Half-my-life ago, teenager me used to ask himself how the adult life surrounding him had come to be. He was quite certain that he would never grow old – that things would always remain the same. He was sure that time would pass and years later, he would still be fighting the daily “Mother vs. Morning Sluggishness” duel, praying for the math teacher to forget to collect his homework and bragging about his newest video-game cartridge.
A couple of Disney movies later, reality dawned on him and what he expected to be the “And he lived happily ever after” part of the plot suddenly revealed itself as the “Once upon a time” page in his book of life. And that is when he realized that all he had lived until then was nothing more than a foreword. And as such, it had been written by a third party.
I was twenty years old. My relationship to my family was at the worst it has ever been. I had just quit my student job and used all the money I had saved to pay my student debt. I was about to start my third university program after two cast-aside attempts and I was still not sure the third program I had chosen actually fit me. My relationship to friends was a catastrophe after repetitive disappointments accumulated during our rapidly-changing adolescence. And well, I was single. After all, not even I could handle myself while having all this happen at the same time I was going through sexual and religious identity crises. I was a complete mess with no direction for life. And this is just a rather polished summary of the first section, which I believed was being fully written by me in my book of life. Fact is: it was not (yet), but I did not know it.
But then things changed. Of course – things always change. And as they did, I managed to find my way through to my comfort zone. And there I found myself working hard to pay the bills. Then I worked harder because working to pay the bills made me need more than I did before. And this more I needed had a price tag I could not afford, so the bills also went up and then I had to work even harder. I longed for Fridays so that I could party away the anxiety I had accumulated during the week. And I dreaded Mondays when reality would fall upon me. I remained stuck in my so-called comfort zone for long enough until I could virtually feel young me laughing at how ridiculous I looked like running in circles trying to catch my own tail.
My early adulthood concern about being lost was suddenly not an issue anymore. I was not stuck in inertia, for at least life was moving somewhere and I was letting myself be steered along with it. For every turn of events, I quickly ran after the next best comfort zone, where I fooled myself into a kind of pleasure triggered by the vicious consumption of my authenticity. Self-indulgence had taken over.
Fortunately, things changed again. At this point I could write that “One day I woke up and, and, and…” but the fact is that the crave for a complete life-makeover did not hit me when the sun came up. It was only after many miserable and lonely lazy Sundays after the sun went down and I was alone in bed waiting to fall asleep that I felt this inexplicable realization that there was something beyond the walls of my comfort zone. As I peeked at it, it was clear to me that a much longer and winding road was in front of my eyes. Nevertheless, little did I know that despite being lengthier, that road did not demand fancy shoes nor a suit and tie to be walked upon, that road did not stop me every now and then to collect toll fees and that road allowed me to walk, stroll, jump, run, drive, take a ride or even fly along its path. However, or should I say, moreover, that road had a price to be paid for each step along its way – and ‘detachment’ was its currency.
And there I was. The utmost uncomfortable time of all when I had to learn to detach from places, things, people and ideas so that I could reach new places, need ever less and less things, surround myself by different people and cherish never-before-imagined ideas. And I did not only pull through it – I loved it! And symbolically speaking, my mind was the engine, positive thinking was the fuel, diligence was the additive and creativity was the motor oil.
Fond of sharing, I have browsed through several of my personal writings and dug into my mind to compile what I consider to be the backbone and the doctrine of my personal road towards detachment. These are:
- Pursue joy as a lifestyle. After all, happiness is only a circumstance.
- Think positive. And remember that positivity is a skill; and as such, it can be learned.
- Make gratitude an autonomous action, not a sentiment. And thank yourself daily.
- Fight for success. But use value and effect as measurements, not effort nor money.
- And remember that significance is granted, not inherent. You can define what, where, when and how much (significance) to confer.
Years have passed since I entered the ‘detachment’ road and started learning and practicing the lessons learned. I have had good and bad days, sunny and rainy Sunday afternoons as well as successes and pitfalls. Yet, never have I felt like my life was being written by third-parties as if running in auto-pilot mode. By learning to detach, I have managed to live in a reality created by my dreams and not in an illusion moulded by the expectations of the world surrounding me. I took control.
Moreover, letting go of things, losing people, leaving places behind and revising morals became so much easier as part of my routine once I got used to how seasonal everything in life is, including life itself. And as I keep on writing stories on my book of life, I rejoice about how exciting it is to let go of all that I am accustomed to and to move on to all that I designed for myself despite not knowing them for sure yet… in other words, my future.
And it feels so right to be the writer and the story teller instead of the character and the story told. Detaching is finding the 60 seconds for every minute of life.
I was twelve years old when I first boarded a plane to travel. The excitement I felt when flying for the first time – “Oh wow!”. This is one of those things from my childhood I remember very clearly – as if it happened yesterday. It was 1997 and I was not on my way to a family vacation like most of my friends, who would then come back and share stories about going places during their holidays. I boarded that flight feeling extremely excited about leaving my life behind. I was not going on vacation. I was about to start a year-long exchange program in a boarding school in Rio de Janeiro. And I was not ‘being sent’ there by a careless mom who wanted a child-free year for herself. On the contrary. I had to fight my overprotective mother to convince her to allow me to leave home at such an early age. And I thank her to this day that she did so.
On board of that flight, I remember thinking about the new and different life I had just started, the new people I would meet and who my new friends would be, the new places I would visit and how my new home and neighborhood would look and feel like, the new types of food I would try and those I would miss, the new clothes I would wear to adapt to the different weather conditions, the new routine I would have and well, the new adventures and stories about them I would have to tell afterwards.
It all sounds very exaggerated knowing it refers to the story of a twelve-year-old boy. Nevertheless, deciding to say goodbye to my ‘stable’ life and childhood did have an impact on me and this is why out of several memories and stories of my past, I may not remember the many vacations and holidays I had, but I do remember very clearly the first time I ever travelled.
Now at the age of 31, I’ve had the opportunity to travel numerous times, to visit hundreds of cities in dozens of countries and “Yes! I am addicted to travel!”. I know many people who travel as much or even more than I do, but I often distance myself from a comparison, for each one differs in his or her approach to traveling. And here I do not refer to the widely discussed difference between being a tourist and being a traveler. Here I refer to the difference between being a ‘travel enthusiast’ and someone like me, a ‘travel addict’.
In my personal quest of self-discovery, I have always wondered why I find it so easy to be everywhere, yet so hard to be back. And this is exactly where the thin red line between an enthusiast and an addict lies.
Every time I come back from a trip, I feel empowered by the ecstasy of the journey that just came to an end. I enjoy the ‘kick’ that keeps running through me and it keeps me active for days or even weeks while ‘welcome back hugs’ are given and stories are told.
But then my ‘fix’ starts to wear off and I slowly become aware that ‘home’ is in every and single way exactly how I had left it – only I changed. And as the inertia of what surrounds me continues to slow me down, I feel exhausted. I start craving for more of my ‘drug’.
