Ask Kat Advice Column
After many years of working in various disciplines and industry sectors, none as a therapist, Kat is willing to tackle life's biggest (and smallest) personal questions. Email Kat your questions.
My daughter’s doctor suggests birth control pills to assist with her acne and heavy periods. She is 16 years old and I am afraid that putting her on the pill will give her the “go ahead” to have sex. Although I want to help her with her medical issues, I am being a paranoid parent. What are your thoughts?
It seems to be very common for doctors to prescribe birth control to teens for these medical issues. I suggest calling the birth control pills by its medical name, Estrogen or Mestranol for example, instead of referring to them as “birth control pills.” Then when she is taking them daily, have conversations with her about the purpose of its treatment, asking her how she is feeling with her periods, comment on her acne clearing up, etc. Perhaps staying away from the contraception aspect of the drug and focusing on the medical necessity of it may help get her mind in the right place about its purpose for her at that moment.
However, having the “sex” conversation with your daughter regularly is extremely important to do when they become teens, and hopefully you have already opened that door. If you haven’t, do so as soon as possible and emphasize condoms, not birth control pills, as the most important aspect of a safe sexual relationship. I am personally not a fan of abstinence due to the fact that having sexual attraction to another human being is natural to our physiology, but if that is a big part of your culture, faith, and spirituality, by all means make that the most important part of the “sex” conversation. Hope she feels better soon!
Often we take for granted the warm when the cold season is around, or a good pair of shoes when a lot of walking is needed. More than we should, we also take for granted our health and access to clean water, employment, and books. All over the world families are living in poverty stricken conditions typically called slums. According to World Health Organization, almost 900 million people live in slums around the world, with 90% of them in cities of developing countries. These slums are characterized by multiple forms of deprivation, and are often overcrowded and vulnerable to disease and violence.
silent tapes is a non-profit series of projects lead by Francis and Stephanie Lane, which focus on documenting the lives of people from various slums around the world and generating funds for those communities through their artistry. Their amazing photography opens us up to the world of slums, capturing their stories and moments, allowing us a glimpse into their world. Their photos make us aware of what life is like for many, which is foreign to a lot of us.
I had the privilege to talk with Francis and Stephanie Lane about their philanthropy, and they believe that through their photography they can make an impact on lives through art. Their social change organization, silent tapes, believes that all humans have the right to a dignified quality of life, which includes adequate basic needs, education, and security.
You create art to help provide needs in slums around the world. What defines a slum and what drew you both towards such compassion for them?
We will leave the literal definition of a "slum" to be googled, and say that what truly defines a slum is much more than anything we grasped prior to stepping foot into one. There is such a vast spectrum of life, and stories untold, in the slums. There are people in desperate need to be heard, and to be cared for, and anyone capable of offering a listen or a hand should do so. On a personal level, we wanted to see the truth in everything each country had to offer, and that included its richest and poorest areas. Experiencing, learning, and growing from every corner of the world, and being open and compassionate towards them, is what we are looking for.
How do families break out of life in the slums?
Aside from the unlikely event that a country's social welfare net brings the people of their country out of poverty, their best tools are education and/or small business opportunities. Micro-financing, education, and prevention of child abuse/corruption all are essential to opening possibilities to families trying to break the cycle of slum life. Gender equality would also have an immense positive impact. If the female labor force was utilized in urban areas to its full potential, it would have economic benefits that would serve well beyond those cities.
What do you think is the basis for this injustice?
Rapid urbanization as well as temporary migrations for seasonal work are just a couple factors that come to mind. There is also a lack of government policy enforcement which creates a vulnerable and stagnant situation for the people living in these conditions. An argument could be made that the current global model of capitalism causes slums to exist, not only because it drives urbanization but because it necessitates inequality in increasing the gap between the rich and poor, eroding social welfare.
When did silent tapes philanthropic work begin? How long has the organization been running?
We're approaching our one-year anniversary! Our Klong Toei project was the launch project for silent tapes, which began March 2013. Our organization works on a one-year cycle program for our selected cities. Our vision is to continue to add new areas of focus year after year, sustaining our programs for all slums through fundraising and outreach, and eventually creating an umbrella of communities all over the world which we have supported.
How do you find non-governmental organizations and communities to partner with? Is this a difficult process or are many organizations ready and willing to partner?
For our launch project, we mostly were looking for an organization that was heavily involved in the local community through grassroots projects. We wanted to make sure we were partnering with someone who had concrete, meaningful relationships with the local people, and that really were invested in helping by working together one-on-one. Additionally, we sought a specific measure of impact on the lives of the children benefitting from our partners endeavors, such as abuse prevention, health standards, and empowerment of families in the local communities. Some organizations may not be willing to partner due to legal or religious differences, but we were lucky to find the perfect match in Klong Toei.
What do you find is your biggest challenge as a social change organization?
Our biggest challenge is ensuring we are creating and supporting projects that have long-term sustainability in order to help shape a better future for people in the slums that we do our work in.
Your photography is absolutely amazing. What are you trying to capture in these images?
Thank you. We try to capture honest moments that truly identify the lifestyle of people in some of the most destitute communities in the world. Most of the time, we only come across photographs sensationalizing their lives, depicting them as unhappy or unfortunate. In our experience, this is not entirely the case.
You had great success with your first project in Klong Toei, Bangkok. Was there a moment, specific person you met, or event, where you felt silent tapes was making a difference? What has changed you the most?
There is a 5-year-old little boy who attends the day care which we support in Klong Toei. We ran into him on a Saturday afternoon, roaming about by himself in the alleyways of the slum. We suddenly realized that if he did not have the daycare to attend during the week, this innocent boy would be more susceptible to abandonment, child abuse, or other harmful activities at his tender age. He wouldn't have anybody to look after him. It is for children like him that we love and care about what we do, because everybody deserves opportunity to a better life.
What do we take more for granted, that the families from these slums cherish the most?
Opportunity and equality, across the board.
Your next project will be in Brazil. Tell us about how this place was chosen? What is your ultimate goal?
Being of Brazilian background, Stephanie's first visit to the country has been long overdue. In seeking a location for our second project, we realized it would be ideal to go to a place where not only was there urgent need for NGO's like ours, but also a familiarity for us on different cultural levels. Our project dates also are concurrent with the World Cup events, so we plan to capitalize on the consequent global attention to raise awareness of the less glamorous side of the country, i.e child prostitution, drug abuse, etc. Our ultimate goal is to have our compelling silent tapes Fortaleza project be an overwhelming success in both fundraising and public awareness in order to provide ongoing support to the children in Fortaleza.
What are some very future projects you’re the most excited for?
We are entirely focused on Brazil at the moment, since we create our projects on a yearly basis, although there are many other areas already in mind for the future! Afghanistan, Vietnam, and Africa, to name a few. Our hope is to one day also be able to partner with Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, who have inspired us with their incredible advocacy and book, Half the Sky.
Support silent tapes by visiting their website or purchasing Thought Notebook Journal Issue 2. 10% of all sales gets donated to the organization.
