Seneca Falls, New York: The Birthplace of the Women’s Rights Movement

I just returned from a wonderful trip to the Finger Lake region in upstate New York. We enjoyed beautiful lake scenery, award-winning Rieslings, delicious freshly made cheeses and ice cream. But what came as a most revelatory finding was learning that the town of Seneca Falls, New York was the birthplace of the Women’s Rights Movement. I call myself a feminist, always rooting for women and their rights, always looking for equality for women. And yet I must admit, I knew so little about the history of the Women’s Movement. Sure, I knew about Susan B. Anthony: something about the Suffrage Movement and she’s on a dollar coin. And I knew about Gloria Steinem and the 1960’s and 70’s Women’s Movement. But I must admit I was unaware of so much more history that helped inspire Susan B. Anthony, and shape the role and the rights that I enjoy today as a woman in Western society.

Seneca Falls, New York Birth Place of the Women's Right Movement

Seneca Falls, New York
Birth Place of the Women’s Right Movement

So here’s a recap of what I learned in Seneca Fall.

1840:  One Passion Feeds Another

A World Anti-Slavery Convention was held in London and was attended by delegates from numerous countries. The meeting was supposed to be exclusively for “men”.  Among the abolitionist delegates were seven women who despite the rules, decided to attend, creating quite the commotion and after much debate they were allowed to stay but in a separate room all together from the main convention. It was at this fateful meeting that Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton would meet and commiserate over the status of women in society and the lack of women’s rights. They discussed the possibility of holding a meeting to address women’s rights and issues.

1848: The stars align.

July 9th- Elizabeth Cady Stanton lived in Seneca Falls, New York. Lucretia Mott came to visit her sister Martha C. Wright who lived in Waterloo, a town near Seneca Falls. Stanton, Mott, Wright, together Mary Ann McClintock and Jane Hunt met for a social visit. I like to imagine that it was over tea and cake that these women decided it was time to hold a public forum, a convention, in which they would discuss the social, civil, and religious issues facing women and the rights of women. Although they realized that the convention would probably be a small event, Mott said to Stanton, “It will be a start”. And what a start it was.

July 19th – 20th

The convention was held at the Quaker Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls. Approximately 300 women and men attended the event. Stanton and Mott wrote the Declaration of Sentiments, the document that was presented, debated, modified, approved, and signed by the attendees of the convention. The document drew inspiration from the preamble of the Declaration of Independence and presented grievances and resolutions regarding women’s rights. Among the male attendees was Frederick Douglass who was a strong advocate of abolition and women’s rights. He was instrumental in encouraging the attendees to add the resolution around the issue of suffrage. In the end, 68 women and 32 men signed this Declaration of Sentiments presenting 12 resolutions calling for equal treatment of women and men under the law and voting rights for women.

Wesleyan Chapel - Venue of the First Women's Convention

1848 Wesleyan Chapel – Venue of the First Women’s Convention

1851: Further Introductions and Friendships

Amelia Bloomer edited the first newspaper for women, The Lily. The Lily was published from 1849 -1853. It was Bloomer who introduced Susan B. Anthony to Elizabeth Cady Stanton. It is believed that this introduction together with attending the 1852 Syracuse Convention and listening to Lucy Stone’s speech were the events that inspired Anthony to join the women’s rights movement. And we know what she went on to do.

1851 - Traveling in time to witness introduction of Susan B. Anthony to Elizabeth Cady Stanton by Amelia Bloomer

1851 – Traveling in time to witness Amelia Bloomer introducing Susan B. Anthony to Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Trivia about Lucy Stone

Lucy Stone was the first woman in her state of Massachusetts to earn a college degree. When she married her husband, Henry Blackwell, in 1855 she opted to keep her own last name, something unheard of at the time. She and her husband recognized that the marriage laws treated women unfairly when compared to men. They wrote a statement to deliver at their wedding which said that the laws “refuse to recognize the wife as an independent, rational being, while they confer on the husband an injurious and unnatural superiority, investing him with legal powers which no honorable man would exercise, and which no man should possess”. Women of the time who chose not to change their names when marrying referred to themselves as “Lucy Stoners”.

Although most of the history I learned about in Seneca Falls takes place beginning in 1840, I would add that prior to 1840 there had been many feminist and activist women who had already been discussing women’s rights in the US and abroad. The key events of 1848 would serve only as a catalyst. It would take until 1920 for the 19th amendment of the U. S. Constitution to be passed granting voting rights to women. The renewed women’s rights movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s would bring to light the continued inequality and discrimination towards women. We have accomplished a lot in 166 years, but I know there is still much more to do. We must continue to stay diligent and proactive so that future generations of women can enjoy equal rights around the world.

A Note About Bloomers

Note in the picture above of the statue that Amelia Bloomer is wearing the “bloomer costume”, the Turkish pantaloons and knee-length skirt. Although it was Elizabeth Smith Miller who introduced this outfit, it was named after Amelia Bloomer because she wrote about dress reform and this particular outfit extensively in her women’s paper, The Lily. Although a popular choice of outfit for the modern women of the times, it was eventually abandoned after a lot of negative press. I suppose we can call it the predecessor to current day women’s pantsuits.

