When school books disappear in Peru
Added: Tuesday, 18 November 2008

watch original V-Blog in Persian

watch original V-Blog in German

I just came back from a really great conference where members of the media from all over the world consulted on ways in which the social environment of societies could be "positively" influenced. The word positive is of course subjective, but in this context it was defined as supporting the needs of populations and communities and contributing to their advancement. The idea was to support developmental projects all over the world, which focus not on 'aid' that is imposed on people, but aid that supports them in identifying their own needs and devising their own solutions.

To give a random, fictional example: Say a community somewhere in Peru is experiencing challenges in their local school. Students and teachers seem demoralized and don't come to class. A development agency or NGO comes along and identifies the problem from a purely materialistic perspective. They find that there are not enough materials and text books and decide that this lack of resources needs to be addressed. So they provide the school with books and materials only to find that a few weeks into the initiative, the new materials have disappeared again and the school has gone back to being dysfunctional.

At closer glance it becomes apparent that there is much more at stake in this system that is a school. The students have developed serious behavioural issues and are not respectful of their teachers. Feeling harassed and frustrated, teachers are even afraid to go to work and sabotage the system by getting rid of materials and forging conditions that make it impossible for education to happen.

Students might be coming from social environments where fathers do not respect mothers and parents generally do not respect children. They may also be exposed to media and culture that is not conducive to creating respectful, healthy relationships between them and their educators and guardians.

So people and communities are complex, organic entities with a variety of factors that make them work or not. And above all, people are not only material and materially motivated, but also spiritual beings, with spiritual needs and motivations. Money (and school books) can't buy love!

Any developmental organization with a measure of insight will therefore try and implement strategies that help communities identify and articulate their own challenges and try to offer aid for these communities to develop responses and solutions based on their own values, rather than imposed ones.

So the question for media-makers becomes how can we, as partial producers and contributors of social environments all over the world help offer conditions that are conducive to the material and spiritual development of communities, rather than counteracting their needs.

Could we, in the example above, create images in the local media that show alternative models of family life? Depict a family where a father and mother act more respectfully towards each other and their children? Produce shows and series that depict children respecting teachers? Or - forgetting large-scale media projects for a second - could we introduce grassroots initiatives where video recorders, snapshots, skits, songs, stories and other forms of media and communication are used to help facilitate the transformation that communities want to go through themselves?

It would of course be useful and necessary to workshop and introduce new systems of education and learning in the school mentioned above and try to put pedagogical measures in place to help the relationship of teachers and students. But what happens when the kids return home to a destructive social environment? Shouldn't media play its role to try and facilitate holistic change as well?

The conference was very enlightening. More than answers, we formulated questions and this reflected the humility with which the organizers were attempting to tackle the issue. It was a consultative environment of reflection, one that I would like to take back with me to my own community in an attempt to start a similar dialogue among my co-professionals about our responsibilities as media people, as communicators, in shaping and facilitating our social environments. If in our professions, no matter what they are, we start seeing ourselves as "servants" of society and its needs, we will be in a better position to help change this world for the better through what we do.

From slave to servant
Added: Friday, 1 February 2008

watch original V-Blog in Persian

These last two weeks have been extremely depressing for me. It all
began with an email from an organization that helps women in Afghanistan and Iran. It described the urgency of the plight of women in the region some of whom sell their bodies and those of their daughters in order to survive. Then I got an update from my friend Arezo, who's been living and working in Afghanistan. Her affirmation of the horrible details was really disheartening. Finally catastrophe struck at home. A colleague of mine told me that in her daughter's school 10-13 year-olds are having sex. The most shocking detail was that a group of girls had been saving pocket money, which was designated for movie-going. They had then awarded this money to the girl who slept with the most guys. Evidently these girls were not getting their sense of nobility, worth and love at home, so they were looking for that affirmation in the wrong places. To top it all off I heard a psychologist on the radio talking about the AIDS among young children and she said, "But sex is their right after all". She must have been confusing rights with responsibilities. And people like her are accredited psychologists.

Cover imageCheck out the movie Idiocracy for a humorous prognosis of our future.

In one of my last blogs I spoke about our thoughts being our reality. Obviously we believe we are worthless, exchangeable and disposable. For a human being who believes they were created noble with a sense of purpose in this life wouldn't treat themselves like this.

What is happening to us women? And I'm not only talking to women in the Middle-East or in developing, third world countries. I'm talking about those "role models" on Western TV. Let's see, do women in episodic television represent noble, dignified women with a sense of higher purpose? The only thing that's changed since the 60s when women were objectified on screen is that they're now aware of it, that they objectify themselves deliberately and believe that by playing with men the way men play with them – they have gained any sort of credibility or power.