Society needs to evolve just as our DNA does.
Human brains are wired for categorization, thought by many to be an evolutionary advantage and a condition for rational thought. It is no surprise then that humans have classified the history of time on Earth into eras of clearly defined periods marked by some characteristic. Some eras are shorter while others span much longer time frames. A person can have eras of their own, viewing their own personal lifetime in various periods, such as being a teenager or married. Or we can view the categorization of something much larger like the timeline of the origins of our universe. In any case, what happens in the eras of any timescale defines the uniqueness of that time.
The usage of chronology for life makes sense since everything alive is evolving into something different from what it was in a prior state. In looking at the life span of the planet Earth, the home to all who are reading this, it is estimated to be 4.5-billion years old since it was birthed from a nebula of particles from our Sun during the Hadean era. Immediately after was the beginning of the Archean era, 4-billion years ago, when the Earth’s first continents were formed, then shortly after, our oceans. It was this blessing of water that created the first signs of life 3.5-billion years ago. Photosynthetic life eventually developed after falling in love with the energy of the sun and produced oxygen 2-billion years ago during the Paleoproterozoic Era. Water and oxygen together created the atmosphere 1-billion years ago during the Proterozoic era leading to complex multicellular life forming in the Cambrian era 580-million years ago.
As these complex multicellular life forms developed, events with sudden climatic changes such as an ice age, shifted the scale of physical evolution of all species of life existing at that time. Diverse hard-shelled animals first appeared 250-million years ago in the Mesozoic Era spawning the dinosaurs. When the dinosaurs became extinct, birds survived helping to develop the next set of life along with great change in the terrestrial vegetation leading up to the Cenozoic period about 65-million years ago. This time marked the proliferation of insects, and fish joining the birds in this process of proliferation. Periods of global heating and cooling over the next several million years created tectonic shifts in Earth’s continental plates and the development of land animals and their eventual migration around the globe marking the Pliocene Era 5-million years ago. Eventually animal migration allowed for the intermingling of species giving rise to a diverse set of mammals from horses to cats and homo habilis during the Pleistocene Era 2-million years ago. As homo erectus spread throughout the world 150,000 years ago, they contributed to the extinction of the large animals that they hunted. Since then, small scale climate shifts and continued migration evolved homo erectus into the humans we are today, homo sapiens. This gives our current Era of the last 11,700 years the name Holocene, dubbed “The Age of Man” as it plays spectator to most of humanity’s recorded history and the rise and fall of all its civilizations since then.
Anatomically, modern homo sapiens evolved within the last 150,000 years defining only 0.004% of Earth’s whole geographic history. While all organisms influence their environments to some degree, few have ever impacted Earth as much, or as fast, as our species has done during our short 0.004% stay. Modern humans are changing the world, ushering in a new era in geologic time, currently proposed to be called Anthropocene. This concept of a new era has been discussed and debated as the time in history where human influences became so great, that it changed the future of Earth and humanity all together. This is the first time that an era is credited to a particular species, the human.
But is this really something so dramatic? The impetus for leaps of growth in life on Earth usually include destruction then recovery. The changes currently being observed in our ecosystem are parallel with major events of past eras that developed the landscape we see today and the photosynthetic organisms that released oxygen into our atmosphere for us to breathe. The only distinction this time around is how quickly our impact has been and who is doing it. Humans have wandered the Earth for thousands of years but never has our capacity to alter the Earth’s ecosystem at a larger scale been more prominent than it is today.
When the Anthropocene Era began is under debate by scholars in various disciplines. To think about when our impact first began to alter the Earth’s ecosystem forever is surely not an easy feat to do. Geologists have been able to observe differences in rock to tell Earth’s story up to this point, but dissecting current time is harder to do since looking back is what Geologists are experts on, contemplating the present is not their specialty. From a philosophical perspective however, there was a beginning point when we became a driver instead of a passenger along the chronology of time.
Some theories based on atmospheric evidence suggest the era kicked off with the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century due to human population growth and the rise of carbon dioxide. This was a time when humans first began to play with chemical manufacturing, and the building of machines. Others connect the beginnings to earlier events, such as the rise of agriculture and the domesticating of animals with the Neolithic Revolution 12,000 years ago. This direct change from hunting and gathering resulted in societies being developed and the continued rise and falls of them since. Further, many believe that the very recent onset of our dependency on technology since the 1950s has fueled exponential growth to the point that some call it the “Great Acceleration.”
Then the Internet came, which revolutionized society like no other civilizations of the past. By building an interconnected framework around the globe, using satellites and computers to share data, we are moving energy in a coordinated manner around the Earth like never before, building our collective intelligence that can easily resemble a brain. Several trillion synapses are available in our brain for neuron communication, allowing for the processing of an enormous amount of information every minute. Our global system of communication is too processing data in amounts that are difficult to comprehend. For example, every minute email users send over 200 million messages. In the last 30 years, almost half of the world’s population used the internet connecting 2.5 billion people instantly like never before. This electronic infrastructure allows for the fundamental mathematical laws that nature follows to produce exponential growth. Perhaps we are living with the right conditions set up to allow for another boom of diversification.
Although I agree that today’s technology revolution has provided the catalyst to propel us into the next form of rapid growth and development of our species, I prefer to connect the beginning of the Anthropocene Era with the time homo sapiens’ consciousness expanded into a different form. It can be easily argued that all living things are conscious in some aspect, but many would agree that advanced consciousness like our own is unique. We broke through into a new level of consciousness that hadn’t existed before. This too has arguments about its beginnings, but my general feelings lead me to believe that consciousness began in the 6th century BC with the co-evolution of language and larger brain capacity that allowed humans to discover they had minds.
So when did the proper neuronal connections in our brains happen to allow us to become differently intelligent than other living things? From observing my own children I find that true advanced consciousness begins when a toddler realizes they are separate and distinct from their parents. Toddlers realize that their wants are not the same as their parents, and rebellion begins–leading to the term “terrible twos.” If you extend this idea to humanity, when did we rebel? When were we not happy with what the Earth provided for us to such an extent that we decided to take the wheel and drive? When did we become rational enough to have insights? When did humanity as a whole hit its toddler years?
Prior to our consciousness becoming so advanced we were a lowly species, dwelling on Earth in small proportions. Our lives were simple, our impact to our environment was slim. We weren’t burning fossil fuels or driving cars which made our air dirty. We weren’t polluting the oceans or dropping nuclear bombs. We certainly weren’t socially connected around the globe like we now are. The ability for us to destroy our own habitat was not possible, it was left up to the forces larger than us; the solar winds and the rock particles floating past us in the sky.
