And why I think we do care
Added: Friday, 25 June 2010

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“Who cares what anyone says” is what I recently told a friend of mine who was suffering from a classic case of peer pressure. In the academic circles she’s in, raising kids is seen as a task for day-cares or willing fathers. Despite wanting to stay home with her child and halve the time she spends on her PHD thesis, she felt judged by women who had chosen their career over their kids. One particular friend had put one toddler in 12 hour day-care and the other (the younger kid) with the father for a year, while she left town and focused on her work. My friend was torn between her desire to succeed and follow her ambition and her desire to be a good mom and be with her kid.

But this blog post is not about women, child-care or the issues involved with the dilemma that women have with their careers. This blog post is about why we care about what other people think. Sometimes what they think seems fundamentally contrary to our truths and sometimes what they think seems fundamentally right, making us feel guilty deep down. And very often, we’re caught in the middle with a little bit of both, not knowing what to do and caring about how the world perceives us.

While it is probably wise to go with your inner truths and act according to the principles you have chosen to live your life by, it’s worthy to reflect for a moment on the value of caring, nonetheless, about what other people think. I personally think that the bright side of caring is that it reflects an inherent desire to be in harmony with other people.

In other words, I believe that there is an inherent longing for people to come together. When you look at how we’ve developed over history, you’ll see that we’ve moved from tribal units to city-states, to nation-states and that now we are developing a global consciousness. We create communities that function around a specific set of values, so that we can flourish in harmony. Disarray is usually counter-productive. So we seek to gather around our commonalities, celebrating our constitutions and our national, corporate or religious values! This longing is what has taken us so far as a human family. It’s driven us towards being one reality.

Even the bloody, brutal and dark ways in which we’ve tried to achieve oneness (namely through colonialism and forced conversions) are nothing more than the inverted (or sick) version of this desire to share common values. While this inverted energy has, perhaps, contributed to more sameness that oneness, the positive version of it has made our diversity more apparent. And it is in diversity that you have real harmony. Anyone playing music will tell you.

While I believe that it’s great to stand up for what we believe, I also think that it is valuable to recognize the drive towards sharing a common framework of thought. We can strive, by trying, communicating, learning, cooperating, and retrying to move towards a more complete truth. One that is shaped by all our diverse voices, perspectives and experiences.

Things I'm thankful for this Naw Ruz
Added: Saturday, 20 March 2010

watch original V-Blog in Persian

Finally I am thankful to Iranians for stirring my soul with their green human rights movement. I grew up apologizing for being Iranian. Now I am proud to say that I am. The other day I was sick, so I went to see a doctor who was wearing a yamurka. He read my name and asked me where I was from. I said “IRAN!” We both looked at each other and then cracked up. He said, “I like Iranians” – and it made me smile. I know that in the future the Middle East will be a place of light, beauty and unity. And I know that the conflict in the Holy Land will not be solved by tolerance. It can only be solved through love. No matter how long it takes, it is the only way forward. But it will happen sooner than we all think, for the world is darkest just before dawn.

Tonight I celebrated Naw Ruz with my African friends. We had Iranian and Italian food, enjoyed my "haft-seen" and sang and danced to Congolese tunes! What a world.

“The Earth is but One Country and Mankind its Citizens.”


Things I'm thankful for this Naw Ruz
Added: Friday, 19 March 2010

watch original V-Blog in Persian

I’m thankful to be discovering the fast in a whole new way. I have not been able to fast this year. It’s been bittersweet, because I miss the sense of strength and freedom that fasting gives me. But I suppose having to eat has made me realize that we are sometimes still “attached” to food, even by not eating. The trick is to be in the same “fasting” state of mind whether you are eating or not. It’s a journey for me and the best part of the day is sunrise. I’ve never been one for sunsets – they pierce my heart and bring me sadness. Sunrise fills me with joy and reminds me of the light that is filling this world in this age of transition.

