I bought a small Christmas tree today. I think it’s the first time I’ve done it, but I’ve always loved the Christmas holiday. It puts everyone in a good mood. For me, it’s a symbol of the immense joy that the birth of a child brings to a family. It’s also the celebration of a person from the Middle East... like me! I love the idea that this festivity lets the Middle East shine bright across the globe.
Today, just like yesterday and the day before, I say thanks to life. I’ve done this for quite a few years now, every day and many times a day, in fact. I am so grateful for all the gifts it brings me... loving parents – wonderful parents – a happy childhood and teenage years in Iran and a fulfilling and full adult life in Belgium, where all the doors have always been open to me. I feel very privileged, so “Thank you, Life”!
On November 14th this year I had my birthday: 40 + 13 years of age.
On November 13th this year 130 people were killed arbitrarily in a city an hour and a half away from my home. Every day for the last 3 years, today, just like yesterday and the day before, at least 130 people have been killed in 3 countries 3,000 kilometres away from my home. Every day, for over 30 years, more than 130 children die of hunger somewhere in the world, today, just like yesterday and the day before. Is this normal? No, no, and no again. None of these tragedies is normal or acceptable. Is there a link between these three events? I think there is. It is down to the increasing injustice in the world. I am convinced that the human race makes up a single body, and when a part of it suffers through flagrant and appalling injustice it causes pathologies elsewhere, in that same body, in other members of that same human race. I also think that all of us, the six billion people on the planet, are responsible for all of us. We are not guilty as such, but we are responsible for these events through our indifference. Yes, our indifference, our inaction.
As the Persian poet Saadi put it so well... the words can be seen at the entrance to the United Nations building in New York:
بنی آدم اعضای یک دیگرند که در آفرينش ز یک گوهرند
چو عضوى به درد آورد روزگار دگر عضو ها را نماند قرار
The human race is a single whole, one creation, a unique and precious stone. When fate causes one of its members to suffer, all of its members are deeply harmed.
Is it normal that I should live in a house? That I have running water, heating and electricity? Yes, it is. But what about the homeless? No, that’s not normal. Everyone, either in Belgium or anywhere else on our blue planet should be able to benefit from these things. We are all responsible, yes, all of us.
Is it normal that I was able to go to university, that I have a decent job and can get on in life? Yes, quite normal. And I thank life for that. But does everyone have these opportunities... the chance to study and realise themselves through their own abilities, passing through all the open doors? No, not all the doors are open to everybody, and sometimes there is not even a door to push open... and that is not normal.
Is it normal that I have lived in a community where my parents’ culture – Iranian culture – was always valued? Yes, that’s normal. Every human being needs self-esteem, to feel that his or her culture and origins are appreciated. Is this the case of all the communities in Belgium? Do we, as a society, do enough so that all the communities in Belgium can feel proud of their culture of origin, the culture of their parents and their ancestors, including everyone’s language and religion? No, and that is not normal. Do we strive enough for ‘unity in diversity’ to be a deep-seated notion in our hearts and minds? To understand the importance diversity has in the survival of the human race, whether it be on the genetic, cultural or spiritual level? I think it was the 19th-century Iranian philosopher and writer Mirza Hossein Ali Noori who first spoke about the idea of ‘unity in diversity’ and made it a life principle. The notion has since become the slogan of the European Union, and I find that amazing. Yes, I am really proud that the thinking of one of my compatriots has found such a foothold in Europe.
Even so, we are not doing enough for diversity to be accepted as the norm, as something that becomes part of our daily routine in Belgium, and that is not normal either.
My father used to say: “The biggest problem in the world is that people don’t love each other”, and that is probably why he dedicated his life to fighting prejudice based on race, gender and religion, and also against the extremes of poverty and wealth. It is probably why my parents also taught me to love everyone, with no distinctions or exceptions, through their words and – above all – their actions. I think they were right.
The human heart is so important. Emotions are so important. The human race needs a peaceful heart, and pleasant emotions that drive it to work for the well-being of everyone, in a sense of joy and pleasure.
I don’t feel integrated in Belgium because I am familiar with the Constitution or the federal system. No. It’s about feeling. It’s because I don’t feel apart from my fellow citizens. Yes, I’m Iranian, and yes, I have had a positive emotional experience in Belgium. I am both very proud of my parents’ culture and happy to be living in Belgium, more than happy, indeed. It’s not a case of ‘me’ and ‘the others’. We are all part of a single and unique ‘us’.
For me, integration is not a matter of learning what ‘citizenship’ is through theory or books; it is about living it on an emotional level. True, it is important to know the law, for example, that inciting people to hatred is punishable by law in Belgium. Nevertheless, to really exercise that citizenship it is very important to feel comfortable about oneself, to feel appreciated and to be happy to be here, to feel at home, listened to, understood and generally have positive feelings.
I think it is high time to work on the emotions, on the inner world of the human being... well, the essential, as I see it. That is precisely my project for life.
What I am really passionate about is our well-being. It’s what makes me really happy in life, when people feel comfortable with themselves. And that’s what I plan to do, set up a project that would last for 30 years (yes, the figure ‘3’ again!) to work on well-being in schools, for pupils, teachers and all the other stakeholders in the educational community, through a very simple tool: emotional education, developing creativity, harmonious coexistence and general well-being, for both pupils and teachers. It is basically a strategy of combating violence, in schools and in society in general. We all want to combat violence, right? We really need to take an interest in the inner lives of our fellow citizens, and in our emotions, so why not start in the schools? I think the time has come for schools to teach us human, relational and communication skills that will help us throughout our lives.
What is ‘emotional education’? It’s about learning to express emotions, learning empathy, learning how to work with other people in a team, having self-esteem, communicating in a kind way, handling our conflicts positively and learning to assert oneself in a friendly manner. All these skills will not only help us to improve learning at school, they will increase our levels of well-being and harmonious coexistence, helping to prevent violence in schools and society in general. All these skills will be useful to young people throughout their lives. They will help them in their studies, make them feel better and, in the final analysis, contribute to their happiness and the general well-being of society in general.
No, I haven’t become a terrorist. Because I have experienced unity in diversity, self-esteem, working with others collaboratively and, above all, the love, goodness and kindness of my fellow citizens in Belgium. I have felt pleasant emotions and have decided to be happy and take pleasure from dedicating myself to what really motivates me. I think it is up to all of us to make an effort to bring about the well-being of our fellow citizens, in Belgium and all over the world.
Well, I now have my project: “The integration of emotional education in schools”.
What about you?
By the way, I almost forgot: I would like to sincerely thank... the cats! Which ones? Persian, obviously! What else?!
Brussels - State of Emergency, 27 November 2015