I miss the different people I met, the different landscapes I saw, the different places I visited, the different things I discovered, the different lessons I learned, the different experiences I had, the different food I ate and the different feeling of simply ‘being there’. I need to get ‘high’ again! No matter what! And honestly speaking, my addiction sees no coordinates. No matter where I am going next, I just need to set myself in motion again. I need to be surrounded by the unknown again. I just need more of ‘being there’ in order to satisfy my cravings.
Well, as aforementioned, from a very early age, I did not only dream about leaving home and going to foreign places, I dreamt about making foreign places home to me. And from this I learned that home is not a static spot I would always come back to, but rather a dynamic ‘sense of belonging somewhere’. And this ultimately made me figure out that traveling was not a search for things and places, but a quest to find myself enabled by the foreign and unknown nature of every environment I immersed myself into. In other words, by traveling and learning to belong, I allow my senses to respond to special stimuli that in turn empowers the unknown in me.
The American writer Henry Miller once stated: “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”. And well, seeing refers to one of our senses. Sight, along with smell, taste, hearing and touch are the input sensors that react to the stimuli that bring pleasure to life. And the more I challenge my senses, the more fine-tuned they become and thus, the greater I enjoy life and myself.
So, after having experienced several terrible post-travel scenarios and after having literally fought myself and the depressive state of mind following my return from a trip, I learned that by exposing my senses to experiencing ‘home’ more intensively, I end up setting ‘home’ in motion, making my ‘kick’ last longer. After all, my tweaked senses and I are the only things that change after I return from a trip. And with my more precise ‘sensor gear’, I can ‘feel home’ differently every time I return. As of now, I can definitely feel my ‘sense of belonging’ to this place I call home. “How long will it last?” – I ask myself. For that I have no answer.
Well, making my ‘kick’ last is my ‘come back’ priority. And in the meantime, while I have not found a holistic therapy for my addiction (nor I wish to do so, I think 🙂 ), I keep on discovering the ‘unknown me’ when traveling and getting to know the ‘undiscovered home’ when I come back.
I wrote this text after returning from a trip, which took place following a 40-day-long stay at home. This was the longest I spent without traveling in three years.
And last but not the least, I keep on dreaming and planning more and more trips. This is an essential part of my therapy after all: knowing when I will get my next ‘fix’.
PART 1 – From Facebook to the Police Station
Some weeks ago I was doing my usual Facebook feeds reading as I made my way home from work. ‘Terrorism’ was the common denominator in a series of posts, which triggered an unpleasant emotional response in me. That’s when I decided to impulsively react to Facebook’s ‘What’s on your mind?’ question.
With the same three words I started this text, I began saying what was on my mind. And that Facebook post of mine spiraled into a great life lesson. Thankful and still overwhelmed by the magnitude of some of the reactions, I decided to share some thoughts on it.
I am not writing this as a corrigendum to my original post nor do I want to reopen the discussion via social media. As an individual, I am entitled to my own opinion. As a social being, I am open-minded enough to hear others’ opinions with respect. And as a human being, I make mistakes. Having said this, I hereby elaborate:
In my original post, I addressed my frustration with Islam and the unfortunate connection that the world’s current deadliest terrorist organizations have with the Islamic faith. And the content of my post do reflect my opinion on the subject.
Opinions reflect an individual’s own subjective inferences about a given matter based on his/her own set of beliefs, experiences and observations of the world. Opinions cannot be taken as conclusive in the broader sense, for as much as they might be based on facts, they will always be someone’s views on the facts, and not the facts themselves. Thus, the content of my post reflects my very own interpretations about the given subject and my statements should be respected as my right to freedom of speech.
“Why did it go so wrong?” – I asked myself, followed by “I should have seen that coming!” And this is why:
After the several discussions carried on the subject following my post, I gathered input from several contributors. Publicly or privately, some people chose to agree with my opinion, some chose to politely disagree with my opinion and others chose to disagree not only with my opinion, but with me – altogether! And this is where things went wrong. The subject matter of discussion shifted from the opinion itself to the holder of the opinion, in this case, me.
I allowed myself to be understood as a ‘hater’ and to be described with a variety of flawed traits and swearwords by people who do not know who I am and what I stand for. When sharing my views via text opened to hundreds of friends in the way I did, I chose the means (text), the channel (Facebook) and the audience (people who do not truly know me in real life). Thus, it was my choice to do so – my mistake (!?).
To summarize my point, I must quote a saying in my mother tongue, Portuguese, that goes: “Onde há pães, há ratos.”, which literally translates into ‘Where there is bread, there are rats.’ The interpretation of this aphorism can be manifold. On one hand it can be understood as ‘Say what you want. (bread) Hear what you don’t want. (rats).’ whereas it can also be read as ‘Knowledge (bread) decays to be consumed by ignorance (rats).’, both interpretations which I spotted in the context of this experience. And from this came my first lesson learned from it.
Hence, I reiterate that I’m entitled to my opinion and that having shared what I did via Facebook was my own choice, all of which allowed me to learn how such social media interaction can be prone to fiascos because of 1. The lack of emotional context and familiarity with the message sender as well as the receiver, 2. The sender’s deficiency in expressing the right tone of the message via text and 3. The misevaluation of the willingness to understand points 1 and 2 by the receiver.
Well, this post was a true ‘shitstorm’ in my social media life. While I carried out every discussion focused on the subject matter with pleasure, it overwhelmed me to see how I, Thyago, became the target of several offensive messages.
I initially wondered why the authors of such messages chose to withdraw from the discussion quite early. I questioned whether they would be able to sustain their arguments at all, for I was highly interested in the topic. But then I realized these belligerent messages were the ones filled with the fiercest anger towards me as a person. And as I lost Facebook friends, I wondered how exposed I was to such expressions of rage. And it got me scared!
Being an active Facebook user, I had never felt unsafe or vulnerable because of my social media life – until that day! I received one particular message with words such as “(…) you should care for your life next time you cross my way (…)”. This message led me to a police station as the anger in the author’s words felt like a life threat. Consequently, as advised by the police, I had to withdrawal from going public in the last Free Hugs action, which took place on Saturday, June 18th, 2016, in Vienna. And these two happenings really had an impact on me. Facebook goes real life!
I decided to step down and take some time off social media. I had to make sense of all that happened. And I could never be thankful enough for all the hatred that fell upon me. It was EXACTLY what I had to experience in order to be able to re-evaluate some essential aspects of my social media behavior.
PART 2 – The Weight of the Useless
In my 31 years of life, I have met so many different people, places and cultures. One of the most important things I learned from the people I had the chance to meet is that the wisest men are not only the ones who accumulate knowledge and experiences, but those who know how to ignore the useless.