Relative to the age of Earth, in a very short period of time we have managed to push the extinction of species like the Zanzibar Leopard and West African Black Rhinoceros, culminating in large losses of tropical rain forests, and dramatic depletion of our ozone layer. To keep pace with our current lifestyle, we need places to bury garbage, chop down trees for paper, use water for new purposes such as doing laundry, breathe pollution from our cars, and destroy land and wildlife as our population increases. People are dying from not having food or water, and being killed over greed. Our love affair with plastic has damaged coral reefs disrupting the oceans’ own ecosystem. It’s estimated that we have affected about 80% of Earth’s surface all by our own doing. This number had recently doubled since the 1960s.
I believe that the Anthropocene Era encompasses more than humans impacting Earth; it’s also about us as humans affecting ourselves. Chemicals we use every day are altering what’s primal to us, leading to cancer becoming more prevalent. Parts of our genome simply cannot survive a situation where the environment suffers from the full overload of toxins we currently live in. Through cancer and disease our bodies are working out new genomic defects experimenting to see what survives. Unfortunately, we cannot evolve as fast as what we are exposing ourselves to via chemicals in the foods we eat and in the air we breathe. Evolution of living organisms takes thousands to millions of years to happen. We simply haven’t given our bodies enough time to adjust to the exponential changes we are introducing to our environment. Further, it is possible we are blocking any type of evolutionary progress we are making. With the rise of medication and prescription drugs, it’s possible that we are sustaining life and the passage of genes that are diseased, allowing nature to keep reproducing that which it is not supposed to.
The correlation between human society and environmental impact has a long history within our short human footprint. The rise and fall of so many civilizations proves that humans have yet gained the ability to evolve into a society that is sustainable. Many upon many have risen and fallen and the phoenix will continue to rise once again until we get it right. From a more current societal perspective, there is a revolution of sorts going on fueled by the new interconnection of the world and its embracement by the younger Millennial and Z generations. The gap between the ideals of past generations and these newer ones is very large. If the governments and societies of developed nations do not adapt to the change that the Millennials and Z’s require, it will collapse as a whole, just as pieces of it have already.
We are at the point of having a changed relationship with our home planet. It’s the beginning of what can be a short or very long “Age of Man.” Depending on how we approach this continued exponential period of growth, it will either be one of decline or one of growth into something fitter. Where will our newfound global awareness and intelligence take us? Research data clearly shows that the exponential growth is not letting up. If we continue to cut down forests, emit more pollution, push species to extinction, and pollute our oceans, something major is going to happen, if it hasn’t begun already. The Earth has survived many eras in the past through the regeneration of its surface as necessary. Humans on the other hand have not held billions of years of precedent like that.
Current aboriginal culture thriving today may be the ones that survive any future cataclysmic changes when they come, as they are the ones most closely living in alignment with the needs of the Earth, away from these perils of modernization. From whichever angle you look at our current situation, it’s hard to deny the culmination of ripe circumstances for change. It is perhaps time for the Anthropocene Era to begin the branching out of its diversification phase, or maybe extinction so that more fit life forms can thrive. When it comes to society and human consciousness, Darwinism still exists in its primal message. Only the fittest will survive; yet there is always life somewhere else to start as the catalyst for the new.
At our basis we are elements from the cosmos. When you bash together many different forms of molecules in any state, new forms develop as the current environment evolves. This theme of constant change is innate, sitting within the molecular dust that has made us into the physical beings we are today. Conditions always have to be just right for changes to begin.
This piece is one of 25 others in Thought Notebook Journal: Parallelism Of Cyclicality. Read the issue to learn more about our observations while studying the cyclical nature of our world.
Scientific randomness in the universe goes beyond particles at the molecular level and can extend to everything we encounter in our lives. Random Library Book is a series of my walks down different library aisles and I randomly pick out a book. I bring light to books that might otherwise get lost in the large repetitive physical aisles of a library.
Five Miles Away, A World Apart: One City, Two Schools, and the Story of Educational Opportunity in Modern America
By James E. Ryan
This book was published by Oxford University Press in 2010 at 384 pages and is about the fight between Urban and Suburban schools and the obvious disparities between them. The book discusses opinions from precedence in educational law, research and interviews. For those interested in segregation in American school systems, the failed legal programs and thoughts on innovative ways to fight them.
The tremendous amount of inner knowledge and peace that came from today’s lecturer was incomprehensible. Never having the opportunity before to hear a lecture by a Buddhist monk Gen Kelsang Dorje, Resident Teacher for Vajrayana Kadampa Buddhist Center, provided a special experience for me. His calm demeanor, soft speech and monk robe, spoke volumes to the inner peace that radiated from him during his lecture: All In Your Mind: A Buddhist Perspective on Consciousness and Reality on February 13, 2014. Thousands of years ago the person known as Buddha examined the nature of the mind and developed a comprehensive theory of consciousness. Dorje discussed the central view of Buddhist philosophy and explored the Buddhist perspective on the nature and function of the mind and the true nature of reality.
He began by noting that meditation and Buddhism go well together. With that, he led us through a semi-guided meditation. Dorje commented that the quality of our mind is what is important and familiarizing our mind with that which brings benefit to us, will train our mind to be free from negativity. Thus meditation would be used as tool, allowing us to transform negativity from our minds. In doing so, this opens our heart and imagination, were we then can create a peaceful place.
After the short eight minute meditation, I felt as if I cleared space for his lecture, leaving behind any preconceived notions I might have had and allowing an open invitation to hear a perspective that wasn't one of my own.
Dorje then started by noting that all of our experiences are due to the quality of our mind. Meditation can assist in changing our mind to one of quality thinking, but we cannot change anyone else’s mind. This is because happiness is a feeling that comes from within, it’s relative. What happiness means to one person, can be very different than another. We must get over “trying to change others,” Dorje continued. Because we cannot change what is “out there” around us, until we change “inside us” first. This is a central tenet to Buddhist belief, and by taking the time to go within to change the quality of our minds, we can help to deter negativity around us. He pointed out that if anyone wanted to explore modern Buddhism further, to download the free eBook Modern Buddhism – The Path of Compassion and Wisdom, at www.emodernbuddhism.com.
Dorje moved on to discuss the nature and function of the mind, from the inklings of the Mahamudra scriptures, which represent the culmination of Buddhist practices. Dorje explained we should realize that within our own mind, we can obtain Buddha, which means “a mind that is awake.” He warned not to waste time seeking Buddha elsewhere but within. We all have this potential to be awake, Dorje went on, and that is, “awake from ignorance” and in peace with our own lives and personal karma we carry around. Yes, karma. He mentioned it often, as the part of us we bring from our past lives. This concept of karmic reincarnation is critical in Buddhist thought.
“How is it that we can learn how to be free from difficulty and suffering,” he asked, and noted that everyone wants to be happy – that’s our daily goal, or at least should be. No one intentionally walks around in life trying to be unhappy, he reminded us. Once we know where the suffering is coming from, we can do something about it. This concept of awareness is important in all aspects of our conscious development. Dorje continued along this thought and stated that in difficulty we tend to feel powerless, but we obtain power when we find the source. Awareness therefore brings with it power, to change. So what exactly needs to change? Dorje suggests that it’s our perception that needs to change–one from thinking we have a problem, to one of an opportunity to learn. In this mindset, the issue then is not really a problem. If we train our minds to react in this way, we will obtain the power we need to overcome it. He reminds us that life will happen to us, in every diversion possible, and the quality of our thoughts and how we handle difficulty, is all from the state of our minds. We all know that this sounds easier said than done, but Dorje insisted that we have the ”ability to accomplish this because we have a mind.” I began to think about how difficult it is to teach that the concept of happiness as internal, in a culture where happiness is found in external things.
