Taking Self-Affirmation To An Extreme

I think, in many ways, we have come to a point of extremism in our search for ultimate freedom, ultimate equality and ultimate self-affirmation.

1) Take women, for instance. We were once forbidden from using any kind of clothes we wanted to, forbidden from using pants, forced to cover our bodies entirely. But now, beyond wearing any clothes we want, we have also made them a lot more revealing than it is necessary. In our search for utmost freedom of choice and freedom of expression, we have gone from the extreme of not being able to reveal any parts of our feminine body to the extreme of showing too much. Anyone who says this will most likely be criticized by the so-called defenders of liberty and freedom of expression, and by a large number of feminists. But I don’t believe this (contesting everything goes when it comes to wearing revealing clothes) stands against feminism: actually, I believe it is in its best interest. It isn’t a matter of being too modest; it’s a matter of not being scandalous and not putting ourselves out there to be possibly ridiculed. We, women, can own our conquered freedom with strength, bravery, joy and modesty without having to make a show out of it. If we incur in this, we may lose our validity by being accused of trying to outrageously “draw attention” only because we can.

Also, and maybe even more importantly, I believe that wearing boldly revealing clothes just because we want to, just because we can, can be demeaning to ourselves because we are indeed drawing attention to our bodies, and will therefore be much more easily objectified as sexual beings instead of wholly complex, multidimensional beings. Modesty is not submission to a sexist society that prevents us from wearing what we can wear; it is choosing not to sexually objectify yourself when you can wear what you want to. In the Western societies where this currently happens (women and girls wearing a lot more revealing clothes than they could, and maybe should), this victory is already won: we are already free to wear what we want to wear. We don’t need to celebrate this victory or rub it in society’s face and men’s faces by going from the extreme of oppression to the extreme of exposure. I would even dare say that a greater lesson for this sexist society would be to wear what we want to – but dress modestly, confidently and independently, not giving in to what society secretly expects from us. Yes, because men know that, in a free society where women are allowed to dress in any way they want to, there will more displays of flesh. They like it when we wear revealing clothes, because it makes it easier for them to objectify us and then to blame it on us when they can’t contain themselves. “It’s her fault; she was wearing provocative clothes”, they say. Obviously, we shouldn’t – and cannot – stop ourselves from doing something we want to just because we fear men might use it as an excuse for their own selfish, sexist acts. If we choose not to do something in front of men, it must be only because we do not view it as respectable or desirable.

All of this is, of course, a highly controversial debate, because it also depends on how much worth or sacredness you give to the human body. In this case, to the female body, which has always been a greater object of fascination, secrecy and passion for humans. If you are an all-time liberal who believes in absolute freedom of choice and freedom of expression, and if you believe that human bodies are only a natural part of the world and should not be viewed as something untouchable or divine because they are, well, to celebrate and to be celebrated – well then, maybe you don’t give much importance to women and girls walking around in the shortest, tiniest possible clothes. Maybe, for you, they will only be displaying a beautiful part of what Nature has given them; it is in their right, and they are acting accordingly to the natural world, for all that is beautiful should be seen and admired. But there are other people who think that the human body can still be celebrated and admired without having to be “exposed to the masses”, displayed to the public. There are people who think that the human body is somewhat sacred in its intimacy, and that it should be respected by not being exposed to the eyes of everyone, indiscriminately.

I’m not saying that you should treat your body as a secret painting and never reveal it to anyone. No, that’s wrong. The female body is beautiful, sensual, delicate and strong at the same time, and as any wonderful painting, it should be looked upon with wonder, passion and love. However, there is a big difference between revealing your body to someone in private, or revealing it in front of a large, undetermined audience. You must own your body, yes; but owning it does not mean showing it off in front of a crowd in a way that says “Look at this; it is gorgeous, and it is mine, and you can’t have it”. Why should we make this argument once again about men? Some women may say that they wear revealing clothes for themselves – because it makes them feel powerful and strong and independent. I disagree. I don’t believe that, when you dress in a way that is meant to be looked at by others, you are doing it for yourself. You can feel perfectly beautiful and strong and independent and not wear something that exposes a large part of your body. (Once again, I stress out that I am not referring to revealing your legs in a short skirt, or your back in a backless top, or even your belly button. I am speaking of that kind of clothes that makes it look like there’s more skin than fabric around). So, I believe that when women wear revealing clothes, they are making themselves dependent of men once more. Why? Because they want men to look at them, to look at them and to think that they can not get what they once would have taken without having to ask for permission. But why do you have to do that in this way? Every conscious woman knows that when a man sees her walk by in a revealing outfit, the first thing that will go through his mind is this: sex. She will be objectified.

I am not trying to depict men as absolutely irrational beings with purely instinctive impulses. But even us girls, when we see an attractive man walking by in a good-looking outfit, that only makes him look sexier, even we will be attracted to him. However, our fight against men’s constant sexual objectification of women loses part of its strength when we ourselves make it easy for men to objectify us. So, maybe, the next time you are choosing what to wear before you go outside, you will look at the clothes you’ve got in your closet and you’ll ask yourself: Who am I wearing this for? What am I wearing this for? Dressing more modestly is not surrendering to a sexist society where “men can’t control themselves just because we wear sexy clothes”. No. It is owning our freedom of choice by not giving in to the need to be recognised as beautiful, sexual beings, when we should be recognised as simply beautiful beings, men and women alike.