As I underwent the stress of dealing with the reactions to my Facebook post, I felt scared and unhappy for having been bombarded with such aggressive attitude and words. And when I found myself dwelling in thoughts about it all, it occurred to me that the real conflict had nothing to do with what the essence of the discussion was all about. After all, I stood by my words. The conflict was between myself and I.
My mind was fighting against itself for having allowed myself to be portrayed in a way contrary to that what I stand for. That is to say I allowed myself to be pictured as someone who is ‘sharing hatred’ while my most crucial principles stand for ‘sharing love’.
And this conflict happened because I was overrating the weight of my social media life in my real life. I assigned too much value to what it meant to me and let the output from it influence the real me. In other words, I was minimizing my ability to feel joy because I was giving too much weight to the reactions I had faced online. The people whom I wanted to know me as someone who ‘shares love’ were then labeling me a ‘hater’.
And this was my second lesson learned from this experience. The essence of my conflict can be found in the words of the last sentence in the paragraph above: “The people whom I wanted to…” This was my mistake! The conflict started when I gave them the power over me by “wanting them to…”
As people say: ‘Living and learning!’. Sometimes it is hard to ignore the useless in life to make room for the good because it is not always the most convenient choice in the first place, and at times, like this time, it is only after an eye-opening experience that I realize how much weight useless things had in my life. This realization is the trigger of my learning, which takes the chaos away from my mind. And chaos, after all, is not really disorder, but rather an unknown order. Once known, I found my peace of mind.
As I figured how wrong I was in “wanting them to…”, I stopped concentrating on what I could not change and focused on building my self-confidence up again. And this led to yet another fantastic self-discovery triggered by the questions “Why did ‘I want them to’ in the first place?’ and ‘Why was my desire to share so dependent on the recognition gained from it?”
PART 3 – Thank you, Negativity
As aforementioned, ignoring the useless is a successful strategy I keep on learning to find joy in life. And ignoring the useless entices understanding what the useless is. In this regard, my rule of thumb has always been: ‘It is OK when something does not add to my life. But it is not OK if it subtracts from it’ and this goes specially to problems that I cannot do anything about. ‘Why bother after all?’ The problem lies in the fact that not everything that does me harm is explicit. At times, I might actually be the one feeding its very existence in my life without being aware of it. And this was the case with my social media behavior approach, which only came to light as a consequence of the incident talked about before.
The way I see social media and the way I go about it is comparable to an open stage (like Facebook) where artists (users) have the chance to express themselves. Every single status update, photo and shared link, video or other media content is used as the artist’s means of expressing him/herself. Whether the content shared is the artist’s personal output or not, it is nevertheless the manifestation of his/her perception over a certain idea. Thus, every single post comprises the result of the artist being moved by a piece of information, making it a creation, whether authorial or not.
Having this metaphor in mind, I therefore understand my very own social media behavior as an artistic way of expressing myself.
As artists differ in the motives and purposes of their creations, I have come to understand myself as an artist who uses his creation as a means of bridging the gap between the real and virtual worlds by obtaining acknowledgment. Thus, I seek to heal the isolation experienced due to the virtual gap between real life and social media with my intense desire to share my creation. And as I exhaust my energies in the process of creation, I find relief in the acknowledgment obtained from it. And here’s where the third and most important lesson from this experience starts.
As much as acknowledgement serves as a reinforcement, which motivates the creative cycle to continue, my happiness comes from the making and not only from the result and other’s approval of it. And if happiness can be found in the creative process itself, why give third parties the power to dump the value of the joy obtained from it by ‘wanting them to…’, thus, expecting them to be the seeders of my satisfaction? And with expectations come disappointments, which in turn allow negative feelings to flow into my joyful process of creation.
Well, as I learn more and more how imperfect I am and how much room there is for growth, I choose to integrate this insight and accept the negative. Yes! I choose to integrate it, for it entails accepting, including and not resisting. And by being aware about the existing negativity, I no longer perceive it as troubling. Thus, I have no reason to undergo the additional effort of avoiding it, for avoidance creates resistance, yet another negative exertion of energy.
Hence, I have come to the conclusion that it is alright for me to connect to the despicable side of life that social media exposes me to. And the way of going about it is by acknowledging and praising its negative sides instead of fighting them, for it will ultimately lead to me fighting my own faults and emotional problems instead. Therefore, I choose to integrate and accept it, which means I am open to experience it while retaining my intellectual discrimination that things might be different from the way they are manifesting, and it is OK.
With all that in mind, I can continue to enjoy the pleasure of the creative process as well as the joy of acknowledgement without letting the latter’s failure harm the ecstasy of the former. And by reassessing the weight of social media, I distance myself from the possible negative impacts it might have on me, and allow only the good to come through.
I normally say that time is my most valuable resource, after all, there are no second chances for the time wasted. And as I see now how much I troubled myself with overthinking and introspectively trying to interrogate myself asking Why, What and How, I realize that this ‘self-defeating’ time was not wasted at all. The aftermath of this ‘shitstorm’ was exactly what I had to go through so that I could activate the unknown order inside through an intellectual approach triggered by the influence of others. And this is what ultimately allowed me to rationalize how much good the hatred I experienced had on me. And I love it!
As a result of my rather highly active social media life, I often hear comments related to my social media behavior from friends, acquaintances and online followers.
Recently, due to some above-average amount of travelling in my agenda, the frequency of my activities on social media was also above (my) average, which led to some above-average amount of social-media-based communication with all who follow me.
And one of these messages inspired me to write this text.
“You’re a freaking narcissist. But I’m sure you know that.” – so read the message. To which I replied: “Absolutely! Came out as a narcissist a long time ago. And my life has been pure awesomeness since then. J”.
And well, here I go… Narcissism is a highly frowned-upon human trait. It is associated with people having self-aggrandizing fantasies who crave for admiration, normally operate anti-socially, lack the ability to empathize with other people’s feelings and can reach pathological levels, in which it is described as a Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It doesn’t sound good at all, right? Well, fair enough – it doesn’t! I would prefer aligning myself with something much more joyful than this, but before just accepting these definitions, let’s take a little ride on the topic.
To start with, scientific research has already proven that every child undergoes a natural phase of egocentrism. A child’s process of cognitive development eventually undergoes a learning path in which their inability to see a situation from another person’s point of view turns them into highly egocentric individuals – and this is the so-called ‘me me me stage’.
As we grow from children into teenagers, our sense of self-worth and concern for others both mature and leave most of us at a stage of balance between these two. And as we regulate these two variables until we find a healthy measure of them, we also deal with some of adolescence’s major challenges – those in which we are expected to take life-style decisions and find our spot in society.
STOP! [Time to slightly take a turn in the line of thought] Side Note: Have you noticed that the common view about the aspirations of every individual in the bottom of society’s class pyramid is the dream of reaching the top and fighting for equality and the flattening of the pyramid? Well, as much of an equality supporter as I am, what I just described is called communism. And (un)fortunately, we live in a capitalist world.
