PC

Social movements begin with an objection to the status quo, initiated by a perception that something is wrong. Rarely is it mild resistance or silent individual demonstration. Others, the critical masses, most tangibly grasp these objections when defiance is loud. That’s when they become movements, and become change, become revolutionary. When the words are strong, when you feel them, feel their force – not only the passion of their emissary, but the potency of the words themselves.

History is witness to this power, particularly that of words written. The written word molds, shapes, and reshapes history to its purposes and perspectives. The words continue beyond the time of their mediums. But the “new” perspectives, the provocative tales of what really happened, are hailed as revolutionary. This provocativeness usually comes with some lack of political correctness. They depict what was happening to the real people like you and me – the part that you and I would actually care about because that would be us. That is us.

The ideas behind historical movements or social change seem obvious today. At that time and place, they were not. In fact, they seemed wrong. They seemed outrageous. This repeated re-realization leads me to ask what’s “wrong” today. When do we know something is wrong? When are provocative ideas valid? When should we call it out? When are we allowed to? When should we strive to be politically incorrect? When should we defy loud through the written word – or otherwise?

I am the reigning queen of PC. It’s been bred into me as an Asian, and as an American – a double whammy. It’s not my place to disagree. Or if I do, I’m going to let you share your flawed perspective to your own detriment without my own comment or interjection. A commiserating nod will do.

But when is it necessary to be politically incorrect? When does this interminable effort to maintain political correctness become censorship? When does political incorrectness become a tool for constructive provocation, debate, and progress? At the far end, when do we condemn without tolerance? When should we? When do we condemn without empathy and understanding, clearly demarcating that this something is wrong? When do we force political correctness to the wayside to get to the flesh and bone of the matter? When do we reign it in? And when do we leave it at the door to make way for something else?

Back-to-School

It’s September. Meg Ryan is smelling bouquets of sharpened pencils in You’ve Got Mail, grade-schoolers are buying 25 duo-tangs and 12 glue-sticks, Ikea is rife with cute pillows for your dorm room, Kylie Jenner’s about to come out with pumpkin spiced latte lip kits (ok, I don’t know if that’s true but it would be unsurprising), and teachers are lying awake at night wondering what will be thrown their way this year.

Dig into most global problems and eventually you’ll get to a cause or solution rooted in “education.”

Gender inequity? Educate girls. 

Donald Trump as president? Turn back time and educate America.

War? Educate the vulnerable and marginalized.

Climate change? Educate kids in environmental stewardship. 

Education is the tarnished silver bullet. And the teaching profession is left holding the smoking gun.

Teachers are rarely given the support or recognition needed as first responders in the global fight against ignorance. Instead, they’re left with oversized classrooms and a sea of expectations. Expectations from parents, from administrators, and from arbitrary standardized tests. To cope, the superficially ambitious collect workshop credits and degrees to bump up their pay grade and their chance at administrative roles, while the more introverted quietly burn-out in a bon fire of inefficient collaboration and perceived inability to address the educational and social needs of the less “typical” students in their classrooms.

As in other sectors, administrators in education have a solution for these challenges: collaboration. Poorly-defined, daunting for most, and often terribly executed, collaboration is among the most misused trends for quality improvement. Classrooms are not boardrooms, students are not products, and test scores are not bottom lines. The recipe for effective collaboration in schools needs a lot more attention and resources than simply pairing teachers up and introducing poorly thought-out projects that do not necessarily address the needs of students nor teachers.

Collaborative overload, as coined by the Harvard Business Review, is a symptom of growing pains that come with change. Change being the ridiculous 50 PERCENT INCREASE in time spent on collaborative activities by managers and employees over the past two decades. This needs to be examined carefully and course-corrected so that better collaborative practices can be realized.  Left alone, collaboration can veer off track and leave some overburdened as others coast along.

Up to a third of value-added collaborations come from only 3% to 5% of employees.

In a classroom context, that means that an already over-burdened teacher is now spending more time a) sitting in meetings, and b) doing extra work in the name of collaboration on behalf of a colleague. For certain personality types, specifically the more introverted, this spells disillusionment and burnout. Mmm my favourite dynamic duo. Good teachers are leaving the profession because of this, and it’s hurting students, other teachers, and society overall.

Good leadership in schools is required to effectively distribute collaboration, to monitor it, and to recognize where it’s helping and where it’s hurting. A one size-fits-all approach to collaborative education simply doesn’t work. It undermines the privilege inherent in being tasked with impressing young minds and the nuanced attention to detail required to inspire, motivate, and protect the 30 or so little people staring up at you.

