Understand first, before being understood

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Communication is one of the most important skills we learn in life. Most of our time awake, we spend communicating: reading, writing and talking. What most of us don’t fully master, however, is listening.

Most of the people communicate with the intent to be listened to, to be understood. When we listen to other people, we listen with the intent to respond, to give advice and we often judge. But when we listen, do we really try to understand what the other person is saying? Are we trying to put ourselves in their position?

Listening to someone else with the intention to understand them is called ‘empathic listening’. According to Rogers, the state of empathy is to perceive the internal frame of reference of another person with accuracy and with the emotional components and meanings as if one were the other person without losing the ‘as if’ condition. In other words, to sense the other person’s hurt or pleasure without losing the recognition of ‘as if I were hurt’. If this quality is lost, it will become a state of identification. He furthermore states that it means entering the perceptual world of another. It involves being sensitive, and temporarily living in the other person’s life, without making judgments. One needs to let go of personal values and paradigms and listen without prejudice. It means translating someone’s words and signs into meaning, it is an experience of the conscious behind the outward communication (Rogers, 1975).

In other words, we need to step out of our own paradigm and try to look at situations from the other person’s perspective. When we do this, without being judgmental and without having the urge to think in an autobiographical way, we will be able to communicate on a higher level.

In my opinion, a lot of problems between people (relationships, friendships, family) can be resolved when we try to understand each other better. To listen to each other before we want to bring our own opinion across. Take for example parents, fighting custody battles. Both parties are so concerned about being right, about getting what they want, that they don’t listen to each other. They end up hating each other, making one another’s lives miserable and as difficult as possible. Wouldn’t things be easier if in such situations, people would talk to each other, listen to each other and to try to place themselves in the other’s shoes? The same goes for conflicts between countries. Each party is so convinced of their own ‘truth’, that they do not want to listen to the other. They do not want to take the time to understand what the other party feels and thinks.  We are all so convinced of our own truths, that we consider everyone who believes in a different ‘truth’ to be stupid or closed minded. But aren’t we all, in a way?

One could say that this happens when we talk about ethical issues as well, such as: abortion, climate change, power, homosexuality, religion and war. We all have our own opinions about these subjects, and in discussions we are often so preoccupied with getting our own point across, we forget to listen and try to understand where the other person is coming from. Why do they think what they think? What is their paradigm?

According to Covey (1998) in order to be understood we need to speak with credibility (ethos), understanding (pathos) and reason (logos). Being honest and sincere will make people more willing to listen. It is also important to understand the things you say from different perspectives and points of view.

I think in order to influence other people, one has to be aware of one’s values and principles, and live according to them. In this way, things we do and say are in line with who we are. The mere fact of showing others how you live your life and explain things to them when they ask, can influence others around us. When we communicate with others, these principles and values shine through as well, which makes us more reliable in their eyes, someone who’s opinion they can trust and value. In this way we are more likely to get people to listen to our point of view. Trying to understand situations from different perspectives, and looking at it from the other person’s frame of reference, can make us aware of how we can talk to them in the most effective manner. Some may find directness offending or threatening, whereas others may appreciate it. I think that we learn most from people who do not think exactly the way that we do. Different perspectives on topics can give a more complete picture and can lead to better understanding of the subject as well as the other person.

In order to bring peace to the world, we need to learn more about each other. We need to learn about people who are different, we need to accept these differences and learn. If we try to understand others, try to look at things from their perspectives, I think the earth will be a much better place.

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Australia: Same-sex marriage shot down by High Court

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Yesterday I came across a column by Holly Throsby (musician), which was shared on Facebook, about the recent developments in Australia concerning same-sex marriages. The article left me feeling both angry and frustrated.

As you may have heard, same-sex couples were allowed to get married in the capital area of Canberra for five whole days, until the Australian High Court ruled that the 27 marriages that occurred during that time are invalid. According to them, the federal Marriage Act, which does not permit same-sex marriages, takes precedence over the local law that permitted it.

Now I am not a big fan of marriage in the first place, I think it’s an old-fashioned institution (I’ll discuss that some other time ;)). The fact remains that it’s an heart wrenching situation for the couples that ‘tied the knot’ and will see their marriage been annulled. It is even more cruel because the lawmakers KNEW the local law would be invalid. In my eyes, this ruling is a step backwards. Where many other countries are finally changing laws in favor of same-sex couples, Australia seems to be stuck in time.

In my own country (The Netherlands), same-sex marriages have been permitted since 2000. This means that gay couples can enjoy (largely) the same legal rights and obligations as any other couple. In my eyes, as it should be. I agree with the fact that, not allowing these couples to get married is a violation of human rights. Despite of my own view on marriage in general, all people should have equal rights and opportunities. Love is love.