‘What the heck are you talking about?’ – you may ask.
Well yeah… after the side note, let’s get back to where I left off in the paragraph before: as we strive to find our spot in society, society imposes its values on us. And our capitalist society teaches us that we have to study hard, work hard, be highly ambitious, make sacrifices, strive for money, make profit, beat the competition, exploit the resources to maximize gains, focus on the accumulation of wealth and go up the ladder of success by seeking power and taking advantage of every chance we have to become wealthier – all of this while disregarding the impact of our decisions in humanity and the environment. It sounds rough. It sounds unreasonable with the exceptions. Nevertheless, it is a rule that governs how society, politics, economies and corporations work. Sad, but true.
And behold! A toast to the birth of narcissism!
After all, as the Freudian concept puts it, narcissism refers to an insecure person’s constant seek for attention, affirmation and admiration, all of which are necessary to enhance his/her self-esteem.
Insecurity being a weakness born from an individual’s pursuit of society-prescribed ambitions, narcissism is therefore the result of this equation. It is the mere reflection of the social conditions we live in upon our lives as single individuals.
Nonetheless, there is scope to seeing narcissism in different ways other than the turning of a young person’s innocent egocentric phase into a controversial young adult’s personality trait. And this is where the account of my views comes in. In my life, this much demonized trait is actually celebrated blissfully. And this is how I see it:
THE NARCISSIST IN ME
It has been more than a decade since I left my birthplace, Brazil. Now I sit by my desk in my office facing the Opera house of Vienna, the city rated with the best quality of life in the world. What a privileged view! What a privileged job! What a privileged home I made for myself! What a privileged life!
7.12 billion people in the world. Out of these, only one person can tell the story of how he made it from the middle of the Amazon rainforest to this nice office with a view to the Viennese Opera house. And this person is me! I feel extremely special about it!
So yes! I am very proud of myself. It took a self-evident man and tons of lessons on self-confidence, self-esteem and self-love to learn that all these are ingredients to success, in whatever subjective way one defines it.
In fact, pride is not the only word I use in this context. Thankfulness must be stated. I am very thankful for having had the chance to find my spot in society in such a privileged way. And the narcissist in me is to be praised for this achievement.
We all know the famous axiom ‘you have to love yourself first before you can love others’. And as vague or even cheap as this might sound, this is the backbone of my secret to happiness and thus, to success.
By nurturing self-love, I learned to accept who I truly am and to have my very own dreams, no matter if they seemed too little, too silly or too impossible to the foreign mind. I’ve used opportunities and fate to break boundaries. I’ve made it happen!
By nurturing self-love, I learned to accept that life is a mix of ups and downs, and that everything happens in perfection. I believe in causality. Yet, I give proper credit to the random nature of life. My mind is de-attached from negativity and suffering and focused on the truth, no matter how hard it is to understand.
By nurturing self-love, I learned that I am the master of all resources available to me. These include people, things and most and above all, time. I cherish people, use things and exploit time. And this is a non-negotiable rule. The management of these resources is fully up to my own discretion.
The secret to nurturing self-love? Mind -and will power!
Some might think I seem too pretentious with my words on the subject. I am not trying to set benchmarks nor become the next motivational speaker in the market. I’m just well aware that I am a fighter, I am a winner and I deserve to feel good about myself – no matter what.
Back to the the probable reason why my social media friend wrote the message stated in the beginning of this text, I say: Yes! I love to document myself in pictures. Yes! It feels good to hear the compliments about the way others see me in these. However, very few people know the true meaning of these images. They are not desperate cries for attention, affirmation nor admiration. They are personal reminders of my journey that took me there. They are personal reminders that allow more thankfulness to grow inside me. Thankfulness for having had the chance to reach those places.
Now, having it all said, I reflect that the narcissism engrained in me while finding my spot in society did not really teach me to LOVE myself. It taught me to fear NOT LOVING myself enough. And this is where the thin red line between the demonized picture of narcissism and my celebrated life-style is to be found.
It took modern life to turn me into a narcissist. And it took intellect to turn fear and insecurity into sources of gratitude. One might say even my choice of words is that of a self-aggrandizing person after all – so why bother? Well, yes! I am my own fan. I am my own admirer. I am a son of the ‘selfie-age’. I know it. I like it. I am open about it and honestly, it is my being aware of it that excludes any self-obsession from taking over.
Now as far as my social media behavior is concerned, do I need to do what I do? Am I actually explaining myself with this text? Well, I have never given myself a single ‘LIKE’ for anything I share. Yet, I spend no time complaining that I haven’t accomplished anything in my life. So well, I think I’m better off keeping myself busy with self-appreciation rather than wasting my time caring for the grass on the other side. In fact, every time I look at any of my social media profiles, all I can think of is: “Oh man! How amazingly green is the grass I stand on right now. And I thank G’d for it!”.
Born to a Jewish mother and raised in a rather conservative Jewish family, being “Jewish” has always been my identity as far as the answer to the question “What is your religion?” is concerned.
After having gone through Jewish school in my childhood, and voluntarily studied Talmudic Law and Ethics as a young adult, I happened to realize that Judaism might not always have the answer I wanted to hear for my questions, but at least no questions were left unanswered. (And if I may add, my people do like to be questioned!)
Again, when questioned about my religion, my answer has always been the same since ever: “I’m Jewish.” (A statement I’m always proud to say, by the way.)
On the other hand, when asked “Are you religious?”, I must say the answer needs to be seen from a point-in-time perspective, for it has changed over time.
Before I continue on the topic ‘religion’, I would like to bring something up: I recently ran into a very trivial but revealing question about my understanding of religion. When researching about the origin of the word ‘religion’, I found out that the word comes from Latin ‘re-ligare’, which means ‘to bind’, word that later gave origin to another Latin word ‘religio’, which means ‘bond’. Thus, the morphological word formation ‘religion’ semantically refers to the bond, which binds man to his source. And there couldn’t be a simpler and more straight-forward definition of religion to align with my views than this one.
Now to answer the question “Are you religious?”: As of today, after having matured my understanding about religions in general and more specifically about Judaism, my answer is: “Yes, I am religious. But I am not observant!” In other words: I do accept my identity as a Jewish man. I do accept my heritage of being a direct descendant and part of the Hebrew nation. I do accept the Torah. And most and above all, I do accept my G-d. (And just so it is clear, I do believe in both the Genesis and in the scientific theory of evolution. One does not nullify the other. Topic for another discussion, though.)
Well, I do. I do. I do. I do. And it all makes me a religious Jew because these beliefs define my bond. They bind me to Judaism. They bind me to my origins. However, the fact that I choose not to follow every single man-made interpretation of the Torah makes me a non-observant Jew. In short: I am a non-observant Jewish man who feels connected to his origins.