We're either completely covered, or half naked; we're either subservient to men or their playthings. We're either oppressed or degraded under the guise of being "sexually liberated". We're either the slaves of men or radically feminist, emulating men and beating them at their own immaturity, ruthlessness and aggression.

I've met few women who are real ladies. Women with feminine attributes who radiate their spiritual qualities on the outside without undermining their dignity; women who are so refined in character, so strong and gentle, that they could but have very special men by their side. Of some I've made films: Layli Miller and Karyn Robarts ... I am blessed to know more and I'll continue to feature women like that. But if there is anyone listening to me at the other end of the tunnel: teach your children to value and love themselves, to understand themselves as the perfect and unique creation that they are; teach them to protect themselves, their bodies, their emotions, their souls and to nurture their nobility so they can be unique servants of mankind.

A servant in the Baha'i understanding is the highest state one can reach. It is someone who is striving to be refined in character, someone who loves themselves as a creation of God but is free from ego and 'self', from insecurities and prejudices. It is someone who consciously works with the aim of contributing to the advancement of world civilization. Slavery is thinking you're 'free' but being a slave to your passions, desires, your self, to society, its standards and to patterns of creed and behaviour you've always known and from which you're too weak to break lose. A servant is the polar opposite of a slave in the Baha'i understanding. But slaves we are still for the most part.

Here is some inspiration from the Hidden Words
O SON OF SPIRIT! I created thee rich, why dost thou bring thyself down to poverty? Noble I made thee, wherewith dost thou abase thyself? Out of the essence of knowledge I gave thee being, why seekest thou enlightenment from anyone beside Me? Out of the clay of love I molded thee, how dost thou busy thyself with another? Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting.

O SON OF THE WONDROUS VISION! I have breathed within thee a breath of My own Spirit, that thou mayest be My lover. Why hast thou forsaken Me and sought a beloved other than Me?

O SON OF BEING! Thy heart is My home; sanctify it for My descent. Thy spirit is My place of revelation; cleanse it for My manifestation.

O SON OF MAN! Veiled in My immemorial being and in the ancient eternity of My essence, I knew My love for thee; therefore I created thee, have engraved on thee Mine image and revealed to thee My beauty.

The illusion of cultural identity
Added: Sunday, 25 March 2007

watch original V-Blog in Persian

On South African TV there is a show, which celebrates African culture. I was invited to join in for a discussion around a new book, which has just been released and captures some of the unique and beautiful traditions that you find in South Africa. When it was my turn to give my impressions I was asked to say what I think about the book from an "outsider's" perspective. I thought about this for a while and then said that I'm not really an "outsider" as such. After all I chose to come to South Africa and make it my home. In many ways I am South African – by choice. My mother is Iranian, my father is Austrian, Italian and Hungarian and I've lived on many continents. So I'm not sure what I am.

The interviewer cleared her throat and asked me to give my impression from a world citizen's point of view then. I said that my view on the subject is that, while we all have different cultures and traditions, we are first and foremost human. Our roots are spiritual, not physical. And that anything, which keeps us apart from each other is detrimental to our progress and anything, which celebrates our diversity without jeopardizing our oneness is worth keeping. I told her that I'm not so attached to any one of my cultures really.

This threw the whole concept of the show off, as we had been there to emphasize the need to rid ourselves of anything that was not from our own culture. So she asked me, "but isn't it important to know your roots, to have an identity? To know who you are?" And I answered, "I'm human, I'm not defined by my culture, I'm defined by my values and principles, my actions. Weather I wear a feather in my head or a around my neck is secondary to who I am. It is a an enrichment of my life, but not essential."

I then suggested that there is no such thing as "roots". Take the Zulu culture for example. What does it mean to return to your Zulu roots, when the Zulu culture was based on many different tribes that were forcefully united through Shaka Zulu? Was he not also a globalizer? Any root you pursue, you find more and more roots that come from it. Our process of coming together started from the beginning of time and is now becoming the center of attention, because our world has become so small.

There has never been a pure, physical "essence" that we sprung from. We are humans, that's our essence and since the beginning of time, culture has been a dynamic process. Wars have been fought, people have progressed, things have always been changing and nothing has ever been stagnant. Every culture has evolved and so has our global culture. So the notion of cultural roots, to me, is an illusion. If I were orphaned and raised by a Spanish family, I'd have a Spanish culture. This proves that culture is not in our blood, it doesn't define us, although people everywhere in the world are looking to find themselves in their culture.

I believe our roots are spiritual, and with that, we share a common humanity. Never mind what color skin, eyes, hair or clothes we wear. Those things are beautiful, but to me, they don't make us who we are.

Connect With Us


Get notified about new videos!

More Videos

Little Virtues
Little Virtues
The Street's Barber
The Street's Barber
Leyla Haidarian: Beyond King of the Mountain TED talk
Leyla Haidarian: Beyond King of the Mountain TED talk