To Live In This World

Sometimes it may be hard to find the motivation to live happily in this world. I have faced that challenge before and I understand those who face it too. We look around and see so much suffering and injustice: the poor becoming poorer, nature being destroyed, terror spreading across borders, mass extinction, innocents being slaughtered… There are so many different kinds of evil in the world that I would probably be sitting in this chair writing down a list until my fingers were covered in dust. You turn on the TV, access social media or talk to a neighbor and a wave of bad news hits you in the face: another terrorist attack; the State taking new measures to steal money from the people; a dozen acres of the Amazonian rainforest cut down; another species driven to extinction; a presidential candidate championing hate speech; and so on and so on. But not only does it happen on a macro level, it seems like we also meet bad people or experience bad things on a personal level, in our own private lives. If there is so much darkness all around us, it’s perfectly understandable to wake up one morning and think: wait, why should I feel like getting up? I live in such a dreadful world with so many bad things… Why should I be happy?

The answer is hard to find. Or perhaps it’s extremely easy and we humans are just doing it again: making a riddle out of what’s pure logic. And we can, in fact, find some logic in this reasoning: all living beings in this world want mainly two things in life, which can be summed up as one – to experience pleasure and not to experience pain. Being happy implies not being in pain, of course. Therefore, if we were all happy, none of us would be in pain – or, if none of us were in pain, we would all be happy. Following this, the greater the number of happy beings in the world, the smaller the number of those facing suffering. So, to be happy could be viewed almost as a moral duty with the purpose of spreading as much happiness in the world as possible, if only two conditions apply: that to be happy does not involve making others suffer, and that it actually contributes to others being happy (or just, let’s say, being well). If your happiness involves the well-being of others, or simply does not include their pain and suffering, then you are on the right path!

This is, in essence, the idea behind Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism: the belief that the best moral action is that which maximizes utility, considering utility as being mostly related to the well-being (happiness or pleasure, thus the absence of pain and suffering) of sentient beings. Bentham, the founder of this theory, actually defined utility as the “aggregate pleasure after deducting suffering of all involved in any action”. It is truly an interesting ethical theory which we all should study in further detail. But my point here is that we should use this reasoning to find motivation to live happily in such a dark, frustrating world. For if we see it with certain eyes, and if we interact with it in a certain way, we can see that there is beauty in it, happiness and a lot of light as well.

Darkness is powerful. It can spread its shadows far away and even when there is light, there is shadow. But light too has its power – like Buddha said, “thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the single candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared”. If you imagine happiness as being Light, Good, Love, the purest Force there is, then you will know that you can spread it all around you… “if only you remember to turn on the light” (and yes, this is a direct Dumbledore quote. Harry Potter had a lot to teach us). Please note that happiness, here, is being treated as a synonym of well-being. I don’t mean that we should all suddenly dedicate ourselves to an obsessive, selfish pursuit of happiness. This is only a valuable force if we search it together – and if we share it. And it may be hard to be happy in a grim world, but like so many things in life, here is the secret (which is not really a secret after all): you must start by the small stuff. The simple things. The details. Here are a few examples:

Enjoy the soft sunlight in the morning. Taste that warm coffee that you drink, that croissant or that pastry you eat at breakfast with pleasure. Feel beautiful in the clothes you wear when you go to work. Dedicate yourself to your work, or strive to find one that makes you feel fulfilled. Go out for a walk in the park and feel the scent of the grass, admire the blue sky, the birds and the animals around you. Talk to other people on the street – and, more importantly: smile. There is incredible power in a simple smile, in a simple gesture like being kind to somebody else. Read, write, sing, dance, do something that enriches you in your mind, body and heart. You don’t need to live a perfect life. None of us have perfect lives because perfection is impossible or almost impossible to find. But that is also what leads us to frustration and anguish: to look for the impossible, to constantly crave for more, more and more. If only we could learn to appreciate what we have, to admire the small things and to give them their true value, we would be much happier than we often are. And then, a mysterious phenomenon will take place.

You see… happiness is contagious. Smiles are contagious. Kindness is contagious. When you are happy, you see the world through brighter eyes. But somehow, you also make it brighter. This has the curious effect of making it easier for others to see it through brighter lights as well. As with everything, change must start within. You cannot live in a happy world if even you are unhappy. So if you work to be well, you will begin to positively affect the lives of those around you. Imagine what would happen if everybody did this: we would all be affecting each others’ lives in a positive way and happiness would vastly increase. Of course, there will always be dark forces in this world which conspire to make others (especially the innocent) suffer. But if we each make a personal effort to spread light, there will always be some light in the world. And Martin Luther King Jr. already spoke the truth, just like Gandhi or Buddha: darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind. We live in a world where powerful forces confront each other: but as long as there is one single candle being lit, there will be light somewhere in the dark. And happiness only increases by being shared.





The power of fear and the power of cooperation

Once upon a time there was a tribe (which we shall call Tribe A) which saw itself as the only tribe in the world. The people of the tribe had never met anybody outside their group and they knew of nobody living outside of their territory. One day, a group of hunters went out on a hunting expedition and suddenly sighted another group of humans several feet ahead of them in the woods. They both stood still, facing each other and weighing their options. Who were the others? What were they going to do?, both of the groups wondered. The first men didn’t know what to expect of those strangers they’d never seen before. What were their intentions? They were armed with spears and hunting knives too. Would they attack them? Should they be perceived as a threat? For a while, none of the groups knew what to do in front of the unknown. But eventually some of the tribesmen moved forward and started communicating. They realised that both groups were hunting and, by means of dialogue, they reached the conclusion that they would have better chances of successfully catching their prey if they worked together. The hunters from the unknown tribe (which we shall call Tribe B) suggested this: while men from group B chased the deer or boar they found, two men from group A would stand behind some bushes and ambush the prey. Then, the tribes would divide the meat among them: 50% for each. Tribe A agreed.