Now if I were challenged to accept all the rules stated in the Torah as a pre-condition to be credible when I say I’m connected to my origins, I tend to compare with something very simple. Let’s take the fact that I was born in Brazil. Being Brazilian constitutes another of my identities (like being Jewish).
I do not agree with the all the social manners of Brazilians. I do not align with all the cultural practices of Brazilians. I do not accept all of the laws in practice in Brazil and reinforced by the Brazilian society in general. I do not practice all customs of the Brazilian people. I do not observe all Brazilian holidays. Etc. Etc. Etc. And despite all of this: I am Brazilian. Yet, I am a non-observant Brazilian man who feels connected to his origins.
Now I ask myself, if I believe in the guidelines that bind me to my origins but I do not observe these very same guidelines, am I bound to my G-d at all? Or am I disconnected?
To answer this, I must state my greatest criticism on the philosophy of virtually every religion: the fear of G-d, the backbone of religious belief. In my opinion, it is highly paradoxical to bind G-d, or whatever one calls it, to fear. There’s nothing G-dly in fear. Fear, in fact, is a human feeling and cannot even be described in the context of goodness, which defines G-d.
To go further, I see G-d as pure perfection, like the whole of the universe He created. And we have G-d in our lives for one reason only: to have a model to look up to – a model of goodness and perfection. His role model has been given and we have the free will to decide whether to follow it or not. As said, the world created by G-d is good and perfect in its entirety. We, as single beings, are only part of this whole. Our role in this life is to pursue leading a life filled with goodness. Thus, leading a life dictated by the fear of G-d goes against the principles of goodness and the perfection that defines G-d’s creation in the first place, including us!
So am I connected to my source? Am I bound to my G-d at all despite the fact I do not observe all the rules dictated by my religion? Yes, I am.
In fact, the more I learn about beauty of men and of the world, the more I believe in G-d.
At the same time, the more I learn about religions, the farther away I get from pursuing an observant life.
I cannot erase from my life the fact that I am Brazilian. My place of birth will be the same till the day I die. Likewise, I cannot erase from my life the fact that I am Jewish. My ethnic origin will be the same till the day I die.
So well… am I religious? – Oh yeeeeah! I am one proud religious Jewish man! J
And I believe hard enough that my G-d loves the religious guy I am. As long as goodness is what brings joy to my life, I’m sure I’m walking the path of His will.
Oh well, what about the ‘bacon’ thing in the post title? Well, the comment on that is a reaffirmation of the essence of my text.
Everyone knows Jews do not eat bacon. Neither do I. I do not eat bacon nor pork. And this is so for the same reason why people in the western world do not eat cats and dogs – the culture has taught them to do so. The culture in China in the east, on the other hand, tells them otherwise.
So yeah, the same principle applies to me. I was brought up in a Jewish home where pork is not an animal one eats – as simple as that. And this is why I do not eat bacon nor pork today – for my culture has taught me to do so.
And the weekend began. It was Saturday 6.44AM when I boarded the train from Vienna to Munich carrying in my backpack nothing more than my camera and the traditional Bavarian outfit „Lederhosen” (leather shorts) on my way to the Oktoberfest, Germany’s largest and internationally-known annual beer festival.
After boarding the train, I opened my computer browser to read the news and well, the headlines kept on going on the hot topic of the moment: the refugees’ situation in Europe. Articles, chronicles and commentaries all interlaced in a mesh of facts and opinions, which make use of social, religious, political, cultural, anthropological, historical, (…), and, and, and elements to try to make sense of this and that.
The trip continued. I was entertaining myself reading the second ‘Harry Potter’ book on my Kindle when the train made a stop. After some passengers left the train, a considerably larger amount of people boarded on that station. The flow of people inside the train called my attention. I noticed most of the passengers who had just boarded had a rather Mediterranean/Arab look, they seemed to be speaking Arabic and they were carrying little to no luggage.
A young man approached the area where I was sitting. With his eyes between the seat numbers above my head and the train tickets on his hand, he seemed a bit unsure whether he had found his reserved spot or not. I stretched my hands offering help in taking a look at his train ticket. After confirming that the seat next to me and the one in front of it are the ones he had a reservation for, he thanked me with a smile and a very low-voiced ‘thanks’, offered the young lady travelling with him the seat in front of him, helped her with a bag in her hands and then finally sat down next to me.
Some five minutes passed. I felt something different in the energy surrounding me. And I convinced myself I was right when I saw the young lady stretching her arms across the small table between the two rows of seats, holding the young man’s hands, raising their interlaced hands to her face and starting to cry.
I put down my Kindle. I had no mind for the reading anymore.
The couple exchanged a couple of words and some time later the lady managed to control her urge to cry. I had the impression she only did so out of embarrassment. Her eyes were clearly telling me how much she wanted to keep on crying. I could see her fighting to control the sobbing. I watched the scene in silence. My mind was booming with thoughts and questions. Unsure whether it was the best moment and if there was a best moment at all, I just decided to start a conversation. And I did:
‘Excuse me, what language were you speaking?’ – I said. The young man looked at me with a discreet smile on his face and a rather unsure tone in his voice and said: ‘Sorry?’ I repeated my question once again slowly and this time, as he paid closer attention to me, he replied: ‘Arabic’, carrying a modest smile on his face.
‘Where are you from?’ – I continued. ‘Iraq’ – he said.
‘Is this your first time in Austria/Germany?’. ‘Yes’.
‘How long have you been travelling for?’. ‘About two weeks’.
‘Where are travelling to?’. ‘Today, Hamburg. Tomorrow, we don’t know yet.’
‘What brings you to Europe?’. ‘War’.
Besides reading his facial expression of obvious fear and concern, at this point I had no doubts I was talking to one of many refugees – the ones whose situation I had read on the news earlier that day. And since Sayid (this was his real name as I later found out) seemed to be a very friendly person who had a subtle smile on his face, I decided to start what ended up being a one-hour conversation about his life, his journey and lots of stories about his reality. I didn’t know yet, but that would be the most valuable hour of my day, week or month. A conversation, which was only interrupted by my arrival at the end station. Its value, on the other hand, will certainly last for much much longer.
And this post tells the summary of this one-hour talk with this brave 24-year-old man from Iraq, whom I had the pleasure to meet on my way to Munich – a trip which was followed by my return home on the next day. Sayid was on the same train. Sayid was not on his way to any particular destination, though. Sayid was simply escaping as far as he could away from home, a place he had no idea when or if he will ever return to.
Sayid is the youngest of four siblings in his family. He is 24 years old. He just finished his academic studies in law in Damascus, Syria, where his family moved to from Baghdad about a decade ago following some unrests in Iraq. Sayid said that his biggest dream is to move back to his home country. He remembers his time as a child growing up in the Iraqi capital and said ‘It has never been easy to live in a country under so much tension, but things were much better before. We were not afraid someone would knock on our door and kill us for no reason’.