Anyways, this is only my opinion, and I’m sure it differs from the opinions of many others. Any debates on these subjects will only improve the general debate on the rights and emancipation of women and should, therefore, be encouraged. Progress can only come by the conflict of ideas and the search for the better ones – which can only be done when there are different ideas to share.

 

 

 

The Meaning – part I

To seek for a meaning in life is probably the most epic, yet common journey in the world. There is as much greatness in it as there is simplicity. There are so many questions surrounding this conquest. Is there truly one key meaning to our life – or may there be more than one? Is it truly possible to reach the end of this quest – or is there no end to it? Will we ever truly find the meaning of our lives before we die, or won’t we? “The perfect blossom is a rare thing. You could spend your life looking for one, and it would not be a wasted life”. For years I have heard this sentence and not given it what I now believe is its true meaning. One day, as I watching The Last Samurai for the hundredth time, it finally struck me: enlightenement. That is, I believe, what Katsumoto called the perfect blossom. But for those who don’t know or don’t believe in the genuine sense of this phenomenom, maybe you can view it as something else: finding a purpose to life, discovering its meaning, carving your path through it. There is nothing simple about it – and maybe it is a lot simpler than we think. Why? Because, in truth, all the answers we need are already inside us, waiting for us to find them.

I don’t mean to say that we cannot learn from the outside world, from other beings or from life’s experiences. No. Every single thing we go through in life is meant to help us unlock those understandings that already lie inside us, waiting to be found. The hardest and greatest challenge, perhaps, is to learn exactly how to view each event that happens in our life as a lesson to further understand ourselves – and, therefore, to further understand the reason why we are alive, the reason why we came to this World… or, in other words, the meaning of our life. A question: is it only when we look inside us that we will understand the world around us, or is it only when we look at the world around us that we will understand ourselves? Maybe both. Maybe it is the other way around: only when we look inside us will we truly understand ourselves, but we can not do so without being fully aware of the world that surrounds us. Why? Because our life is what shapes us, and our life is deeply affected by the world we inhabit. But each of us reacts differently to the things that happen to us. How can we explain that? By looking inside us and finding what is there. There, in the depths of our being, lie the answers we need to everything. But by no means is it easy to look inside yourself.

It is a lot harder to look inside yourself than to look around you. Why? Because there is as much depth to you, as much width and complexity, as there is in the universe that surrounds you. Look at the common sentence: you are a drop in the universe, and the universe in a drop. So, how can you discover yourself? How can you find those answers? For they are invisible, inaudible, but not impossible to feel. You can feel them with your heart, as you can feel them with your mind. I believe meditation (be it traditional Buddhist meditation or reiki,  shamanic practices or spiritual retreats, et cetera) is the best way to reach it, as have said the wise people of the East for thousands of years. But for those of us who don’t practice meditation, are not interested in it or don’t know enough about it, one good piece of advice is this: fight complexity with simplicity. “There is surely nothing other than the single purpose of the present moment. A man’s whole life is a succession of moment after moment. There will be nothing else to do, and nothing else to pursue. Live being true to the single purpose of the moment” (Tsunetomo Yamamoto, Hagakure: The Book Of The Samurai).

If we view the quest for a meaning to life as an epic, arduous journey, we may never feel brave enough or strong enough to face it. But no journey can be done by jumping from start to finish. You must take one step at a time, and follow your path. There are two things to reflect upon in this fact. First: you must take one step at a time. You will never succeed at something if you are constantly looking at the ending, at the final result, and not fully focused on the task at hand. Therefore, everything you do must be done with full respect for the present moment. To perfect yourself, you must do everything by heart, moved by the awareness that every gesture of yours must be a representation of your best self. You must help others, love others, always do your best for the best of others… and, in doing so, you shall also be doing what is best for yourself. Secondly, follow your path. This does not mean that you must follow whatever life imposes on you. No. You must create your own path by learning to listen to the advice that the Universe offers you. If you open your eyes and if you listen attentively, you will see and you will hear that life guides you in the right direction. This, of course, can only happen if you fulfill the first part of your quest correctly: if you remain true to yourself – and, therefore, to the world around you – at all times. Remain true to yourself at all times. Always be your best self. And life will offer you guidance to find and carve your own path.

It may be hard to find guidance in everyday life. Sometimes, we feel completely lost and alone – as if the Universe doesn’t see us or care about us; or worse, as if it is punishing us for something we don’t even know we’ve done. However, that is only a sign to show us that we are doing something wrong: we are most likely not being true to ourselves and doing the best we can. To find a meaning to life, we must wholeheartedly dedicate ourselves to everything in our life; but that doesn’t necessarily mean putting ourselves out there for great, perilous tasks. Instead, it means that we should find love, strength and courage in the simplest activities and gestures, offering those same gifts (love, loyalty, strength, courage) to those around us. In the end, if we are true to ourselves, we will begin to see that the Universe is not indifferent to us. We were not born into this World simply to fill it, to be another insignificant number in an overcrowded planet. No. I don’t think any of us was born simply to be another number, another empty face, another empty body. I think we all have a purpose in life, but most of us are dormant, unaware of our true paths, of our true selves. And if you get lost, your destiny – the destiny of this endless journey we are all on – will be much harder to find.