For further reading:

For the Full Declaration of Sentiments

http://www.nps.gov/wori/historyculture/declaration-of-sentiments.htm

Women’s Rights Movement

http://www.nps.gov/wori/historyculture/womens-rights-movement.htm

 

 

 

 

The Commencement Speech That Brought Tears to My Eyes

Let me begin by giving a disclaimer here. I cry easily. Give me sentimentality wrapped with just about anything, sad or happy, and you have the perfect formula to activate my tear ducts. It ‘s a bit of a family joke as my kids tease me and inspect my eyes to see if the latest movie, commercial, article, or You Tube video has moistened my eyes. Just the other day I attended my children’s school parent association Spring Luncheon where the outgoing president said her thank you to everyone and passed the baton to the future president.  The future president got up and I must admit, she was almost worse than me with the sentimentality. She had barely opened her speech notes when her voice started cracking. I knew that I was in for it as my battle began to restrain my tears in hopes of keeping the mascara intact.

The Wall Street Journal published in their weekend edition of May 24th /25th the amazing commencement speech delivered by Admiral William H. McRaven, ninth commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, at the University of Texas at Austin on May 17th.

It being Memorial Day, when we honor all the women and men who have served this country, I find it very appropriate to share this commencement speech which examines various aspects of Navy Seal training and draws life lessons that can be applied to all of us.

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My husband read the article first and recommended it to the rest of the family.  My son and I silently read it together. Suffice to say that by the end of the article I had to run to the kitchen for tissues and of course deal with my son’s inquisitive, empathetic, teasing question, “Ah, did that article make you cry?” To which I answered as I blew my nose, “It sure did”. It was a powerful and wonderful commencement message that we can all take to heart. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

The following is an excerpt from the commencement speech delivered by Admiral William H. McRaven to the University of Texas in Austin on May 17th.

The University of Texas slogan is “What starts here changes the world.”

I have to admit—I kinda like it.  …

… So, what starts here can indeed change the world, but the question is: What will the world look like after you change it?

Well, I am confident that it will look much, much better, but if you will humor this old sailor for just a moment, I have a few suggestions that may help you on your way to a better a world.

And while these lessons were learned during my time in the military, I can assure you that it matters not whether you ever served a day in uniform. It matters not your gender, your ethnic or religious background, your orientation, or your social status. Our struggles in this world are similar and the lessons to overcome those struggles and to move forward—changing ourselves and the world around us—will apply equally to all.

I have been a Navy SEAL for 36 years. But it all began when I left UT for Basic SEAL training in Coronado, Calif.

Basic SEAL training is six months of long, torturous runs in the soft sand, midnight swims in the cold water off San Diego, obstacle courses, unending calisthenics, days without sleep and always being cold, wet and miserable.

It is six months of being constantly harassed by professionally trained warriors who seek to find the weak of mind and body and eliminate them from ever becoming a Navy SEAL.

But, the training also seeks to find those students who can lead in an environment of constant stress, chaos, failure and hardships. To me basic SEAL training was a lifetime of challenges crammed into six months.

So, here are lessons I learned from basic SEAL training that hopefully will be of value to you as you move forward in life.

1. Every morning in basic SEAL training, my instructors, who at the time were all Vietnam veterans, would show up in my barracks room and the first thing they would inspect was your bed. If you did it right, the corners would be square, the covers pulled tight, the pillow centered just under the headboard and the extra blanket folded neatly at the foot of the rack—that’s Navy talk for bed.

It was a simple task, mundane at best. But every morning we were required to make our bed to perfection. It seemed a little ridiculous at the time, particularly in light of the fact that were aspiring to be real warriors, tough battle hardened SEALs, but the wisdom of this simple act has been proven to me many times over.

If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter.

If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.

And if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made—and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.

If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.

2. During SEAL training the students are broken down into boat crews. Each crew is seven students—three on each side of a small rubber boat and one coxswain to help guide the dingy. Every day, your boat crew forms up on the beach and is instructed to get through the surf zone and paddle several miles down the coast.

In the winter, the surf off San Diego can get to be 8 to 10 feet high and it is exceedingly difficult to paddle through the plunging surf unless everyone digs in. Every paddle must be synchronized to the stroke count of the coxswain. Everyone must exert equal effort or the boat will turn against the wave and be unceremoniously tossed back on the beach.

For the boat to make it to its destination, everyone must paddle.

You can’t change the world alone—you will need some help—and to truly get from your starting point to your destination takes friends, colleagues, the goodwill of strangers and a strong coxswain to guide them.

If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle.

3. Over a few weeks of difficult training my SEAL class, which started with 150 men, was down to just 42. There were now six boat crews of seven men each.

I was in the boat with the tall guys, but the best boat crew we had was made up of the little guys—the munchkin crew we called them. No one was over about 5-foot-5.