The men from Tribe B left in search of their prey and the two men from Tribe A went to their hiding place and hid there. Soon, however, they saw that there were two rabbits sleeping in a small burrow near where they were, and they started thinking. “Well”, one of them said, “these two rabbits would certainly feed our families. Maybe we could even share them with our entire community”. The other one added: “We don’t really know those strangers, do we? How can we be sure that they are honest and their intentions are as true as they have told us?”. The first man agreed. “Maybe they were lying to us. Maybe they will hunt down the deer and then tells us that they did all the work, and so we only deserve 10% of the share. Maybe they will take the other 90% with them because they are more than us and might be stronger”. The two men then started thinking. “Perhaps we should take these two rabbits and leave right now”, one of them eventually said. And so they did. They went back to their village with the two little animals they had caught and the entire plan of Tribe B failed, since the two men who were supposed to ambush the deer were not where they should be.

Back at the village, the two men from Tribe A were sharing their meal with their families when they started feeling uncertain and afraid. “What if the other men are angry at us because we broke the agreement?”, one of them asked. “I imagine that they will be angry at us, yes. The plan failed because we left… Although, of course, we didn’t know their true intentions”. The other man became even more afraid. “But now they know where we live! They know that we live somewhere in this territory and they can come and attack us! Maybe they will send spies to find our village and then attack”. So the two men went to see the tribe leaders and told them of their fear. The leaders ordered the tribesmen to start taking defensive measures and to build more weapons. What they didn’t know was that the two hunters were right: Tribe B had indeed sent out spies to find the location of Tribe A and to know what they had gained from breaking their agreement. But when the spies found the village and saw that the tribesmen were getting armed, they thought: “Look! Those tribesmen are arming themselves! They are planning on attacking us! We must race back to our village and prepare to defend ourselves”. So they went back to their village and started taking their own defensive measures. In the meanwhile, the leaders from Tribe A sent out some spies to confirm the intentions of Tribe B. When their spies found the other village, they saw the tribesmen arming themselves and said: “Look, our hunters were right! These men are really going to attack us! Maybe we should attack first to gain advantage!”. And so a war started between the two tribes, which only led to many deaths.

Now let us see these two groups of people not as tribes, but as two different nations. Our story gains a whole new dimension. In fact, misunderstandings and more or less rational fears are common when it comes to a community of people (or a nation, in this case) interacting with other communities of different cultures, habits, politics, et cetera. There is always a risk in interacting with others – the risk of never knowing the other’s true intentions for sure. In our story, Tribe A doubted Tribe B’s real goals, and there were two possible alternatives: either Tribe B was being honest and really intended to share 50% of its profit with Tribe A, or it was lying to Tribe A and planned on taking 90% for itself. So, in dealing with others, there must always be a degree of mutual confidence that perhaps can never be 100% assured. It is in this underlying uncertainty that lie potential fear and misunderstandings. And fear has often been described as one of the strongest, if not the strongest catalyst in international relations. Fear is often likely to lead to irrational responses and a nation that believes itself to be threatened by another nation (even if by mistake) can take the initiative to declare war against that other nation first.

In the time of monarchies, during the Ancien Régime and until the rise of republics, the decision of going into war with another nation was mostly personal. Such decision was made by the King or a prince. It could come out of a whim. But with the res publica, the “public thing”, the power to make such decisions supposedly belonged (or belongs) to the people. It was no longer a matter of a king sending his servants to die, but of fathers and mothers to send their children, parents or siblings to die. And so nations started thinking more about the risks and consequences of war, especially after the catastrophic World War I. Never had the world seen a Total War, one so devastating and irrational. In the trenches, thousands of soldiers would die trying to move a couple of feet foward in less than a day, for example.

After World War I, a great fear emerged in the nations of the world: the fear of other General Wars. It was imperative to build and maintain peace, and forging one or more alliances between nations began to be seen as a powerful way to stop more wars from happening. Imagine this: nation A has a longstanding rivalry with nation B and, after fealing threatened by it (either rightly or wrongly), it decides to declare war on nation B. However, A and B have been part of a common aliance of States for a couple of years now, an alliance which includes many other nations. If A and B were totally independent, it would be easier for A to declare war on B. But now, A faces certain scenarios that it must consider, such as: 1) nation B has an economic pact with nation C, which could encourage C to stand up for nation B if A were to declare war on B; or 2) all nations have agreed to pass sanctions on any State that declares war on another one without attempting strong diplomatic negotiations first. It now becomes clearer that forming an alliance of nations is an easier way to avoid Anarchy (in its International Relations meaning*) and to encourage cooperation (and eventually union) between different States.

Fear, lack of strategic information or a wrong perception of the “other” are several factors that can lead to conflict. But cooperation among different nations is politically, economically, socially, culturally and environmentally beneficial. This is what international organizations were essentially created for – to promote cooperation, unity and mutual understanding among different nations. To have a representative of each country, for instance, to converse and to negotiate in a common stage with representatives of every other country involved in a certain international organization is a strong ground for achieving common goals and greater accordance and peace. Obviously, there will always be the risk of dishonesty in others’ intentions and plans. There is, then, a risk we must take. But countries must ask themselves: are we willing to take this risk if it means that we can be one step closer to achieving global peace and security, or do we prefer not to take this risk and to stand alone and independent in a heavily armed world where securitarianism is a growing concern?

Going even further, one can ask if in a world that currently faces so many challenges it is truly possible to achieve something like global peace or global security. The threats of intolerance, terrorism, environmental issues and much more are indeed threats to the balance of international relations and to our globalized world. Each of us as individuals must therefore weight our priorities and decide how we want to be represented in the international stage and how we can thrive to be better represented, if we feel that our priorities are not being respected and adequatelly expressed. Sometimes, the people of a certain nation wish for greater peace than their own political leaders. If this is the case, then it is up to the people to make sure that they send out the right message. Political leaders are only meant to express their people’s will – and we must educate the people in order to show citizens of each of our nations that Peace is the ultimate way to prosperity (whatever kind of prosperity; in my point of view, for instance, economic prosperity is not even the most important or desirable kind).


*Anarchy in the vocabulary of International Relations refers to the absence of a supranational authority which can guarantee international cooperation in the following of certain norms and standards.