Here's some food for thought on the fast:

"Some people lay stress on fasting. They affirm that in augmenting the weakness of the body they develop a spiritual sensibility and thus they think to approach God.

"Weakening one's self physically does not necessarily contribute to spiritual progress. Humility, kindness, resignation, and all these spiritual attributes emanating from great physical strength are acceptable to God. That an enfeebled man cannot fight is not accounted a virtue. Were physical weakness a virtue the dead would be perfect, for they can do nothing.

"If a man be just, kind, humble and merciful and his qualities are acquired through the will-power -- this is Godlike. A child cannot kill a man; but a Bonaparte can abstain from war, from shedding blood, from devastating countries. A dumb person will not speak ill of any one, a paralyzed hand cannot strike; but a strong arm can refrain from striking. Justice, love and kindness must be the instruments of strength, not of weakness.

"Exaggerated fasting destroys the divine forces. God has created man in a way that cannot be surpassed; we must not try to change his creation. Strive to attain nearness to reality through the acquisition of strength of character, through morality, through good works and helping the poor, through being consumed with the fire of the love of God and in discovering each day new spiritual mysteries. This is the path of intimate approach."

Abdu'l-Baha, "Divine Philosophy," p. 98

Things I'm thankful for this Naw Ruz
Added: Tuesday, 16 March 2010

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As the countdown to Naw Ruz continues, I'm counting my blessings. Number 4 on my list (which is in no particular order) is my son's happy disposition. I am thankful that he is filled with so much light and so many smiles. He gives me strength. Having a kid was a difficult decision for me. I have always felt that I don’t want to be vulnerable and love something so much over which I have no control. And in this day and age it seems that you have control over nothing except your own choices and thoughts. He has given me faith, where I thought I had to give him faith. I am learning that he is my trust, not my possession. It can be super hard, but it’s also rewarding. In his face I see my Creator and in everyone I meet I see my son. So this Hidden Word by Baha'u'llah has found new meaning for me:

O Son of Man! Deny not My servant should he ask anything from thee, for his face is My face; be then abashed before Me.

Things I'm thankful for this Naw Ruz
Added: Saturday, 13 March 2010

watch original V-Blog in Persian

In the spirit of Naw Ruz, I'm counting my blessings this year. Another thing I'm thankful for is being alive in this day and age. A dear friend of mine says that we live in the best times. It’s just that news travels so fast and has become so immediate that it seems that things have never been worse! I think he’s right. I think that our hearts have never been more filled with love and light and that is precisely why we cringe and hurt when we hear of the darkness that still exists. It’s almost as if that darkness seems more dark, because we have come to appreciate the light so much. We are so interconnected that the life stories of others impact us deeply. On my phone I am connected to the world via telephony, text messages, instant messages, the internet, Twitter and Facebook. In an instant I may hear of a young girl getting crushed underneath a building or of a young man being tortured to death in an Iranian prison. I hear of him before I hear my own child waking up in the room next door! That is the level of connectivity we have in this day and age. And that is the level of connectivity we must arise to achieve spiritually. And it doesn’t take power or money to do this important task. We each have a great contribution to make in bringing together this human family. I truly believe that if we each explore the light within us and learn to develop the senses that guide us to the best life that we can live, we can find that happy place where nothing intimidates us, where there is no failure and where nobody is more or less beautiful than we are.

Things I'm thankful for this Naw Ruz
Added: Thursday, 11 March 2010

watch original V-Blog in Persian

In the spirit of the Persian and Baha'i New Year, I'm counting my blessings this year. The second thing I'm thankful for, is that I have been able to reconnect with a lot of long lost family members this year. One of them is the award-winning actress Shabnam Tolouie. We go back to one great-grandmother. In this age of Facebook I have been lucky to be able to reach out to a lot of family members who have been separated through the Iranian diaspora and this connection gives me a sense of unity and a foundation for my son, who is the youngest generation of us all. I have traced us back about 7 or 8 generations and have drawn a family tree for my son on his wall with colorful chalk. It’s there to remind him how we are all connected. If the wall were large enough, it would surely encompass every individual in this world. In fact, our helper is on his wall too. She’s Zimbabwean and not directly "blood related", but she impacts him more than many of our blood relatives do and this just goes to show you that we are first and foremost spiritual beings and our true connections and identity are not of the flesh.

