love your heart out.

November 21, 2016.

I’m going to put this out there, the universal truth:

@everyone love your heart out.

Love when it absolutely makes no sense to. Look at others with empathy. We have all lost our way in this ‘modern’ world. It’s far too much for the human psyche to handle. When people act with malice, their brains are corrupt and they simply don’t know better. If they wish for suffering on others and/or inflict it, they don’t know better. It may sound silly because ‘how do adults not know they’re fucking up?’ but that’s just it, this is the truth – they don’t know better, especially in the moment. Our brains are a product of conditioning. There is much happening on our planet in this moment, and most don’t have the foundation to keep them grounded; even the ones who do, are tested to the nth degree. Not many make it far completely in tact. But if you don’t allow anything to change the DNA of your own heart, then you will endure and continue on.

I read a quote the other day, ‘the road to paradise is full of pains,’ the truth. It’s easier to succumb to the ways of this world in wanting to keep to yourself and do anything it takes to ‘move forward,’ even if it’s at the expense of anyone or everyone else. But that’s just a temporary relief and escape that comes with a high price, albeit not immediately. And you’re not moving forward, you’re not moving at all.

Love people when they’re stupid and love them when they’re smart. The knowledge we have, anyone can have. But our hearts are our own, as Goethe said very beautifully. Don’t inflict pain, don’t feel superior to others (annihilate the ego), and more importantly, love your heart out because that’s what keeps you alive and it’s why you have one in the first place. What the world needs right now is not any more people who chase money, fame, notoriety or status. Only love and care have ever fixed wounds. And our world and lives are deeply wounded.

Love is justice and love is life.

Love is a universal truth repeated by the best humanity ever had to offer, throughout the times.

Don’t lose sight of love and don’t let love leave your heart.

Don’t dissolve in the crowd and never lose your humanity.

Anything you do, do it with love.

Love your heart out.

The West, The Other, The Rat Race

‘There is no justice in following unjust laws..’

Grey skies, the air is thick and heavy.

Explosions are heard, near and far. Blackouts, power outages.

Food shortageshunger.

No clean water, panic.

No stars to be seen.

When there are no basic necessities, there is no life. You love home, but there is no life at home.  It’s being torn to shreds, every day. Just like you.

And you begin to dream, to escape the reality in which you now find yourself under.

It all happened so quickly.

Civil war, revolution, unrest of any kind was not in the cards. It was only yesterday that life made sense – the skies were blue, clear. Children were playing outside, the sun shining.

Life.

Calais Jungle - A Child's Story
Life in the Calais jungle: a Child’s story

As you dream, you are told there is a better life–somewhere out there. It must be true, because you’ve seen it in Hollywood movies. There are freedoms, equality–somewhere out there. Where human life is appreciated to the fullest. Where every child truly has a chance at a beautiful life, to shine.

If you work for it, it’s all yours–heaven on earth, The American Dream.

And so many do. Under dire conditions, often in war.

Families work for years and generations to provide the opportunity for someone, anyone in their family, to live to the fullest.

For their offspring to be able to enjoy the riches of life. To carry on.

To be able to breathe, fully and without fear.

And they invest it all. Their lives.

For this world, the one you and I reside in so freely, The American Dream.

A world built on half truths and division–for everyone, but especially the ‘other.’

When the ‘other’ arrives and is recognized as being part of the system, the ‘other’ is tagged with number 9 on their Social Insurance Number. In so many words, it means ‘alien.’ Employers, school districts–all institutional systems–are well aware of the number. They don’t allow the ‘other’ into their schools. They don’t hire the ‘other.’ Why would they open the doors for and invest in the temporary? So many permanent citizens waiting for an opportunity.

The ‘other’ is told to establish themselves. They’re told to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Like everyone else.

But from scratch. With obstacles every step of the way, and fear–of their uncertain future in the new world and threats of deportation. Because if they can’t buy their way in, they must prove themselves worthy to be on this land.

To live.

And without history. Because they must begin anew. (We don’t like real history here, it’s boring.)

In the name of ‘multi-culturalism.’ In the name of creating a ‘mosaic’ or ‘melting pot.’ (By creating cookie cutter, pre-defined norms and character traits for everyone to choose from and live by?)

But everywhere, they’re an ‘other.’ No effort can disguise skin colour, culture, the heart and mind. And now status within the system. They are officially an other.

No one wants them.

Their achievements, accomplishments, existence–everything is irrelevant in the new world. Their entire lives and history erased. Because it didn’t happen in this world. And by design, it ceases to matter.