The munchkin boat crew had one American Indian, one African-American, one Polish-American, one Greek-American, one Italian-American and two tough kids from the Midwest.

They out-paddled, out-ran and out-swam all the other boat crews.

The big men in the other boat crews would always make good-natured fun of the tiny little flippers the munchkins put on their tiny little feet prior to every swim. But somehow these little guys, from every corner of the nation and the world, always had the last laugh—swimming faster than everyone and reaching the shore long before the rest of us.

SEAL training was a great equalizer. Nothing mattered but your will to succeed. Not your color, not your ethnic background, not your education and not your social status.

If you want to change the world, measure people by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers.

4. Several times a week, the instructors would line up the class and do a uniform inspection. It was exceptionally thorough. Your hat had to be perfectly starched, your uniform immaculately pressed and your belt buckle shiny and void of any smudges.

But it seemed that no matter how much effort you put into starching your hat, or pressing your uniform or polishing your belt buckle, it just wasn’t good enough. The instructors would find “something” wrong.

For failing the uniform inspection, the student had to run, fully clothed, into the surf zone and then, wet from head to toe, roll around on the beach until every part of your body was covered with sand. The effect was known as a “sugar cookie.” You stayed in that uniform the rest of the day—cold, wet and sandy.

There were many students who just couldn’t accept the fact that all their effort was in vain. That no matter how hard they tried to get the uniform right, it was unappreciated.

Those students didn’t make it through training. Those students didn’t understand the purpose of the drill. You were never going to succeed. You were never going to have a perfect uniform.

Sometimes, no matter how well you prepare or how well you perform, you still end up as a sugar cookie. It’s just the way life is sometimes.

If you want to change the world, get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.

5. Every day during training you were challenged with multiple physical events. Long runs, long swims, obstacle courses, hours of calisthenics—something designed to test your mettle.

Every event had standards, times that you had to meet. If you failed to meet those standards, your name was posted on a list and at the end of the day those on the list were invited to a “circus.”

A circus was two hours of additional calisthenics designed to wear you down, to break your spirit, to force you to quit. No one wanted a circus. A circus meant that for that day you didn’t measure up. A circus meant more fatigue, and more fatigue meant that the following day would be more difficult—and more circuses were likely.

But at some time during SEAL training, everyone—everyone—made the circus list. Yet an interesting thing happened to those who were constantly on the list. Over time those students, who did two hours of extra calisthenics, got stronger and stronger. The pain of the circuses built inner strength—built physical resiliency.

Life is filled with circuses. You will fail. You will likely fail often. It will be painful. It will be discouraging. At times it will test you to your very core.

But if you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of the circuses.

6. At least twice a week, the trainees were required to run the obstacle course. The obstacle course contained 25 obstacles including a 10-foot-high wall, a 30-foot cargo net and a barbed-wire crawl, to name a few.

But the most challenging obstacle was the slide for life. It had a three-level, 30-foot tower at one end and a one-level tower at the other. In between was a 200-foot-long rope.

You had to climb the three-tiered tower and, once at the top, you grabbed the rope, swung underneath the rope and pulled yourself hand over hand until you got to the other end.

The record for the obstacle course had stood for years when my class began training in 1977. The record seemed unbeatable until one day a student decided to go down the slide for life—headfirst. Instead of swinging his body underneath the rope and inching his way down, he bravely mounted the top of the rope and thrust himself forward.

It was a dangerous move—seemingly foolish, and fraught with risk. Failure could mean injury and being dropped from the training. Without hesitation, the student slid down the rope, perilously fast. Instead of several minutes, it only took him half that time and by the end of the course he had broken the record.

If you want to change the world sometimes you have to slide down the obstacle headfirst.

7. During the land-warfare phase of training, the students are flown out to San Clemente Island near San Diego. The waters off San Clemente are a breeding ground for great white sharks. To pass SEAL training, there are a series of long swims that must be completed. One is the night swim.

Before the swim, the instructors joyfully brief the trainees on all the species of sharks that inhabit the waters off San Clemente. The instructors assure you, however, that no student has ever been eaten by a shark—at least not recently.

But, you are also taught that if a shark begins to circle your position, stand your ground. Do not swim away. Do not act afraid. And if the shark, hungry for a midnight snack, darts towards you, then summon up all your strength and punch him in the snout and he will turn and swim away.

There are a lot of sharks in the world. If you hope to complete the swim you will have to deal with them.

So, if you want to change the world, don’t back down from the sharks.

8. As Navy SEALs, one of our jobs is to conduct underwater attacks against enemy shipping. We practiced this technique extensively during basic training. The ship-attack mission is where a pair of SEAL divers is dropped off outside an enemy harbor and then swims well over 2 miles—underwater—using nothing but a depth gauge and a compass to get to their target.

During the entire swim, even well below the surface, there is some light that comes through. It is comforting to know that there is open water above you. But as you approach the ship, which is tied to a pier, the light begins to fade. The steel structure of the ship blocks the moonlight, it blocks the surrounding street lamps, it blocks all ambient light.

