Peeling back the sticker
Added: Monday, 16 November 2009

watch original V-Blog in Persian

Last night I was graciously invited to join a friend of mine who had won a dinner for herself and 9 of her friends at a new restaurant in town. The whole thing had been organized by one of the leading local women’s magazines and it was great fun. One of the promotional gags they had come up with was a 20-minute talk by an image consultant.

Okay, so it wasn’t the best decision to make us listen to a presentation before appetizers, but I don’t think that was the real reason it didn’t quite click for us. I don’t know if she’d had a bad day, if she was not inspired by the crowd or if it was a combination of the two, but her delivery of the material was just not up to scratch. It felt like she was literally rattling off clichéd insights about how to dress and make a first impression. She mentioned the importance of choosing three messages that one wants to convey. An example: professionalism, reliability and ambition. But somehow she wasn’t connecting to the truth of what she had, perhaps, once genuinely felt. She tried to encourage us to look at ourselves as a brand that has only seconds to make an important first impression. We couldn’t help but doubt our own first impression of her.

But ironically, our second impression of her - now that was something else completely! Because when her presentation was done, she mentioned she had to run off to her 14 month old, who was waiting at home. Perhaps the reason she had not been present at her own presentation? We exchanged a few oohs and aahs and she explained that, though she was over 40, she had just found the man of her dreams and had a child with him. Our interest was sparked and she began telling us of her life and how she had attracted the same kinds of men forever, focusing always on what she didn’t want in life. (I don’t want a man who cheats, drinks and is lazy). This had led to her going from one unhappy, cheating, drinking lazy man to the next. Until one day she sat down and wrote a letter to God, asking him for all the things she was looking for in a man. That shift in thinking from negative to positive, she felt, had attracted a man who was not only all the things she was looking for, but – MORE.

It was funny how the three words that suddenly popped in my mind were: honesty, vulnerability and authenticity – virtues that were far more appealing and attractive than any she had set out to achieve and that came out only upon further investigation of her character. As she left, all the single ladies at the table began scribbling notes on their serviettes and I knew that what the image consultant had set out to do was, perhaps, not done - but instead she achieved far MORE.

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22 February 2008

Mother's Crown

Mother's Crown delves into the eccentricity and spirituality of a 74 year-old Indian-Australian sculptor captivated by the beauty of motherhood. This observational documentary draws a parallel between motherhood and the artistic process as forms of creativity and inspiration.

Director/Writer: Misagh Habibi
Music: Todd McNeal
DOP/Editor: Misagh Habibi

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Civilization versus barbarism
Added: Saturday, 8 December 2007

watch original V-Blog in Persian

Just a few weeks ago I was having dinner with some "South Africans" who were of Greek, German, Spanish and Persian backgrounds. During their dinner conversation they nonchalantly commented that "They say we all came from Africa at some point". The comment that followed stung me: "Some of us have evolved and become civilized while others have stayed primitive", they said and laughed. It was a joke but these are the very attitudes that gave birth to apartheid and nazism.

Needless to say, I broke off and sat on my mental island quietly for the rest of the evening. I went over the meaning of "primitive" versus "civilized", terms that have become so loaded and political. On the one hand civilization denotes a society, culture and its way of life, it denotes 'advancement', 'progress' and 'achievement'. On the other, the process of "civilizing" a people has come to be associated with the trampling, homogenizing nature of colonialism. Much like the term "martyr" has become synonymous with "murderer", "civilization" has become synonymous with "savagery" in terms of the human/spiritual qualities it represents. Yet both terms have, in their original contexts, very different meanings.

In the Secret of Divine Civilization, Abdu'l-Baha points out that as human beings we have both intellect and wisdom. One causes us to invent and progress materially, while the other refers to the way in which we must apply these gifts. In his opening paragraphs, Abdu'l-Baha says that knowledge, technical procedures, philosophical systems, sciences, arts, industries are all emanations of the human mind. Yet, "the honor and distinction of the individual consist in this, that he among all the world's multitudes should become a source of social good. Is any larger bounty conceivable than this, that an individual, looking within himself, should find that by the confirming grace of God he has become the cause of peace and well-being, of happiness and advantage to his fellow men? No, by the one true God, there is no greater bliss, no more complete delight."

