Candid Chat 2015 (Year End Edition)

Last year was an incredibly challenging year for me. However, it also was a great year for learning. Here are some of the valuable lessons I learned last year.

  1. “To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved.” – George MacDonald

Throughout the course of last year, I had the great pleasure of working with people from all walks of life. Through this experience, one of the things I learned about is trust. If you want people to listen to, and furthermore understand, your message likeability and trust are really important. If I don’t like or trust someone and likewise if someone doesn’t like or trust me, we won’t be able to work with each other in a cordial and efficient manner; thus, affecting not only our relationship with each other, but also our quality of work.

Trust is the foundation of all relationships. It dictates how we choose to interact with each other. One thing you should know about trust is that it is very difficult to earn and is very easily broken. Having to regain trust in any relationship is almost akin to tying a knot using the two ends of a broken rubber band. It, the rubber band and the relationship, never work the same afterwards.

  1. “If someone isn’t what others want them to be, the others become angry. Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.” ― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist 

My experiences and observations throughout last year made me realize that we have become a society that is very quick to judge and criticize other people. You can learn a lot about a person by the way they choose to treat others. Hurt and insecure people are going to find ways to hurt others. This, in turn, ends up becoming a self-perpetuating, vicious cycle. The best way to combat this is to treat people the way you want to be treated – with compassion, kindness and respect. I know, this is very easy to say and (depending on the situation) very hard to do, but only the brave hearted can (and will) do it.

Respect is NOT conditional. It doesn’t (or rather shouldn’t) come with one’s social stature, but should be granted to each and every individual.

I realized in the months leading up to the end of the year that a lot of the time people tend to do the best they can with what they know. The reality is: When you know better, you are supposed to do better.

  1. “Only if you give up… It’s your choice, not your fate.” – Plio, Dinosaur (2000)

Over the course of the year, I was presented with the opportunity to work on many projects. Unfortunately, a number of these projects either faded away completely or didn’t come to full fruition due to lack of funding. It was during this time that a very close friend – who knew of the finer details of my struggles behind the scenes – imparted some very valuable advice. She said, “be honest with yourself.” It is okay to feel low when things don’t work out the way you envisioned it to. But the real question is this: what are you going to do now? It is very easy to give in to defeat and difficult to keep going, especially when it feels like you have no support. Ultimately, accepting defeat/failure is a choice. Regard every challenge as an opportunity for change. I regard the Candid Chat blog posts as a testament of me putting this advice into action.

4. “Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.” – Thomas Jefferson

“We can each define ambition and progress for ourselves. The goal is to work toward a world where expectations are not set by the stereotypes that hold us back, but by our personal passion, talents and interests.” – Sheryl Sandberg

“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself.” – Harvey Fierstein

During this time, individuals define themselves by their successes (or lack thereof). Note: it is the effort one should laud more than the result. Sometimes an individual will put in more than a 1000% effort, but still not receive the result they wish to attain. That doesn’t mean that the individual hasn’t tried hard enough.

In times like that, especially, remember that one isn’t defined by her failures, nor is she defined by her successes. She is defined by how she chooses to be defined this current moment.

  1. Passion will move men [and women] beyond themselves, beyond their shortcomings, beyond their failures. – Joseph Campbell, American Mythologist, Writer, and Lecturer

Last year, I realized the importance of having passion for your work. It is when you love your work that every challenge will seem like an opportunity to learn and grow, which will, in turn, improve your quality of work.

I learned that with passion it is equally important to be disciplined and have a sense of direction. When you have these three things – passion, discipline, and direction – you can never go wrong.

For Candid Chat 2015 (Mid-Year Edition) click here

For Candid Chat 2014 click here

For Candid Chat 2013 click here

Facebook: The Dawn of the Technological Era

Facebook is a form of post modernistic ‘realist art,’ created originally with the intention of maintaining and celebrating relationships with family and friends that are not in immediate contact. Since its creation, Facebook has become one of the most renowned social networking sites of our generation. With over 750 million users last cited in 2011, Facebook can be considered the third most populated ‘virtual’ country after China and India. With a consistent increase in active users on Facebook, resistance by the audience towards the site itself is limited. Nonetheless, audience resistance is vaguely existent more so towards the content exhibited on the site. Facebook is presently tagged as “popular culture,” as it is eminent with today’s generation. However, there are significant limits for these arguments.