Most importantly than life, there is integrity. Integrity of the spirit, integrity of the heart and of the mind. Like Yamamoto Tsunetomo said, “Life is not so important when forced to choose between life and integrity”. To the Samurai, this was a cornerstone of their principles. And in the words of Miyamoto Musashi, “Get beyond love and grief; exist for the good of Man”. I want to change this sentence to: Get beyond love and grief; exist for the good of all the living. If you get lost in your own troubles and your own worries, you are only working for your own ego – which is what the vast majority of people in this world do. But if you see the little, simplest things in your life as they are all serving a higher purpose, you will be working for the universe and all that live in it. To end with the words of Buddha, “No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path”.

The Age of the Ill

One of the questions we have probably been facing for the last couple of days, and will carry on facing in the future, is: what are the motivations behind terrorists’ attacks? What drives these people, what makes them blow themselves up and kill dozens of innocent people at the same time? Of course, the phenomenom of terrorism is extremely complex, so complex that it can never be explained by only a few psychosociological theories or a few pages of combined arguments. But, among many other reasons and influences, there is certainly one thing that can explain why people in our current world are facing such dramatic, tragic needs – and that is a global crisis.

It is a global crisis, because we can not limit terrorism to a certain area or region, such as the Middle East. Terrorism comes from all over the world, because terrorists do not belong to a single ethnic or religious group. If it was a regional, local phenomenom, situated for instance in the Middle East, maybe then we could say that it was connected to a crisis of Islam, but when there are Westerners from all over Europe and even outside Europe (USA, for example) that join the ranks of terrorist groups, then we can no longer speak of a localized crisis – we must speak of a global crisis. Now, you can ask yourselves: but what kind of crisis is this? Where has it originated?

The answer is: this is a sickness, a disease that has long been stewing in the stewpan of our world and of our global society. It is none other than a crisis of values. What do people have to guide their lives these days? What kind of future prospects do they own? Throughout History, there have always been values and ideals to wield proudly and faithfully, to build one’s principles and moral code with. Yes, there have been waves of ascent and descent in the defending of these values, but it has been a common, recurrent reality. Look at the Japanese. Their ancient culture of honor and wisdom and integrity, passed on from generation to generation, has resulted in a people that still holds, in many cases, some basic, distinguishing values. Everybody knows how corteous and respectful the Japanese mostly are, how they value good manners and solemnity. I remember, for example, watching the Japanese playing in the World Cup and noticing how they did not commit any act of misconduct, or how the Japanese football fans cleaned the benches before leaving the stadium. Another good example is how, in Japanese schools, there are usually no janitors; students themselves clean their classrooms and the school buildings before going home – this is a lesson of sharing and respect. Of course, one could argue that the Japanese are not an entirely peaceful people – they have participated in WWII, for instance, with their famous Kamikaze and they have committed some brutal actions. And, indeed, the same teachings that resulted from a mix between Bushido, Confucianism and Zen Buddhism, were the basis of the Samurai way of life, and Samurais were warriors – people who lived for war, who lived to kill and to die. But, still, it is undeniable that the Japanese are, in many ways, a people that highly values principles such as honor, respect, integrity…

In the West, the masses live in a repetitive routine that gives them no great joy to look forward to. As youngsters, individuals look at their future and read their guidelines: you will go to school to study and to learn; after school, you will get a house and you will get a job to pay your rent; you will get a car and you will have to work harder to pay for gas, alongside your rent; you will buy something else and have to work harder to pay for even more possessions. And so it goes, in an endless cycle that drives so many of us to stress-related illnesses. In fact, it is a known fact than more than 90% of current diseases – either psychological or physical, or sometimes both – are derived from stress and from a stressful way of life. So, in the end, what do we live for? We live to earn more, to buy more, to consume more, and in this process we become materialistic and individualists. Individualists because the capitalist system we live in is a competitive system. The masses are constantly competing amidst themselves to have more, to own more, to buy more. All this competition is comparing us with each other, establishing patterns that distinguish us, pushing us away from each other…

Eventually, we find ourselves living in a world where the keywords are consumerism, consumption, materialism, competition, individualism, stress… And if we know that this is what we should expect of the future, why should we even look forward to it? Take children and teenagers who love to play videogames and computer games and reading fantasy fiction, for example. What is is that keeps drawing them to these distractions? Is it not precisely because they are distractions? Because they allow them to escape to a world where they feel inspired to fight for a cause, where they feel inspired to live an adventurous life, where they feel inspired to stand against the evil villains by holding strongly to their values of honor and truth and glory? Then, they go back to the real world and realise that it is a lot more boring than these fantastic, epic lives they are so fascinated with: in the real world, you will must likely work until you die, and you will most likely work in something you do not particularly love. Even if you do earn enough money to buy everything you may want, it is still very likely that you will get to the end of your life and realise that you have somehow not fulfilled yourself… Simply because human beings cannot be fulfilled by materialistic possessions.