But while we sit here with bated breath for good leadership to appear out of thin air, let me take a moment to thank you. Here’s to you. The one lying awake at night wondering how to help every one of the 30 little brains. Here’s to you, going above and beyond to create value in otherwise empty attempts at collaborative projects. Here’s to you, teaching a new batch of little people not only how to count, but also to recognize what counts.

Happy new scholastic year!

#Brexistentialism

There’s heartbreak in what happened yesterday. I woke up this morning to a torrent of devastated, incredulous and shell-shocked texts, updates and headlines. A campaign steered by hate and fuelled by fear had won.

Leave.

A text I’d send to someone in response to “I’m wildly bored at this party.” Not the response to a nation-wide referendum on whether a key EU member should divorce from the union after 43 years. The nervousness I felt yesterday was similar to one I felt on October 19th when Canada was deciding whether it was going to be swayed by an embarrassingly xenophobic conservative election campaign. Thankfully, that one went a different way and we had a second bout of Trudeaumania, but now instead all I’m feeling is a bout of #brexistentialism…

I’m not even going to go into the economic consequences of it because well…  the uncertainty and instability alone is enough to have sent markets into the frenzied statistical equivalent of a Picasso painting.

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uhhh. I don’t even know how to process the above.

But that’s not necessarily what’s been teasing my tear ducts all day. It’s the fact that there’s such an agitated undercurrent across the world that entire “democracies” are at the boiling point of being run by bigoted ideology and a sense of othering unlike any I’ve seen before. Who are these people voting with such anger and disdain for people who have been literally driven out of their homes? Global insecurity is darkening the future of entire generations across the world. Meanwhile, the British leave campaign focused on sentiments of inward-looking, myopic nationalism, citing the “lack of English spoken on the streets of London” as a reason for wanting to keep out those left with no place to go. Like a child with too many toys and not enough heart. The real breaking point of the awful campaign came when people seeking refuge were weaponized…

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I mean really… I get angry all over again every time I look at that.

Then there’s the age disparity in voters, which is best explained by this table:

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WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE???

I want to be understanding and realize that many of the voters voting “Leave” are facing their own personal disasters, feeling economically marginalized and discounted in the larger EU framework. But the decision to Leave, doesn’t fix that. All it does is show the rest of the world that America is not the only crazy super power. And that we are all alone in dealing with an increasingly terrifying world.

Britain, you’ve played your Trump card.  

All we can hope for now is that the shock and devastation that’s reverberated across the world from such small thinking will lead to a shift in political processes towards more humanist thinking. Scotland’s national animal is a unicorn after all, right? …

Some.Body.

I have a confession. I’m a complete hypocrite. Ok, not so much a confession as a baseline assumption for most humans, but still.

I realized it at an Italian restaurant. I was eating a capriccio pizza in the most offensive way. Avoiding the crust, peeling away most of the cheese, picking around the puddles of drizzled oil. Basically I was mastering the art of pretending to eat pizza and doing it in the least appetizing way possible. My younger sister looked at me with her face contorted into a blend of anger, disgust and pity. “She doesn’t even eat. It’s like she has an eating disorder or something.” I immediately felt guilty. Being five years older, I was supposed to be her role model. The strong, independent, confident, brilliant, understated yet fabulous older sister. And here I was, a cliché. Part of an “n” in some vague college survey statistic stating that 35% of the 95% of women dieting end up dieting pathologically.

It would take me another year to notice that maybe I did actually have a problem.
I grew up being slim. “So pretty. Just like a Barbie doll.” Relatives mashallah-ed my figure, my face, my grades. It became an identity. A valuation. I was pretty and I was smart. This was my truth.

Then I went to college.

What I gained in pounds, I lost in GPA points. My report cards and dorm room mirror reflected a person I didn’t know how to be. A person who soon became the roommate I never wanted. I dragged her weight around from early morning class to half-assed gym sessions, still uncomfortable with the association. Four years later, we graduated together, still at odds.

My post-grad experience was filled with external validation. I came out of the shadows and basked in the glow of professional praise and romantic interest. But it wasn’t enough. Every photo seemed to capture a person I still didn’t see as being me.

“Beauty comes from within.”

Sure, but my “within” was without solace from the torment of stretch marks crawling under my skin. I felt that the vessel that carried me was betraying me. So I started to betray it right back. Food was the villain. Running shoes the hero. It became a positive feedback loop where the more weight I lost, the less I was willing to eat “bad” foods. At the time, it felt like I was finally regaining control over who I wanted to be. What I didn’t notice was that the confidence I was building was paper-thin – entirely reliant on a few numbers that I had set as benchmarks for my worth. I should mention. We’re talking 20 lbs here. I was tormented over basically nothing. Embarrassingly silly.

