For over a month I have been investigating the question which emerged from a simple online test: just because I know myself very well (my body, my mind and my soul) do I actually like myself too? It took me a while. It actually took me longer because my life is like a river – flooding me from all directions and I often can pretty much hardly catch my breath nowadays. And it was that very metaphor that helped me find the answer to my question.
My philosophical enquiries usually take time but thanks to the social web very often are also fast-tracked by content I stumble upon in my social streams, because I have given all the online algorithms enough to be served with the relevant stuff in return. I started seeing James Bay’s music in my feeds. OK, you would say, he is a bit of a celebrity at the moment. But I started seeing less known songs. I am also not a fan of celebrities. So last night I decided to take a hot bath and listen to his music. I did so after a little online research – checking out his YouTube channel, interviews, social comments and the like. What I got so far was an image of a man who stands his ground in a manner steady enough to avoid styling too much – in each and every video he becomes more of himself. In each and every song the meanings collide – one can someone guess the origins of his lyrics but the truth is: I can relate to each song in my very own way. And I suspect many other listeners can do the same.
So last night, in my very hot bath, next to my lovely candle, I have almost collapsed into my very deep, own self-listening to James Bay. I could not realise why I like him so much until I noticed something: I can related to what I have discovered of him: integrity, shine in his own kind and actions, uniqueness and steady, strong presence. I used to feel like that about myself. But then I thought: I AM feeling like that about myself now too. I am fully aware of my faults and mistakes, but I am also extremely familiar with my gifts, experiences, strengths and battles I have won so far. Then I thought of love. I have experienced so many types of love…me loving and me being loved. But…but there is one way I love and I am being loved which is pure, unconditional, unrestricted by life, people and all of this world: it is my love for my son and his love for me. Only a mother can understand the extent of that feeling (no offence, gentlemen, I think it’s simple down to the idea of giving life out of our own body that this bond is so strong).
So, if this is the measurement of real love – I thought – can I, do I love myself in the very same way? I am glad to admit that my conclusion was a yes. Yes, I do. But the problem still exists – for over ten years I have forgotten about that love all together. Normally realisation like that would make me very sad – last night it didn’t.
I have found a long lost friend. Me. I have remembered.
I have found a long lost lover. Me. I have remembered.
I have found a long lost soulmate. Me. I have remembered.
So today I do not regret those ten years because I have experienced clarity in what made me forget. I know now that my heart was never broken, it was lost, forgotten. I have spent last three years building safety net and walls around me because I was hurt, I suffered, I was often overwhelmed with life but also because I have realised that my purpose is to help people and with this level of vulnerability and lack of resilience I might be very bad at it.
People came and went.
Life got in the way too.
For the last few weeks I started feeling the need to share my daily struggles and my ways of dealing with those…but I didn’t write. I could not find a centre – a starting point. Because I forgot the starting point. And I do not think writing is good if it originates from marginal areas of life. Forgive me, this post is getting long so here is what I have learned:
We don’t loose our centre, our heart – we forget it; we don’t suffer – we turn a blind eye on happiness which is here, all the time; we don’t manage life – we allow it get in the way.
Today I have found a lady who sums it all up in a more witty, extremely intelligent and linguistically superb manner, so just before you classify this post as narcissist (or label it with another currently trendy word), please listen to her and afterwards grab a glass of wine, light a candle, run a hot bath and enjoy being yourself listening to an artists who reminds you who you truly are. That’s what good art is all about – reminding us about the central truths.
Thank you, thank you for reading.
I really enjoyed my trip to Gdańsk in February to host a training for Solidarity Academy.
I am really inspired by the team of Polish, Czech, Slovakian and Hungarian bloggers and journalists who worked with such commitment through a week of theory and practice and ended up with four great mini-projects. The panel discussion also prompted a great conversation between my friend and myself, later joined by Zbigniew Machej on the future of print. I know that writers and pets are not too keen to think about it. I know we all welcome the come back of printed books (US sales stats recently) but I still think it is crucial that we do consider the future of be-booksooks and printed books in our discussions. Let me explain why. It is not just my love for Lem and Gibson that defines my fascination with the future of storytelling and tech, but the actual reality of our times. We have to start making really smart choices about the way we ALLOW tech shape the future of all industries. Please don’t get me wrong – I do love progress, and I love the social web. I just fear that sometimes it is ‘not cool’ or ‘not fashionable’ to question it. But why not? Who is going to ensure that the legislations follows and protects the smart use of our inventions if not us, this generation? Who is going to decide how drones, AI and robots are going to be used? To protect or to spy on, to educate or to kill? I am not saying I have all the answers – none of us does. But we need to dare to speak up and ask those questions today and embed it within the bones of research and innovation. Today.