To be successful in your mission, you have to swim under the ship and find the keel—the centerline and the deepest part of the ship. This is your objective. But the keel is also the darkest part of the ship, where you cannot see your hand in front of your face, where the noise from the ship’s machinery is deafening and where it is easy to get disoriented and fail.

Every SEAL knows that under the keel, at the darkest moment of the mission, is the time when you must be calm, composed—when all your tactical skills, your physical power and all your inner strength must be brought to bear.

If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in the darkest moment.

9. The ninth week of SEAL training is referred to as Hell Week. It is six days of no sleep, constant physical and mental harassment and one special day at the Mud Flats. The Mud Flats are an area between San Diego and Tijuana where the water runs off and creates the Tijuana slues—a swampy patch of terrain where the mud will engulf you.

It is on Wednesday of Hell Week that you paddle down to the mud flats and spend the next 15 hours trying to survive the freezing-cold mud, the howling wind and the incessant pressure from the instructors to quit.

As the sun began to set that Wednesday evening, my training class, having committed some “egregious infraction of the rules” was ordered into the mud. The mud consumed each man till there was nothing visible but our heads. The instructors told us we could leave the mud if only five men would quit—just five men and we could get out of the oppressive cold.

Looking around the mud flat, it was apparent that some students were about to give up. It was still over eight hours till the sun came up—eight more hours of bone-chilling cold. The chattering teeth and shivering moans of the trainees were so loud it was hard to hear anything. And then, one voice began to echo through the night—one voice raised in song.

The song was terribly out of tune, but sung with great enthusiasm. One voice became two, and two became three, and before long everyone in the class was singing.

We knew that if one man could rise above the misery then others could as well. The instructors threatened us with more time in the mud if we kept up the singing—but the singing persisted. And somehow, the mud seemed a little warmer, the wind a little tamer and the dawn not so far away.

If I have learned anything in my time traveling the world, it is the power of hope. The power of one person—Washington, Lincoln, King, Mandela and even a young girl from Pakistan named Malala—can change the world by giving people hope.

So, if you want to change the world, start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.

10. Finally, in SEAL training there is a bell. A brass bell that hangs in the center of the compound for all the students to see.

All you have to do to quit is ring the bell. Ring the bell and you no longer have to wake up at 5 o’clock. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the freezing cold swims. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the runs, the obstacle course, the PT—and you no longer have to endure the hardships of training. Just ring the bell.

If you want to change the world don’t ever, ever ring the bell.

To the graduating class of 2014, you are moments away from graduating. Moments away from beginning your journey through life. Moments away from starting to change the world—for the better.

It will not be easy.

But start each day with a task completed. Find someone to help you through life. Respect everyone. Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often, but if you take some risks, step up when the times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up—if you do these things, then the next generation and the generations that follow will live in a world far better than the one we have today. And what started here will indeed have changed the world, for the better.

Thank you very much. Hook ‘em horns.

american-flag-flying-in-front-yard-of-home

Thank you to the veterans of the United States for your commitment in protecting and serving our nation.

Series on Multiculturalism, Diversity, and Cross-Cultural Relationships

This is the third of my three-part series on multiculturalism, diversity, and cross-cultural relationships. In my first article: http://thelabyrinthguide.wordpress.com/2014/04/18/series-on-multiculturalism-cross-cultural-relationships-and-diversity/ I shared with my readers how and when I became impassioned with this topic. In my second article: http://thelabyrinthguide.wordpress.com/2014/04/25/series-on-multiculturalism-diversity-and-cross-cultural-relationships/ I elaborated on the importance of exposure to multiculturalism and diversity. My definition of diversity includes people with all types of differences: race, religion, philosophy, age, gender, sexual orientation, physical health, mental health, socioeconomic, intelligence, genetic attributes, etc. In my third and last article I present some of the challenges that we face in dealing with diversity and share ideas on ways to increase our exposure to diversity and multiculturalism.

Part III

The Challenges and Taking Action

How do we engage people in the conversation of diversity? You see the moment we use the term “diversity” we isolate those who we most want to invite to the table, the non-minorities. Sadly, these non-minorities assume that any topic around diversity is just for the minorities and that it does not involve or affect them. But the truth is that it affects all of us. If for example we consider one aspect of diversity, race, the population of the world is becoming more and more intermingled. The United States estimates that by 2050, 62% of the nation’s children will be the minorities. The United Kingdom estimates that by 2050, ethnic minorities will make up one-third of Britain’s melting pot. We will see the majority becoming the minority and suddenly the conversation of diversity will become relevant to those that ignored it earlier. The dialogue needs to begin today because understanding and acknowledging the basic rights of all human beings regardless of who they are is relevant to all of us.

Trying Snake Wine for the first time in Vietnam

Forcing myself to try something that does not necessarily sound appealing. Trying Snake Wine for the first time in Vietnam. Aguardiente watch out!