Sayid was then sitting next to me on board of a train in Europe. And this is the series of events that led him there: It all started with a dispute with extremist militants (Islamic State – IS), who tried to force him to join their army. Upon refusing to join them and escaping their control, Sayid fled to the home of his girlfriend, Sadia, the young woman now sitting opposite him on the train. Some days after he went hiding in his girlfriend’s home, Sayid came to know about the horror that had fallen upon his family, which would then be the reason why, less than a week after, he would be on his way out of Syria. Militants of the IS went looking for him, and upon reaching his home and not finding him, they murdered Sayid’s parents, three brothers and one of his sister-in-laws.
Without having the chance to even care for the proper burial of his family’s remains, Sayid was advised by his in-laws to leave the country as soon as he could.
And for more than two weeks, Sayid and Sadia have benn on their way to nowhere – or somewhere where they can find shelter. From Syria to Turkey, from Turkey to Greece, from Greece to Macedonia, from Macedonia to Serbia, from Serbia to Hungary, from Hungary to Austria and now from Austria to Germany. He said he has been informed that Iraqi nationals are beings fairly treated in Finland. He hopes he will make it all the way there, but this is not written in stone. He wishes it would be easier; that they could take a flight somewhere where they could start a new life in peace. But reality is not like that.
After paying EUR 4,400 for both his and his girlfriend’s spot on a boat from Turkey to Greece, their fear of death has been hastened. The boat carrying 20 passengers turned after two hours in the Mediterranean Sea. It was night. They could see nothing but each other and the moon and stars above them. Sayid says that since this night his girlfriend Sadia started having those attacks in which she would cry desperately. They were 20 people on that boat. After what they calculate based on the sunrise to have been more than five hours, only approximately half of them were rescued by fishermen who took then to Greece. As Sayid told me this story, he opened the bag he carried and took out two iPhones and a pile of paper, all showing signs to have been under water for quite long.
‘In Hungary the situation was very bad. In Austria everyone was nice to us. But it doesn’t matter. They give us food and drink but nobody understands our problem. We don’t want to stay here. But we cannot go back to Syria or Iraq. And we cannot fight. We need an army. Our money we spend to travel to here. We need help. The people went crazy. We are fighting ourselves. In Syria people want to kill us. Why? On the way here, people are killing each other too. Why?’
At a certain point, the conversation that had started with questioning from my side continued as a monologue. Sayid went on and on as if he was taking the chance to vent his thoughts with me. He kept on going non-stop about his stories followed by stories of people he knows. Drama, misfortune, tragedy, terror, fear and panic were among the words one could use to describe these. I was overwhelmed. As much as I wanted to know more, I felt like the flow of energy was so negative that it started to depressingly influence me. I felt an urge to cry. I couldn’t stop him, though. I had nothing to give this man and his girlfriend except my attention. And so I did. I kept on listening to him talking about much of what I had read in the news earlier that day, but this time it was adorned with emotion.
‘Her parents did not have much money. She is the only one who left. She only left because I did. She wouldn’t do it alone.’ – Sayid said, referring to his girlfriend as he held her hands and kept talking to me. Sadia’s eyes were the saddest I’ve seen in a long time. Her make-up was flawless, though. She was so quiet the whole time. She didn’t say a thing. I was convinced she couldn’t understand us speaking in English. And then Sayid said: ‘And she is the reason why I am still alive. I promised her parents I would take her to a safe place and take care of her. And this promise kept me from drowning in the sea. Without her, I think I would have given up.’ And then I figured she could actually understand English. As he said these words, she brought his hands to her lips, gave it a kiss and gave up to tears again. This time, the load was just too heavy. Tears went up my eyes and I let them fall with a smile on my face, which indicated how honored I felt to have met Sayid, a real-life hero.
‘Next Station: Plattling.’ – announced the train information system in the speakers. I had to take my connection to Munich in this station.
I was speechless. I did not know how to close this conversation. I did my best. ‘Well, it’s been a pleasure to meet you. I wish the best of luck in life for you and your girlfriend. May love keep you both together and guide you to a future of peace and success. I doubt I will ever be able to understand much of what you have just told me. But I can assure you that I share your pain and all I can offer you now is a share of my joy and a hug.’ – I said to him, ending up with a smile on my face.
Sayid left his seat to make space for me to leave, and as I stood in front of him, I looked him in the eyes and opened my arms. He understood the gesture and leaned towards me. He hugged me. I tapped him three times on the back and said: ‘Be well, man!’. He said: ‘You too.’ With smiles on our faces we both looked at Sadia, who now also had a subtle smile on hers’. We didn’t say anything. We just kept on smiling. I took a deep breath, and waving my right hand while picking up my rucksack with the left one, I said goodbye and wondered where the strength to smile comes from in these two young people. Their stories were just too devastating.
As I left the train and ran to the other platform to take my connection, I added some notes to my logging of the conversation just to make sure I would not miss a thing. As I did it, one rather obvious thing came to my mind: their names. ‘Sayid’ and ‘Sadia’ sound like very similar names. I was curious to find out what they meant. So I googled it only to find out that ‘Sayid’ means MASTER and ‘Sadia’ means HAPPINESS. Despite their tragic ways, Sayid and Sadia made me smile once again.
Upon finishing my second graduation – this time in ‘Business Informatics’ at the FH Technikum Wien, Vienna, Austria, I am very proud to have been given the chance to merge my professional life as Marketing Officer at the Commercial Wing of the Embassy of India, Vienna, with my academic course of studies by compiling my diploma thesis entitled “Social Media as a Nation Branding Tool – An Interdisciplinary Study with focus on the Facebook Social Media Behaviour of the Indian Foreign Mission in Vienna, Austria, and its impact on Nation Branding ‘India’.”
This piece of work was the result of a research carried in mid-2015, which included extensive literature research in the fields of Social Media Behavior, Social Media Marketing, Nation Branding and Public Diplomacy.
Since I believe such research is just too valuable to be kept on my bookshelf only, I hereby publish a summary of my thesis, and invite any interested parties to get in contact with me for further reference to my work and access to its results.
The use of social media enables entities to engage in branding and promoting specific persona to their audience, whether it is a corporation, a public figure, or even a nation. Nation Branding is also a discipline of interest for governments worldwide. And social media is one of the fastest growing tools in modern e-Government agendas in respect to Nation Branding.
The Indian Foreign Mission in Vienna has been using Facebook as social media platform to disseminate information to the Indian Community and friends of India in Austria since mid-2012 and currently counts with approximately 10,000 ‘likes’ (as of July 2015).
It was, therefore, of interest to the Indian Foreign Mission in Vienna to identify whether its Facebook Social Media Behaviour has been having an effect as a Nation Branding Tool for ‘Brand India’.