Parents play an important role in shaping the passions and future motivations of their daughters.
In my short talk for the Swindon edition of the International Women’s Day celebrated last Saturday I was asked to will look at the current research into the reality of modern family and challenges parents currently face in the new technological environment. I did not manage to deliver the full talk so here is everything it was supposed to contain.
First of all let’s clarify that our current public discourse about children, coding, Internet and the situation of girls is not based on informed research and facts but general assumptions, myths and often fears.
I talk to parents about safe Internet practice and in the mist of the current public though the web is dangerous and so children should not access it at all or the access should be limited.
Online gaming is addictive. Screen time is detrimental. The overall sentiment is negative.
So on one hand we have parents worrying about their children accessing the Internet. On the other children and youth growing up in a new world of tech, unable to discuss it with their parents.
On one had we have parents worried about their children’s future – education and career. On the other we have children lost without any guidance on it, because parents are struggling with a huge shift in the market due to technology too.
Which posses a risk that girls in particular might be affected.
So I suggest slightly shifting our approach from assumptions to facts and from purely negative sentiment to more balanced views. I suggest basing our parental choices on informed decisions, grounded in research done by those who understand:
(1) the web and coding,
(2) current situation of younger generations accessing the web and their motivation
(3) current and future changes in job market and career building
(4) gender issues.
(1) The Internet is changing the way we function as society and Susan Greenfield from Lincoln College, Oxford University, is conducting a lot of research on what is the state of that research. Basically we are still not sure how the web is changing us – one thing is certain: we allow it to happen. We do not think about the consequences of our online work in practical terms, we make assumptions and our research is really poor. So she is trying to change that and so should we.
I believe that as parents we need to stop making assumptions and investigate how our children work with the web and how it is impacting them – in a negative but also positive way. We need to learn the web ourselves and teach children to use it effectively, pro-actively, before their habits are shaped by the new technologies. We need to start thinking about the web in terms of passive consumption and active, aware usage.
(2) Sonia Livingstone (in London) and Danah Boyd (at MIT) are both conducting interesting research into the reality of young children and youth online. Sonia Livingstone is involved in EU research of how children access the web and what they actually do online. First of all, her EU studies with a large sample of young people and small children show that despite of our assumptions many young people are active online. The major problem is the fact that they cannot connect with their parents around those online actives, there is no dialogue. Dana Boyd’s results explain the complexity of youth online but also show that in many cases young people learn to adjust online options to their needs and learn how to remain safe forming online groups and private networks.
(3) I am not familiar with research in this area but we do see examples of initiatives and startups investigating the shift from traditional career building to the new world dominated by online presences, collaborative work and generally markets changed by the social web. Barclays and Ogilvy in the UK formed dedicated programmes to support young people in the new approach to career building where their skills become important very early on in their lives. Startup https://www.gapjumpers.me/ investigates the idea of small internships, projects and skill based hiring. Recruiters include Googling and LinkedIn research almost by default nowadays.
(4) Finally gender issues – with the Woman Equality Party in the UK the conversation around gender issues and equality is back on our agenda. Thanks to the work of Dr. Sue Black and her Techmums network coding is now thought much earlier on at schools. Startups supporting girl coders are popping up at all major coding and web events. Increasingly many tech companies look back and review their very own approach to gender too.
So what does it all mean to use parents? I know it hard to study all those areas in much dept, but we need to ensure one thing: that we do not make assumptions about the present and future of our girls but investigate the fast changing areas of technology. We really do not know how our children will become successful and what success in tech industry is going to mean for them. But what we know is that we love them, wish them well and we do have the ability to empower them today. We can motivate, we can inspire, we can encourage interest in tech, in coding, in effective usage of tech. We can teach them making informed choices. But it is only possible if we stop following public discourse but dive in a bit deeper into the actual impact of tech on our children and open up the dialogue with them.
We might not have all answers, we never will, but together with our younger one we might just work it all out. They need our support, our trust and our guidance, not judgement.