As I wrote in a previous blog (gay marriage), all these different legislations in different countries concerning same-sex marriages, civil partnerships etc. lead to confusing and conflicting situations. Having different laws and legislations WITHIN the same country, as is the case in the US and was the case in Canberra, leads to even more conflicting and heart-wrenching situations. Which is exactly why I don’t think (at the moment) there are many advantages in getting married when being in a same-sex relationship.

The positive thing about cases like this, is that it again opens up the debate around the topic. A topic that is still a huge issue to so many people. Why? It beats me really..

Limits to growth: A Letter to all consumers

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Dear consumers,

Nowadays, our world is faced with many problems such as climate change, growing population and the economic crisis. Me and my Professor Elena Cavanaro, used to have many discussions during my years at university and one of our favourite subjects was our economic system, and how it is not containable.

One of the main problems with our economic system is that it cannot continue to grow forever. However we still believe that it can. The idea that we can overcome this economic crisis is the clearest evidence of it.

In their report to the Club of Rome, in 1972, Meadows et al. say that: “The earth is finite. Growth of anything physical, including the human population and its cars and buildings and smokestacks, cannot continue forever (p.7).” However, our world was, and still is, characterized by exponential industrialization and population growth.

In the same report, the Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT) presented a number of possible scenarios of the world’s future. They based their research on five factors; accelerating industrialization, population growth, availability of food, depletion of non-renewable natural resources and degradation of the environment (pollution). Their conclusions were disturbing! If the growth of these five factors is unchanged, the world will collapse before the year 2100.

The problem is that many people (including economists and consumers) believe that the ecological system (natural resources and the capacity to absorb waste) is part of the economic system. They believe that any scarcity in resources can be altered by technology. One of the best examples for this are the use of GMOs (Genetic modified organisms). However, it is becoming more and more evident that this is not the answer to our growing problems (health problems, extinction of bee populations).

Furthermore, the general belief is that nothing has value unless it has economic value. For example: a tree is worth nothing until we put ‘man hours’ in it by making a chair. A person or animal does not have any value unless it has economic value (meat/leather, work). However, the trees in the tropical rainforests provide us with invaluable services. They produce oxygen and help absorb the pollution. If we would try to reproduce the services these forests provide, it would cost a staggering amount of 300 trillion pound sterling YEARLY according to Lovelock. This would mean that its value is many times higher than if we would use the land for agriculture.

In order to solve our crisis. We need a paradigm shift, and realize that the ecological system is not part of the economic system, but the other way around! We (as consumers) need to realize that if the whole (the ecological system) is limited, then  one of its parts cannot grow forever. Furthermore, a part cannot grow beyond a certain size without causing irremediable damage to other parts of the whole (Cavagnaro and Curiel, 2012). In other words, in a closed system of finite capacity, infinite growth of a subsystem is impossible without causing a collapse of the entire system (Meadows, et al., 1972; Cavagnaro and Curiel, 2012)

If economic thinking in general, and the free-market economy in particular, are the cause of world collapse they cannot be its cure. We need to change our way of thinking and find different solutions to our problems. We need to shift away from thinking that we can keep on consuming more than we need. We need to stop throwing away things that do not need replacement. Instead, we have to live in a more sustainable way.

WE as consumers (individuals) have the power to change organisations, which in their turn will change society as a whole.

Kind regards,

A concerned citizen of the Earth

Further reading:

Cavagnaro, E., Curiel, G.H. (2006). Leadership from within, key intergrative factors for sustainability at three levels. Published as Cavagnaro, E. & Curiel, G.H. (2006). “Leadership e i tre livelli di sostenibilità (TLS©)”, in Impresa e responsabilità sociale, Persona, Imprese e Società 6 a cura di G. Rusconi e M. Dirigatti, ACLI, Milano

Cavagnaro, E. and Curiel, G. H. (2012) The Three Levels of Sustainability. Sheffield. Geenleaf Publishing Limited

Meadows, D.H., Meadows, D. I., Randers, J., and Behrens, W.W. (1972). The Limits to Growth: A Report to The Club of Rome. Retrieved from http://www.clubofrome.org/docs/limits.rtf

On Monsanto and GMOs

Religion and Homosexuality

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The aim of this blog post is in no way to offend people who are religious, but I simply want to respond to the many hurtful things that are said about homosexuals by religious leaders and believers around the world. Many of their arguments against homosexuality are based on verses and stories that can be interpreted in several ways. Also, some of these verses ban a lot of things that we do anyway. I will first start with a short overview of a number of religions and their views on homosexuality, after that I will try to go deeper into a few stories and verses that are often quoted pro and anti-gay.

The way in which homosexuality is viewed varies greatly amongst religions and across time and place. Currently, most of the larger religious doctrines see it as something negative. This can range from discouraging homosexual activity to even execution. Notwithstanding their view, religious people often look into texts and traditions for advice on this subject. Even though there are continuous debates about the correctness of translations and interpretations of these texts.