It is in our human nature to protect ourselves and in many ways maintain the status quo if that ensures our survival. Therefore, initiating change or going through change can be a very arduous process if it challenges what we once thought of as the norm. One way to initiate change is to do it in small steps whether we are the person changing or the person effecting the change. Sometimes we have to be the one to take the first step, because if we wait around for someone else to do it, it may never get done. We also know that people’s value systems are different and what appears to be righteous to one group may completely contradict another’s beliefs. I do find it very difficult to reconcile in my heart and brain how people can use things like religion or politics as a legitimate excuse to discriminate or mistreat people. But that’s a whole other topic for another day.

I invite you to be the catalyst and to help initiate change. Below is a list of suggestions of how we can increase our exposure to multiculturalism and diversity.

Types of Exposure and what you can do:

  • Read, listen to, and watch both domestic and international sources of information and news media on relevant topics
  • Further your education: take courses, attend workshops, do research
  • Travel: within your own country and abroad
  • Visit museums, learn history
  • Try ethnic restaurants, try new foods (even if they don’t look good)
  • Try your hand at international cooking and share with family and friends
  • Listen to international music
  • Try new things
  • Join an international organization or one that supports specific causes.
  • Volunteer in organizations that support specific causes
  • Reach out, make new friends
  • Put yourself in uncomfortable situations, become the minority
  • Challenge your existing value system. Just because you were taught certain things at home does not necessarily make them right.
  • Allow yourself to improve your value system
  • Learn to recognize prejudices. Prejudices come in all shapes and sizes.
  • Reexamine your friendships and associations
  • Seek out minority role models for yourself and your children
  • Write articles, share your views
  • Organize international cultural events
  • Organize awareness building events
  • Practice Mindfulness.  For further reading:  http://thelabyrinthguide.wordpress.com/2013/11/01/mindfulness-and-living-a-mindful-life/
  • Refrain from judging
  • Listen to others
  • Remain open-minded
  • Be patient
  • Be tolerant
  • Be compassionate and kind
  • Become a mentor
  • Lead by example
  • Seek out the opportunities where you can engineer change.

One of my role models growing up was my Girl Scout leader, Mrs. Marshall, an African-American neighbor who lived in my building. Among other things, she inspired me to become a Girl Scout leader. I have always been a huge supporter of Girl Scouts of America because they are an “inclusionary” organization. As a Girl Scout leader I took the opportunity to share my passion for multiculturalism with my Daisies and Brownies. For one project I found a great website that offered international paper doll cutouts which the girls placed on individual poster boards that read, “ There are Girl Scouts all around the world. We may look and sound different but we are all sisters. We respect ourselves for who we are. We respect others for who they are”.

My daughter (right) and a fellow Daisy Girl Scout proudly displaying their International Girl Scout posters.

My daughter (right) and a fellow Daisy Girl Scout proudly displaying their International Girl Scout posters.

 

We also participated annually in World Thinking Day, a day honoring Girl Scouts and Girl Guides from other countries. World Thinking Day was a very well-organized town event with every troop representing a different country and creating a display, activities, and projects for the other girls to participate in.

Our Brownie Troop's display representing England in World Thinking Day. We made a poster showing the differences between American and British English.

Our Brownie Troop’s display representing England in World Thinking Day. We made a poster showing the differences between American and British English.

When my children attended The American School in London, ASL, I became involved with the International Community Committee, ICC, which was part of the parent’s association. Although the school is American there were students from approximately 42 different countries attending. The ICC hosts a Global Festival every two years. The festival celebrates all of the countries represented by the student body. The festival has cultural and educational components. Guests attending the festival get to enjoy music, dances, costumes, games, crafts and food from around the world. In the 2012 Global Festival I helped organize the food segment of the festival with a friend. We worked with 42 country representatives and helped coordinate their food displays culminating in a delicious gourmet extravaganza. The Global Festival is always a very well attended school community event drawing between 1200 – 1500 guests all in one day.

The ASL Global Festival: the organizers and country reps, with the food tables around the perimeter of the gym. Note by red, white, and blue outfit for the USA and my yellow, blue, and red scarf for Colombia.

The ASL Global Festival: the organizers and country reps for 42 nations, with the food tables around the perimeter of the gym. That’s me on the far left. Note by red, white, and blue outfit for the USA and my yellow, blue, and red scarf for Colombia.

These are two examples of activities that I have been part of. My quest continues, to make the great divide between us a little smaller, one relationship at a time. About a year ago I received an email, which had at the end a very powerful quote by Maya Angelou.

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.

Maya Angelou

For further interesting exploration:

Patricia Gurin Ph.D.: Her research is focused on social identity, the role of social identity in political attitudes and behavior, motivation and cognition in achievement settings, and the role of social structure in intergroup relations. Her latest book is Dialogue Across Difference, highlighting the importance of engaging diversity now more than ever.

http://patriciagurin.com/portfolio/

http://patriciagurin.com/portfolio-view/dialogue-across-difference-practice-theory-and-research-on-intergroup-dialogue/

A must watch:

Ted Talk with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The danger of a single story. She emphasizes the need to fully understand a situation or a person before passing judgment.

http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story#t-19362

An article by Liz Ryan about how business approaches diversity the wrong way in the Harvard Business Review

http://blogs.hbr.org/2012/10/we-approach-diversity-the-wron/

An article by Nina Terrero speaking of the lack of children’s books celebrating diversity

http://shelf-life.ew.com/2014/04/15/kid-lits-primary-color-white-report/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maya’s Toy Collection and the Philosophical Ramifications

Maya's Foyer Toy Collection

“Maya, put your toys away!”