At work, I’d write about empowering women to stand against external pressures that undermine their worth, to overcome unhealthy behaviours triggered by commercial quest for profit. Then I’d go home to work out and eat four pieces of rice. At the bar, I’d be enthusiastically discussing body positivity and being confident women who don’t shrink away but rather refuse to apologize for existing. Then I’d go home feeling guilty about the 164 calories worth of wine I’d just had.

I warned you. Hypocrite.

That day, over the oily carcass of the innocent capriccio pizza, my sister’s uncomfortable face shamed me into re-examining my own hypocrisy. The process took a year, but by the end of it, I ate pizza like a normal human being. My workouts became about being stronger, not smaller. As my focus shifted away from shrinking, my strength grew. Not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally.

The process is far from complete. Sometimes I still look at food and see calories where there should be joy. Or I drag my tired body onto a yoga mat and sweat the small stuff. But I’ve also finally started to be grateful to my body.

It. Is. Amazing. All bodies are. They’re a collection of bone and tendon and flesh that magically come together to do the most incredible things. They help us show our strength, our grace. And where necessary, they also help us weather storms or clouded judgment.

I’m determined not to forget that.

I’m taking off the “for display only” sign. My body is so much more.

Takes Two To Tango.

Zika. Sounds more like a videogame character than a mosquito-borne (and maybe sexually transmissible…) disease that may be causing microcephaly in infants, leaving devastating downstream consequences. Amidst echoes of criticisms it faced not too long ago in its (admittedly not-so-speedy) response to Ebola, the WHO has declared Zika a public health emergency.

The virus is spreading across the Americas and governments are taking interesting measures to control its spread and its consequences. Here is an example of governmental responses as voiced by the Economist:

“It started after a handful of governments advised women to delay getting pregnant. Colombia, which has the second-highest number of infections after Brazil, advised women to wait six to eight months. Jamaica issued a similar recommendation, even though no cases of Zika have yet been reported there. El Salvador’s government suggested that women should delay pregnancy until 2018. Panama warned women from indigenous communities, in which infection rates are high, not to conceive.”

Ok so the bold formatting is mine, but I’m making a point here.

Reading that, you’d think that women are the sole pro-creators of the species. I mean really… count the number of times the word women is used vs. men, or public or other non-gender-specific terms. We may need a retelling of the birds-and-the-bees story so that officials are reminded of how reproduction works (nevermind that unwanted sex and sexual violence run rampant).

Accountability for the repercussions of lust and desire traditionally, and well… biologically (thanks mother nature), fall on women. It’s sexist, ineffective and limits our collective capacity to handle something like this outbreak. Gender-neutral public health messages are necessary to put the onus on more than just one half of the affected population to help mitigate the long-term consequences of this virus (of which there will be many given that we’re going to end up with pockets of rural areas with high levels of need for complex interventions that can support the surge in developmental disabilities).

Meanwhile, in a similar vein, the CDC’s messaging around alcohol consumption by women of reproductive age who are not on birth control has gotten a lot of flak for, as this article so poignantly puts it, “slut shaming boozy women.” Amused. Thanks internet. I’d almost argue that the female-directed messaging around Zika control is more inappropriate in terms of gender equity than the CDC’s poorly worded yet well meaning headlines. Mostly because while the CDC could’ve been more sensitive in putting out its message, as far as Zika and pregnancies go… seriously, it takes two to tango.

Comic Sans

Restlessness is something I’m familiar with. I’ve moved 10 times in 5 years… But this time, it’s hitting me a bit differently. Partly because every time I glance at the news, I have to double check that it’s not an Onion article (eg. US issues Worldwide travel alerts??). I mean, these are some headlines over the last couple of days…

“Sweden slams shut its open-door policy towards refugees.” –The Guardian

“Food prices rise sharply after fighting disrupts Afghan harvest.” –Irin

“Standoff over government climate study provokes national uproar by scientists.” –Reuters

Awesome. It’s like raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens…

When a Scandinavian country is slamming anything other than poetry you just know something is seriously wrong. I’m not even going to get into some of the headlines that happened after the Paris Attacks. It’s all just completely counterproductive to the way we need to be approaching this absurd global threat that’s completely fuelled by hatred of the “other.”