(But we ended up with intellectual cab drivers, and all is well.)

They are told they might not be hired because they sound different. There is no language barrier. They just sound different. They don’t have an accent one is accustomed to. Their culture and way of living are bizarre. There is no mainstream representation of their kind and being, or even their cuisine (if it was any good, it would be well known in an age of globalism). They don’t make sense, they are truly foreign–alien foreign. That could pose a problem.

And it does. Every step of the way.

They are told to give up every fibre of their being which sets them apart, what actually makes them different–what makes them, them. Their differences and way of thinking are held against them the same way everyone else’s are–to divide and conquer, in the name of unity.

They are welcome, as long as they conform to the one and true way of life.  It’s how we got to enjoy the riches of life: The American Dream.

Slowly, the ‘other’ begins to understand it’s not personal–these rules exist, they eat the young, because the ‘dream’ must be kept alive. It sounds reasonable for a nation and culture to want to preserve itself.

What about theirs?

And at what cost to yours?

 

The natural distribution is neither just nor unjust; nor is it unjust that persons are born into society at some particular position. These are simply natural facts. What is just and unjust is the way that institutions deal with these facts.

John Rawls, A Theory of Justice

And then you realize.

The only reason they’re here is because of your world and your way of life. Your justice, your dream. They’re just trying to live save theirs-the one the West sold them, for decades. Where no one is safe anywhere, and nothing is what it seems to be.

And how could it be?

When one is not allowed to embrace their real identity, we end up with a world full of Instagram filters instead of real photographs. Hollowness. In the name of perfection–a personality or a nation–we sacrifice real beauty and growth.

Like the beautiful planet we live on.

We destroy all things that make sense about ourselves and the world.

Welcome to the West.

The rat race.

We are now on the same sinking boatfor sale.

 

 

Humans: Art is the Living

There will be no announcement.

When it happens to you, there is no time to ask “What?” or “How?”

You run.

Because you didn’t consider this to be a reality other than a “distant dystopian future one day maybe” – you didn’t prepare, you’ll only react.  But it will be too late. Like most humanity throughout history, you stay put until it’s too late, “because it could never happen here, not like that.”

Rest assured, you are not alone in feeling this way. It’s the way of the human psyche.

Germans, rest of Europe, Asia and the world – all of humanity in the past thousand years would agree. Stick your fingers in your ears, or play your favourite tune, log into virtual reality and repeat: “It will never happen here.”

But it happened there, everywhere. And it will here.

For as long as we continue to be reactionary.

For as long as we keep expecting “things to work themselves out.”

For as long as we continue to be cowards who wait on others for salvation instead of doing our own part – daily.

For as long as we keep actively ignoring the independent voices (the ‘crazies’) as we always have.

There is no magical God or superhero waiting to fix this mess.

We are all leaning on an invisible moral pillar.

It’s just you and me.

Can we stare fate in the face and stop playing house? Because we won’t have a roof over our heads before we know it.

This requires great sacrifices, like most things worth doing.

It might require you to unplug from the very system you’re feeding – the one that’s slowly chipping away at you, your relationships (all kinds), your family, your neighbourhood, your city, state, your nation — your life.

Our vanity, lust for fame and wealth, the cult of self, “top dog” mentality and the relentless competitiveness (to no avail) – it’s no less destructive to us and our societies than the jihadists that scare us shitless.

Who needs terrorists when we can self-destruct with such speed, so gloriously?

Mirrors can be scary, even when you feel fine. But you always have to look, because you want to make sure you look fine.

So take a look.

It’s the ‘survival of the fittest’ here – a term that’s been bastardized and utilized by the very people it applies to the least: the apes of society, the self absorbed, the cowards with no character, the leeches, the liars, ‘the cutthroat businessmen’ who don’t know the first thing about business or the world — they all lack depth, emotional intelligence and the core essence of humanity: love and compassion.

But together, with them, we have created a vacuum. Because in greed, gluttony and lust we decided to dance along. We are not just enabling. We are creating alongside them a psychologically, financially, and environmentally unsustainable world.

For a paycheck.

For a false sense of (temporary) ‘good life,’ safety and security.

So we can fulfill our own version of the ‘American dream’ anywhere we are despite how deadly it turned out to be for all.