There is a spiritual dimension in each of us that requires us to live in a way that fulfills our dreams, our expectations, our desires. There is a part of us, a crucial part of us, that needs to be inspired to live a greater, a better life – that needs to find a purpose in life. If we drift through life without a purpose, what will we ever hang on to? There will always be something missing – the meaning of life, the reason why we are alive, why we were born. And to find a purpose in life is, essentially, to find a cause worth fighting for, a cause worth dedicating yourself to. But what causes do the masses have, today, in our world, in our societies, to truly and wholeheartedly dedicate themselves to?

In a world where people are not fulfilling themselves, individuals become deeply sick. This is a fact, proven by other facts such as the undeniable statistics on stress-related illnesses. It is true; people are living sick lives, developing neuroses, sometimes psychoses, or simply becoming entrapped in such a stressful, repetitive, boring life that they do not even realise how bad they feel with themselves. Everybody knows that a vulnerable, weak individual becomes easy prey to predators. This happens all the time in the animal kingdom: a sick animal, a crippled animal, will most likely be caught by predators. The same happens in our societies: these sick individuals that are so desperately fighting for a purpose in life, fighting for an escape from this prison we live in, become easy prey to the manipulation of some people who know exactly what it takes to persuade them. These are the religious fundamentalists (Islamic or not; look at any kind of cult or sect) who tell their recruits: “Come and join us; we are a group of equals, we are all brothers fighting for a sacred, common cause. We are defending what is right and we are willing to give our lives for this cause, because we know that we will be accepted in Paradise for fighting for this cause”. This kind of speech may seem mad and delusional to many of us, most of us I hope. But it is very alluring and persuasive to people who are feeling powerless, meaningless, without anything to live for. They are told there is a group of people (a terrorist group, in this case) where all are brothers and all dedicate themselves to a cause that is greater than any individual; a sacred, holy cause that gives them the opportunity to literally fight for something and that, in the end, will give them straight access into a joyous, free afterlife.

I heard of a Belgian teenage girl who, one or two years ago, escaped to Syria out of the blue. She ran away from her mother, she ran away from her home, her country, everything she’d ever known, probably convinced by unknown people who she met online. I heard of teenagers, young men and women from different European countries who also ran away from their homes and their families to join the terrorist ranks: boys who wanted to become soldiers, who wanted to wield guns and to fight in the “Holy War”; girls who wanted to become the wives of these brave soldiers. They are all deceing themselves, of course. When they get there, reality is very different. Girls are enslaved, raped and forced to marry older men. Boys are sent to war and die. But it doesn’t matter so much what happens to them when they get there (please do not confuse these words with disrespect and indifference toward their loved ones and themselves). The crucial issue here is asking and knowing why they left. And this is one of the explanations.

Naturally, when you take this into consideration, it becomes much clearer that the phenomenom of terrorism is far from being solved – and will be. If terrorism is only a symptom of a much greater crisis, a global crisis, a civilizational crisis, how do we solve it? How do we make things better? How do we cure the disease of an entire civilization? It seems obvious that the answer includes changing everything; every parameter or paradigm we have been guiding ourselves by for the last decades; every goal that we have been considering the most important to achieve in our lives; every value (or lack of it) that we have been defending (or not defending). Our world needs a deep, nuclear change if we are ever going to overcome this challenge. Terrorism is only a reflection of a much bigger problem, of a much deeper problem, something that has been evolving for the last decades, for the last few hundreds of years, and that is now starting to show its scariest, most vicious manifestations.

Facing Terror With Peace

Another question that is probably arising in our minds right now is: how do we fight this evolving threat of terrorism? There is no doubt that terrorism must be fought. It doesn’t matter whether we support war or loathe its very concept; war still exists. For as much as we’d like to make it disappear, there are others in this world who worship it and live for it – these terrorist attacks are proof of that. So, we can make two statements: 1) War exists in our world, and it will probably keep existing for a long time. 2) How do we react to this reality?

This is a very important question. Considering that war exists, do we support violence to end violence, or do we turn our back entirely away from violence in response to violence? Do we choose relatiation – an eye for an eye – or do we choose peace? Like Mahatma Gandhi has said, “An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind“.  Anybody with a logical mind can understand this: violence will only generate more violence. And taking that into consideration, the logical answer would be to end all kinds of violence and to react to violence with peace. To drive out darkness with light.

But what if there is an enemy that does not let us live in peace? What do we do then? This is, I think, one of our biggest challenges in the current world and in face of this current threat of terrorism: how can we react to violence with peace when there are people out there who are so committed to their disturbed cause that they will only ever cause more violence? Can there be a peaceful end to a brutal sickness such as this fundamentalism? Can we stop ISIS or any other terrorist groups with peaceful measures?