Update: In our questions to the panel we had a question about reasons why girls are not continuing with career in coding. I think there are many but I would personally like to turn the argument around and look at already existing good solutions for all fours areas of my argument and suggest that we should replicate good examples, not just focus on stating the obvious. Yes, women are still in minority in tech industry. They are still underpaid and very few become leaders. But how can we change that effectively? What are the working projects and how can we replicate them? This is what I would like to see more of in discussions about the state of girls in coding.
Big thank you to the organisers for the invitation.
Susan Cain posted an interesting little philosophy quiz on Facebook last night and I took it – that’s my way of relaxing from work – to discover that I am analytical but on the other hand sometimes might not like myself as much as I think I do. I carried this with me around today just to realize that it makes a perfect sense: I know myself so very well…but does it actually mean that I like what I know? Funny, because I assumed both are equal but they are not. So I think I will need to do a lot of my usual ‘thinking’ and ‘analysing’ to find out if I truly like myself. I will use my trip to Poland and the travel time to think about it. But how about you, friends, do you like yourself?
Ah, what a day. I guess we learn more about people when our relationship with them is put to test. I lost someone today. I was trying to be kind. I was trying to be supportive. I was trying to stay factual. All of this resulted in anger. Communication is tricky but it always depends on both sender and receiver. Running a home, son’s education and a small business equal three jobs. I run a local children club. I volunteer for a few causes. I am also preparing to study. I have no space for personal attacks in my life and I am learning the power of resilience. I refuse to surround myself with people who are untrue. I lost someone and it’s not a good feeling but I am happy to see that my resilience levels are much higher than a few years back. People who remain in my life are driven by solutions, resolutions, dialogue and willingness to remain kind. Technology – as always – can bring us even closer or divide completely: I emailed about 80 people today. One response was angry. Rest understanding, kind, supportive and super-kind. But somewhere, inside, all those kind words are just about enough to equal that one, horrible one.
I know that negative feelings hit us much harder which is why I am embracing all the good people and saying my thanks to all of them. Thank you for being here and supporting me on my journey. We are in this life together.
Grief comes in waves.
Triggered by something small, trivial, like a memory or a date. Small at first, gentle, like a small cloud on the horizon…
Then it grows in magnitude, darkens and you know that no matter what life faces you with…it is there, still…
And when the life finally awards you with a quiet moment grief takes over, spins you around, pulls under the surface (where there is hardly any oxygen, light or sound) and spits you out…
If you are lucky, you shed a tear or two.
Grief for people who are still here is unpredictable, endless, hard to comprehend or estimate. It’s hard to relate to. It provokes undefinable feelings – emptiness, but not so…
It dries the skin on our cheekbones.
It kills our sense of time.
It reminds us more of death and solitude than the dead themselves.
What is love to you?
I think about it less and less nowadays – but I used to be really fixated on it for years, really. I studied the Catholic definitions of love:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”
I studied Shakespeare’s definitions too (Romeo quoted below):
‘Love is a smoke raised with the fume of sighs;
Being purged, a fire sparkling in lovers’ eyes;
Being vex’d a sea nourish’d with lovers’ tears:
What is it else? a madness most discreet,
A choking gall and a preserving sweet.’
I studied psychologists and philosophers, Fromm (and his ‘Art of Loving’) made most sense to me:
‘Love is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise. If love were only a feeling, there would be no basis for the promise to love each other forever. A feeling comes and it may go. How can I judge that it will stay forever, when my act does not involve judgment and decision.’
I also learned about love that shakes the foundations of who we really are, stripes us of ourselves and leaves nothing behind. And so today I think of love less often, but when I do it always goes back to my parents. I guess they give us the first glimpse of love, right?
Yesterday was my Nameday. Back in Poland some of us like to celebrate the meaning of our name on days pre-defined in our calendar. 3rd of November happens to feature both my dad’s name (Hubert) and mine – both strongly connected to our heritage of woods and nature (Hubertus was the god of hunters, Sylwia – the female version of Silvanus – Celtic god of woods – was a forest fairy). And so we have always both quietly celebrated that day together. Yesterday was difficult to get through. My dad thought me many things but the practice of love was probably the most important one. I cannot really practice it the way he was teaching it to me. I can only try to remember it.