Sadism dominates the culture. It runs like an electric current through reality television and trash-talk programs, is at the core of pornography, and fuels the compliant, corporate collective. Corporatism is about crushing the capacity for moral choice and diminishing the individual to force him or her into an ostensibly harmonious collective. This hypermasculinity has its logical fruition in Abu Ghraib, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and our lack of compassion for our homeless, our poor, the mentally ill, the unemployed, and the sick. … We accept the system handed to us and seek to find a comfortable place within it. We retreat into the narrow, confined ghettos created for us and shut our eyes to the deadly superstructure of the corporate state.

Chris Hedges, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle

Trump did not start this fire.

It was already burning – in the open. But we dismissed it, and we let it burn – from the safety of our own glass houses.

Now it’s too late.

Trump is answering people’s calls and cries. He’s speaking to the desperate and vulnerable –  like many have throughout history.

Like Hitler did.

It could be Trump. It could be anyone. Names don’t matter.

None of this happened overnight. If you didn’t see this coming, that’s the real tragedy: that history repeats itself. And why?

Because “we all know about how men like Hitler rise to power and it can’t happen here.”

But do we?

Do we really know that much about our societies, the world, nature, and more importantly, ourselves? Do we take the time to learn how it all intersects, affects and influences our daily behaviours, thoughts, and us?

Be honest with yourself.

We’ve barely just begun to scratch the surface.

I know because we create this beast — the death of humanity — time and time again. The same one we, humans, keep meeting throughout history. It doesn’t exist without us.

We created it, with our own two hands.

I know you see it.

Because nothing exists in a bubble.

And you’re not that dumb.

We made our own bed.

And that’s why the most retrograde forces of American capitalism are so enthusiastic about the Christian Right, because if Jesus is going to protect you, you don’t need health insurance, you don’t need a labor union, you don’t need a living wage. So it’s been a deeply destructive force, generated out of the South where a lot of economic despair resides, but it’s certainly pervasive now throughout the entire country. And you know traditional journalism is to give voice to those who, without your presence, would not have a voice; that’s why we have journalism. It’s not even a religious tenet, necessarily. Journalism is not about amplifying the voice of the powerful or celebrities. Then you’re a courtier, you’re not a journalist.

Misery’s Reply: A Conversation with Chris Hedges on Religion, Poverty, and Crime

I type this as I see ‘end of the year lists’ and ‘award shows’ all over the internet. None offer anything new or inspiring. We all acknowledge this, but we keep up the pretense and we engage full time (really, we love art though). And like anything in life, we’ll come up with a half baked excuse as to why — to justify it to ourselves, because it keeps us from facing the real music.

We have created an echo chamber which only serves the needs and objectives of the rich. All while we let real art, humans, which create the only culture worth having, wither away and die.

We all have our reasons, right? We can’t unplug because [insert slew of reasons here]. I say this with no resentment, I say it with sadness because I know it to be everyone’s truth. But when do we stop rationalizing this nonsense?

Screen Shot 2015-12-12 at 9.58.48 AM

George Ritzer,  The McDonaldization of Society

At this point in time, we are trapped. But we don’t have to make it worse.

Can we try to make this pleasant? While we still can? Can we hear one last beautiful song in case our Titanic sinks?

If you have an audience, it’s on you to play that beautiful song for the people — to make them feel alive. And if you don’t like the responsibility, then you don’t deserve the audience or the power that comes with it.

If you want to do your part, begin today.

Begin by looking at other humans with love and compassion – we’re all struggling and lonely in the digital age.

Begin by picking up a piece of art that you’d normally not pay attention to – it’s the only way the world will keep spinning with any humanity in it.

Begin by appreciating the creations of others without making it about you. There is beauty all around, everywhere.

Begin by celebrating the achievements of the regular Joe, and of each other. Our ‘mundane’ lives are what’s worth celebrating – yours and mine.

Begin by giving a platform to those who need you most – not your fetishized heroes. Be the voice of the unheard.

Whatever you do —

Stop feeding the beast. It won’t spare you.

Love is justice.

I can’t speak for anyone else. I can only speak for me.

l41lmwcn2ls1i88la
Credit: Nate Dushku

1997.

My country, Albania, erupted after the ‘pyramid schemes’ that left its citizens crippled.

I was 10 years old.

I could not attend school, any longer. I could not safely step outside, any longer. I could not see my friends, any longer.

I could not be, any longer.

I once saw a man get shot to death in front of me. I ran home knowing anyone could storm into the house at anytime, kill every single soul, and lay claim to the ‘space.’

Shootings outside the front door, loud explosives going off and people dying everywhere. Terror was the norm. Sleepless nights and delirious days were now the way of life.