Thinking about this question makes me deeply sad. It makes me sad because I am one of those people (many people, I believe, because there are still many good people in this world, many people who choose light over darkness) who believes that peace is the true way, that peace is the better way. There are many people in this world who know that violence will only bring more violence. But what power do we have to end it? As individuals, or even as a minority group, what actual power do we have to stop this maddening violence, these endless wars? There is a feeling of impotence, of powerlessness, that haunts us and saddens us; we live in a violent world, we do not wish to live in a violent world, but what powers do we have to change that?

There are those who would say that change starts within. And I couldn’t agree more with that. Be the change you want to see. If we want to see people in this world living accordingly to the right values, to the right ideals, then the only thing we can do is to begin with ourselves. There is only a certain number of other people we can reach, or only a certain dimension in which we can reach them. So we must start with ourselves. But this scenario of random violence, of unforeseen and inexplicable brutality, poses a challenge that I do not know the answer to: can we still maintain peace when there are those around us who just won’t let us?

I don’t have the answer for this question, but I believe it is probably one of the biggest, most important questions we must face in the future. Is it, perhaps, too late to react to violence only through peace?

 

 

 

 

The New Era of Terror: the Invisible Enemies

In the aftermath of what is now being called the worst terrorist attack in France in modern times, I wonder. We have spent yesterday night watching the live footage and hearing the reporters describing this horrifying Friday 13th – a true night of terror. As I watched the news, I realised that the more than one hundred people who died yesterday in the Bataclan died while I was watching TV. As my father and I were sitting silently in the living room, watching the events unfold, feeling sad and worried and afraid for all those people in Paris, we were also feeling afraid for the future of our world. And as I heard the explosions and the bursts of gunfire, and as I watched bloodstained people being taken to the ambulances on stretchers, I wondered.

First of all, I wondered what is going to happen to Europe, what is going to happen to our entire world in the face of this new invisible enemy that haunts us: terrorism. Terrorism is, indeed, the act of spreading terror among all. It stems from the randomness and unpredictability: where are they going to strike, when are they going to strike? Terrorists attack without being expected: they unexpectedly strike in a place and time nobody could have guessed. That is why terrorism is so effective: because it destroys any sense of safety, it makes people feel unsafe and threatened wherever they are. And can you imagine what that will eventually create? A widespread sense of fear, a widespread sense of insecurity. The main goal of terrorism is to build a state of panic that will overpower its targets – to paralyze Europe, the West, whatever it is, with panic and fear and terror. What can you do? How can you fight back against an enemy you do not see, whose identity you do not know, whose location you do not know? What is, perhaps, even more terrifying about these attackers is that they are fully prepared to die for their cause. They often do not wish to negotiate or to run away from the Police, unless they still have more missions to undertake: they are ready to die, and they will take as many with them as they possibly can.

There are many questions on our minds today, as there will be in the times to come, but what is probably one of the biggest questions is: how are we going to fight this growing threat? How are we going to fight and defeat this Era of Terror?

This leads us to my second point. As I was watching the course of events yesterday, my father and I were talking about all that is going to come out of this horrible night. Who is going to suffer the most after yesterday night? The families of the injured and the dead, of course, the survivors who will have to deal with psychological traumas, of course, the very people of France who are now going to live with the fear of seeing this happen again. But what about Muslims? What about all the Muslim civilians who are going to be looked at sideways? What about all those Muslims that will be going down the street and be looked at suspiciously because Westerners (European or American) no longer know who to trust? The problem of terrorism is that it is closely associated with a face, a stereotype, an identity: Arabs and Muslims. The acts of these Islamic fundamentalists will only victimize their own people.

But here comes the question. Are Muslims their people? Muslim people from all around the world claim that they have no relation with these terrorists, and I believe them. Would we enjoy being tied to Ku Klux Klan members just because we’re white westerners? The acts of a few mentally disturbed sadists do not speak for the millions of innocents who are being stigmatized – and are only going to be more stigmatized – after these events. Muslims are NOT the same as these Islamic fundamentalists. They too are suffering at their hands, maybe even more than us, especially in terms of numbers. How many Muslim innocents can you imagine being arrested or killed, here or particularly in the Middle East, at the unwinding of this violent war?

France has already stated that these terrorist attacks are being officially considered an Act of War. And I do agree with that. But who are they going to strike against when they react to this act of war? How many innocent people are going to die in the middle of this war? How are we going to fight this invisible threat? Again we face this question.

There are at least two other consequences that we can only guess. 1) The refugee crisis in Europe. Are our borders going to remain opened to the migrants running away from their ravaged homes? Not that we were being very welcoming before this happened, but what is going to happen now? Watching the debates yesterday, I heard a strategic intelligence specialist yesterday saying how it is more than likely that ISIS will use this mass of people to infiltrate their own operatives in Europe. That is a public threat of theirs. How are we going to react to this threat? I am entirely supportive of welcoming these refugees, as I have always been, but there is no denying that fear now lies in our hearts: what if there are terrorists amidst the refugees coming into Europe? People will use this argument to stop more migrants from crossing our borders.