In many cultures, myths, folklore and sacred texts we can find themes of same-sex relationships and homosexuality. Many myths even include homosexuality, bisexuality and transgenderism as mythic experiences and some are even called ‘queer’ due to the fact that they reject the heteronormative binary of gender and sexuality.

Hinduism knows many myths with examples of gods that change gender or manifest as another gender in order to have same-sex relationships. Also, the general belief is that non-gods undergo sex changes as curses and blessings by the gods or as the outcome of reincarnation. In general, the Hindu religion has quite a positive view on homosexuality and does not condemn it. The Chinese mythology is very rich of homosexual stories. The pre-Taoist and pre- Confucian myths include a lot of gods and divine beings that are associated with homosexuality, bisexuality and transgenderism. Confucian and Taoist (later incorporated Buddhism) myths also know countless of stories with similar themes, although Confucius mainly taught about political and social issues, he did not write much about heterosexuality nor homosexuality.

Within Christianity, most officials view homosexuality as a sin and state that the Bible condemns it. However, nowadays there are continuous debates about the extent in which the Bible mentions it, and whether it is indeed condemned or not.  Passages from the Bible that are often used to argue against homosexuality are Leviticus and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Though other interpreters suggest that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah may not refer to homosexuality at all, but rather to ‘abusive sex’, inhospitality, lack of charity and do not condemn loving and committed same-sex relationships. Furthermore, Jesus does not mention the subject at all, but only addresses the inhospitable behaviour towards the visiting Angels in Sodom. Also, the ten commandments do not mention homosexuality either.

Leviticus says about the subject:

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However many say these two verses should be put in the context of the Holy code of purity, which was meant to distinguish the behaviour of the Israelites from the Canaanites.

Other things that are banned, according to Leviticus include; getting haircuts and grooming ones beard; playing football; eating pig; wearing polyester (or any other fabric blends); fortune telling; getting tattoos; pulling out (anti-conception); divorce; letting someone without testicles into church; wearing gold; eating shellfish (and many more animals) and; it is also forbidden for a wife to defend her husband.

Now I know that many of the above things are done by many people, including many Christians, because Leviticus (Old Testament) is not really seen as law. But then my question is, why, if all the other bans are ignored, focus so much on the part that mentions homosexuality? Why can we not let that one slide either? Especially since Jesus obviously did not find it very important and neither is there any mention of it in the ten commandments.

Lastly, I think there are better things to focus on that are mentioned such as that we ‘shall not murder’ and we ‘shall not steal’. Also, isn’t God the one that judges? I don’t think that it is up to us 😉

Picturing myself on a naughty step: Christian Domestic Discipline

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Right so here I am, checking my Twitter feed (as you do) when my eyes catch a tweet about an article on ‘Christian Domestic Discipline’ (CDD). As I think in images, all I can do is picture myself, sitting on the ‘naughty step’ after not cleaning right. Curious as I am (about anything religion) I open the link and start reading.

A domestic discipline (DD) marriage is one in which one partner (the husband) is given authority over the other and has the means to back up that authority with corporal punishment, including spanking, time-outs and loss of privileges. Thank God (pun intended) the website of CDD provides us with some ‘handy’ tips too, such as:

“When using the hand, or a small, short implement, such as a switch or small “hairbrush”-type paddle, over-the-knee positioning can work quite well” (www.christiandomesticdiscipline.com)

Apparently it is quite the trend amongst Christian couples and there is a website and 54- page document that explain the basic principles and practices. The writers (Clint and Chelsea: a CDD couple) describe the movement as follows:

“Domestic discipline is the practice between two consenting life partners in which the head of the household (HoH) takes he necessary measures to achieve a healthy relationship dynamic; the necessary measure to create a healthy home environmental and the necessary measures to protect all members of the family from dangerous or detrimental outcomes by punishing the contributing, and thus unwanted, behaviors for the greater good of the family.”   

According to the bible, they say, the man is dominant and the wife submissive. The passages they use are Ephesians 5: 22-24 which say:

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In other words: the wife is submissive to her husband as she is to God. However, nowhere in the Bible (yes I have read it) can I find anything that says the Lord encourages men to use violence towards their wives. Maybe I just misinterpret the whole thing, I’m not much of a church- goer, so who am I to know all this, right? The second verse mainly says (in my own interpretation) that the husband is head of the family, like Jesus is the head of the church. Again, nowhere in the Bible can I find any passage about Jesus using violence towards anyone, not even his enemies. On the contrary, the verses that follow (25-26) explicitly say that a man is to love his wife, the way Jesus loved the church. He even died for it, didn’t he.

According to the website of CDD men and women are different, not only physically but also in the way they think and sin. Apparently we (women), mainly have issues with trust and authority which is exactly why the man has to discipline his wife. Funnily, nothing is said about how men sin, and how they should be disciplined by their wives when they misbehave. Now I am not saying there are no differences, but I think this way of thinking is way too black& white and mainly socially constructed (I’ll save this for another blog though).