1998.

The war in Kosovo was in full effect. Millions of Albanian Kosovars flooded Albania, the Balkans, and eventually, the rest of the world.

We were poor, in Albania. We had no money and barely any materialistic goods; the country had been robbed.

But when Kosovars came, we opened our homes.

We opened our hearts.

We shared what little pie we had because food always tastes better in the company of the living and laughter.

1940s.

Albania was occupied by the Axis powers. Fear was in the air.

It didn’t deter them from protecting their Jews.

It didn’t deter them from taking in and protecting ‘other’ Jews, who were escaping discrimination and/or death everywhere else. Muslims in Albania risked their lives to protect Jews.

They opened their hearts.

‘This concept of Besa (faith) in a little country (like Albania) has something to tell the world. That’s why it’s so important.’ [….] ‘We often remember courageous acts by individuals, but in this case it is an entire community, an entire group of people who acted according to their beliefs that prevented them from allowing another set of people being annihilated,’ she says. ‘And it was so rare at a time when the rest of the world was silent, including Canada.’

Brenda SudermanPhoto exhibit shines light on Muslims saving Jews

Albania had ~200 Jews within its borders before WWII. By the end of the war, it had ~2000.

The rest is history.

2015.

The present and our future.

We are all citizens of the world. We are all living beings on this planet. With every right to breathe its air and drink its water. It isn’t anybody’s to claim or take away.

Open your hearts.

Love.

Love when it makes no sense to.

Love is the only way to be alive.

Happy Thanksgiving, Eh

My 14th year in Canada, and my 13th Thanksgiving. Half of my life has been spent in this country I now call home. It has helped shape me, given me opportunities, and it has also shown me how fragile the fabric of any society can be, despite its greatness. I would make this a call for action, but many people have already expressed my feelings far more eloquently than I.

I’d much rather give thanks.

Thank you patriarchy for fooling (some) men into believing they are better than women by default, as it only made me work harder and smarter.

Thank you capitalism for making it clear how corrupt and dysfunctional the system is, as you have saved me a lot of time and money.

Above all, thank you to my friends for showing me that what truly matters are the people, my attitude and spirit — without, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Islam, Censorship and the Real Threat to Our Freedom of Speech

freedom.jpeg

 

Within hours of the tragic and deadly attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, millions of sympathetic individuals worldwide had offered their condolences to the families of the deceased and denounced radical Islamists for their continued attacks on the most precious of all Western liberties: freedom of speech. The tragedy sparked a massive outcry throughout the Western world, and drove thousands of cartoonists, writers, and news organizations to publish a wide array of satirical comics (many depicting the Muslim prophet, Muhammad) in a show of solidarity with their French colleagues.

Today, it was announced that the first edition of Charlie Hebdo to be published since the attacks will depict another image of the prophet Muhammad on its cover.

I have spent the past few days reading about the aftermath in France, Europe and the rest of the world, and the consequences that innocent Muslims here in Canada and elsewhere are dealing with, by being judged, discriminated against and grouped with extremists because of association alone. As the story kept unfolding, I began to feel more and more disturbed by the discrimination I came across on every medium that discussed the attack. In recent times, it has become a commonly-accepted idea that our freedom of speech is under attack by radical Islam. Heartbreaking events, such as the attack in Paris, serve as a platform upon which the public can rally against a common enemy. And while I wholeheartedly support the sentiment of wanting to protect our liberties, I can’t, in good conscience, ignore the regular instances in our everyday lives in which our ability to speak freely is challenged.

The fact is, for the overwhelming majority of us, radical Islam actually represents the smallest of all current threats to our freedom of speech.

Recently, an article published on the New York Times revealed the following terrifying findings:

Some 75 percent of respondents in countries classified as “free,” 84 percent in “partly free” countries, and 80 percent in countries that were “not free” said that they were “very” or “somewhat” worried about government surveillance in their countries.

Smaller numbers said they avoided or considered avoiding writing or speaking on certain subjects, with 34 percent in countries classified as free, 44 percent in partly free countries and 61 percent in not free countries reporting self-censorship. Respondents in similar percentages reported curtailing social media activity, or said they were considering it, because of surveillance.

Jennifer SchuesslerWriters Say They Feel Censored By Surveillance

But it’s not just the government, either. It’s regular people like you and I who stifle free speech. We have structured systems, industries, and social institutions in such a way as to make it difficult, if not impossible, to exercise free speech and challenge the status quo.

