Declaration of Love to the Children and the Parents of this World

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Here I tried an adaptation of Bettina Wegner’s song lyrics “Kinder” (“Children”). Please listen to the original at the end of the text.

Children

They have tiny hands
With fingers so little
We must never beat them
They may break, so brittle.

Are such tiny feet
With toes so slight
We must never step on them
They won’t grow up right.

They have such small ears
So sharp and so clear
We must never shout at them,
Make’em fear what they hear.

With such lovely mouths
Talk straight, not round about
We must never shut’em up
Fear the truth, it comes out.

They have such clear eyes
They allow everything,
We must not blindfold them
Nor block sight of good things.

They are such small souls
So open and so free,
We must never torment them
Lose this treasure’s key.

They have such a small spine
Not defined yet or clear.
Must never bend or break it
It’ll bring them to tear.

Straight and clear people
Would be a nice goal.
Hence people with no backbone
We’ve too many to behold.

The German Original:

“Kinder”

On Communities Now and Then

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For thousands of years people lived in communities. It was simply impossible to survive alone. In the community, usually a small group, people helped each other to survive. The rules and regulations were fixed.
When members trespassed a community rule they were confronted by honorable elders and a solution was found to reestablish balance. Even if there was a dispute which led to injury of another person, a way was found to make amendments to the injured. Only the most severe offenses against the community would lead to exile.

In modern communities rules and regulations still remain a vital part of our social structure, likewise, help for survival is granted, especially in European countries with social aid systems. The rules and regulations are more complex now, however. There are entire legal systems dedicated to overseeing these issues.

In ancient communities the members used to feel bad conscience when violating the rules and regulations of their group. The bad conscience was accompanied by the fear of being expelled and exiled. An exiled member would find it very difficult to survive alone. Being expelled was equivalent to being sentenced to death.
Nowadays people are being expelled from society when sent to prison which many times means their (social) death, as well.

Today it is possible to live without active participation in any community life and still receive social aid. The dissociation of material support from human relationships seems dangerous to me. There are reports about people who have been lying dead in their homes for months before being discovered. Why? Since their bank accounts had enough money to keep paying their rent, nobody missed them.

But there are also limitations to what communities can offer: Since our society lives a life alienated from nature the rules made by modern communities lack the strength of the ancient ones. What if a particular community had cruel practices? What if a member wanted to leave because s/he felt that the rules of the community were out of sync with his/her inner truth?

As much as being expelled from community could previously mean being sent to death, in contemporary communities the opposite case, the voluntary breaking out, might be punished by death as well. Such a break out is then considered as treason. Then we hear about brothers or uncles taking revenge on their sisters or nieces who did not agree to an arranged marriage, tragic stories we can read about such cases in the newspaper.

Personally, apart from my own, wonderful, extended family, I have chosen my own “community”, a group of likeminded people who don’t live physically together but whom I stay in constant mental and emotional contact with. I strongly feel a part of this community, at the same time I would meet no external difficulties if I ever decided to quit and move on.

6.8 kg per Day

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While sitting back on one of the comfortable seats of Eurocity 155 train that connects Salzburg with Munich, I started browsing a women’s magazine. It was Sunday evening. Behind us was a fabulous week-end shared with extended family. The children were happy to have seen grandma and great-grandma (who repeatedly beat me at Rummy) and now we were on our way back home.

The magazine at first glance seemed to be nothing special. One of those dealing with fashion, diets, relationships, and cooking recipes. One of those you quickly pick up on a train station when there’s only five minutes left till the departure of your train. A magazine merely purchased for relaxation and possibly some light entertainment.

However this time I was really surprised. Among the 15 articles at least 5 were interesting. One that especially caught my attention was titled: “How green was your day?”

“Hmm, what is this about”, I thought as I started reading. It stated that in order to keep Mother Earth alive – long term, every human was allowed to produce a CO2 emission of 6.8 kg per day. But how can we fully comprehend the implications just by hearing this number? At first, I could not grasp the big picture. The article gave a few explanations: When you drive in your VW Golf for 64 km, you have used up your daily healthy quota; equally if you use 45 diapers or buy 37 roses from Kenya, or if you eat 1.8 kg of milk chocolate (God beware!). The same rule apply if you buy a pair of jeans and toss them after only 5 days.

The article gave additional examples that would go a long way in helping us to understand whether we were within our limits or not. It divided fundamental activities of our lives into four categories:
1. At Home
2. Shopping
3. Eating and Drinking
4. Moving Around
Each activity was assigned a certain amount of points. If we remained below 100 points per day, it claimed, we were good consumers; we didn’t exceed the 6.8 kg of CO2 emission.