And why I light firecrackers in March
Added: Thursday, 11 March 2010

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March 21 marks the Persian New Year, Naw Ruz. You can Google or Wikipedia it and read up about the history of this festival. But what’s more significant is that the Baha’i Faith (, which is like quantum physics of religions, has really rendered this Persian festival global. Members of the Baha'i Faith live in more than 100,000 localities and come from nearly every nation, ethnic group, culture, profession, and social or economic background and they all celebrate Naw Ruz. It marks the end of the Baha’i fast - the spiritual and physical detox period - and the beginning of the new calendar year.

This year I’ve set up a traditional “haft seen” table. This has nothing to do with the Baha’i faith, but it’s a Persian tradition and lots of fun. On the table you’ll find things like lentil sprouts, dried oleaster, garlic, apples, sumac, vinegar, hyacinths, coins, candles, a mirror, some decorated (easter-like) eggs, a goldfish, some rosewater, a Holy Book relevant to the household religion and some Iranian colors – this year I’ve focused on “green”. They all have meanings, but for me it’s a way of remembering how the message of universal love came from Iran and has spread to the rest of the world.

There are many things I’m thankful for this year. I've chosen six to to focus on in the countdown till Naw Ruz. One of these is the fact that the United Nations has recognized Naw Ruz as an international holiday. The UN is far from being the institution it could be. It favors some countries over others and has a long way to go in realizing the value of the human family, but I think we must be grateful that we live in an age that has given birth to this institution and its underlying idea. Up until 160 years ago, we lived in world that was relatively isolated. Populations did not think in terms of being citizens of one world. Nationalism was our grandest sense of identy/unity. But suddenly, with the birth of the industrial revolution our world rapidly came together and we created global institutions to try and manage the challenges of a world that was becoming interdependent in terms of its social, economic and environmental realities. The United Nations is one child of that era. The Baha’i faith was born in that same era and offers the spiritual guidance and teachings for a world that is effectively one. The nexus at which Naw Ruz becomes global is an exciting one, because for me it signifies that spiritual fertility for the idea that we are the fruits of one tree and the waves of one sea.

Haiti, Iran and what’s in between
Added: Monday, 25 January 2010

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It’s amazing to see the world responding to what is going on in Haiti. Even if you’re a cynic, you have to admit that this kind of reaction is unprecedented in the history of humankind. Never before have we been this exposed to the most personal and immediate stories from people on the other side of the world. We “feel” for perfect strangers more tangibly than ever before. Some of my friends based in the United States are flying to Haiti to lend a hand. Others in places like Bahrain are raising money and say that the city mosques are continuously singing prayers for the wounded and affected. Yes in many ways these are the end-times. But those who “perish” are not those who are dying. What perishes in this fire is our old way of thinking and “humanity's stubborn clinging to old patterns of behavior”. Love is the pillar of our salvation and unity is the arch that will shelter us. I see a tremendous shift in the right direction in these days of hardship.

In all of this heart-wrenching chaos a friend of mine, for whom Haiti occupies a special place in his heart, is frustrated with how major news networks report of “looting” in Haiti. He says it’s just wrong for “Western” media to report on people’s desperation in that way, when the West has spent a life-time looting Haiti. From a place of compassion and emotion for the individual circumstances of people I completely agree with him. It really feels insensitive and out of place to use those terms. From a place of “principle” perhaps, it raises another interesting question – independent of the given circumstance:

How do our principles and deepest convictions pan out in times of adversity? Do we always try and live by our convictions or only when things are relatively balanced? Because in my mind, it’s precisely when the going gets rough that our principles matter the most. If you’re never exposed to another, highly attractive and intelligent woman, you’re probably going to be faithful to your wife. If you’ve always got enough food on the table, chances are, you’re not going to break into someone’s house, put a gun to their head and ask them for their cash. People who commit “transgressions” are always under some kind of pressure. It can be survival, it can be lust, it can be greed, it can be desperation. My point is: our principles are what carry us through the rough times, not the good. They are what matter most when everything else falls apart. Wouldn’t you say?

