewish friends, even if they’re friends just at work. This means that I can’t use ignorance as an explanation, which is usually the excuse that I give people. Ignorance is lack of knowledge or lack of information and that’s clearly not the case.

As a teacher of psychology, she is familiar with Henri Tajfel’s work on social identity theory, which, ironically enough, stems from his experiences of persecution during the Holocaust. In short, we compare ourselves to others and categorize ourselves into groups in order to boost our self-esteem. “We” are the in-group and “they” are the out-group. “They” are this and “we” are not. “We” do this and “they” do not. Etc.

Much of our group categorization is unconscious. We are not necessarily aware when this happens because the brain naturally categorizes things in order to simplify and streamline our thinking. As a teacher of psychology, she knows about cognitive biases, which are mental shortcuts that the brain uses to make sense of the world around us. We’d never be able to make any sort of decision if the brain first had to process every possible option.

Stereotypes are also linked to implicit associations, generalizations that the brain makes based on patterns. Again, we don’t realize this is happening. Harvard University’s Implicit Association Test, which I do with my students, can be enlightening. Sometimes these associations, or biases, have little impact on our interactions with others but sometimes they can be quite significant. As I discuss with my students, having implicit biases is normal. Checking yourself when you come to a snap judgement is what it means to be mindful before acting.


To summarize, it is troubling to me that a psychology teacher in a global program with a mission to value international-mindedness, intercultural understanding and respect, and acceptance of difference made an antisemitic comment. I don’t have an explanation for this teacher. She should know and teach everything I’ve just described. And if she hasn’t been doing that, we just spent three days discussing it. She should understand this in her own life and adjust accordingly. And maybe she will.

So why the antisemitic comment? The nagging voice in my head says that some people are just antisemitic. Some people are just racist, biased, discriminatory, prejudicial, xenophobic even when they know better. Sometimes this comes from fear or uncertainty. Sometimes this comes from prior negative experience. (As one of my friends would say, “Sounds like textbook human.”)

Haven’t an explanation doesn’t rectify or excuse the behavior, but perhaps it can suggest ways that allow us to respond constructively. And perhaps, since this woman didn’t check herself but was ultimately checked, this particular comment can be a learning experience.

It is heartening that no one else in the room engaged with her comment at all. The conversation moved on immediately, which is a perfectly appropriate response once someone speaks out and the other backs down. It seems plausible that most people in the room recognized the bias, prejudice, and stereotype behind this comment and knew it to be wrong. In light of that, maybe we’re doing okay at building a better, more peaceful world.

But in light of that, we cannot pretend the work is over.

Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace. – Amelia Earhart

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An olive tree in Neot Kedumim, Israel – March 2017

On Loving

Love is a verb.

A verb is an action.

An action is doing, is being.

Love is behaving in a way that shows care, that listens, that hears, that sees. Love is affirming others, making them part of our lives, creating spaces where we exist together.

Love is intimate and love is public. Love takes many forms. In its truest form, perhaps, love is peace.


Over cups of coffee, they talk about work. They talk about family. They talk about books. 

She leans forward. “And what about you?” She uses his name for the first time in their conversation. “Are you happy?”

He nods. A shy smile. Mentions a few mutual friends. Mentions someone’s new girlfriend. “I’ve been seeing someone, as well,” he says, his smile broader. 

Her own smile matches his and she’s happy. She asks questions; he gives answers.

“Are you in love?”

He tilts his head side to side, small smile on his lips and quiet joy in his eyes, a look she’s seen a thousand times before. “Yeah.”

His smile grows and she’s happy.


Loving is wishing for others what we want for ourselves, and sometimes more.

Loving is playing a part in the joys of others and doing what we can to create those joys.

And as with everything else, love surprises. We’re sometimes stunned, taken aback. People we’ve never imagined walk into our lives. People we’ve rarely been without fade into the background. Sometimes, people who love us are generous in ways we’ve never known, astonishing in the ways they express love to us and welcome our love in return. People who love show care, compassion, forgiveness. They accept who we were, affirm who we are, and remain part of our journey as we become.


The first emotion is happiness. Others would come later, but happiness remains for the rest of the afternoon.


Sometimes the people we love stand by our side and cling as tightly to our hands as we do to theirs. Sometimes they hold us up and sometimes it is our turn to steady them. Sometimes we close our eyes and jump together; sometimes one encourages the other along. Sometimes we hesitate because we’re not sure. And then, sometimes, we know.

Yet, our paths might diverge. One might ask how far while the other has already jumped. One might run headlong into whatever’s next while the other is unsure of what’s now. We might make mistakes. We might hurt. We might cry. We might realize it is best to go our separate ways, forge unique trails, learn who we are as individuals. We might find ourselves completely different people.

Sometimes we stop speaking. We might realize the most loving action is to walk away or to let another go. Sometimes we get back in touch. We might look on from afar, holding our breath.


They finish their coffee and go for a walk. They talk some more.

“You’ve changed a lot,” she observes.

“Yes,” he agrees, “and so have you.”

She nods. They look at each other and she puts up her hand. They high-five.

When it’s time to go, it’s his turn to put up his hand. They high-five again. They’d hugged hello out of habit but hug goodbye out of fondness. Out of love.


Love is more than a feeling.

Love is a verb.

A verb is an action.

When we act, we do. We are. We become. We can love those around us, and we can love ourselves, through the choices we make, our accomplishments, the lives we lead.

We love through what we do. We fall in love when others respond, when they let us in, when they act towards us as we do towards them. We can love without being in love, but we cannot fall in love without loving.

Love is more than a feeling.

Love is a verb.

A verb is an action.

Love is doing. Love is being. Love is peace.