Someone who has written quite a lot about power relations and whose work I quite admire is Michel Foucault. He says that “power is exercised only over free subjects, and only insofar as they are free”. Later on in the same essay he writes ‘“freedom disappears everywhere power is exercised”. Now the reason why I am quoting Foucault in this blog, is that these kind of relationships only work when the relationship is equal, and both parties are equally free. It seems to me that in that case, the women should be able to discipline their husbands too, for them to be equally free.

The only way, I think, for any power relationship (it’s what a CDD marriage is) to work, is when one is completely willingly submitting to the other. For example when a student submits to the knowledge of the teacher. On the other hand, Foucault also mentions that the teacher should be open to advice and corrections of the student.

Obviously it’s not my place to judge (only God does that), but in many cases, this is just a way of justifying abusive behaviour. I don’t find any evidence in the Bible, or anywhere else, that the scripture should be used to oppress anyone.

What IS clear to me now, is why many Christian people are so afraid of same-sex marriages weakening traditional marriage. I guess it can be pretty difficult in a same-sex relationship to determine who should submit to who.

Concluding from what I have read on the website and in many articles, in CDD marriages, men are privileged over women. Something I find hard to call a ‘marriage’, which in my eyes should be based on mutual respect and understanding. A relationship in which both parties can talk about their differences and solve these without violence. But well, that is my humble opinion.

Gay marriage!

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I know I said in my last blog post that the next few posts would focus on several topics I discussed in my thesis. However, the rulings of the supreme court concerning DOMA and PROP8 in the US really made me want to write something about marriage equality and gay civil rights. So here it goes 😉

Today’s world is surrounded by many controversies, such as; climate change, animal welfare, euthanasia and abortion. One of the most discussed issues however, is same-sex marriage and it appears that no one is able to come to a mutual agreement on these issues. We could say that the discussion concerning the legalisation of same-sex marriage is one of the most contested topics in Europe as well as the United States. It gets even more complicated and unclear in cross-border situations, due to the fact that legislations differ greatly between different countries . One of the questions raised concerning the legal recognition of same-sex relationships is whether it is possible for these couples to obtain a legal status that provides them with rights and obligations. In my opinion, a number of countries have positively answered this question by introducing legal institutions such as registered partnerships and civil unions that are, more or less, similar to marriage. A few other countries allow same-sex couples to marry (including my own).

International rules and regulations concerning cross-border relationships are mainly based on national law. This can lead to confusing and frustrating situations as some countries may not recognise these relationships, while others do. In some countries same-sex marriage is legal, but these may not be in another country. However in Europe, this may change, as new rules on a number of aspects are currently being prepared by the European legislature. These laws will be binding on all member states of the European Union

A number of arguments supporting gay marriage are for instance, that denying same-sex couples the right to get married is a violation of civil rights. Furthermore it would standardize rules and regulations concerning inheritance, responsibilities and benefits (medical, joint ownership, medical decisions) and it reduces the economic burden of income taxes. In addition, supporters of gay marriage also say that it would increase the number of child adoptions. Allowing these couples to get married encourages people to have strong family values and it contributes to family stability and it is said that the STD rates among married homosexuals are lower than among non-married couples. Allowing same- sex couples to get married would furthermore, make it possible for someone to visit and support their partner in case one of them is hospitalised. In contrast, the main arguments against gay marriage are that many religious people consider homosexuality to be a sin and that it should not be encouraged. It is also said that allowing same-sex couples to get married would weaken the definition of traditional family values and that it would weaken the definition of marriage.

I am both amused as well as frustrated that these people are often a lot more tolerant towards things such as getting haircuts, eating shrimp and pork meat et cetera (the same verse: Leviticus).

One of the biggest problems of having such diverse laws and regulations amongst countries is that for example a Dutch same-sex marriage might be recognized in Spain, but not in Italy.  Also, the English civil partnerships, nor the German Lebenspartnerschaft will be recognized in Poland and Ukraine. Member states are not obliged to recognize a registered partnership if this institution is not available in that country. This can lead to problems, for example, when a same-sex married couple is on holiday in Poland and one gets into an accident. Since their marriage is not recognized (nor does the country offer a similar scheme), hospital visitation can be refused to the other spouse. Also, medical decisions can often not be made. In the case of death (by a crime), the partner of the deceased has no right to claim damages in the country where the crime took place, if they do not recognize him or her as a legal spouse.

In my opinion gay marriage, at the moment, does not have any ‘real’ advantages. Simply because of all these different laws and regulations. I do believe that everyone should have the right to marry whoever they want and have the same rights and benefits as any other (married) couple. Today’s rulings are one more step in the right direction!