Note: the story I presented above is based on Rousseau’s Parable of the Tribes.



The downfall of feminism?

One day, not long ago, I was in a Political Sciences class and my teacher asked how many of us viewed themselves as feminists. The girl standing by my side and I raised our hands. Nobody else did. Needless to say that I felt truly disappointed with my classmates. I’ll never forget it. At first I felt shocked, incredulous. I even wondered if I had maybe not seen somebody else raising their hand – but no one did. Just two people in a classroom. Two girls, coincidentally. Now, a couple of months later, I came across a Facebook post a girl shared which defended the idea that “men should be feminists too”. Her post gathered a lot of comments from boys who claimed, among other things, that feminism is for retarded people, that it is out of date and no longer important, or that it is only needed in “underdeveloped countries” because women in our societies are already treated with the respect and dignity they deserve as human beings. I was so angry at what I read. I recalled that PS class and I instantly felt the need to express my outrage the best way I can – by writing it down. So here it is, what I wrote immediately after having read those unbelievable comments, out of my anger and sadness and frustration.

Today, (I dare to say) the word feminism seems to have more of a negative than a positive connotation. It is linked to “man hating” or “feminazis” and is often treated as synonymous to them. But if people took the time (and it wouldn’t even be that much time…) to do a little research, they would soon realise that feminism is no more than “the defense of women’s rights in favour of the equality of sexes”. But why is this word, feminism, so reviled, so misinterpreted and so misused? Because it disturbs the order of things. Because it bothers. Because, if we admit that there is a need to change the way our patriarchal societies work, then we will have to “bother” men. How? By empowering women. That’s right – by giving them power: equal power.

I find this a very powerful word. Empowering. There is much empowerment that needs to be spread across this world – we need to empower children, we need to empower the poor, we need to empower indigenous people, we need to empower animals and environmental causes, we need to empower women. Not in a sense that they will rise above any other individuals; but to help them achieve the same level, the same rights, the same dignifying treatment and respect. Equality. I don’t consider myself educated enough to enumerate big arguments here or to write a fancy, elaborate speech in favour of feminism (meaning = in favour of the equality of rights and conditions among genders). But what I do know, I know it because it is out there for everyone to see, I know it because I live it everyday and because I see many other women and men living it as well.

Many people (especially men, I dare say, but women too! Which is almost more shocking…) say they think feminism is important, yes, but in the least developed regions of this World, because in our “developed” countries, in the glorifying Europe and America of freedom, brotherhood and equality, it is no longer necessary – women are already treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. I don’t know how anyone can have this perception. Feminism is needed everywhere in the World, in different ways and adapted to different social and cultural contexts. In Arab countries, for instance, it might have to do with the right to education, the right to drive, the right to vote, the right to marry at whatever age you want to and to whoever you want to marry. There, it is about freedom, about life! In our “developed” countries, women already go to school, they already drive and vote, that’s true. But are we entirely free? No. Are we treated as equals before men? No. In Europe, women make on average 16% less than men (2015 data). Portugal, for example (which is my homeland), is the country where this situation has worsened the most during the crisis the EU is going through. Let’s look at the case of the new X-Files series, where the protagonist David Duchovny is going to earn twice as much as the protagonist Gillian Anderson… This is absurd. Of course this is a small, insignificant example when compared to thousands of others, but it is worth thinking about, because… If something like this happens in such a popular platform, with access and influence over millions of people, how can we stop it from becoming acceptable? From becoming the norm? If even popular TV shows are paying actresses less than they pay actors, then why shouldn’t it be normal for regular women to be paid less than their male counterparts?

There is a lot to be done in other parts of this World where attacks on gender equality are much more violent and atrocious. Of course there is. But that does not mean that feminism is only needed in those regions, or immeasurably more important there. People use this excuse to divert attention from issues that need to be addressed right here where we are – right in our homes. But, of course, it’s a lot easier to say that there’s something wrong with the way society is run on the other side of the world, isn’t it? If we begin to admit that there’s something wrong in our own backyard, then that means we are eventually going to have to be bothered if we have to do something to change it.

I wonder… Is feminism not necessary in countries where women frequently feel uncomfortable when walking down the street, when they are walking through a man or a group of men, because they are used to hearing obscene, dirty comments waaay too many times? Is feminism not necessary in countries where women continuously earn and get paid less than men, or where they are not given the same job opportunities “because they might get pregnant” or “because they might have menstrual pain and miss work”? Is feminism not necessary in countries where women continue to be seen as “the weak sex”? The weak sex, the one which has a job aside from having to deal with the house chores, the one which carries a baby inside their body for nine months, who gives birth to a child, who brings to this World a new human being, and who was to watch him grow in a society which continues to perceive women as inferior?

I am not putting women on a pedestal. Women are not special (well, to me they are, but that’s a personal opinion!). What I mean is: yes, we are different. Nobody can deny that men and women are different – physically, psychologically, emotionally. But that does not mean that we don’t share some very common features. And it certainly doesn’t mean that we should not be entitled to the same rights or conditions. For we are entitled to the same respect, the same freedom, the same equality. Those who refuse to identify themselves as feminists are one of two things: either they are ignorants because they don’t know the true meaning of the word feminism (and, therefore, contribute to spreading the wrong idea about it), or they are being cowards, because they know that feminism, for the simple reason that it must change the order of things, is going to be a little bothersome for many men who take the most out of their priviledges, granted to them by our patriarchal societies. I am sick of witnessing and taking part in discussions about feminism, I am sick of hearing people (mostly men, I have to admit) say that they are not feminists because feminism is radicalism. Get your facts straight. So much in this world would work a whole lot better if people only took the time to get informed… To actually learn something.