He continued by saying that the nature of the mind is our consciousness, but is careful to note that he doesn't mean the brain. We know things through our mind not our body, and the brain is an organ of the body. “In Buddhism, the body and mind are two separate things, although they do have a relationship,” Dorje contended. He set the connection by asking what would happen to our body if our consciousness left us? He suggested our body would fall and be lifeless, as our consciousness “moves us.” I wondered if this was the case, could plants and animals be conscious?
“Consciousness comes from previous moments,” Dorje said, adding there is no beginning or end. Instead, our consciousness is a continuum. Moment by moment it's changing based on conditions and our actions within them. In turn, our lives are a result of our actions, hearing it again - karma. Dorje continued that babies come into this world with past wisdom and joked this is good news for parents, that it's not their fault. “Our job is to love kids, not to change them.” He declared that the objective of karma, is wisdom. Dorje recognized that not everyone believes in reincarnation and the thought of living many lives, but joked that if there is another life after this one, then reincarnation of our karma prepares us for the next life with its wisdom. I thought about my son, and how he smiled in his sleep the first weeks of his life. I always wondered how he could know what smiling was and how to do it, unless he had done it before. Especially since he could only see clearly within inches of his face.
Dorje concluded with discussing what reality means for Buddhists. “There is no other that appears to us, than what is in our mind,” he said. Everything we see even has dependence on what’s in our mind. Going back to the earlier example of what would happen if the mind left - what would we see? He stopped to say... who are we? “We are whoever we think we are.”
Dorje took many questions from the audience. One of the more interesting questions asked “What is origin of our consciousness? Where does the mind come from?” What a million dollar question I thought! Isn't this what every religious or spiritual tenet attempts to answer? He uses an analogy of a flower. What do you define as the beginning? The budding of the flower? Is it the germination of the seed? We really don't know he declared. With that, there isn't an origin, it just was.
It can take a lifetime for me to apply these learnings, but I guess that's the point of life, right? To live and learn.
This lecture was intriguing, as it was the first time I was exposed to mixing anything ‘mystical’ to the presence of God. The term mystical always seemed to be very secular and pagan. However Rev. Richard Woods, OP, PhD educated us that ‘mystical’ can define many different types of experiences. Everything from a near death, out of body experiences, to moments with God, or what others define as the presence of something greater than themselves, can be considered mystical. A ‘sudden acknowledgement’ of something greater than us happening became a theme throughout the lecture. Dr. Woods’ lecture ‘Mystical Consciousness: Brain, Mind, and the Presence of God’ on January 16th, 2014, discussed this concept of mysticism and its intersection between both religion and science. He highlighted who was, and still is, involved in this conversation, and their theories, providing different angles and approaches on the subject. I appreciated this openness to various thoughts on the subject. Although expelled from many studies in the early twentieth century, research regarding human consciousness and mystical experiences made a return in recent decades and once again has prompted serious scientific study.
The lecture started out with the following quote to spark our thoughts:
“In the days ahead, you will either be a mystic (one who has experienced God for real) or nothing at all.” ― Karl Rahner
The writers of the bible were called mystics, as their experiences and conversations with God are highlighted all over the bible. Think about John’s book of Revelation and the disciples’ encounters with Jesus after he died, or Moses when he obtained God’s commandments from the burning bush. Getting access to the inner wisdom of our world, and humanity, to get understanding and direction – are all part of the mystical experience.
Dr. Woods suggests we are all mystics and may just not realize it, as to one degree or another, we are always asking the questions about our existence, no matter which belief we come to. He says, “only in degree, not in kind, are all religions different.”
He notes another quote by an Islamic of the name Ibn Arabi;
“God deposited within human beings knowledge of all things, and then blocked them from perceiving it; this is one of the divine mysteries that reason denies totally and thinks impossible… no one can know what is within himself until it is revealed to him moment by moment.”
This overall concept of mystical experiences ties to that which is unseen, that we cannot see until we are given the privilege or opportunity to see it. This is why Dr. Woods suggests that we are all mystics and may not even know it.
In discussing the sociological religious experience humans tend to have, Dr. Woods goes on to say that our perception of time and space is facilitated by our brain structures, which is founded by our memories. Therefore, not knowing our memories, takes away who we are as people, and what describes the self. The concept of what is ‘the self,’ he went on to say, is very complicated. What are we? Who are we? What does it mean to be self-conscious? What does it mean when we die? Is it just our organs? Going further on the thought of just our organs, then the body and mind must be separate and distinct from each other. Since our existence (or as some subscribe to; since humans became conscious), people have turned to mystics to try to answer these questions about the self and understanding life’s journey. Theses mystics thought to be the ones that had direct conscious connection to something all knowing, or greater than them.
There are many debates that are on-going regarding the connection between God and science. One of these debates center around how mystical experiences tend to be both spiritual and physical. Dr. Woods reviewed several theorists that fit in four distinct categories, and their books that describe how they see this debate.
Atheistic – Don’t consider mystical experiences to having any connection with God. Books include:
Neo-reductionists – Consider mystical experiences as a brain function solely and not contact with God. Books include:
Traditional Religious – Where God is the source of all mystical experiences and science does not play a part. Book includes:
Positive Approach – Interconnection between Science and God during mystical experiences. Books include:
Dr. Woods pointed out that he finds it interesting that people have been polled since 1966 in the US and UK about religious and spiritual experiences. Trends from these polls show that more and more people are having mystical experiences. The studies also indicated that the older we get, the more likely we are to have a spiritual experience of some sort. Some of the questions I immediately began to think about related to why, how, and what purpose these numbers could mean in the larger collective whole of humanity? Are we subconsciously preparing for something? Is it time for humanity to get glimpses of truth? What shall we do with that truth once it’s unhidden to us?
Dr. Woods went back to defining ‘What is Mystical,’ since the term can include many types of experiences, including those induced by drugs, serious medical conditions such as seizures, deep meditation, and much more. In terms of classical traditional Christianity, a mystical experience means that there is an immediate experience of God within us and everywhere else. Here are some quotes from Christian theorists that have noted what the term ‘mystical’ meant:
“Immediate awareness of relation with God.”
“Momentary kiss with heaven.”
“Moments of good, truth and beauty…which ultimately changes you.”
The ongoing debate between religion and science and our consciousness, is not a new discussion amongst thinkers and scholars. Dr. Woods called the following people ‘Hall of Fame’ founders of the study between religious experiences and neuroscience in the late 19th century: William James, William Ernest Hocking, Sir Alister Hardy and Sir John Eccles. In the days of these men, it was a prestigious honor to be a part of what was called ‘The Gifford Lectures’ in Scotland which discussed the relationship between religion and science. These Hall of Famers all submitted lectures on their thoughts about the debate that is the basis for much of today’s serious scientific study on the topic.