We keep Maya’s toys neatly stored in a basket in the family room. But Maya always manages to bring her toys over to the foyer rug one at a time, until she has amassed a collection of toys proudly displayed in the foyer welcoming our guests and a few more scattered throughout the first floor. Pure mayhem! The foyer serves as a home base for Maya. We play a game of chasing her throughout the house, in which she always runs to the foyer, anticipates our arrival, protects a toy in her month, and relishes in our futile attempts of taking it away. We have trained Maya to do many things, but somehow we forgot how to teach her to pick up her toys. She is 7 years old now, not what I would consider an old dog, so I suppose I can still teach her a new trick. What would that sound like?  “Maya, bring your toys to the basket!” “Maya, clean your room!” or “Maya, put your toys away!”. And of course, unlike human children who would probably answer back with some excuse or beg to do it later, Maya would just look at me with her beautiful brown eyes and wag her tail happily. And since her happiness is so infectious, I would probably just say, “oh who cares about the booby-trapped foyer rug, Maya you are way too cute, let’s go play.” Reminding me to have a little fun and to cherish our time together, even if it means tripping over toys.

 

 

Putting Life in Perspective

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In the mornings, the lotus comes out of the muddy waters to bloom again.

Sometimes life becomes complicated and we start fretting over decisions we must make. We allow the situation to control us and we become increasingly overwhelmed.

But then life throws you something that shakes you at the core and you realize that what you were suffering over or struggling about is not as important as you thought. You realize that your so-called problems are trivial in the grand scheme of life.

This is what happened to me this week. A dear high school friend lost her daughter. Her beautiful 26 year-old journalist daughter took her own life. My immediate reaction was of shock and terrible sadness. I wondered if my emotions were this strong, then how must a parent feel when they lose a child?

And as if that were not enough sad news for the week, I have been closely following the tragic news of the Nigerian girls abducted from their schools over two weeks ago by Islamist extremists. The number of missing girls is now 276, higher than originally thought. This week the authorities reported that they believe the girls are being sold as wives to some of the extremist abductors and that some have been taken to neighboring Chad, Cameroon. On top of this, the government has been very slow in taking action to try to find the missing girls, further upsetting the girls’ parents and Nigerian citizens. This week saw organized protests by hundreds of women in three different cities of Nigeria expressing their outrage.

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The lotus flower: a symbol of rebirth, purity, clarity, and beauty.

I cannot fathom the emptiness and loss that my friend and her family are feeling right now. I cannot imagine the anguish that the parents of the kidnapped girls are suffering, or the despair of the girls. I almost envision these feelings as if I were torn in half and left to rot. I almost envision the physical sensation of gasping for air as if drowning and a heavy painful compression in my heart.

What I find almost miraculous is that in time, people recover from these adversities and begin to heal. I would imagine that the hurt does not go away completely, but that somehow people manage to rebuild themselves and their lives, perhaps not as they once were but in the end overcoming the tragedy. Somehow they find the courage that it takes to just get out of bed, to eat something, to be there for a surviving child and spouse, or to simply breathe. They find the courage to survive one day at a time.

My friend is a terrific lady and I know she and her family will remain strong and overcome this tragic event. I wish for her and her family a peaceful healing journey. I hope the kidnapped girls are found soon. I wish for them to be reunited with their families once again.

I started the week feeling somber about stuff going on in my life and I ended the week realizing that I needed to refocus my energy and thoughts because although the stuff in my life right now may be challenging it is far from being critical in the grand scheme of life.

I wish for you a peaceful day.

 

The Life of a Parisian Dog

Le Petit Chien 2013 - Paris

Le Petit Chien
2013 – Paris

Le Petit Chien sits in his basket,

with patience  awaiting his master.

He follows her with his eyes,

as she disappears into Pâtisserie Versailles.

He dreams of creamy éclairs, and tutti frutti tartes,

and of all those little cakes in shapes of hearts.

Le Petit Chien sits in his basket,

with hope awaiting his master.

“Hurry back mon amie,

I promise to help you

with all of those sweet treats!”

Series on Multiculturalism, Diversity, and Cross-Cultural Relationships

Part II

The Importance of Exposure to Multiculturalism and Diversity

This is the second of my three-part series on multiculturalism, diversity, and cross-cultural relationships. In my first article: http://thelabyrinthguide.wordpress.com/2014/04/18/series-on-multiculturalism-cross-cultural-relationships-and-diversity/, I shared with my readers how and when I became impassioned with this topic. In this follow-up posting, I elaborate on the importance of exposure to multiculturalism and diversity. My definition of diversity includes people with all types of differences: race, religion, philosophy, age, gender, sexual orientation, physical health, mental health, socioeconomic, intelligence, genetic attributes, etc.