I am sick of having to walk down the street and hearing dirty comments (yes, we’ve come to the point where the State had to create a new law that criminalizes these comments!). I am sick of seeing men masturbating in front of young women on the street and not being chased down and thrown to jail like the real perverts that they are. I am sick of hearing people (men and women) tell jokes that are demeaning to women, when that kind of behaviour not only denigrates and demeans women, but it also denigrates and demeans men. That’s right. We’ve come to another crucial point here, haven’t we? Because feminism is not only a fight for women’s rights; it is also a fight for men’s rights. It is not just women female liberation – it is also about male liberation. And dignification. But some men don’t like to hear this a lot, do they? They don’t like to be told (or to think) that it is okay for them to be sensitive, that it is okay for them to be emotional and vulnerable. Why? Because we live in a society that pressures men into being strong, virile, masculine. Here we have it again: power. In this case, the power of words.

Society makes people believe that there is a certain set of features that defines masculinity, virility, manliness. And that is physical and emotional “strength”. Strength is viewed as the opposite to sensitivity and sentimentality, as if being emotional and vulnerable will “make you less of a man” or “make you weak”. That’s one of the reasons why women are perceived as “the weak sex”. Because women cry, but men mustn’t. Well, feminism fights this preconceived idea of what women should be like. By freeing women from the limits imposed on them by what society views as the “acceptable norm”, feminism also breaks the same limits that are imposed on men. By telling women that being sensitive, that being emotional is not a weakness, but actually a natural feature, even a true sign of strength, feminism is logically also telling men that it is okay for them to have feelings and to express them as much as women supposedly can / do. And society doesn’t like it when certain people and certain movements try to destroy its stereotypes. Why? Because building and maintaining stereotypes makes it a lot easier for people to think that life is all black and white, that it’s all rainbows and flowers, that there are no moral and ethical challenges out there for us to face. But there are.

Feminism does not only carry the chance to free women. It also carries the chance to free men. However, it is very hard to change people’s mindsets when they are fueled by centuries of tradition and conservative ideologies. That’s why so many men believe that, if they were to identify themselves as feminists, they would be admitting to be “weak”, “gay” or anything that they don’t want to be linked to. So here is one of the biggest challenges feminism brings with it: to make sensitivity acceptable. To make emotions count. But that’s exactly what makes us sentient beings, is it not? The ability to feel. The fact that we are sensitive, emotional beings. So it is okay to admit it. It is okay to show it. Because it’s in our nature, it’s the right way to be. If we didn’t have any emotions, then we wouldn’t be affected by any notion of right and wrong, we wouldn’t be touched by anything that is wrong in this world, we wouldn’t feel the need to fight injustice or cruelty.

Emotion is what makes us capable of changing this World and turning it into a better place. Equality also does that. And that is the ultimate goal of feminism: to achieve equality. Therefore, in the end, feminism (feminism as the actual movement, as the true meaning of the concept, as the real women’s rights movement – not in any of its radical or misinterpreted shapes) is all about that: turning the World into a better place. That’s why it only makes sense for us to unite. That’s why it only makes sense that this should be a battle fought by both men and women. Because the fruits of the seeds we can plant now will be reaped by everyone, men and women alike.

One day I was in a Political Sciences class and my teacher asked how many of us viewed themselves as feminists. A girl standing by my side and I raised our hands. Nobody else did. I felt truly sorry for my classmates. I thought: “they must either be ignorants or cowards. Maybe they’re not even bad people. They are probably not. But they are making a big mistake”. Feminism is not just about some of us. It is about all of us. If I am a feminist? Of course. Because, if I wasn’t, then I wouldn’t be in favour of the equality of rights for both genders. Because, if I wasn’t, then I wouldn’t truly be in favour of a better World… would I?




Jump Out Of The Box – part II

I have not yet reached 20 years of age and I have already met two or three people who claim they are not truly thrilled by anything and that they do not know what to do with their lives. I’ve always felt sorry for them, because that is a problem I have never had. Not that I have ever know the exact, one job that I want to do for the rest of my life – not at all. But I have always known what I wanted to do with my life, allowing me to choose from a range of different jobs that might all help me reach those goals. Sometimes, my problem has not been to choose one thing in a world of things that I do not like, but to choose one thing among many different ones that I enjoy. Hence my previous text, where I tried to highlight the fact that we should not keep ourselves on the same pathway forever and that we should be (and, ultimately, we are) free to reinvent ourselves whenever we feel the need to. This, however, is a different problem, and that’s why I was never very sure about what to say to those people when they told me about their struggle. What do you tell someone who thinks he or she does not enjoy doing anything or is not good at anything in particular?

Get out there!, explore the world!, explore yourself!, try to find it and you shall! This is basically what I always end up saying to those people, cheerfully and encouragingly, as if it is really simple and easy. In fact, since this is not an experience that I’ve personally gone through, I don’t feel adequately prepared to talk about it or to describe what it feels like. I can only express my own feelings and thoughts about it, what I think those people should do… but always keeping in mind my lack of experience in that sense. In the end, I believe that my simplifying, perhaps reductionist and yet well-intentioned piece of advice is the key. My determination as to what I want to do with my life was born when I was still a child and it has always stayed with me ever since. It came from the way my family raised me, yes, from my own knowledge of myself and (in my personal belief) from a higher source of energy that other people may or may not believe in. But, ultimately, I believe that people who face this problem of not knowing what to do are struggling with one particular issue – they do not have their priorities straight. Please note: priorities here do not refer to making money or getting a stable job that will help you start a family, buy a house, get a car and pay your taxes for the rest of your life. I believe there is more to life than this, a lot more – and that’s what people often forget or underestimate.

Deep down, I believe that these indecisive people face the issue of letting themselves feel too much pressure from society – that same pressure that orders us to choose a fixed path, one box to jump into and stay there forever. Deep down, I think they may be afraid of being stuck in a box that does not allow them to free themselves, to fulfill themselves. Also, I think they lack excitement for what’s beautiful, different and new in the world. They do not seem to be surprised and charmed by anything, as if there’s nothing out there that really, really catches their eye and makes them want to explore it. After having thought about it for a while (and more than once) I have to admit that I honestly don’t understand why or how this happens. I don’t understand how people can feel as if there’s nothing out there that they can truly see themselves doing in their lives. And that’s clearly because I’ve never been in their shoes. But what I can say is this:

1 – There IS something in this world for each and every one of us. An experience, a job, a talent, a skill, something we are good at and something that does make us feel good. We live in such a vast, complex, diverse world that I’m sure every one of us has their own calling somewhere… But we can’t just expect it to show at our doorstep. We must open our eyes, we must try and find it. You can’t complain if you haven’t tried. Try and don’t give up.