We have experiences with God whether we know it or not, is what Hocking’s thought process consisted of. Even though religious doctrine belongs to the society, experience with it is personal.
Hardy had an interest in telepathic experiences and wanted to compare experiences for possible patterns or correlations with each other. He founded the Alister Hardy Trust and asks the question “Have you ever had a spiritual or religious experience or felt a presence or power, whether you call it God or not, which is different from your everyday life?” This trust was founded in 1969 in Oxford, with the objective of studying, “in a disciplined and as scientific a manner as possible,” accounts of religious or spiritual experiences, or what Dr. Woods, and many others in this field of research, call ‘mystical experiences.’
The neuroscience discipline has tremendous weight in the debate. Dr. Woods discussed how complicated our brains are in its structure and research in connection with spiritual experiences are being studied heavily. Various tools with acronyms such as EBS, EEG, CATZ, MRI, PET and others are being used in this research.
Dr. Woods’s personal ruminations, upon collecting all of the theories and research together, conclude that:
· Our brain is connected to our mystical experiences in some way or another
· Mystical experiences cannot be reduced to just experiences within the brain
· An awareness of profound unity or oneness is the common feature of mystical experiences
Have you ever had a mystical experience that allowed you to tap into the unseen?
We had some overnight isolated summer storms a few weeks ago. I remember waking up to the sounds of the rolling thunder, the lightening brightening up my bedroom, and the pounding of the rain on my window. I always enjoy a good storm, especially at night. Nature has a way of calming me and putting me back to sleep. I remember a smile on my face as I turned over to get comfortable and fell back asleep right away like a lullaby being sang to a baby.
Unfortunately for some, this evening was not so pleasant. The next morning, my fourteen-year-old daughter found three baby birds on our front lawn, two of them were dead, one of them still moving around lost and hopeless. Her motherly instincts kicked in immediately and she put the bird in a box and googled what to do. She nursed the bird feeding him water through a dropper and egg mixture on a toothpick. The bird was not quite feathered all the way, with patches of exposed skin. My daughter couldn’t help but notice "she" had a big behind, so she called her “Bubbles” short for “Bubble But.”
For the entire twenty-four hours she had the bird in her care, until it was brought to the wildlife center for rehabbing, my daughter was dedicated to ensuring Bubbles survived. I thought quite a lot about instincts the entire time as I watched in amazement of how easy it was, without thought, for her to save a life. How easy the humanitarian side of her kicked in. I was reminded of all the homeless she wanted to give money to and feed whenever she saw them, or the food packages she sends every year to the poor in third world countries without effort or second thought around the holidays. I like to think that nature is inherently good, and that everyone has a heart like her.
That is not the case in our world however. I believe we all have the capacity to be good, some of us are very in-tuned with nature’s light and love. However, some of us just are not. Animal instincts are for survival purposes, whereas human instincts can at times be selfish and unconcerning. Intuition comes natural, without reason, there is no justification. Our intuition takes over sometimes and we are not aware of it. Intuition is a first response, a quick reaction to a situation. When some find a wallet with money on the ground, immediately the initial thought is to keep it, steal the money and use the credit cards. However, some immediately try to find its owner without taking its contents.
The bird seemed orphaned by its parents, as there was no sight of them coming around. Since its siblings had passed on it was possible the mother of the bird was dead as well. We will never know. Perhaps it was natures call to have this family separated and left for dead, in which case Darwin's survival of the fittest is then the winner. Regardless of nature's plan, maybe this newfound personal spiritual reality my daughter received from this experience will make her more "fit" in the future to survive in this fragile life. Maturement of her intuition may have been needed for some future anticipation.
Bubbles ended up at Flint Creek Wildlife Center where they are tasked at rehabbing her and sending her back into the nature.
As I look into my garden, scorching in the summer weather, I see growth and life. What amazes me about my garden, and what makes me pursue one every year, is the beauty of its life cycle. Albeit life in a different form from what we typically know it as human beings, but nonetheless life. Or is it really that different? Water, sun and soil are all the seed needs. Very little human intervention is needed. In fact, some plants grow yearly without any of our help, purely natural. Are seeds considered dead then when they sit untouched by soil, water, and light? When does life begin with a seed? Some seeds never get the chance to have its life-cycle initiated. The diversity of life with seeds fascinates. Not only are there at least 10 different kinds of tomato seeds available, but depending on its environment they can grow so differently from one another. Life that springs from seeds also can undergo disease and genetic mutations, producing an extra limb off a carrot flesh, or an abnormal looking onion.
I had a conversation many years ago with a consultant that I worked on a project with that told me that plants are intelligent as well. They know to bend towards the light to grow, and climb to produce strength, to flower in specific spots and to begin germination when water is present. So I watch my garden year after year, and bask in its diversity, its intelligence, its natural yet flawed process, and reflect on how similar I am to that cucumber. Even the genetic material of humans is of the same process and components of plants. Life on two very different mediums, sharing the same building blocks of life. In fact, Iowa State University states that humans share 50% of the same DNA with bananas.
Unfortunately, like in human life, weeds are a part of this beautiful garden of mine. As they annoy me and the surrounding plants, I tend to think about the human weeds in this world. Whoever made the decision to put the Boston Bomber on the cover of Rolling Stones magazine is a weed, infecting the world around him/her. But like all weeds, even after they are chopped down, they come back, naturally. The nature of annoyance, or evil if you may, is ingrained in our lives, and we have to deal with it, just like the plants that grow stronger to deal with the presence of weeds in their soil. There will be another weed in the future that will try to celebrify evil, and some will be consumed, yet others will be happy to cut them down, only for another to come shortly after.
Yes, I did just create a new word...Celebrify: the process of turning something into celebrity status, and in affect, gaining the perks that come with it.
I love photos and their ability to capture a moment in time. Since we are bound by the laws of the space-time matrix, we are unable to go back, to review the day, and see a play by play. Unless we have a reality TV show, our lives are not videotaped for us to rewind and watch. Instead we have pictures, that help tell our story, present the environment, gather emotion, and capture that exact moment that is so unique, nothing will ever be exactly that same way again. I do think, however, that we take the power photos give us for granted.
Studies show that what we remember about our past really is only 37% true - the rest is made up. Its only how we perceived all the associated sensory information is what is true. This is done in order to understand it. On average, we humans are bombarded by 1,600 commercial messages a day, 80 we consciously notice, and only 12 provoke a positive or negative response. We filter stimuli around us to not induce overload in our brains. We never evolved to handle information at the capacity we experience it today… or at least not yet. This is called selective attention. What we hear, we process against our belief systems, which is called selective distortion. This is because as humans we have an urge to explain things, it’s a part of our physiology of our brain - this is how Greek mythology was born. We distort in order to understand. And because of selective retention, only a small fraction of any of the stimuli we process is actually retained. It is due to this selectiveness that perceiving is just as powerful as awareness. I call this percivision: the act of perceiving and gaining understanding into the nature of reality.