Even if we employ compassion and understanding in individual circumstances, shouldn’t we strive to hold our principles dear on a collective and societal level - as a compass that directs our course?

The subject is very close to my heart, because while people are sending money and prayers and flying in to help the people of Haiti, there are things we need to do on a day to day basis, that can change the world on a profound level. Let us not think that giving money and sending a check, but then living our lives the way we’ve always done will do any good. Change needs to happen regardless of whether there is an earthquake or not. And the question of having principles, values and laws as the foundation of any functioning society or institution is one of the most relevant ones to ask ourselves as we try and build a new world.


The trial of the 7 Baha’i leaders in Iran has begun. Baha’is have been subjected to human rights violations for over a century. Even though their government does not respect them or their rights (or the rights of their own citizens); even though their government will bend its own rules and ignore international conventions, to which it is a signatory, Iranian Baha’is choose to obey the law of their country as a matter of principle.

What do you think about principles and their relationship to our lives?

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11 November 2009

Ian Goldin: Navigating Our Global Future

As globalization and technological advances bring us hurtling towards a new integrated future, Ian Goldin warns that not all people may benefit equally. But, he says, if we can recognize this danger, we might yet realize the possibility of improved life for everyone.

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The best and worst of human conditions
Added: Monday, 31 August 2009

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I'm sure you've sat in the sun and enjoyed its warmth, soaking in the energy and enjoying the bright colors of the world around you. You've heard the sprinklers, smelled the grass and felt so alive you could split an atom. No matter how many tests you may have in your life, how much trouble may weigh on your shoulders, when you come across a sunny day that makes the colors jump out of their skin, nothing can stop you from smiling.

And then a cloud comes along. And instantaneously the world is dull and dark and horrid. You cannot believe your eyes, but you can feel it in your heart. It's like a lever is being pulled and you're going from elated to depressed. The colors fade, a chilly shiver runs down your spine and the very scene that so inspired you now looks depleted. Even hostile.

And then the sun emerges again and the lever is pushed back and you instantly forgive the clouds, for now everything is great and beautiful and good again...Have you ever felt this way?

This week a dear soul passed on to the next realm. She was a member of our community and struggled with cancer for many, many years. You would think cancer, illness, disease, war, hunger, poverty – these are among the worst things to befall any person or family. You would think it would have clouded and shrouded her sunny disposition. But far from it – she always had and gave plenty of light to those around her. So much so, that I, in fact, was among the few not ever to notice that she was even sick!

When death, or life after death came so suddenly to her it got me thinking. How was it, that in her life and in the lives of her dear husband and children one couldn't detect those large, dark clouds? And I realized that I was wrong. Illness, disease, poverty, misfortune – these things are not the clouds in our life. The clouds are when we don't have unity in our family. When we have unity in our family, it is as though the sun were shining brightly. When the sun shines I smile even though I have problems and life isn't perfect. And when your body is ridden with cancer, you still smile, because your family is coloring the world BRIGHT and beautiful.

But not all of us have unity in our lives. I'd say most of us don't. It starts with our families, but that sunshine or lack thereof continues in the reality that is our community, our nation – and of course – our world. We live in a world that is covered with clouds. Our world is a shadow of what it could be. We're a human family that is broken, estranged and divided. Our kids are rebelliously pubescent and our marriage is breaking up.

Just imagine: what chance could war, famine and disease have if we put up a united front? What chance would all the perils of the world have on us if only we strove for unity? How could those things ever defeat us and our sunny disposition if our human family was as united as my friend's family was?

Soar in peace, dear Debbie.

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