Anyway, I digress. Restlessness. It’s also partly attributed to the fact that I’m having so much trouble integrating myself into my current “community.” At work I’m meant to be contributing to some sort of global “good” but mostly I feel like I’m watching a slow-motion reel of the world falling apart as antibiotic resistance becomes terrifying enough to deserve a horror movie trailer, climate change and the kindle of greed work together to literally burn down entire forests (thanks palm oil), and there’s just no food ever- for more reasons than I can list off without making this a systematic review. Meanwhile I write papers. And reports. And make presentations that nicely tell the story of papers and reports that have set goals and targets to mitigate our collective descent into disaster.

My usual solution to feeling this level of futility at work is to start volunteering. I was raised by a woman who can’t stand still. Ever since I can remember she’s been desperate to do something-anything- to make someone else’s life suck just a little less. My subconscious is her voice telling me that my reach doesn’t end at my hands and feet and that there’s always more I could do. In most of the places I’ve lived, I’ve been able to channel this into some level of mildly productive activity. But now… now, I’m stuck and feel like a high school chemistry experiment gone wrong. It’s as if half of my energy doesn’t know where to go and ends up tuning into the recesses of my mind where the bizarre thrive. And no, I’m not artistic enough to wrangle out a Picasso from whatever those nooks and crannies hold.

On the plus side, this dip in the peaks and troughs of my past few months has shed some light on a misconception I’d had about community. I’ve generally discounted the whole idea, being mostly annoyed at small communities and preferring the ability to melt into the backdrop of anonymity whenever I wanted to, only to pop out in Technicolor as needed and on my own terms. What I hadn’t fully appreciated was that at every stage, I had still been connecting to elements of a “place” without realizing it and creating a custom community if you will. This time around, the process is taking longer than usual and I feel desperate to fix something- anything for someone- anyone. Altruism is “selfless” by definition… does it count if it’s for selfish reasons. Is that the altruist’s paradox? IS THAT WHAT’S WRONG WITH EVERYTHING.

Hopefully there’s a part 2 to this post that makes a bit more sense and sounds less… lost. Unless I get completely disheartened by the world falling apart again -_-

I’ll just leave this here:

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Razor Blades

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Yes. It boggles my mind. It boggles my mind that an entire industry can be created and designed and financed and consumed based on a socially constructed desire. Seemingly inconsequential, these 1- or 3- or 4- or…5-(?!?!)bladed configurations presumably do not save lives or better humanity (except for apparently, in the realm of a larger social construct, increasing the potential for copulation among its subscribers – but then, depending on how you look at it, this could also be argued not to better mankind’s existence in any sense – but I digress).

Yet, as I stand in Walgreens, I am forced to make a resolute selection between number of curve-hugging blades, pre-determined “feminine” colors, ribbons of moisture and conditioning strips, titanium coats, and micro-fine combs, between the Embrace and the Swirl, Slim, Hydro, and Xtreme. And it occurs to me, as these things often do – so…this is someone’s job, possibly life’s work, to design this simple device, and offer all of this choice diversity in the product, for my consumption? Made to cut the little hairs and peel the skin from my legs. To make it acceptable for me to walk about in society barelegged. To make me desirable to touch and feel. And are they…satisfied? Did they grow up dreaming of coming to work everyday pouring over design tables, plastic parts, sketches to design and manufacture…razors? This is significant to this person…?

Probably not. I’d venture to guess that more often then not, it’s a job. It pays bills and provides. Or if it is passion, it’s not for the final product of the hailed razor. It is difficult for me to imagine for various reasons: One, the inconsequence of the product. Again, presumably. In the grand scheme of life – I would hope – for all of our sakes. Two, how this feeds into individuals’ satisfaction with their work and life. After all, so much of our lives have become defined by our work, i.e. what is your legacy? And that is their LIFE’S WORK, or some part of it. I hope they find it thrilling. I truly do. Three, you’re telling me that this industry creates and sways its own market based on the insecurities promulgated by a strategic narrative of what is pleasing and what should be, a fabricated ideal. Interesting.

And, of course, the questions amass. How many other products out there would encourage the same thoughts? What does it mean to be consequential in the convoluted, awkward, hypercritical realm of social constructs that we’ve created for ourselves? When do people settle? Where do they find their satisfaction instead, accepting that they will spend 40 or more hours a week doing just this? In a society and alleged social structure where we are told that we always have a choice, do we really? In job, career, impact? Especially when time is only shorter. Really, I only have questions. No answers for this one.

Standing awkwardly in the aisle for these two full minutes, I finally press the button to call the attendant to open the case – because yes, in this city, they lock up the razors. And yes, this makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

“That one,” I point.

She hands it to me – green, four blades, all the gadgets and gizmos.

“Thanks.”