2 – We must stop viewing our choices and different possibilities of life as separate, individual boxes. Society makes us think that we must choose a box we fit into, jump inside and stay there. That’s wrong. We are multidimensional creatures who change. Our traits change, our interests change, our skills evolve, we are in constant development. And the need to reinvent ourselves is nothing to be scared of. Do not think that you must choose a path and stay on it forever. Instead, ask yourself what you would like to try for now and do it. Find what you’re good at it and value it. Sometimes, we are good at something that does not look like a good future prospect. For example: being a really good sportsman or being a really good musician and being told that following through with that will not get you payed or give you a safe life. Don’t give too much importance to that. If you truly love doing it, give it a chance.

3 – Whatever you do, listen to others’ advice but always make your own choices. Nobody will ever fully, absolutely know your feelings, your character, your priorities and who you are deep down. So, since you’re the only one who can best know yourself, make sure that you make the decisions that feel good, not the ones that you think you should make. Having said that, it’s also important to listen to those who have wise words to tell you. Nobody knows everything, and being given a good piece of advice can stop you from making some mistakes. For instance: my father bugged me so much to start dancing that I ended up promising him that I’d give it a go when I turned 16. Keeping my promise, I went to my first Latin dance class when I was 16 and I found one of the greatest passions of my life. Had I not listened to my parents, I would not have found something which I love doing.

4 – In the end, always give the greatest importance to what makes you happy. It doesn’t matter if it’s unconventional. It doesn’t matter if it’s different or if it goes against the status quo. As long as it doesn’t hurt anybody (others and yourself), you should do it. I am now more categorically sure than ever before that, had I not followed my instinct and always made my choices based on my personal interests and skills, I would not be where I am today – happy.

5 – But just don’t forget that, even if you’ve chosen well, even if you’ve found something you really like, there will always be hard times. Life is always changing, which means that there will be happy times, just like there will be difficult times. The fact that you’re going through a rough patch doesn’t mean that you should give up or that things will never get better. Just keep on trying. Deep down, that’s what truly matters. Keep on trying.

Jump Out Of The Box – part I

We live in a society that forces us to make decisions from a very young age – and what’s more, decisions that are supposed to define our future, the rest of our lives. We are taught that we must choose a route while we are still at school (sciences, humanities, arts, sports…) and, depending on the countries we are talking about, we may be pushed into choosing an already constricted area of knowledge when we are only teenagers. Well, let’s be honest – when are still children. In my country, for instance, we are told to choose a block of subjects at 15 years of age: sciences, humanities, sports, arts, economics… And, when we choose, we will only have classes that fit in that category (with the exception of a couple, such as gym class, philosophy and our native tongue, for example). This means that, for our three years of highschool, we are already meant to follow a certain path, one that we are expected to delve into and to refine when we go to university.

But what’s worse is this: society expects us to stay on that path for the rest of our lives. We are supposed to choose the one area that we excel in at a very young age, study everything and only what belongs to that area, and then get a job that is in that same area. We are essentially told that we must choose a box, jump inside it and stay there. Forever. Well, not forever, but until we retire, which is basically saying that you will have a full life of doing something that may not even be what most excites you or what most fulfills you. That’s right. Simply put, society wants you to choose a path, to stay on that path and not to explore or to vary too much. So what happens to people who do not want to do just ONE thing for their entire lives, or people who have trouble fitting into one sole box?

Society is wrong. We can do different things. We should do different things. We should try different activities, new experiences, unexpected challenges… because we are not one dimensional beings that can make permanent, life defining choices at an early age and not get it wrong several times. I have seen this happening all around me: I have known many boys and girls who, forced to choose a future at 14, 15 or 16 years of age, have chosen areas that were probably not the best for them and that will not allow them to fully develop and blossom as they could. How can teenagers decide what they want to be for the rest of their lives when they are just teenagers? Many people get to their forties, fifties, and still do not know what they’d truly love to do. A lot of people get to old age feeling as though they did not fulfill themselves. Can you imagine that feeling? It must be very sad and frustrating.

Still – we are forced to choose at a young age. It is ridiculous, yes. An educational system that requires its students to make such important choices when it is clearly too soon is a flawed system, much like our uneven, conformist, consumerist society. What it does is that it creates a series of robots, formatted boys and girls who are taught to obey orders, learn the same things, choose a strictly fixed future, do their job and not ask many questions. In the end, we are all tiny boxes that feed the great motherboard, and we must all be equal so that we work in the same way and maintain the system working the way those who control it want it to work. But what does that do to each of us, as individuals? I have already mentioned that I have seen many classmates of mine choosing to follow, for example, the sciences path to become doctors and engineers, two of the most standardized professions in this society. Young people who say that they want to become artists, dancers, musicians, painters, actors, or anything out of the ordinary, are frequently discouraged under the justification that “Doing that will not get you paid” and “Not getting paid will prevent you from having a stable, comfortable life”. What happened to people wanting to jump out of the box? Why is there so much pressure to stay inside of it?

It is okay to want to be different. It is okay to want to study different things and to pursue a different career, just like it is okay to want to do multiple things and not just one. Of course, it is usually easier to be really good at one thing than at many things, but it doesn’t mean that we cannot enjoy doing different things and that we shouldn’t do it. Why should we stick to the same job for our entire lives? Why should we not reinvent ourselves at some point – whenever that moment comes? I was (am) very fortunate to have parents who gave me the freedom to make my own choices – without any kind of pressure. I was told that I should go with my heart and do what I liked the most. Money, stability and mostly status were never part of the criteria for my parents and for me. I saw like the people around me, classmates, close friends and even other members of my family gave a lot of importance to those factors – mostly getting a job and a good paycheck. When I was growing up, the economical crisis going on in my country was also a recurring argument when it came to us making a decision for our future professions.