To make matters even more complicated, other studies have shown that we alter our memories, every time we recall them. In fact, our memory is an elaborate party of protein, enzymes, electrical and chemical signals between neurons in the brain. This scaffolding can be interfered with other processes going on in our brain, such as emotional and physical reactions to the world around us. Thus, making it possible to alter these paths, depending on what’s going on with us when it’s recalled. MRI scans done in these studies have determined that both the amygdala and hippocampus work together to create our false memories. The hippocampus is related to long-term memory formation whereas the amygdala deals with emotions and social situations. Memories of our reality can then be altered based on where are, who we are with, and how we are feeling at the time of recollection.
Therefore, when we think about what our 5th grade teacher was like, or how our first date really went, what we recall may be incorrect. Almost makes reality a word that has no meaning, since it is possible we are unable to physiologically recall it 100%. This is one of many reasons why I am fan of pictures. Looking back at a snapshot of our lives, is the closest thing we have to reality, if it does exist.
In the header photo, my niece and brother are surfing. I remember that I sat out and left my husband and daughter with them, since I kept wiping out. I simply just could not get on that board and surf. Or, maybe I saw a shark and got scared? Or, maybe I never got in the water and met up with them later? Who knows that my reality was that day. What this picture does prove about reality is that my brother and niece were surfing and they both were able to get on the boards! There is no evidence that I was able to.
Scientific randomness in the universe goes beyond particles at the molecular level and can extend to everything we encounter in our lives. Random Library Book is a series of my walks down different library aisles and I randomly pick out a book. I bring light to books that might otherwise get lost in the large repetitive physical aisles of a library.
The New World of the Oceans: Men and Oceanography
By Daniel Behrman
This book was published in 1969 at 436 pages. The book is pretty large and full of lots of information. It is a lot of reading with many illustrations throughout that helps document the author’s voyage to discovery. The author interviewed and documented the science of the sea. He was not trained in oceanography, but instead was interested in the new world of the ocean and decided to take a personal study to enrich some type of internal calling of him. He traveled all over the world and studied the oceans and wrote a book all about it. Looks to be a good read for those interested in learning more about an objective view of the study of the ocean, all the while peeking into the soul of a man on a journey.
Ask Kat Advice Column
After many years of working in various disciplines and industry sectors, none as a therapist, Kat is willing to tackle life's biggest (and smallest) personal questions. Email Kat your questions.
I keep going in circles with paying off my debt and it is keeping me from being able to save. What’s the best approach to take so that I can finally save and be able to invest in a house?
A college I went to allowed tables all over campus that enticed students to sign up for credit cards. I fell for the free swag and racked up debt that messed up my credit. It took me many years to get my number out of the hole. It was hard to pay off credit card debt when trying to save, but it was the best action to take in the long run. Get rid of credit card debt as fast as you can. It is the fastest way to save money, as you no longer are paying interest, and most likely pretty high interest rates at that.
After credit card debt is paid, try your best to keep balances off of them and if you do add a balance, pay if off in full before the next payment is due. Yes, that means living within your means. This is only temporary, once they are paid off you more disposable income.
By the way, if you do payoff a credit card and plan not to use it except in emergencies, contact the company and tell them. They will stop any fees, such as annual fees, until you use the card. Otherwise you may be in for a surprise three months down the road when you get a statement with a balance for a card you haven’t used in months.
For loans, I find paying a little bit more on every payment can help reduce the principle, thereby reducing the overall amount of interest paid. This would pertain to most, but not all, car loans, mortgages, student loans, etc. The debt has to be paid eventually, and the sooner it can be gone, the better. The easiest way to put money back in your pocket is to eliminate or reduce interest payments overall. Paying interest is wasted money. Sometimes we have to pay interest and that’s ok, but the amount that’s paid is the kicker. The less interest to pay, the less you’re wasting.
Reducing the amount of interest, you pay monthly is a long-term investment to your financial well-being because it heals our credit scores, which lower interest rates with future loans, when needed. Thereby saving money in future too.
Eventually we will wean ourselves into living within our means and not needing credit (emergencies do not count). The next goal then is to save three months of expenses… that’s a whole other beast!
The creative process involved in expressing one’s self artistically can help enhance the well-being of the artist and anyone else involved. That’s why people all over are dedicating their careers to Art Therapy, whiles are others are dedicating their time and talents for the same purpose by volunteering. People have been using the arts as a way to express, communicate and heal for all of humanity. In learning more about Art Therapy, I came across CoachArt, a social change organization whose mission is to improve the quality of life for children in California with chronic and life-threatening illnesses and their siblings by providing free lessons in the arts and athletics. They rely on volunteer mentors who are matched with patients for lessons that offer creative outlets as a distraction from pain, isolation and other ailments often associated with chronic illnesses. The organization’s guiding principle is to enhance the lives of chronically ill youth by tapping into the resources from the coaching community. Mentors from fields such as music, dance, theater, writing and sports, help bring this vision to a reality. CoachArt participates in the art of improving lives!
In wanting to learn more about the 'art of improving lives', I connected with Thyonne Gordon, Executive Director of CoachArt. She is responsible for keeping the lights on, keeping the doors open and the general run of business. She manages a staff of 14 employees and over 700 volunteers. Her background is in Business Management and Operations and she has a doctorate in Human and Organizational Development. She loves developing and growing organizations and people.
When and how did the organization begin?
CoachArt was conceived in 2000 by Zander Lurie in memory of his father, Dr. "Art" Lurie, a cardiac surgeon who loved teaching and mentoring children. Zander, together with family friend, Leah Bernthal, set out to create an organization that would enhance the lives of chronically-ill children by tapping into the abundant resources of the Greater Los Angeles community, particularly in the arenas of art, music and athletics.
CoachArt received nonprofit status in 2001, and spent the next 18 months creating a program that would fill a critical need in the community. Healthcare professionals, chronically-ill children and their families, and individuals interested in volunteering enthusiastically embraced the concept of matching pediatric patients with mentors for free, recreational lessons. In 2002, CoachArt launched a pilot Outpatient Mentoring Program at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, enrolling 50 patients in free arts and athletics lessons. Due to the emotional needs of our patients' siblings, the program was later expanded to include family members. CoachArt now serves over 2000 students a year in Northern and Southern California via Outpatient Mentoring, In-Hospital Workshops, Activity Clinics and Special Program Events.
How old are the patients that are involved in this unique program?
CoachArt works with chronically-ill children and their siblings, 6 to 18 years of age. Of the over 2,000 children served in 2012, approximately 70% were Latino, 14% were African American, 9% were Caucasian, 4% were Asian-American, and 3% were from other ethnic backgrounds such as Native American, East Indian or Middle Eastern. CoachArt works with approximately equal numbers of male and female students. CoachArt patients have been diagnosed with any of over 100 chronic illnesses.