The task of the thesis was to analyse how Social Media is being used by the Public Diplomacy Division of the Indian Government in Vienna as a Nation Branding Tool. The motivation of the research was the social media behaviour of public diplomacy bodies applied to their nation branding efforts. The interface where technology meets business through the use of social media as a strategic tool used for nation branding in public diplomacy defines therefore the essence of the paper.
The paper introduces basic insights on the vast field of public diplomacy and social media marketing and behaviour by introducing the major interface where these disciplines meet. The research gets narrowed down to the implementation of social media campaigns using one specific platform, namely Facebook, and having the social media behaviour of the Indian diplomatic mission in Vienna as focus. Its framework is used as source of practical input as well as the context on which the empirical part of the research is carried out.
The paper was structured in such a way that the presentation of data was given in an additive way, focusing on answering the following research questions:
- Which Facebook-based Social Media Strategies are there to support the Nation Branding efforts by a Diplomatic Mission?
- What impact does the Social Media Behaviour of a Diplomatic Mission has in its Nation Branding efforts?
- Which are the best Facebook-based Social Media strategies to support the Indian Diplomatic Mission in Vienna in its Nation Branding efforts?
Friends and other people who follow me on social media often ask me: “How do you manage your time?” referring to my apparently restless lifestyle and routine which combines a full-time office job, a freelance home-based job, a distance learning degree program at a University of Applied Sciences, running a social initiative (the Free Hugs Vienna group), rather frequent travelling, constant partying and gathering with friends, a highly active social media life, more than enough ‘me-time’ and well, taking care of my cute little Chihuahua, Besty.
My straightforward answer to this question is: I want it! And I want it all hard enough to make them happen! In other words: I have time for all these and other things that I passionately want. And if I seem not to have the time for something, it only means I haven’t yet placed my heart on that particular subject.
To start with: It amazes me to read about some multi-million businesses that were born at a coffee house table, bands that started their world-wide known musical career in a garage somewhere, writers whose drafts were written down on restaurant napkins and world-acclaimed artists who claim to have put drafts down on paper while sitting on the toilet. When I hear these stories, I can only think of how great these people were/are in managing their time. They did not miss the right time and place to get started on their dreams. They anticipated their future by making it happen right in front of them, no matter where they were.
And I continue: we live in a world that demands a lot from us. To get what we want (aka. make our dreams come true), we must give (aka. study/work/sacrifice) and make use of our talents (inborn), skills (learned) as well as of the available resources each one of us has. Resources range from natural through human to financial resources. And all of what is available for each one of us comes in different measurable amounts, except one: time resources. On one hand, we can say that time is the only resource available for us equally, for we all have exactly 24h in a day, 7 days in a week and 365 days in a year to make things happen. On the other hand, it is impossible for us to measure how much time we actually have, for our lives are limited and as much as estimations about life spans give us expectations about our future, no one knows the future with certainty.
Now if two people want the same thing in life and both have the same amount of resources available, why does the constant resource ‘time’ make such a difference? And the answer is a rather silly statement: what each one decides to do with it.
Wait! It can get even sillier! At this point, I seem to disregard basic variables such as the opportunities that present themselves to people in different ways, or let us just call it ‘luck’? No, I do not disregard them. While I do agree several variables come in different amounts, from money to luck, I defend the point of view that blaming the world, faith, luck or whatnot for not having is just a lot easier than the pursuit of having some or all of these things in the first place, for it takes efforts! And while we all have different amounts of money and luck, time is the available resource we all have equally, and since many of us cannot deal with the fact we do not possess X, Y, or Z despite having time, we prefer to let go of the feeling of lack of accomplishment for not possessing them through blaming.
Now back to the initial question, by getting all Jewish on it: I will use a parable!
How do I decide what I do with my time? To answer this question, I ask: how do I decide what I do with my money? We have a limited amount of money available and we must plan ahead how much we can spend, right? We estimate the pleasure and value gained from the money spent before we decide to give it. By investing our money in things that make us happy and things that we truly want, we see our dreams get shaped in front of our eyes. And the same principle applies to time as a resource available to us. The only difference between money and time in this context is: money can be regained, but time cannot. Money that was wasted can be recovered to cater for the real pleasurable things, but wasted time never comes back!
When talking about time, there are so many perspectives one can take to it. Some call time the 4th dimension. And like the other dimensions, we live inside it. Others simply define it as the measure of things from past through present towards future.
Fine, but now let me get really weird on the subject…
My understanding of time goes into a rather philosophical understanding of it: we do not live within time. We are time! In other words, the past exists in the present and the future is the state of foreseeing a potential happening. Thus, the concern for a potential future occurrence allows the future to exist in the present. We are not stuck in a sequential timeline of things. We have the ability to be our past and experience our future while living the present. And this ability is given by the power of our thoughts. And the power of our mind is energy. And energy transcends the common sequential understanding of time – it is constantly transformed, but never created or destroyed. It simply IS.
And what does it all have to do with time management in the first place? Simple! If we understand that the power of our thoughts is a power we possess to break the common notion of sequential time, we can anticipate the ‘life of our dreams’ (the future) and make it exist in the present. And this is the ‘wanting something hard enough’ part of the opening of this text. We CHOOSE what to think! We choose what to bring from the past as experience and what to wish for the future in order to make our present be that what we want. And by anticipating the joy of WHAT WE WANT HARD ENOUGH for the future, we can make it all happen today, and when we do, we experience the joy and well-being of ALREADY HAVING it.
To sum it up: all it takes to have the time for all that we want is to want these things hard enough and project them into our future to be able to experience them happening today!
Helping people in need is an authentic and noble sentiment among people. Be it through acts of kindness, charity, volunteering, or any other means of providing something of value for people who lack that what we possess in excess or have at least enough to share.
Many thoughts cross my mind on the subject “charity”: one can be quite critical on things such as “how selfish acts of charity can be”: do people give for the sake of giving or in seek of the reward for being acknowledged as the ‘giver’ – the one in possession of a certain kind of power’? One can also be critical on “how to quantify the value of charity”: how to compare the value of a person’s X hours of volunteering versus another’s X dollars/euro worth of money-value invested in a cause? Is the input or the output value that really counts? Or should this even be measured at all?
Anyway, among these and other points of discussion on the topic, one particular discussion I recently had over coffee with some friends motivated me to write this text. And it is: the role of first-world (rich) charity in helping third-world (poor) nations fight poverty.
To start with, I choose to go back in time and think of the history of mankind as a social being. It is in our nature as human beings to provide for our own needs by making use of our skills. From the very beginning, the work of our own efforts – our own hands – has given us the product of our immediate consumption. Productivity, so to say, was there to cater for our own needs and there was no need for savings or accumulation of resources.