If you want to refute this argument, use this: has this attack not taken place yesterday? Have these terrorists not managed to kill more than a hundred people in the middle of Paris anyways? They do not need to come to Europe disguised as refugees. They can do it otherwise, they do it otherwise; who knows if they are not French? We know of the many Europeans who have gone to Syria and Yemen and Afghanistan to be transformed into these soldiers of death, we know of all the westerners that have been recruited by ISIS. I remember the fact that Belgium had to increase their border control because of the number of young Belgians who were trying to go to Syria to fight “the Holy War”. This happened in many countries, this is still happening today. Terrorists are reaching us through social networks, they are reaching us through undercover means. This crisis is much bigger than a group of terrorists infiltrating the thousands of refugees that are pleading to cross our borders.

But after having referred to all the Westerners who were/are being recruited by ISIS, another question arises: what are the motivations behind these people’s actions? What makes them so willing to die for “this greater cause”, to die “in the name of Allah”? And what makes them willing to kill so many innocent people as they do? What makes them wage such a terrible, violent war? What makes them take part in this “Holy War”?

The answer is – our civilization is in crisis. Terrorism, this new form of war, this new form of fighting, is in fact a reflection of the extremely serious, extremely worrying Crisis of Values that we are living. This civilization crisis derives from our way of living. We live in a manipulated system of deep consumption, consumerism and materialism. We live to consume: to consume more and more and more. Our materialistic way of life means that we have sacrificed sacred ideals in order to obtain more riches, to become wealthier, to have more, more, more. But people can not fulfill themselves through consumption and materialism. Humanity has always needed to live for a cause, to dedicate their lives to a cause. We need ideals to inspire us, we need values to guide us. And what values are these that guide us nowadays? What causes are we truly committed to? The truth is, most people in our society no longer have something greater than themselves to live for. They live in their same old routines, they are suppressed in stress and boredom. What are their lives going to be? Are they going to work nonstop until they die? What are they going to do to give their lives a meaning? What is the meaning of their lives?

It has been explained sociologically, anthropologically. These terrorists, these soldiers of death, these people who are recruited by these fundamentalist groups, they are joining a cause that is greater than themselves. They are told that, by killing others and killing themselves, they are offering themselves to God, they are fighting a “Holy War”, they are taking part in a cause that far surpasses them. It gives meaning to their lives; it gives a purpose to their lives. This may seem absolutely mad, but that doesn’t make it less true. We have to understand that we live in a deeply sick society. Our society is sick. Most people no longer have any ideals, any values, any causes to live by, and so they become vulnerable to the manipulation of others, to the vicious persuasion to belong to a group that lives by a cause.

When you finally understand this, it becomes clear that this problem is far, far away from being solved. If the source of the problem is a civilizational crisis, if it is not a palpable crisis, a material crisis (like an economic crisis, or even a political crisis, where you can see what is wrong and can name practical solutions to solve it) but a spiritual, a psychological, a social crisis… then we will have to work much harder to solve it.

Nobody can guess what is going to happen in the future to come – but one thing is certain: if we do not change our way of living, if we do not change the pillars of our own society, if we do not change the values that guide our everyday life… this Era of Terror will only become much worse. Much worse.

The One-Way Mirror

I was studying Political Science a couple of days ago when I read a paragraph about Democracy vs. Non-Democracy which stated that the majority of States on a global level are non-democratic regimes, and that they frequently include the highest population rates around the world. This was not exactly news for me but, sometimes, reading a certain known fact on a book or an article makes it suddenly and disturbingly clear for you. It is as if you had seen the same information before behind a frosted glass or a dirty window and, all of a sudden, you’re seeing it through the cleanest glass or water surface. And it hits you with massive strength.

There are no airbags when it counts to realising that we live in a world where the majority of States does not recognise its citizens their basic, fundamental human rights. It is so easy for us to imagine a simple, carefree life in a safe, free society – that comfort and liberty have been there since the date of our birth. We have never been stopped from saying or writing what we think, we have never been stopped from having driving lessons because we are women, we have never been stopped from going to school because our Government does not want us to have an education. It is hard to step out of one’s shoes and imagine life “on the other side” – but I see it as a big box divided by a central glass window. It is not any glass window; it is a one-way mirror, like those you find in interrogation rooms. A one-way mirror is partially reflective and partially transparent; when you light one side and keep the other in the dark, it allows viewing from the darkened side but not from the other side. And so I picture all these people that live on one side of the box, a chock-full of men and women and children who are looking at the other half through the one-way mirror, watching individuals on the other side living their lives freely and carelessly. On their side, however, things do not work the same way – and the people who live in the first half, the so-called better half, simply do not see them.

This is bull**** of course, if you feel like swearing a little. Everyday we see and hear news on TV about how someone else has been blown up by a bomb somewhere in the Middle East, or how war is going on in Syria, or how a fatal disease is once again making its way through Sub-Saharan Africa, or how an ethnic minority is once again being slaughtered in Burma. We see and hear and, yet, it is as if we are blind and deaf. We carry on eating supper and living our free, careless lives. So, in a way, it is as if there is a one-way mirror separating the North from the South. But it is worse than that, because this mirror is imaginary: it is in all our heads; in each of us.