1. At Home: No surprise, heating and dryers consumed most energy. So we should switch off everything we don’t need and consider drying our laundry in the sun (weather permitting).
2. Shopping: The longer we use the items we purchase the better. We should try to avoid wasteful transactions. Imported goods produce more pollution than locally produced ones (although they might be cheaper).
3. Eating and Drinking: The shorter the distance from the place of production/ harvest to the store the better. The less processed food the better. Wait a minute; I have heard that before… Right! I have heard that already in connection with healthy nutrition: Seasonal fruit and veggies are best for the body, as well as freshly cooked food.
4. Moving Around: I’m sure you’ve guessed already that walking or riding a bike causes less pollution (although they are more energy consuming for ourselves; on the bright side fitness is anyway needed, isn’t it?) Riding a motorcycle or going by train does not raise our quota excessively; the same can not be said for flying or driving luxurious vehicles.

The author of the article claimed: “You might notice that on the days you produce less CO2 emission you feel more relaxed!”

Well, I will watch that for myself and see if it is true!

http://www.eingutertag.org/

On Women in Technology (and Other Male-Dominated Fields)

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Last month Ramesh and I attended the “SQL Day Poland” conference in the beautiful city of Wroclaw. The conference also organized a “Women in Technology Panel” where I was invited to participate. The discussion was quite lively, touching many topics from work environment down to education and upbringing. I liked that the women almost exclusively shared from their personal experience and did not give theoretical lectures on the topic.

After our return the subject still remained very much in my mind and I was trying to distill one major female issue from the past 10 years I have worked in the IT field.

What was most prominent in my observation of male and female colleagues was the manner in which they would pursue the advancement of their respective careers. I have seen men shamelessly ask for training, promotions and bonuses, while women on the other hand, would think twice or thrice as to whether such demands had merit and would choose an ideal time to approach their managers if at all.

Twenty or thirty years ago it was still possible to work exclusively for one company life-long. People had plenty of time to make a name for themselves. Plenty of time to ponder when to ask for training, a raise in salary or promotion.
Nowadays people stay in one job for two or three years and then move on. Either within the same company if it is big enough (Microsoft, IBM, SAP…) or they move to a different employer altogether. The time to get the most out of our current employment is much shorter now than it used to be in the past, especially in the IT field.
This general acceleration forces us to pursue our goals more aggressively. The term commonly used is “proactivity”, to proactively shape our career and future.

Why is there such a gap in proactivity between men and women?

1. Women often lack awareness of the necessity for proactive behavior, especially when they were brought up conservatively.

2. The fear of rejection: Women (and shy men) might fear rejection. I can share from personal experience that a less attached attitude to the outcome of any proactive step will work to your advantage. Our careers never depend solely on one person. So, if we approach someone with a request and it is denied, we have only lost one option out of many. We can approach others or change our surroundings thereby allowing us access to a new path to reach our goal.

3. The concern of what others might think if we suddenly become proactive. That’s one of my favorite topics. A good friend of mine once said: “Worried about what others might think about you? Relax and don’t flatter yourself! Others are far more concerned about their unpaid bills and constantly nagging partners, about their children’s education and their own retirement plan. How much time do you think is left to think about YOU?” Well, usually not much (unless they’ve got a secret crush).

Joking aside, if I may sum it up: You can gain far more by “shamelessly” approaching people with your requests than you could lose. Looking back, I can say that 75% of my requests were fulfilled. Wherever I hesitated and waited for the other person to approach me the outcome was pretty much the opposite. With passive behavior I was only successful about 25% of the time.

Why not be proactive more frequently? It is fun to come out of one’s shell and make oneself heard! (If you are not quite sure how it feels to make yourself heard I’ll give you a few Flamenco lessons ;o)

Good luck to all of us!

On Understanding

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What comes to your mind when someone asks you what is necessary to properly understand another person?
To speak the same language?
I agree that sharing the same language can help to understand each other better. However, there are plenty of situations in which we can make ourselves understood with only a minimum of words.

I shall never forget my uncle Walter and his wife Heide who travelled the world by hitch hiking. Walter is over 80 now, Heide over 70, which makes them the oldest “vagabonds” I have ever heard of. Their insatiable love of adventure attracted much curiosity which made them frequent guests of various talk shows, but that is not the reason why I am mentioning them here.