Where do you find your volunteers and who are they?
Volunteers are a mix of professionals, community centers and other nonprofit partners (like nonprofits, corporations and organizations). Word of mouth is our best source of engagement while we also use Volunteer Search and other web based programs. We also go to corporate events and display at community events.
What type of lessons do patients like to participate in?
Lessons include Music (voice and instruments), Dance, Visual Art, Culinary, Basketball, Baseball and Soccer.
Where do the activities take place?
Activities take place in the home or local community centers partnering with CoachArt.
What type of effect have you seen these programs bring to the people involved?
CoachArt lessons make our kids and parents smile, laugh and have fun. We have no recorded data that documents healing affects yet, our parents and doctors tell us that they've seen increased motor skills, emotional outlooks and social engagement when kids participate in our programs.
Here's a story of a CoachArt youth:
Meet Brett (African American, music, pre-teen)
Brett’s family was in “no man’s land.” Their son Brett no longer was a hospital inpatient, but he was receiving debilitating outpatient cancer treatments. Brett wasn’t well enough to be at school or do normal activities, and he was sick and tired of treatments. That’s when CoachArt stepped in and gave Brett free lessons in art and music. Suddenly things began to change.
Adele, Brett’s Mother: “One day life was perfect and—boom--the next day it wasn’t. Our son Brett was a normal kid with two working parents. He loved sports. When Brett was 5, doctors discovered that a lump in his mouth was cancer, Embryonal Rhabdomysocarcoma. Brett was quite sick and my husband and I spent all our time taking care of him and researching treatments. To save his life, I stopped working to devote unlimited time to Brett. Our income was cut nearly in half and medical bills came pouring in. Brett couldn’t go to school, because his resistance was too low. Sports were out of the question. When CoachArt came into our lives, Brett was an outpatient undergoing cancer treatments, and couldn’t lead a normal life. His immune system was compromised, so his friends couldn’t visit and he had to stay homebound.
CoachArt changed all that. Sean, his first CoachArt mentor, gave him art lessons, which lifted his spirits and gave him a way to express himself. Sean treated Brett like any other kid, not like a sick kid. And Sean was there for Brett every week, whether Brett was full of energy or feeling totally awful. If Brett looked too tired to paint, Sean would come up with something else fun. Once he suggested that they kick the ball around the house, because Sean knew Brett would get a reaction from me. Brett loved that – a chance to feel like a mischievous kid.
Once Brett starting feeling better, he asked for piano lessons. CoachArt arranged for a new mentor – Tom, to give him weekly lessons. Just like Sean, Tom comes to our house every week, no matter what. I look forward to Brett’s lesson with Tom. Sometimes I even nap to the sound of their music and laughter. Without CoachArt it would have been impossible to give Brett these opportunities to be a happy, regular kid.”
Tom, Brett’s Volunteer Mentor: “I’m a Software Engineer. I have a good job and a nice life, but I didn’t realize what was missing until I found CoachArt.
I love piano, so CoachArt matched me up with Brett. All I had to do was go to this boy’s home and give him lessons. Easy. But little did I know how touched I would be by the experience of knowing Brett and his parents. Over the past two years Brett and I have been on an incredible journey, without ever leaving the piano bench. When we started, his music skills were rusty and his coordination was a bit off. Now he’s playing Mozart! Sometimes we’ll sit at the piano and Brett will confide in me about how he feels or how he’s nervous about a treatment. Other times we’ll talk about great composers.
Brett: “I want to be a good pianist and learn more. I love playing piano and I want to play everything! Right now I’m working on “The Wild Horseman” by Robert Schumann – it’s my new favorite.”
How can people get involved?
It's easy to get involved. Email us at email@example.com or call us at 213-736-2850 or send us a note to 3303 Wilshire Blvd. Suite 320 LA 90010 and we'll let you know exactly what you can do!
Through the arts and recreation programs provided, what success is expected from the patients?
Our programs are for fun and learning. The most we can assure is that the fun and learning will occur. Students will also be engaged so that they can take their mind off the illness affecting the family and focus on fun. We are not a therapy program so we do not proclaim any therapeutic effects. But we guarantee play!
What is the organization’s biggest hurdle at this point?
As with most nonprofits in these difficult times finding resources is always challenging. In particular, we need volunteers who live and can service the South LA area and the Oakland area of California. We also need funding to continue the great work being done by CoachArt.
What has been the biggest success thus far?
Our biggest success takes us back to our mission. We provide quality arts and sports programs for kids with chronic illness and they have LOADS of fun! We created a program for corporate partners to get involved. Our Volunteer Supervisor goes out and teaches about CoachArt and then people volunteer to support. The corporations will take a group of kids and teach them something for about a 2 hour period. We've done gardening, ginger bread house building, pizza making and even golf! The corporate volunteers have fun and of course, the kids have a blast. This collaboration has been a big success as we're able to service more kids and we get volunteers engaged pretty quickly to come on board as regulars.
Consider donating to CoachArt by visiting www.coachart.org or purchasing a copy of Thought Notebook Journal Issue 1 - 10% of sales go to support this organization.
“Together, we’ll work toward a world where everything you buy could have a new kind of
‘Made In …’ tag.” - www.slaveryfootprint.org
I never really thought too much about how the things I buy are manufactured. I have went on living life worrying about other things, that getting to the molecular level of my purchases was an afterthought. I am very encouraged however to find that someone was thinking about the supply chains of what we consume and had planted the seed into what is now the Made In The Free World organization.
In taking the organization’s Slavery Footprint exercise, I learned more about the term Modern Day Slavery and was presented statistics I never seen before of the slavery that goes on in the manufacturing of things I loved. The fact that there are people who are attempting to escape 20 hour days from hard work and sexual assaults to make the things that I eat and enjoy, really hit my heart. I thought about how these types of issues are not on the news and that the concept of awareness here is tremendous. I wanted part in spreading this awareness, as the results of my Slavery Footprint exercise found that it’s estimated that 88 slaves work for me! Next time I see a “Made In…” tag I will think very differently.
I wanted to learn more, as I was very intrigued by what can be done to rid this issue of supply chain slavery. Do we consumers have a demand issue; do we want and need too much? Or should we point the finger at businesses? These were immediate thoughts as I looked at the map of my slaves and learned more about them. I had the pleasant opportunity to discuss this with Ashley Sholer who is a Grassroots Marketing Associate at the Made In A Free World organization. Ashley helps manages social media campaigns and projects, helps create and maintain partnerships, coordinate events and runs the Campus Chapter program.
I learned from the organization’s website that there are 27 million people enslaved around the world. How is slavery defined in the sense of modern-day supply chain slavery?
The terms most commonly used to represent modern-day supply chain slavery is forced labor or slave labor (interchangeable). A victim of forced labor is; anyone who is forced to work without pay, being economically exploited, and who is unable to walk away.
What type of items do we consume where the slavery is most prevalent?