Nevertheless, being immune to any effect these news might have on us – there is still a breach in our blidness and deafness. That is the trivializing of violence. Hannah Arendt spoke of the “banality of evil”, and coining the term from my own personal perspective, I can only say that this is probably a good definition of the society we live in. We have become so used to violence that we are no longer shocked by watching children on TV being trained by ISIL to become future assassins. There are numerous theories on why this happens: violent videogames, violent TV series, violent books, violent wars, violent attacks, too much talk about terrorism and death and violence. Truth is, we are being pumped violence and death and bloody images and sceneries from a very young age. We grow up hearing about it, we grow up seeing it, in a way that, by the time we should actually be motivated to do something to fight it, we are simply insensitive to its gory effects.

This is a tendency we must fight. The moment we stop feeling shocked with the sight of children being given AK-47s and taught how to kill, is the moment we cease to be deeply, spiritually motivated to act – in such a way that we will no longer have the urgent, unavoidable need to do something to stop it. If you look at these children on TV and do not feel your stomach clench or your guts wrap in a sudden nausea; if you do not feel tears coming to your eyes or if you simply do not have this nuclear, instinctive red flag that tells you there is something wrong with that picture… then you have banalized evil inside you. And there is nothing more dangerous than that. “All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing”. Or like Martin Luther King Jr. put it, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”.

It is time to de-banalize evil, to turn it back into the monster it is. We all love the Joker, but villains in real life are not in any way lovable. They are not actors performing behind a TV screen; evil must not be seen as a temporary distraction, it mustn’t be seen as entertainment. Let’s make it a monster again, let us feel shocked and scared and sad and uncomfortable about it. It is the only way to ensure that, when we see news like this, when we darken the other side of the mirror and finally watch what is happening on “the other side”, we will finally realise that one part of the box cannot live in a dream while the other part is living in a nightmare.

Let us destroy the wall that divides us. And let us face the monster as it is: evil, as a force to be reckoned with, as a fight to be fought, as a challenge to be overcome. Only light can drive out darkness. Let’s destroy the one-way mirror.

The Therapy of Dance

There are many articles on the physical, mental and emotional benefits of Dance, but I thought that since this is my personal blog and I want to address subjects that I am passionate and dedicated about, dance should definitely be in it. I believe my own perspective on dance and what it has done for me so far is a good example of its power.

Martha Graham said that “dance is the hidden language of the soul”, and I think this is a perfect sentence. I started having dance classes by the age of 16, a little later than I probably should have – but it is never too late to start something new, especially if it is something good. There are many +60 ladies who start doing Ballet, and I admire them for their will and courage. I had previously experienced a few dance classes (ballet, jazz), but I enjoyed none of those. I even tried Argentin Tango, which turned out to be one of my deepest passions in the field of dance, but at the moment I felt too young to be in a group of adult Tango students. (In my country, unfortunately, there is not a long lasting, strong tradition of Dance, so there are not as many young people doing partner dances as there are in other countries). I believe now that I did not stay in any of those classes for two main reasons: 1), I had yet to find the one entrance into the world of dance that would show me my true pleasure in this art; and 2), I was yet too insecure.

That was precisely the mood I was in when I first went to my new, Latin dance school as I turned 16. I had promised my father that I would join a dance school as soon as I turned 16, and a short time after my birthday, so I did. It is important to note that my parents were both dancers and dance teachers. Therefore, I had always grown up listening to dance music and watching them dance. Dance had always been inside my spirit, inside my soul, waiting to wake up and to free itself by taking control of my body, but it was mostly my timidity and social awkwardness that kept me from plunging into this world sooner.

I perfectly remember that night. I walked in and out of the building several times, closely followed by my mother, as I experienced one of many anxiety attacks I had when it came to enter a new class or try something new. I had only accepted going to an open class with a friend from school. This way, I would not be alone in front of strangers and we would live this new experience together. However, at the last moment, my friend called me and said that she could not make it, and I was left all by myself with the decision of going or not. Those were moments of great tension and anguish to me, as I walked back and forth, crying. But finally, just as the unknown teacher was about to close the door to the open dance class room, I took a deep breath, I looked at my mother and I entered the room. I made the decision in the last second, but I still made it. And today I recall that decision as one of my moments of greatest strength and resolve, and I honestly feel proud of the effort I had to make to convince myself to go.

Once inside, I loved the experience. It was everything I had unconsciously been waiting for in the world of dance. Approximately three years later, I find myself loving dance, being close friends with many people and forming my own group, including that same teacher who gave me that very first dance lesson. I find myself dancing in dance clubs with ease and comfort, freeing myself in front of the mirror of the classrooms every time we have a class. I find myself taking part in dance shows, being on stage and smiling to the audience. I find myself not being afraid.

This was definitely a quick, ever evolving journey – but it was still a process. I can clearly see the changes along the way, and this helps me understand the exact benefits of dance. I am now going to list them all.

1) Dance makes you lose your social awkwardness. I was a privileged witness on this matter. I have always been very shy, and two or three years ago I was blocking myself from many opportunities that could have been great new adventures, because they involved being with other people, meeting new people and interacting with different people. Dance does not allow you to be afraid of interacting with others. The basis of any partner dances is to interact and to connect with your partner. You must lose your constraint by getting physically close to another person, by holding their arms, shoulders or their hands, by moving in synchrony with your partner. And getting physically close forces you to speak with that same person. You must greet them, you must speak with them, you must understand their movements and read their intentions. If you are a woman, you must learn to follow your male partner. If you are a man, you must learn to understand the woman’s movements and lead her in a way that she will comfortably follow.