When I was a child and I heard that they had come back from a travel, I would run over to their house, impatient to hear about their adventures, to see their slides. The thing that amazed me most was how they could orientate in a culture without speaking the local language.
My aunt used to smile every time I brought up that point, and say “Look, as always, we learnt how to say ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’ and ‘thank you’, the rest we managed to express with gestures.” “And that worked?” I asked. “Yes, that worked fine. It was funny, sometimes it took a while but we always finally got what we wanted!” my aunt replied.

Now try to imagine a totally different scenario, try to remember the last time you fought with your partner. Most probably you did speak the same language but understanding did not happen. For some reason your partner seemed not to understand you.
On the other hand, what s/he answered to you did not help solve the issue, either. Depending on your character and the importance of the issue you might have finally given up, slammed a door, broken a vase or even started crying. Or, you might have decided to quit the battlefield, to leave the stand-off, to give it a break.

What happened? Two people who know each other well and who speak the same language could not make themselves understood, hmm…

I observed that such discussions were usually emotionally charged. The words did not reach the other person “neutrally”, they or previous situations in which they had been used triggered stressful emotions.

I remember when a friend told me the story of his father, who trembled every time another person would greet him with a friendly “hi” raising his arm to accompany the greeting. The friend’s father had escaped from Nazi Germany as a child, all memories he had from that time were people in brown shirts walking around, shouting “Heil!”, lifting their arm for a “Nazi salute”. So, for his poor father the sound “hi” + arm lift remained emotionally charged, it took him decades to forget and relax.

Of course, most people we meet would have had less traumatic experiences, but still, certain words or topics might cause stress and hinder an unbiased understanding. No one exists without context, everybody has a history, and words are not perceived neutrally.

So, in order to make ourselves understood it is not just important to choose the right words, we also need the proper receiver, a person who would be able to “decode” our message correctly. Many times that correct decoding depends on similar experience. That’s why we sometimes say “we just clicked”, “we were on the same wavelength” and so on.

On the other hand, that does not mean that we can only communicate properly with people who underwent similar experience like us, but it might take some extra effort to understand the other person’s view. That might be especially the case with intercultural encounters.

One more story in that context, a friend repeatedly told me: “I feel so embarassed when my husband boasts about our son’s good grades. Of course, our son is diligent, he is doing very well and I am proud of him, too; but to boast about his achievements in front of others, I find that to be improper.”

When she finally took heart to discuss this issue with her husband, it came to light that the misunderstanding had to do with their respective family backgrounds. While the husband’s family had always struggled with achievements and were very expressive when they had cause to celebrate, my friend’s family, an aristocratic family, was reserved and preferred to display the elegance of understatement. The core of their conflict, it seemed, was a mere difference in family tradition. It took a while for them to find that out, but they eventually found a happy medium as their just reward.

“Love will find its way through all languages on its own.” (Rumi)

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita…

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The modern, electronic world has changed our life considerably. While previously people shared their thoughts, feelings and experiences with diaries and a few, close friends, we nowadays are more open using twitter, facebook and blogs.

I resisted this trend for about 5 years, stubbornly ignoring my friends’ invite to join facebook and follow their updates; now, as a middle-aged woman (:o) I feel generally more open to share whatsoever comes across in my life. This greater openness surely has to do with the fading fear about what others might think about me.

What I like about writing in general and blogging in particular could be summarized as follows:

1. It helps sorting thoughts. Whenever I try to understand something, putting it into words and structuring it gives me a clear perspective of my thoughts.

2. Blogging encourages interaction with others. Topics that interest us can be widely shared, adding new aspects brought in by others. By blogging we can reach people worldwide which we might not have achieved otherwise.

3. “Blog about it and then let it go!” is an uplifting way to deal with difficult experiences. Several authors have stated that writing helped them overcome childhood traumas and other unpleasant occurrences in their life. “My sentiments exactly!”

Some people state that social media are mainly for emotional exhibitionists and narcissists. I agree that some courage is necessary to step out of one’s comfort zone and share by way of social media, but by no means should they be considered solely a platform for the vain. Also, I found out that many of the experiences I thought were very personal and unique, were in fact similar to what others had experienced as well. Only by sharing I came to know!

Human experiences, hopes and fears are similar. There are cultural differences to some extent, but overall they revolve around the following:

1. Marriage/Family

2. Work/Career/Making a living

3. Health/Beauty/Emotional Wellbeing

4. Friendships/Hobbies/Work-Life-Balance

5. Safety/Security (on personal and national level)

6. Religion/Spiritual growth/How to live happily/Finding one’s life’s calling

I plan to blog on all these topics as they come to my mind.

That’s all for today, thanks for reading through!