Facebook has expanded and improvised tremendously since it opened its doors to the members of the public, enabling the growth of an extensively diverse population to communicate with relations that live abroad via an online chat forum, encouraging the elimination of all geographic boundaries at no cost to the user. This has since then unlocked avenues for global communication, thus encouraging global connectivity to a large extent. Once Facebook memberships were made accessible to the public, the value of the company shot up dramatically from US$15 billion in 2007 to US$89.2 billion in 2011 becoming one of the most profitable companies, falling second to Google. With the growing number of users on Facebook around the globe, socio-economic boundaries have been blurred to a large extent. This was possible through ‘media oligopoly,’ wherein users have been made aware of global updates through ‘liking’ different society and economy related pages designed on the site by different profit and non-profit organizations. However, Marshal McLuhan espoused that even though Facebook’s improvisations aims to improve ‘global consciousness’ by allowing users to interact amongst one another, the site shall not be successful in creating or maintaining the ‘utopian idea’ of the ‘global village’ online. Contrastingly, Kirthiga Reddy, Head of Office of Facebook in India, intends to alter the Facebook culture in India to enhance social utility within the country by increasing connectivity. Reddy states, “Facebook touches lives in fundamental ways,” this as a result has allowed the site to become the richest database for people’s interests and tastes. This has had a huge impact in driving the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Reddy also argues that securing the correct culture is important, as that is what influences people’s decisions. Through Facebook, Reddy aims to ‘foster the next generation of women leaders in India; driving children’s causes, access to education; and making an impact at a national level.’ This has reinterpreted “popular culture” by creating, what Jenkins describes as, “pop cosmopolitan,” where applications on Facebook have enabled ‘transcultural flows of pop culture to inspire new forms of global consciousness.’

Today, Facebook has evolved into an online cultural industry. Active users on Facebook have transformed into, what Adorno and Horkheimer believe to be “cultural dupes.” They define cultural dupes to be ‘passive recipients’ within the cultural industry, as they are prone to consuming cultural products rather than producing their own. On the contrary, Facebook has provided a platform for its users to innovate and advertise their thoughts and ideas to a far more diverse market of 750 million users around the globe. This has, to a large extent, blurred the boundaries between the producer and the consumer, creating what Alvin Toffler claims to be a “prosumer”. The site enables its users to engage in activities that encourage “immaterial labour,” a new concept of labour that allows other users to understand the cultural history of a particular commodity or service. This style of labour fosters ‘relationships and ultimately life itself.’ It creates a dual-purpose environment, allowing users to not only enjoy the applications provided by the site, during their leisure time, but also for work purposes. However, Adorno and Horkheimer describe this type of environment as an ‘amusement under late capitalism that would simply prolong work,’ triggering an adverse affect to the creator of the product.

Consumption of material goods and services through Facebook is a significant part of human sociability, as it develops individual identity, which is heavily influenced by societal structure. Similar to an offline environment, individuals in an online environment such as Facebook, have certain behavioural patterns and habits that distinguish the way they consume particular products and services. This is a ‘bona fide expression of self in and on society.’ The way active users on Facebook tend to utilise the applications the site has to offer testifies “subcultural resistance” towards the dominant social norms that are, at times, dictated by the capitalist economy, simply suggesting that the actions displayed by users in an online environment is a mere reflection of what occurs offline. Facebook, at present, has changed the definition of consumption, ‘it is not restricted to shopping and the movement of purchase, but rather it is a result of human production.’ Douglas and Isherwood argue that such practices encourage discrimination as it is influenced primarily by the ‘vistas’ and ‘hierarchies’ within offline environments. Similarly, the Marxist Theory suggests that ‘consumption is the most obvious evidence of inequality under capitalism.’ This reiterates the idea that Facebook could not be successful in creating or maintaining the ‘utopian idea’ of the ‘global village’ online because our contemporary modern societies don’t exist in an idealistic way.