Exposure to multiculturalism and diversity helps us expand our awareness and knowledge. As we build our awareness of other people’s differences we learn to understand them and in turn we develop tolerance, acceptance, trust, and compassion, which can lead to cooperation and collaboration. And how much easier would it be to live on this planet, to work together to solve its problems, if we operated under this premise. But I know this sounds very utopian, and perhaps rather than try to solve the world’s problems, I can focus on my little part of the universe and help influence those around me in a positive way. I behave a certain way, because I know that my children are watching and emulating my every move. I want them to grow up without unfounded prejudices and fears.

Celebrating my birthday in London with wonderful friends from around the world. From left to right: Colombian-American, Mexican, Palestinian, Turkish, Venezuelan, and Canadian.

2012 – Celebrating my birthday in London with wonderful friends from around the world. From left to right: Colombian-American, Mexican, Palestinian, Turkish, Venezuelan, and Canadian.

It is human nature to gravitate to known and comfortable environments. And it is also human nature to be weary of those and of things that are unknown. In the absence of true knowledge we allow fear and ignorance to form our misguided judgments.

I grew up as a Colombian immigrant in Queens, New York in the 60’s. At the time the Latinos in New York City were made up of mostly Dominicans, Cubans, and Puerto Ricans. Even among the existing Latino groups there was dislike and mistrust. My parents and I moved to an apartment building in Woodside, Queens. We were the only Hispanic family in our building. For several months after we moved in, my parents greeted our next-door neighbors, a white Jewish elderly couple, and for months they ignored my parent’s polite salutations. My parents were patient and knew from prior experience that in time the couple would come around, and they did. Somehow their comfort level grew as they got to know us and they became friendly with us. It makes me happy to think that we helped influence their viewpoint in a positive way. My other memory of a neighbor was of the Marshall family, one of the few African-American families in our building. Mrs. Marshall was working a full-time job, was raising a family, had lost a son in the Vietnam War, and on top of all of that, she was the dedicated Girl Scout leader of my troop. I always admired her commitment to the community and am grateful that she served as a role model to me inspiring me to become a Girl Scout leader to my own daughter.

Marching proudly in the 4th of July parade in Westport, CT with my Girl Scout Troop.

2005 – Marching proudly with my Girl Scout Brownie troop in the 4th of July parade in Westport, CT.

Growing up as a Latina in New York was not a great thing. Not because I was directly mistreated but because there was a prevailing attitude that Hispanics and Hispanic culture was sub par. As a child I looked for ways of blending in and forgetting my ethnicity. I suppose this is what thousands of immigrant children had done before me and continue to do to this day. Immigrant groups that arrived before us staked a claim and defined what they believe is the “right way” of being American, and all of the newly arrived immigrants try desperately to fit in by giving up their uniqueness. It is sadly contradictory that some of the people of this country, a nation founded on freedoms and religious tolerance, punish those for being different. I was incensed recently with the reaction by the general public when Ms. New York, the first Indian-American woman to win the title of Ms. America 2014 received vile feedback in the news and social media. Ugly comments were made accusing her of not being “American” enough, and of not representing “American” values. Wow, that today in 2014 we can still have such biased views and prejudices saddens me.

In 1974, my parents decided to return to Colombia because that was their plan all along. Little did they know that our going back to Colombia would be the greatest gift they would ever give me. I had come to the United States at age two and now at 13 we were returning to my birth country. The USA was my home but I was equally accepting of the idea of moving back to Colombia where I had spent most of my childhood summers. I would become immersed in the culture, learn the history, travel the country, study the language, and develop an appreciation for being Colombian. This experience also heightened my sensitivity to the appreciation of other cultures.

My daughter smiling in the African dress I sewed her for a pre-school international event.

2003 – Westport, CT My daughter smiling in the African dress I sewed her for a pre-school international event. The shoes are Colombian “alpargatas”, a type of espadrille shoe.

As much as we enjoyed living in Colombia I had my sights on going to university in the states and so we returned in 1978. Living in Colombia had raised my self-confidence and solidified my identity. Upon my return to the USA I no longer felt like a minority. That is until my senior year of college when I went from not feeling like a minority to being labeled a “double minority”. That was a huge surprise and I envisioned a giant rubber stamp coming down on my forehead.  I was a soon-to-graduate engineer who was a “woman” and a “Latina”. I became highly coveted by the recruiting companies because I could fill two of their minority recruiting quotas. The reality was that I was back in the United States where labeling seemed and continues to be, unfortunately, a very important part of this culture.