In the end, I made my choices based mostly on what I wanted – on what I enjoyed doing, on what I enjoyed studying, and not on what I thought I should do or what other people convinced me that I enjoyed doing. I made a couple of wrong choices, but they were never a waste of time – in fact, they were valuable lessons. For instance: when I reached 10th grade, I had to choose which area to follow. I should’ve followed humanities, which mostly suited my character and likes, but I gave more importance to the fact that all my friends were going to the sciences class and I went with them. My parents were always supportive, even though they thought I would probably be much better in the humanities class. At the time, I tried to give myself rational arguments as to why I was studying sciences instead of what I had always really excelled in (history, languages…), but only later would I truly understand that I should have taken the other course. That moment finally came when I reached my senior year, that is, 12th grade, and I decided that I would eternally fail Maths if I insisted on doing it and the exams I should actually be doing by the end of the year were the humanities exams, not sciences. So I chose to stay in highschool for an extra year, I dropped out of Maths and focused on the humanities exams I had to do. I never went to a single class on any of those subjects and I still got good results when I took the exams by the end of what was my 13th year of school. During that year, I took the time to take my driver’s license and to have more dance classes – which definitely made me develop as a dancer.

Many people would consider my choice to be a waste of time. However, it was the exact opposite. I used that year for other things and those were some very happy times. By the end of it, I sent out my college applications – and, once again, my decisions were based entirely on my personal taste and I was never influenced by any kind of pressure. I ended up applying (as my first option) for a degree that I had never even considered before (in fact, I only decided to apply for that about one or two weeks before I had to send out the applications). That was International Relations. I remember having mentioned it once or twice before with my mother and we never gave it a second thought. But suddenly, just before the deadline, I went through its programme and I realised that it looked extremely interesting and “way up my alley”. So I went for it. Never did I wonder whether it would be easy to get a job with such a degree or whether I’d make good money out of it. Instead, I chose it because the subjects looked captivating and challenging – like good fun.

Now, I find myself as happy and excited as I have rarely been before in my life. I could never have imagined I would love college so much, and never have I imagined I could fall in love with a college degree as much as I have. I love every subject I have to study, I even had fun while I was studying for my finals and had fun during a couple of them. Why? Because I am doing what I love. Because I am doing what makes me happy. Therefore, you should never give any criteria as much importance as you should give to this: your own love, your own excitement, your own curiosity. If you choose something that will definitely get you a job and money, but that is not what you truly, actually love, then you might live a comfortable, stable life – but it will never be a fulfilling life. And if you choose something which excites you, then you will most surely be great at it – because we are most dedicated to what we love. And employers like people who are good at their jobs – so you will eventually find your own place and a good job. Nevertheless, the most important part is the journey – how happy you are while you’re preparing for that job, while you’re studying, learning and perfecting yourself.

You must try to achieve happiness in every step of the way, not just work really hard for a happy future that makes you have an exhausting, unfulfilling present. But there are people who do not face this dilemma of choosing whether to follow what they think they should or what makes them truly happy. They face another dilemma: what is it that makes them happy? These are the people who have a hard time finding what really makes them tick.

Writer’s Block

There is something I have never liked to think, let alone say. But the more I think about it, the more I believe I need to say it… or, in this case, to write it down (since writing is my favorite means of expression). So here it goes: as of two or three years ago, I have been writing less and less. These are words that hurt me deeply. They feel like some sort of betrayal, as if I am turning against my own nature by not writing. But it is not as if I don’t want to write – I desperately want to, I just can’t. What I have, I think, is a writer’s block.

Writing has always been the most intimate, true part of myself. When I was younger, I told a teacher I really liked that writing was as vital to me as breathing. And it was. I was always writing; always. I wrote short stories, tales and later I started writing poems. I always aimed to write novels, books. My mother told me how I started telling stories before I could even write. She would sit down by my side and transcribe everything I said into a notebook. She told me that I used to talk so fast and non-stop that she would be baffled – but she felt even more amazed when she had finished transcribing every word I’d said while I was playing and realised that it formed a fully logical story. Well… as logical as a child’s imagination can be, anyways, or as inventive. But stories with beginning, middle and end. And as soon as I learned to write, I started writing my own stories.

For many years, writing has been an escape – a way to run away from the problems of this world. Not from my family, because I have always had a loving, supportive family. In fact, for any outsider it might look like I had a pretty priviledged childhood. But those who know me well know that I have been bullied many times when I was a child and that it has had strong, negative effects on me. During some of the worst times, I would imagine that Pegasus came to my balcony each night, as I lay in bed, and that he would take me away with him and show me the world as everybody else slept. I started taking refuge in my imaginary friends, and the worlds I wrote about were the ones I transported myself into whenever I wanted a break from reality and to be saved by fantasy. Then, I started writing stories about the real world – not my life, but stories of children in the midst of war, Nature under attack and all kinds of things that my parents showed me that were wrong in the world and that needed to be talked about. This was my way to address these subjects – writing about them – and, according to my loyal readers (mum, teachers…), I did it quite well. I am proud of the way I wrote then, I think there was a lot of beauty in my words and metaphors and scenarios and characters and dialogues. My writing felt pure, because it came from the heart and from somewhere else – somewhere deep inside me that, to this day, I still don’t really know where to find.

But a common part of my writing process was the fact that I wrote the best stuff when I was sad. It is no coincidence that I am fan of sad love stories or dramas and that I have never been a fan of comedies. Sadness can be beautiful, and it often feels real – because, in this world, there is not just laughter, not just happiness, but also a lot of pain. I believe that my most sensitive side would be awakened by sad stories – and whenever I wrote something sad (even if it ended well), words came out of me in their most beautiful form. And I think this was one of the determining factors in causing my writer’s block: two or three years ago, my life suddenly took a turn and became much happier. I found better friends at school, I started doing other things I loved (the most important of which is dance) and, overall, I no longer had that separation between a daily routine that I was somewhat afraid of and going back home to my only true refuge – my home, with my family and my computer, where I could write all I wanted (those who know me know that I was always had to write in computers because my thoughts came out too fast for me to write words down on paper with my hands, and that is why I type so fast). So I believe it was the fact that my life began to give me more opportunities to do things that made me happy that kept me from writing so much – and that eventually created this block.