As mankind started to develop tools, machines – and up to modern-day society – computers and hi-tech equipment capable of assisting in increasing productivity manifold, we started having reserves. Since we became more productive, we started trading, which turned the accumulation of resources into an accumulation of capital, which allowed us to save and invest in ever more productive capital goods (such as machinery and technology), which ultimately increased our productivity even more.
And that is exactly where the difference between a rich nation and a poor nation lies: certain groups (rich nations) accumulated capital goods at a much faster pace while other (poor nations) lagged behind.
And what is the point I wish to make with this? It is not money that makes a nation richer. It’s how much Capital Goods they have! And this is how I connect this to the subject of charity money inflows from rich nations into poor nations.
[Please excuse the exceptions. It might sound more generalizing that it actually is.] The ability to produce more than needed for immediate consumption, which then triggers the ability to accumulate resources and savings and ultimately revert this accumulation into capital goods which will foster production (returning to step 1 of this cycle) is the only way one can generate wealth.
Having this said, imagine that a billionaire decides to share all his/her wealth equally among all the population of a poor country in order to take them out of poverty. While it might sound silly, visualizing this idea illustrates the idea quite well. The inflow of capital will provide for an immediate rise in life standards, which will be generated by immediate consumption.
[So poverty has been beaten, right? WRONG!]
Taking the people out of their level of poverty by providing them capital to consume more does not guarantee that these same people will be producing more. There is no accumulation of resources – no savings! Bottom-line: Increasing a poor nation’s ability to consume is not a synonym of beating poverty in this context. On the contrary, it is fostering poverty. It is prolonging its existence. The increase in life standards might disguise the phenomenon, but in the long run, consequences are inevitable.
In order for a nation to beat poverty, it does not require inflows of money. It requires inflows of Capital Goods, that is, the technology, knowledge, equipment, know-how, and all other forms of investments allowing its people to increase productivity. When individuals produce more, they will be eventually generating the gear of a nation’s rise from poverty: savings and more investments in capital goods!
I think my macro view on the subject might as well be an extrapolation of a rather simple concept: instead of feeding the poor, we should provide them the resources for them to be able to feed themselves.
To go back to where I started, my point is that I do have a very critical view on the charity work done by rich nations in poor countries. The money inflow to aid the poor are highly aligned with Adam Smith’s theory that distribution of wealth fosters social classes, which defend the rich and harm the poor.
While I do believe charity work is the engine of a brighter future with more equality, I highlight the importance of one’s interest in assessing the right way of giving. As aforementioned, the simple redistribution of wealth fosters poverty. Thus, we have to make sure we are not supporting any kind of demagogic appeal for eliminating poverty.
I might sounds silly, but it is indeed comparable to one of those typical gift-giving dilemmas: are we gifting the receiver with something he/she really needs or are we just offering them something we will eventually also draw benefit from?
The last couple of days I’ve walked to work facing the same headlines in the newspapers. All of them had it printed in large: “900 dead”. The refugees’ catastrophe in the Mediterranean Sea has cost 900 lives! [And as I write it, I can’t avoid the goose bumps and the urge to shed a tear again].
This is not the first catastrophe of this kind in the Mediterranean. In the last couple of years only, these numbers have been accumulating drastically: June 2011 (270 deaths), August 2011 (125 deaths), June 2012 (54 deaths), October 2013 (366 deaths), July 2014 (150 deaths), September 2014 (500 deaths), November 2014 (24 deaths), February 2015 (330 deaths) and now April 2015 (900 deaths). Altogether, this accounts for 2719 reported deaths in less than 4 years.
As I arrive to work and start with my daily portion of Internet-based reading, I realize the news is also featured in the international media. The Guardian, CNN, BBC, MSNBC, Al Jazeera, Euronews, Russia Today, and many other media houses all report on the tragedy. They are just doing their job: feeding the information-hungry society with the most excruciating details on yet another disaster, which claimed several lives.
Some weeks ago, 148 students were murdered in Kenya by terrorists. It featured in the news as well. Some days after the fact, the news was history already.
Earlier this year, 2000 people fell victim to terrorists in Nigeria as well. Again, the news reported the fact. And it took little time for the information to be just another piece of news which made the headlines for a couple of days.
Over the last couple of years, millions of lives have been lost in such massacres throughout Africa (let us name Congo’s neglected crisis, which has left an estimated 5.4 million dead since 1998), in the war against terror and in other silent civil wars running on the streets of several African, Asian and South American countries.
Having this said, I go back to my daily reading routine and ask myself: Why does the world sympathize with the lives lost in 9/11 so much to the point that to this day, 14 years later, 9/11 is still a current topic on the speech agenda of political leaders, think tanks and media houses worldwide? Why are the lives of the 12 French citizens killed at the Charles Hedbo attack in early 2015 worth a gigantic wave of commotion, weeping, and vigils including an unprecedented repercussion on social media with its ‘Je suis Charlie’ hashtag? To be clear, I do believe E.V.E.R.Y single life is worth the same, and while I do share the pain of these tragic deaths, I question myself why the million of other lives are not worth the same impact in society overall?
It seems that it is easier to create a wave of indignation within a certain social group when the menace lies within its own boundaries. After all, it makes them think that their own lives or the lives of those directly connected to them by family, social or simply racial-ties ‘could have been’ the ones taken by terror, war, violence, social injustice, dictators, extremism, or what not. [Fair enough!?] But when the menace lies far away, does it really matter?
In short […and in a very narrow approach to the whole], why are 12 French lives worth so much more attention than 5.4 million Congolese ones? What is the true value of a human life?
It seems to me that the indifference is rooted on the minds of ‘first-world’ citizens who tend to see that people in such conflict zones are 1. too far away for them to care about (anyway), 2. uncivilized (anyway), 3. people without perspectives in life (anyway), and 4) if it happens all the time (anyway), it is OK!
NO, IT IS NOT OK!
We cannot change the mistakes of the past. But we can do something about the future where our children will live in. Indifference means CHOOSING to keep our eyes closed to a very sad truth about the world we live in: IT NEEDS FIXING! A highly educated and civilized Europe allowed the Second World War and the Holocaust to happen. And a highly civilized World is making the same mistake by remaining silent.
I am only 1 in 7.000.000.000+ people in this planet. I chose to write about this topic, to share my views on it and to pass this thought further for others to think about it. If each one of us took the chance to make something be worth ONE SHARE ONLY of a #jesuischarlie-equivalent of this food for thought, we certainly won’t be changing the sad truth that lies in the past, but we will be doing our part in making people think and care, turning THINKERS WHO TRULY CARE into an ever growing ‘minority’.
I end up this text with the same question I started it in the first place. I do not wish to leave here a solution to this theme (I do not have one after all!), but I wish to leave here a suggestion: think about it! Do not ignore it! The more we are, the stronger we are! We can make a difference! If this text touches ONE mind only, it was worth my time sharing. Now you choose what to do about it. Share the truth! Silence kills!