Facebook has become an eminent part of today’s generation, influencing how their identities are built and how their behaviours are controlled through various forms of “social capital.” Bourdieu and Wacquant define social capital as “the sum of the resources, actual or virtual, that accrue to an individual or a group by virtue of possessing a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition.” Research has shown that almost half of the American population has created an account on Facebook and that university students on average spend approximately half an hour on Facebook every day. Active users on Facebook, this predominantly applies to today’s youth, whom interact with other users, including friends, family and neighbours, on a daily basis tend to have adverse effects upon their psychological well-being, such as their self-esteem/self-worth, confidence and their satisfaction with life. Students become highly susceptible towards the content posted on the site by other users. Messages and comments announced on Facebook have the tendency to be highly persuasive as they come from within the student’s social network, thus impacting the way students behave in an online environment. Are such persuasions giving rise to subcultural frictions within an online environment? Negative racial attitudes have advanced due to ‘victim messages’ and ‘superiority-based messages.’ Although victim messages are relatively easier to digest in an online environment, they still encourage ‘viewing one’s group as victimized, which ultimately leads to feelings of anger and fear towards out-groups’ and ‘a strong desire to strengthen the in-group.’ This exhibits that resistance is more so towards the material delivered on the site by users who are unable to fathom Facebook’s diverse platform due to the restrictions contained within the social norms of their offline environments. In reality, there are imaginary divisions, such as the notion of East and West, on social networking sites like Facebook such divisions are non-existent, hence, it becomes harder to comply with offline cultural regulations. ‘Online culture has been considered as a knowledge system formed by constellations of shared practices, expectations, and structures that members choose to follow with the help of networked computer technology.’ Within a users immediate offline environment, exposure to new cultural practices is rare; this may either complement or even differ from existing practices. For example, a study conducted on the Cultural Differences between an American (Facebook) and a Chinese (Renren) social networking site showed that Renren users were more involved in benevolent in-group sharing than that if they had participated on Facebook. This exhibits that culturally strict offline communities, e.g. Chinese students, are relatively more reserved online in comparison to other offline communities, e.g. American students. However, there are exceptions. Similar to the offline culture, the online culture may influence users to ‘internalize cultural values and/or practice the shared in-group norms.’ Some questions that arise from this is ‘how do individuals adapt to different cultures online? Will experience in multiple online cultures improve individuals’ cultural competence offline?’

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Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook with the intention that ‘everybody could share everything,’ however, his vision of a “transparent society” seemed to be ‘highly naïve’. The Facebook Private Policy states, “[f]or content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (‘IP content’), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook” (Facebook, 2010). This verifies that all content posted onto Facebook by the users, such as ‘demographic data, behaviour, usage and photographs,’ becomes the property of Facebook. The Facebook Corporation may then reproduce this content for profit. However, other online users can also reproduce this content for illegitimate purposes. Most often, active Facebook users take uninformed risks; this has led commentators to believe that ‘Facebook will lead to an increasingly high number of identity thefts.’ A research conducted by Sophos (an international security company) discovered that ‘41% of Facebook users will divulge personal information – such as email, date of birth and phone number – to complete strangers.’ This can cause an increase in identity theft and black-mailing along with an increased surveillance by employers and ex-partners. As a result, active Facebook users lose their claim to a ‘reasonable expectation of privacy.’ In the 2010 documentary starred by Nev Schulman, Catfish, spoke about a woman who created a false identity, on a social networking website, in the hopes of luring other users into romantic relationships. This kind of deceit most often occurs for money. Facebook can also be thought of as a modern representation of the ‘Panopticon’ model as it can be portrayed as a ‘perfect disciplinary apparatus’ that enable people to self-regulate within the presence of some form of authority. Nevertheless, for some form of action to be taken towards crimes like identity theft, online racial attacking and online stalking, the crime has to be reported by users multiple times till it is addressed.

The purpose of Facebook has changed dramatically, since the time of its creation, causing its culture to constantly evolve. This has enabled the company to have substantial profit in a short duration of time. However, at the same time, it has reinterpreted the meaning of “popular culture” online. The idea that Facebook is a virtual ‘Panopticon’ model that enables users to self-regulate, to a large extent, is untrue as most users tend to manipulate and exploit other users for their own personal gain by exceeding the boundaries permitted by the site. These kinds of behaviors are often a sign of resistance, which is a reflection of our offline environment. Hence, it is true, that the site shall not be successful in creating or maintaining the ‘utopian idea’ of the ‘global village’ in an online environment as the social norms within our offline environment is less than ideal.

Quotes of the Day

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?

Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.

In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.

– Dr. Marin Luther King Jr.

North Shore Peer Mediators Big Day Out

On Thursday 18th June, The Peace Foundation hosted the North Shore Cool Schools Peer Mediators’ Big Day Out at Upper Harbour Primary School. During the day, all the participants got to hear inspiring speeches given by our very own, Ymke Kootstra (The Peace Foundation Intern) and myself (Pink Shirt Day Presenter). Students and teachers also participated in a series of fun activities and workshops led by Christina Barruel, Head of Peace Education at The Peace Foundation. These activities and workshops encouraged the students and teachers to work together in mixed teams and to think about their role as peer mediators. What are the highlights and challenges? What are solutions to the challenges? Lots of great ideas were shared. At the end of the day, laughter filled the hall when students and teachers participated in some entertaining co-operative games.

Thank you to the students and teachers from Upper Harbour Primary School, Murrays Bay Primary School and Sherwood Primary School for participating in this event.