Therefore the ends to which we use our knowledge is key in defining the true meaning of "civilization"!

Abdu'l-Baha further equates using our knowledge to feed our passions and selfish desires to barbarism. Being materially advanced while exploiting and dehumanizing others is barbaric. And further: "How excellent, how honorable is man if he arises to fulfil his responsibilities; how wretched and contemptible, if he shuts his eyes to the welfare of society and wastes his precious life in pursuing his own selfish interests and personal advantages. "

As I pondered Abdu'l-Baha's definition of "civilization" as a blessing for humanity; as a tool that is only meaningful and conducive to true advancement if it's used to further the interests of the human family and bring out the best in us, I realized that my friends had been absolutely right that night. If I took their comment to mean that some have stayed primitive materially, sure, you can't argue with that. Some of the most primitive people materially have developed unparalleled human perfections and virtues, while some of the most advanced people materially have become lower than animals in their pursuit of power and personal welfare. And If I was to take their comment to mean that some had stayed spiritually "primitive", then again, they were absolutely right.

Why do we need organized religion?
Added: Saturday, 14 April 2007

watch original V-Blog in Persian

Over one of my famously philosophical dinner the other night, one of my friends said she feels she has a personal relationship with her creator. If she feels she can communicate with God, why then do we need organized religion? We thought about this question with everyone over dinner and several answers crystallized.

My personal view was that we all might talk to 'God' in our way. We may have a personal style of communication, a personal feeling or approach to addressing our concerns and matters of the heart with our Lord. But what when we try to listen to His answers? What are the answers? What are the guidelines? How do I know that what I 'feel' in my heart is right or harmonizes with what someone else 'feels' in their heart? How many times do our feelings and inclinations mislead us or clash one with another? I would say more often than not. What is good and right in my estimation might not be good and right for someone else. It is like traffic. If we all followed our own sensibilities, we would have utter chaos in traffic. But organized religion is like a universal set of traffic laws that we can all follow and that protects all of our interests as a whole, as an organism. The moment we look to one system, we create unity and prosperity for all.

Another friend of mine introduced the idea that each age requires specific solutions to its problems. 500 years ago our problems were different than they are today. Since 23 May 1844 when the first telegram was sent out, the world has experienced an exponential boost in technological advances. In a matter of 160 years we have become one world with interlinked economies and one joint destiny. 500 years ago it would have been impossible to imagine us all sitting here together. At the dinner we had people from China, the US, Iran, Austria, Australia, England, South Africa, Scotland and Canada. And many of us were multiracial. Therefore, the guidance we get needs to be renewed from age to age. The guidance we received 2000 years ago is not the guidance that suffices us today. So, although the core messages of all religions remain the same throughout history, each new teacher brings new social laws that will benefit the progress of humanity. It is essentially the same religion throughout history, but it is renewed from age to age. Just as a child doesn't stay in first grade but advances to second, third grade and eventually to university. What the first grade teacher taught was not 'wrong', it is was simply the foundation upon which the next teacher begins to elaborate on truth.

But then why, was my friend's question, does 'organized religion' cause so much disunity and dissent in the world? Surely we'd be in denial if we ignored the bloodshed that's been committed in the name of God.

That's when it occurred to me that religion is like a tree. It grows and bears fruits. These fruits are juicy and ripe. They nourish and they sustain mankind for a period of time. Then the fruit slowly withers, it falls from the tree and begins to disintegrate. It begins to smell foul. If you focus on that apple you will feel disillusioned. It is rotting, you might say and you bemoan the demise of the apple. Meanwhile, what you haven't noticed is that the seed of the fallen apple has taken root and has given birth to a new tree right next door; A new tree, which will sustain and nourish humanity again. But we don't look at the new tree. We say it's another tree. It's not the same tree. We deny it and we call it the anti-tree. We don't want to accept that it is, essentially, the same ancient tree offering us the fruits we so dearly need.

And that is our eternal challenge. For to recognize the new tree when it grows requires detachment from preconceived notions and a spirit of independent search - something we sorely lack in society!

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