In my first article, I mentioned how I have three distinct roles. I am a Colombian citizen, a Colombian immigrant to the United States, and a US citizen. In the first role, I did not and do not need to prove anything to anyone. However, in my role as a Colombian immigrant and naturalized US citizen I have always felt it necessary to show other Americans a positive image of Colombia and of Latinos, while dispelling some of the misconceptions they have of our ethnic group. I will take this opportunity to say that there is a subset of American society that is open-minded and have an appreciation for diversity. I also have to point out that prejudices can also exist within a minority group.

Celebrating a birthday in Annapolis, MD with two American friends.

2013 – Celebrating another birthday in Annapolis, MD with two wonderful American friends.

My husband, a white American of European decent, and I have raised our children in a multicultural environment. Together we made the decision that I would speak Spanish and he would speak English to the children. As a family we have lived in Belgium, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and England. Every location has offered us varying experiences. Moving has taught us resilience and adaptability. Living abroad has taught us to see things from a different point of view. We have lived in small towns and in big cities. We have lived in very diverse and in very homogenous locations.

2002 - My son on the left in yet another costume I made, representing lightning. He is standing next to his Sikh buddy. His mother would share concerns over whether or not to cut his hair for kindergarten. In Sikhism, Kesh is the practiceof allowing their hair to grow as a  symbol of respect for the perfection of God's creation.

2002 – My son on the left dressed as “lightning”. I certainly kept busy making costumes. He is standing next to his Sikh buddy. His mother would share concerns over whether or not to cut his hair for kindergarten. In Sikhism, Kesh is the practice of allowing their hair to grow as a symbol of respect for the perfection of God’s creation. She was worried about her son being teased as he got older.

I have come to the conclusion that people from very homogenous towns or groups are at risk of becoming insular and close-minded. These folks have had limited exposure to people who are different perhaps by their own choosing or just by chance. When suddenly faced with a person or group who may not conform to their value system, they allow fear and ignorance to form their misguided judgments. Some can exhibit behaviors such as apathy, unfriendliness, anger, discrimination, segregation, bullying, mistreatment, or even violence. These behaviors are then passed on to their children and the negative behaviors and misconceptions are perpetuated. However, not all people from a homogenous group will react negatively. Some will allow themselves the opportunity to get to know the “stranger” much like the elderly couple did towards us, and eventually welcome them into the community. It is nice to know that human decency and goodness can prevail.

In 2011 we had the opportunity to move to London with our teen-aged children. We spent two years living in one of the most diverse cities of the world. I am so grateful that we were able to expose our family to so many ethnic, racial, religious, and socioeconomic groups. When you live among people of different backgrounds or attributes you develop a comfort level with them that allows you to be open-minded. This better prepares you to interact with each other and offers a basis for cooperation and collaboration. It prepares you to live in the global community and to work in a diverse environment. I also feel that living in London gave my children an appreciation for their own multi-cultural background.

2011 - London Exploring our new home.

2011 – London Exploring our new home.

We are now in suburban USA. There is still so much to improve and accomplish in the arena of diversity. In the fall, I was at an orientation at my children’s school and I could not help but notice that there were three distinct groups of people. There was a large group of mostly white families with a smattering of some ethnic families mingling with them, there was a small group of African-American families, and then there were the assorted loners. I wondered to myself why each group was keeping to themselves fully knowing the answer to my own question. Everyone was choosing to stay in his or her own comfort zone. This self-selected segregation bothered me so I chose to walk over to the group of African American parents to introduce myself. Some of you may argue that self-selected segregation is acceptable, but I will counter that with, self-selected segregation is a defense mechanism, that although shields us temporarily, it prevents us from pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zone to reach our fullest potential.

The United States is not the only country dealing with diversity issues. The challenges exist worldwide. Italy appointed its first black female cabinet member, Cecile Kyenge in April of this year. What was seen as a positive step in racial integration has publicly highlighted the ugly face of the prejudices that exist in Italy as Mrs. Kyenge endures countless racial abuse. Many other countries have experience similar challenges with assimilation of ethnic groups such as France, Germany, Britain, Sweden, and Finland. Colombia and many other Latin American countries are guilty of marginalizing their own native and black minority groups. Other nations struggle with uniting internal religious and ethnic groups. No location is immune to this problem.

I have been through my own journey. I too am guilty of passing incorrect judgment. I have come to the realization that prejudices come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes can be almost imperceptible. We all have a value system that we learned at home. There are moments in our lives that we come to crossroads where our existing value system is challenged. If we recognize these junctures as learning opportunities then we can begin to make changes that allow us to become better human beings.

In the end, the hallmark of a good relationship is when all parties involved are made to feel good in that relationship. And how do we do this?  By taking the steps necessary to learn about the other person. As we build our awareness of other people’s differences we learn to understand them and in turn we develop tolerance, acceptance, trust, and compassion, which can ultimately lead to cooperation and collaboration.

Slide1I do a reality check and bring myself back to my little corner of the universe, back to my original goal, to behave in a way that teaches my children to be open-minded and not develop unfounded prejudices and fears.

In my last and third article I share my call to action with you, steps you can take to further your exposure to multiculturalism and diversity.

For now I leave you with the following:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
― Maya Angelou