When was the last time you spoke freely about a controversial issue in the workplace without feeling nervous, or fearing repercussion?

Civil liberties don’t disappear overnight, with a single attack. They are slowly, pervasively, and systematically eroded away over time. The massive public outcry in the wake of the Paris attack has been encouraging, but where are the marches denouncing the government’s ever-tightening grip on our vocal chords?

Are we less scared of Islamic militants than our own governments?

Stephanie Charbonnier (better known as Charb, the chief editor of Charlie Hebdo) said in an interview two years ago, “I’d rather die standing than live on my knees.” This statement has resonated with me more than I could ever have imagined, and has forced me to re-evaluate my own beliefs and values. I grew up in an isolated country [Albania] suffering at the hands of a terrible dictatorship that had plagued its people for more than four decades. While my memories of my childhood are foggy, few things have remained as clear in my mind as the sense of helplessness and fear Albanians felt every day, and how that all changed when they stood up united and fought for their freedom in the early ’90s. From that moment on, things were never the same. As one of my favourite artists and activists said:

Once you’ve tasted freedom, it stays in your heart and no one can take it. Then, you can be more powerful than a whole country.

Ai Weiwei, Never Sorry

Political opinions aside, I applaud anyone who has been brave enough to speak out after the attack — I find their courage inspiring. However, it is important not to delude ourselves into thinking that all we have to do to protect freedom is to stand up united when it is threatened by “outsiders.” It is vital that we take a stand in our day-to-day lives, and put the idea of freedom of speech into action. After all, a freedom that solely exists within our minds is not a real freedom.

Poverty, Discrimination, and Social Injustice: This Is About More Than Racism

cantbreathe
Kena Betancur / Getty

“With great power comes great responsibility…”

I came to North America when I was 14 years old, but I had been dreaming of America, “the land of freedom and equality,” ever since I was a child. To a country like mine, America represented the way life should be, where everyone was treated equally, fairly, and had the same opportunities to excel in life. It’s because of my love affair with the United States since I was a child (to this day, most of my professional and many of my personal ties lie there), that I feel the need to speak out regarding the current issue of racism and inequality  that has deeply affected many people.

I have been asking myself, “Is this going to make a difference? Will sharing my voice really change anything?” There’s an inherent helplessness and powerlessness that I, and many others, face regarding what is happening. But change cannot happen if I continuously expect others to take the lead or to speak out for me. It matters that I speak out — it matters that everyone speaks out.

The death of Trayvon Martin, the black teenager in Florida who was shot to death for “looking suspicious” in a white neighborhood, once again brought to the surface the issue of racism in the United States, and, ultimately, provided a platform for the disenfranchised African-American community to speak out about institutionalized racism. This case has had a ripple effect since, with race becoming the elephant in the room that the United States as a country seems powerless to address. His death has been followed by the deaths of two other, unarmed, black people in 2014: teenager Michael Brown, and Eric Garner. Their deaths, similar to Martin’s, have deepened the wide racial divide stemming from the United States’ history of slavery and discrimination.

It is no coincidence that these events have sparked such a visceral reaction when one considers the poor economic state of the country at large, which typically pushes oppressed groups to find a scapegoat for their difficult living conditions. This behavior can be observed in many countries around the world: Greece, with the downturn of its economy and subsequent rise of radical right-wing political party Golden Dawn, is the most obvious example in the Western world, but it is hardly an isolated case. Similarly, it is no coincidence that radical Islamic groups emerged in the Middle East following Western military intervention that devastated the region, or that Hitler’s Nazis were able to turn Germany’s population against Jews during an economic depression.

A population is most susceptible to extremism when it feels that its survival is threatened through poverty and systemic failures. In 2012, 35% of black people were living in poverty, compared to 13% of white people. African-American culture is not inherently poor, problematic or inferior — rather, it is the economic system itself that has failed the black community.  It is of utmost importance to recognize this simple fact, because the system is slowly failing us, tooGiven the United States’ role on a global scale, it is crucial  for the country as a whole to address the deep and divisive issues within its borders, as it cannot lead other nations if it can’t even lead its own.

The America that I knew as a child is not the America that I know today, but not all hope is lost. The people protesting in Chicago, Ferguson, New York City and other cities, give me hope and the courage to speak out.  The system in place has been broken from the very beginning. It might take entire generations to fully address, but there is no better time to start than now.

Unless we, the citizens of the world, can rebuild the very foundation of our societies, we might never have the luxury of living in a world where social injustice, racism and poverty cease to exist.