These photographs were taken by Chikita Kodikal (if otherwise stated). If you would like to seek permission to use these photos you can send a message by clicking on the contact Messages to Mumbai tab. Messages to Mumbai logo designed by Vidyut and Chikita Kodikal.

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Well-being For Children’s Success at Primary School

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This article was written by Chikita Kodikal and published in the MediationWorks Magazine 2015 Spring Edition.

In most New Zealand schools, student well-being is a central requirement. The inability to secure a safe environment for students at school has a direct impact on their ability to learn. As of February 2015, The Education Review Office (ERO) devised a report that delved deep into the different avenues schools had taken in order to create a culture that promoted the well-being of not just teachers and students, but also of their whanau (family). The report also looked into the various outcomes obtained with these schools having adopted different approaches to enhance well-being and student learning.

In term 1, 2014, The Education Review Office evaluated 159 schools from years 1 to 8 in order to understand how well they ‘promoted’ and ‘responded’ to student well-being. According to the report, nearly half of these selected schools promoted and responded reasonably well, while the other eighteen per cent had a relatively better approach as compared to the former lot of schools because well-being was promoted through the curriculum. A minor proportion of the listed schools chose to espouse The Extensive Approach, which students have found ‘deeply rewarding.’

The Extensive Approach is a revolutionary method that enabled students and teachers within the school to weave student well-being into their school’s core values and goals, consequently altering the culture of the school. The schools that used this approach had students, parents, and teachers, collectively, agree to a set of goals that accentuated primarily on student well-being and learning. These goals guided their actions, reviews and improvements. As a result, students found school ‘deeply rewarding’ as it not only improved their ability to learn, but also provided them with opportunities to develop leadership, self-efficacy and resourcefulness while participating with others, thus creating a ‘high trust’ culture and enhancing safety within the school. With this approach, students developed the ability to ‘take accountability for their own choices’. One of the reasons this approach worked successfully was because student leaders, alongside their teachers, were actively monitoring the well-being of students at school, while also reviewing the effectiveness of the approaches that were implemented.

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These are the desired outcomes that will materialize when schools implement all-inclusive practices with student wellbeing and student learning as the prime focus. (Source: Well-being for Children’s Success at Primary School, pg. 7)

The report devised by The Education Review Office states that there is not just one definition for ‘well-being for success.’ In fact, it assumes that young people are ‘active participants’ in not just their learning, but also in developing healthy lifestyles. The report further elaborates, ‘[a] student’s level of well-being at school is indicated by their satisfaction with life at school, their engagement with learning and their social-emotional behavior. It is enhanced when evidence-informed practices are adopted by schools in partnership with families of the students and their community. Optimal student well-being is a sustainable state, characterized by predominantly positive feelings and attitude, positive relationships at school, resilience, self-optimism and a high level of satisfaction with learning experiences.’  Adopting all-inclusive practices, such as The Extensive Approach, will materialize the desired outcomes.

It is important to understand that inclusivity plays an integral role in the mental, emotional and social well-being of a student. A sense of inclusivity is correlated to the way in which the student perceives themselves and their ability to learn inside and outside the classroom. Students want to feel accepted and valued by their peers. They also want their teachers to understand them and actively participate in their learning while also caring for them and proving that they are trustworthy.  On a similar note, parents want their children to be happy and feel safe at school.  They want their children to be able to relate to their peers, and also develop skills that will enable them to become independent. Parents want to ensure that if in case anything goes wrong at home or school, the teacher will aid the student in generating strategies that will help solve the conflict.

The schools that were unable to ‘promote’ and ‘respond’ to student well-being effectively lacked student involvement in creating an environment that enhanced their well-being and ability to learn. According to the report, some schools did not understand the relationship between values and well-being. This was mirrored in the ‘narrow’ definition of the school’s health curriculum and the very ‘compliance based’ method in which the schools had conferred with its students and the community.  Some schools did not ensure that students and teachers acquired a shared understanding of the values. In a few cases, the principal or leadership team had established the goals and values without referring to others and they were not illustrated in the curriculum either. This lack of interaction between students, teachers and the community prevented students from not only developing their leadership abilities, but also prevented them from creating a learning network that was supported by people other than their teacher.

It is essential to keep student well-being central in order to successfully implement The New Zealand Curriculum as it has a direct impact on the student’s ability to learn inside and outside the classroom and also because it fosters students into ‘confident young people.’

If you would like to know more about well-being for primary school students, please read ‘Well-being for Children’s Success at Primary School February 2015.’ If you would like to know more about well-being for secondary school students, please read ‘Well-being for Young People’s Success at Secondary School February 2015.’