When you go dancing on a social occasion, you are forced to deal with strangers. Unknown men or women will come to invite you for a dance, you yourself may want to walk over to somebody and ask them to dance. Three years ago I probably would never have imagined myself walking over to a man at a party and asking him to dance with me. Nowadays, I know and greet all of my classmates (from different classes), I laugh and speak with them, I dance with several people in clubs and, despite occasional situations of greater timorousness, I give myself the courage to confront the situation and to interact with the other person.

Of course, losing this social awkwardness did not only reflect itself on my experiences in dance, but in all of my life. I have gained greater comfort in speaking and dealing with strangers and I am a lot less shy. Naturally, being shy is a part of my personality, one that perhaps will never entirely disappear, but it is radically different from what it was before I started dancing.

2) Dance makes you feel comfortable with your body. Everybody has something in their own body that they do not like. We usually associate this mainly with women, but men can be equally uncomfortable and insecure about their bodies. Being a girl, and being no exception, I too have “complaints” about my body or, at least, parts of it that I am not fully comfortable with. Nevertheless, when you start dancing, a funny process takes place: on the one hand, you must stop viewing your body as a perfectly solid, changeless figure and you must twist and turn it, stretch it and bend it, explore it from different angles. This means that you will stop looking at it from a single perspective and learn to appreciate it in new ways. When a woman looks at herself in the mirror, she looks at her own reflection in front of her. She may do a little spin to see herself from behind or from one side, but this is different from what she will see in the mirror when she is dancing. This is why having mirrors in dance classrooms is so important. Not only is it important to correct mistakes, but it is also essential for a person to see their own body changing and doing movements that give it grace, elegance and sensuality. This will help you feeling better about your physical self.

On the other hand, you will also begin to treat it as a work of art. I do not mean to encourage vanity or false modesty. What I mean to say is that your body becomes a natural tool for you to free your feelings, for you to express your emotions… and it gains immense beauty while doing so. A mysterious, undeniable magic takes over the human body when it is moving in perfect sync with a piece of music, when it is oozing emotion from the deepest parts of your soul and spirit. I am not sure that I can fully describe this feeling, but I know that every dancer in the world agrees with me. There is such a deep sense of freedom, of vividness and intensity in letting go of your body when you dance…! It is a great way to lose your physical constraints and it also leads me to my third point.

From my personal point of view, I have learned to accept my body in a totally new way. Years ago I would never have imagined myself going to a dance class in certain outfits that expose parts of my body that I do not feel entirely comfortable with, but now I have the confidence to do so because I know that, when I look in the mirror, I will like what I see and my body will no longer be a static, solid figure. It will be a moving, transforming, living part of me that allows me to free myself and to experience every strong emotion in its purer form.

3) Dance makes you let go of negative feelings and feeds you with positive feelings. When you are dancing, you will forget the rest of the world and all its problems. Trust me. Everything outside of the classroom will disappear for that hour and a half (or however long it may be), everything out of the club where you are dancing and having fun with your friends will step out of your mind for those hours of intense happiness. Dance does not give you time to worry about anything else because, if you are committed to do it – and to do it well -, you must be completely focused in what you are doing. In a way, dance is like meditating. Being able to forget whatever tensions you are going through in your everyday life is a very powerful thing, just like living in the present, in the here and now. But not only does dance help you let go of those bad feelings, it also gives you the greatest feelings.

Whenever I am in a dance class, I find myself repeatedly smiling or feeling extremely at ease. Yes, there may be moments of seriousness or even some frustration when you are finding it difficult to perform a certain movement. But that is beyond the point. You are focusing on something you enjoy doing and there is no room in your mind for anything scary, sad or worrying. I remember days when I felt so bad (for one reason or another) that I absolutely did not feel like going to my dance classes. Getting out of my house was a huge effort I had to make when I simply wanted to curl up in the couch watching TV and eating ice cream to forget. However, I forced myself to go and it was, every single time, the best decision I could ever have made. During those “hours and a half”, I would be as light-headed, as free and happy as if nothing bad had ever happened to me.

I know three examples may not seem like such a great number, but you must experience the incredible dimension of all three points and then you will understand the irresistible, magical power of dance. If you need any further proof or are interested in knowing more about the physical, mental and emotional effects of dance, I suggest you research on the topic of “Dance Therapy”. This is one of the most interesting worlds I have come to discover, and I believe it is one of the greatest therapeutic methods of recent times to deal with multiple physical and psychological challenges.

In the end, it is not about how well you dance, how perfect your technique is, how many spins you can do in a row. In the end, it is all about how much you smile when you dance, how free you feel when you dance, how beautiful you see yourself as when you dance. Dance is about being free, about being honest, about being happy and about accepting yourself just the way you are. And remember this: when you start accepting yourself for who you truly are, others will too.