Regardless of smart definitions of love, experience and practice of it I still think love is the ability to be there, listen, but also act, give, speak and do something for the other. Fromm was right – we are all doomed to be isolated by society and seek love but forget that we need to learn to accept others but also ourselves, understand our isolation and heal first:
‘A person who has not been completely alienated, who has remained sensitive and able to feel, who has not lost the sense of dignity, who is not yet “for sale”, who can still suffer over the suffering of others, who has not acquired fully the having mode of existence – briefly, a person who has remained a person and not become a thing – cannot help feeling lonely, powerless, isolated in present-day society. He cannot help doubting himself and his own convictions, if not his sanity. He cannot help suffering, even though he can experience moments of joy and clarity that are absent in the life of his “normal” contemporaries. Not rarely will he suffer from neurosis that results from the situation of a sane man living in an insane society, rather than that of the more conventional neurosis of a sick man trying to adapt himself to a sick society. In the process of going further in his analysis, i.e. of growing to greater independence and productivity, his neurotic symptoms will cure themselves.’
I’d like to think that I learned that well by now. I’d like to think that my definition of love for people is maturing now. I’d like to think that I am where Fromm wishes me to be:
‘Immature love says: ‘I love you because I need you.’ Mature love says ‘I need you because I love you.’
How about you?
I have just finished Steve Hagen’s ‘Buddhism is not what you think’ – my first book this summer. And it is one challenging summer indeed – I have been ill for a month now, my puppy was operated and injured – needs constant attention, my son was also poorly and now my husband suffers too. Somehow the physical pain and limitations in this lovely, sunny weather test my patience less than usual. I think it is because I have finally made peace with my values and outlook on life. To understand that though I had to spot and read Hagen’s book in our local library (yes, I am one of those crazy ones who, despite Amazon shopping, still go there;)).
At the university, I had my time of experimentation and so I have also tried and tested Zen Buddhism, but somehow I needed to test many more beliefs and convictions. Today I feel that I have arrived at the point when I am at peace with myself and the world in the views represented and explained by Zen Buddhist, so I think I will embrace it even more in the near future.
Ego, attachment to matter, the suffering of guilt and longing, blindness and numbness of senses – all due to the lack of clear seeing and because of our great need to overthink everything. Yes, I know, we are those educated, sophisticated feeling mechanisms but there is so much more beyond just us – with pretty undefined boundaries of the outer and inner world. Even scientifically speaking we cannot really break down the boundaries of our bodies, surroundings, and nature easily. All those atoms, energy and change pose a challenge for our mind which cannot even be defined or confronted. Yet, if we look and see the world as it is RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW, I am sure we can be contempt, at peace, happy. Actually very often we already are!
If I look back at the last 4 weeks I cannot really complain. Yes, I have been stuck at home. Yes, I had limited access to sun and adventure – but spending time with my family, caring for them and talking about those limitations made us better, fuller, more at peace. We had quiet times, but those served us with time to think, to rest, to see our lives as they are. Right now and here perfectly fine.
“Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished” – said Dan Gilbert in his TED talk on the end of history illusion – our present image of a definite individual, not a fluid person exposed to factors of change. I think I have suffered a lot in recent years from the disparity between my ability to predict many results of changes happening to me right here and right now and reasoning of people and sources of factors causing those changes. I have seen my present self just as clearly as I can see today my future self – based on the here and now of course as I cannot predict what else awaits me. I am fascinated to see that the academic research is tapping into those so far rather unknown territories and I hope that we will all learn to handle the current changes better, as they happen before it is too late to reverse them or before we fail to enjoy their positive impact on our very own selves.
For a start just a few random thoughts:
- It’s really difficult to see or think outside of our own box.
- Sometimes we do not even realise we actually need help because we are not well.
- Very often the right solution is just few steps away but without help we are left in the dark.
You probably think I am talking about creativity, solutions to our everyday problems but actually in this case I am talking about epilepsy. See to me this particular disease belongs to the category of remote, overheard but not really one I was ever exposed to myself, so I very often tend to skip mentionings of it in mainstream media. At least I did until I met Karijn and her NGO based in Nairobi, Kenya. I have posted about their work earlier on but today I would like to share a story of one of their volunteers. This particular one made me realise that stories like this one make us more sensitive to topics we would otherwise simply ignore. So listen to it, I hope it will make you think!