Unfortunately, the use of forced labor is prevalent in most industries at any point in the supply chain. However, research indicates slavery most commonly happens at the raw materials level. Meaning, in the mining, farming, aquafarming industries. Those raw materials, such as tantalum, cotton, and produce then go into our technology, clothes, and food.
The mission of Made In a Free World is to empower individuals, groups and businesses with innovative solutions as a means to end slavery. What type of innovative solutions have been found?
Good question, which has a long answer. Our most well known innovation is Slavery Footprint, this is an interactive platform we created with the U.S. State Department to help people answer the question; “How many slaves work for me?” In addition to Slavery Footprint, people can visit our Action Center or download the Free World app and send letters for businesses asking them to become ‘Made In A Free World’. We also have on the ground projects aimed to free slaves from different industries, our first of which was freeing 6 kids from the fishing industry on the shores of Lake Volta, Ghana. We are in the midst of our #IChooseFreedom campaign and are planning another awareness campaign scheduled to launch before the end of this year. Also, this is our very first year having Made In A Free World Campus Chapters. These are a way for students from all over the nation to work with their schools to spread awareness and introduce slave free products.
Your organization believes in changing the systems in which slavery thrives. What can be done to eradicate the conditions that are being found in the slavery? What are some sustainable changes businesses are making?
Slavery is perpetuated in places where consumers and companies have little or no visibility. Companies can implement a supplier code of conduct (many of which are available to the public on the company’s website), they can achieve 3rd party certification for fair labor practices, and they can partner with industry organizations or NGOs to implement better supply chain transparency.
There has been an overwhelming response to the cause and the number of supporters continues to grow every day. What type of influence does this demand for freedom have in the overall current economic market?
Over the last 10 years, we have seen a dramatic increase in consumers’ desires for ethically sourced products. Looking ahead, we expect to see this desire expand from ethically sourced products, to products sourced from ethical companies. In other words, it is no longer sufficient for companies to provide one product that is ethically sourced while using exploitative practices in the rest of their operation. Whereas in the past companies could have a ‘green’ product but mistreat their workers or treat their workers well but destroy the environment, we now see consumer pressure for a holistic approach to business and an emphasis on the Triple Bottom Line (People, Planet, Profits).
What types of tools are given to businesses to understand their supply chains and implement changes?
The primary hindrance to transparency in supply chains is cost. If a company buys a component for their product at the right price and with consistent quality, they do not have a strong incentive to dig deeper. Consumers can provide this incentive. Once a company has the desire to better understand their supply chain and where their products are sourced, there are many tools available to them. The most commonly used is a supplier code of conduct, whereby a company sets minimum operating standards as a condition for winning/retaining their business. The company can then conduct internal reviews (audits) of their suppliers to ensure that these companies are upholding their commitment to operate in compliance with the code of conduct. This practice typically ladders up to third party auditing such as Fair Trade, or SA 8000 whereby a company pays an external party to visit the facility, farm, etc., and verify first hand that workers and/or the environment are being respected. As a matter of efficiency, many companies join trade organizations such as BIFMA or create their own industry organizations such as the Sustainable Apparel Coalition to develop standards and share best practices.
What is the biggest challenge when discussing supply chain slavery with businesses?
The word slavery carries very heavy connotations and because of that businesses actively try to avoid being associated with that word entirely. No company wants to be the first mover and publically admit that there may (we know there is) slavery in their supply chain. One of Made In A Free World’s primary objectives is to create a circle of trust whereby companies feel comfortable opening a conversation about slavery in the first place. This is not yet the case, which is why we are working to inform consumers through Slavery Footprint that each and every one of us has a connection to slavery and can do something to help end it.
The organization believes that the only way to change the world is to “work together,” a term found often on the website. Tell us more about this guiding principle?
Slavery isn’t merely a government or business issue. Nor is it an “us vs. them” issue. It’s an “all of us” issue. Its individuals, nonprofits, academics, governments, community groups and businesses working together. It will take a global movement to end this global and ancient injustice.
Made In A Free World is a place where all of us can leverage our unique strengths and global influence. We make it possible to work together in order to achieve more than we possibly can do alone. We’ve brought together millions of committed consumers from all corners of the world ready to support businesses who demonstrate their shared value of freedom.
What types of activities are non-profits, academics, governments, community groups, and businesses working together and doing to contribute to freedom?
This answer is similar to the one about our innovative solutions. We have people from every single one of these groups working together by learning their Slavery Footprint, taking action in our Action Center, supporting our campaigns and on the ground projects, as well as hosting awareness or fundraising events. In addition to participating in those efforts, people have shown our film ‘Call+Response’ to their companies, community groups, academic institutions and non-profits. In the near future, there will be many other ways these groups will overlap and work together to bring about a time when everyone and everything is ‘Made In A Free World.’
What can we consumers do? Describe what a ‘modern day freedom chooser’ is?
As consumers, you can discover your Slavery Footprint and take action by sending letters for businesses tell them you want products without slave labor and ask them to become Made In A Free World. In addition, keep the conversation going. Let people know that slavery exists and there is something each and every one of us can do to end this injustice. That is exactly what a freedom chooser is. It is someone who uses their freedom of choice to say “I choose freedom for everyone” and then acts upon their declaration.
In Ghana, the organization rescued 6 kids in the fishing industry. How are slaves being rescued and how are the local governments responding?
Unfortunately, for the security of our partner organization, Challenging Heights, we cannot provide details of the rescuing process. However, our project did put 6 kids on a path to freedom. The includes the rescue process, provides one year of schooling and medical treatment, as well as counseling and micro business training for the child and his or her family.
You have a campaign called #ichoosefreedom where people pledge to be a part of the movement. What is the main message of the pledge? What kind of response have you had in this regard?
The main message of #IChooseFreedom is: Whether or not we realize it, the majority, if not all of us, indirectly benefit from slave labor. We all have a responsibility to take action and use our freedom of choice to create freedom for all. We have gotten a positive response from supporters all over the world.
Freedom is one of many Universal Rights that apply to human beings. What other Universal Rights does the organization feel is important to humanity?
Freedom is honestly the most essential, universal right. Without freedom, no one has access to any other universal right. Freedom over oneself cannot be taken lightly, it includes way more than we may realize. Many people who are trapped in slavery are stripped of everything, including their name.
What do you think is the root cause of forcing fellow humans to live and thrive in slavery conditions?
This is a very complicated question, and I do not think there is one right answer. Many people who are guilty of enslaving others do not think of it as a human rights violation. It is a business decision to increase profits and decrease overhead. Also, as consumers we inadvertently allow businesses to continue using slave labor. Does that make slavery any less contemptible? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Does framing it that way put into a solvable solution? We believe so. Actually, we built an entire organization around the belief that slavery can and will end in our lifetime. When people know about the issue and will not stand for it any longer, businesses will not be able to get away with using slave labor and will provide livable wages and safe work environments.
Consider a donation to Made In A Free World at www.madeinafreeworld.com/support_us