The problem is… I want to write. I need to write, because it is still a part of me. I fear that it is no longer such a vital part of me that I cannot live without it. Yes, that’s probably my deepest fear – that I am no longer incapable of living without writing. It may sound strange, doesn’t it? Even paradoxical, if you consider that I usually had to feel somehow sad to write my best stuff. Does that mean that I am some sort of masochist that wants to feel sad just to be able to write? I don’t think so. What I do think is that writing has always been such a defining, crucial, intimate part of me that I feel a little exposed and lost without it. I have always been praised for my writing skills – and now I don’t seem to be capable of writing any good stuff anymore. I dreamt of writing beautiful stories, with meaning, that could bring up those matters that need to be talked about – and now I sometimes wonder if I will ever be able to do that. If I will ever get through this block.

What I think I need to tell myself and to believe is that it is in my hands to destroy this writer’s block. Like William Ernest Henley wrote in one of my favorite poems, Invictus, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul”. I am the captain of my soul. If I have written good stuff in the past, then I have to believe that I can do it again in the future. And this is, I think, what all writers should tell themselves when facing such a challenge.

  1. Only you can destroy your writer’s block… and you can do it with your bare hands. You need to believe in yourself, believe that you can write. If you have written before, then why wouldn’t you be capable of doing it again? Look for inspiration – life offers you a million scenarions, a million characters, a million stories. Find your own.
  2. Make time to work on it. My biggest problem is that I feel like I no longer have as much time as I used to have during my childhood and early adolescence to write. With college, dance, and all other things that I need to do these days, it feels like I can no longer stay awake for those long hours in the night, or that I don’t have the strength to get up at dawn anymore to write. But if we ever want to overcome a writer’s block, we need to find time to fight for it. This is a spiritual battle.
  3. Prioritize. Maybe you were never truly meant to be a writer and your time has come. That is something you may be afraid of, and perhaps it is true in some cases. But maybe it’s just a challenge you have to face and overcome. If you feel deeply sad, stripped and lost because you’re not writing, then you definitely need to do it again.

I always tell myself that I have time. My mother calls it just a phase and says it will pass, but sometimes I’m honestly afraid that it never will. And when I think that, I feel a not inside my chest, I feel empty and betrayed – betrayed by myself. So I do believe that I will write again, because I want to, because I need to… but I will only destroy this writer’s block when I myself work hard for it. No one else will do it for me. It has to be me.

As a bit of inspiration, I am leaving here Henley’s poem:

Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
      For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.





The Meaning – part II

Somebody recently told me that there are two kinds of people in this world: those who live fulfilling, meaningful lives, and those who live empty, meaningless lives. I don’t know if we can be so objective and split people into two categories alone, but this distinction is absolutely clear… and it is also clear, I think, that most people (or at least many, many of them) in our current society belong to the second category. And I feel truly sorry for them, because I have never known what it is like to feel that your life has no meaning or that there is nothing out there that fascinates you, and I know that people who think this way must feel completely lost or empty in this world. But why?

Above all, I believe I have the Universe to thank for the life that I have had so far, and for all the love and joy and freedom that I have tasted until now. Whatever beautiful source of energy there is all around us and inside us, that force that lies above and within us and that gives life and emotion to all beings on this Earth, it has given me some of the most precious possessions anyone could ever pray for – a loving, supportive family. Had it not been for the parents I have, I do not think I could have taken the path I took – and am taking everyday – to get to where I am today. I know that things would have been radically different had I not had them just the way they are, because they taught me many powerful lessons.

1) Love is the answer. Many wise people have shared this message before and I believe that most people, deep down, know that love is the key. But I think that many of us frequently forget that or let it be overshadowed by feelings of envy, greed, prejudice, hatred and much more. Thankfully, my parents have always been firm in showing me that love (alongside compassion, friendship, solidarity, loyalty and all that comes with it) is indeed the must powerful force in the world – and that embracing it means showing it and spreading it at all times, not only when it is convenient to us. To love is not to love only for the sake of being loved. That is the true challenge – to love just because. Just because love is beautiful, just because love is strong, just and the most important treasure there is.

2) Believe in the beauty of the world and see it. We live in a wonderful world. Nature gives us countless gifts each day by building some of the most beautiful landscapes around us, by giving us the light of the Sun, by giving us the Moon, by giving us water and earth and the green of forests and the colors of flowers and scents and all there is that surrounds us and makes us feel alive. For we are alive, just like everything around us, just like the entire world. If you see that the whole world is bursting with life, you will never be truly alone. You may feel lonely at times, but you will know that you are never really alone. Beauty is what gives light to our lives. I don’t mean the kind of shallow beauty of certain body types or fashion and make-up or artificial beauty. I mean all the simple, little things in life that are there to be seen every day, if we open our eyes to see them.

There is a lot of darkness in this world, a lot of suffering and pain, and it will be hard to find a meaning in life, or to find any purpose or joy, if we let that consume us entirely. To believe in the beauty of the world and to see it is the best way to fight against this and to find happiness. One of the things that I am most happy about my parents is that they always encouraged me to believe in magic, in the fantastic and the supernatural – or, at least, they never discouraged it. And why is that so great? Because it makes the world a much more mysterious, intriguing and fascinating place if you believe it. Like Roald Dahl said, “Those who do not believe in magic will never find it”. Magic doesn’t need to be a wizard waving a wand and making spells, or a dragon flying above us in the sky, or a dwarf lurking in the shadows. Magic can be every little miracle of Nature that we see around us during our lives, every mindblowing phenomenom that we see and cannot explain. We need to let ourselves be wowed. To free your imagination is to directly interact with the world around you; it is to transform it as you see it, to transform it as you go, to paint it as a more beautiful place or to uncover some of its secrets. And this lesson that I have learned from my parents – to believe in the beauty of the world and to see it – is also to apply the first lesson: to love. Beauty is a demonstration of Nature’s love for this world and for all its inhabitants, a sign that the Universe is full of life and strength and hardship, for beautiful things are not only in happiness, but also in sorrow. To understand that the world is never made solely of one thing, not only made of light but also made of darkness, leads me to the third lesson I’ve been taught.

3) There is light as there is darkness, there is darkness as there is light. Some people (actually many, I would say) choose to live their lives indifferent to all that is wrong in the world and to the suffering of millions of other living beings. My parents (my family) have always made me see that there is terrible pain and injustice in our world – and it practically always strikes the innocent. They have taught me that, if we want to live our lives applying the first two lessons I have referred, if we want to live beautiful, meaningful lives, we cannot be indifferent to all the darkness. Instead, it is our duty to fight it any way we can. We don’t need to dedicate our lives to a crusade of Good against Evil, of course, although it is always okay to do that. But Good is often in the simplest, smallest little acts and gestures. Many people think that, to fight against anything that is wrong in the world (injustice, prejudice, hatred, corruption…) you somehow have to be bothered and it will disrupt your daily routine and the normal course of your life. That is absolutely wrong. We all can do something good for this world, and those who are really committed to doing that will easily find a way. To see the beauty that exists on this Earth is very important if we want to live a good life… but that does not mean being blind to the darkness. No. It is in knowing that there is darkness that we learn to value beauty, and in fighting that same darkness (whatever way we can) that we contribute to turning this world into a more beautiful place. Yes, it may bother us sometimes. Yes, it may make us feel extremely sad and hurt and disturbed, for there are many horrors out there. So, for many people, the question can remain: if being alert to all the evil that surrounds us can bring us sadness and pain and anguish, then why should we do it? Why should we not remain indifferent? This leads me to lesson number 4.

4) Your moral code must be your defining feature. For those who are aware of the current state of things in our world and in our societies, it is easy to realise that all that is wrong comes not from a political, social, environmental or economic crisis, but from a bigger, deeper crisis that has consequences in all these domains. It is a crisis of values. Most people in our societies have lost the strength and determination of certain values – values that seem outdated, translated into words that no longer seem to be anything more than words… and most of all, words that have stopped belonging to our everyday vocabulary, but that seem to belong more to books and films and fiction stories. Honor. Bravery. Justice. Righteousness. Brotherhood. Freedom. Equality. Yes, some of them we hear on a common basis, but that doesn’t mean that we actually apply them on our daily lives. If there is one thing I am honestly proud about myself, that is my moral values. These, I am sure that they came in a great part from my parents, my family and the education I got (the good manners, the do the right thing lesson, et cetera), but I feel them so strongly and passionately inside me that I think their core also comes from somewhere else. I am not going to elongate on my spiritual theories because it is a very personal matter, but I do believe that there is a greater force in our Universe that gives us certain strengths and passions, and that we are made of part of that. Maybe you do not believe in the soul or the spirit or the aura or whatever you want to call it. I don’t think of it as the Christian concept of the soul, but I am absolutely sure that there is more to us than flesh and bone. I know that we are made of that energy that surrounds us and that inhabits every living being in this world, and I believe that that energy carries its own strength. In the end, all we will have is our own personal code. All we will have to carry through our lives are our own choices and our own actions – so be sure to make the right ones. This belief is closely related to another idea that my parents have planted in me from a very young age.

5) Everything is connected and interdependent. This sentence is so powerful that it has multiple ramifications, different interpretations… but deep down, it all centers around one thing. On the one side, you can see it like this: everyone is connected, so the suffering of others is our own, the suffering of one is the suffering of all. This is an idea that I am very fond of. Why? Because it means that we cannot be indifferent to the pain of others. If we learn to experience others’ suffering as our own, we will learn to value it a lot more, and we will feel even more committed to ending it. There is one big truth about life that we all need to think about: every living being longs for the absence of suffering, therefore longing for happiness. And here is its logic: if you contribute to the suffering of others, I firmly believe that you will also suffer, sooner or later, here or somewhere else, one way or the other. On the contrary, if you contribute to the happiness of others, you are also contributing to your own happiness, and vice versa. So, in a logical question, why shouldn’t we all want to contribute to everybody’s happiness and absence of pain? On the other side, you can interpret this lesson like this: you reap what you sow. As each day passes, I believe this more and more. The interdependence of the Universe means that you will get something in return from what you do. It is not so simple as: if you do something bad, something bad will happen to you, or if you do something good, something good will happen to you. However, the idea is not far from this. What it truly means, I think, is that you have to work hard if you want to achieve your dreams… but if you really fight for them and strive to be a good person, a good being, the Universe will offer you something in return. I have seen this multiple times in my life. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should be good just for the sake of getting a reward (like I said above). It means that we do live in a world where good is rewarded, exactly because love is the most powerful force there is.

There is a lot more I could say about this subject, for it is a fascinating topic to me and I could probably write about it for hours, but I would like to wrap it up by referring to one more lesson that my parents – and the world – have taught me so far. This is number 6.

6) Life is a journey and nothing is permanent. Nothing is permanent. This is something you always have to keep in mind – you can’t ever forget it. Why? Because life does change, our paths do change and we ourselves change. But the journey always carries on, until our death and beyond (if you believe in existing after death, like I do). The fact that you are living a good moment in life does not mean that only good moments will follow, like the fact that you are living a bad moment doesn’t mean that no good will ever come again. No, because impermanence is a Law of this Universe, it is a Law of life. We all know this. Our own bodies do not remain the same forever. Our thoughts change, our feelings change, our bodies change. The landscapes around us change. The beings around us change. The circumstances of our life change. What I learned from this is that you must value each moment you have, enjoy every step of the journey and continuously work and fight for a better journey… for yourself and for others.

Deep down, I am infinitely grateful to my parents for having raised me the way they did, and I hope that I will carry on forging my own path the way they (and the world) have taught me to.


Note: in a following article I shall write more about this idea of “you reap what you sow” and more about this idea of impermanence too.