Peace Means Renouncing Islamophobia


The principles of non-violence are little known and desperately needed. Here’s a simple take-away lesson. One major characteristic of violence, verbal as well as physical, is that it tends to escalate.  It is most easily reversed at the beginning and becomes progressively more difficult to stop as it spirals into more intense violence. Those who study the effects of intervention in violent situations have found that when others object or actively intervene, their efforts tend to slow or stop the violence.  Dr. Ervin Staub, who survived under Nazi rule, reports in The Roots of Evil, that the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the Nazis in Germany began their campaigns of genocide with small persecutions which citizens allowed to continue.  He reports that action by “bystanders” (those who are not victim or perpetrator) empowers the victim and diminishes the power of the aggressor. But ignoring the suffering of others allows the violence to escalate.

We’ve seen this principle in action more recently. Hate talk spread unchecked across all forms of media played a major part in creating the horrific ethnic violence in Serbia, in Rwanda, and in the Congo. Yes, there were reasoned objections but they weren’t loud enough or frequent enough to turn the tide.

Hate talk and repressive policies put into place sounds familiar. Today Muslim headscarves are banned in France, the construction of minarets are banned in Switzerland, Muslim travelers are profiled, and pundits advance the cause of prejudice unchecked. And now, the recent horrific acts of violence by Anders Breivik, an anti-Muslim terrorist.

How do we, the bystanders, intervene?

Be informed. Get your news from widely acclaimed Al Jazeera. Read Islamophobia by Chris Hedges and No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam by Reza Aslan.

Step beyond a limiting cultural framework. If you have no Muslim friends, seek to make them in your community.

Take action when newscasters and pundits utter anti-Islamic rhetoric. Contact the network with your objections. Also let the sponsors of the show know you’ll boycott their products if these violations continue.

Take action when politicians use anti-Islamic rhetoric. Contact them to explain you’ll be voting them out of office.

Actively object if you hear anti-Islamic rhetoric in a personal conversation. Silence is generally taken for agreement.

Actively object if you witness prejudice against any Muslim person. This means intervening in your school or workplace as well as in public. Here are some tactics for non-violent intervention.

What other ways can we de-escalate Islamophobia?

Save Moments In A Memory Jar

make a memory jar, how to save family memories,

Today is a wonderfully ordinary day. Lots of laughter and no squabbles. Will we remember any of it? Probably not.

It’s hard to understand why we hang on to some memories but not others. The process isn’t about how much effort or money we expend trying to make something memorable.

Long-term retrievable memories are built by what we notice, fully notice, with our minds as well as our bodies. (They aren’t made when we multitask.) Look back at any particular memory. What you recall is constructed from the sights, sounds, tastes, thoughts, and feelings unique to your experience. The way you pay attention to those elements forms your memories. The shocking part? Looking back and realizing how few rich and full memories we really form.

That’s because we only really latch on to memories when we pay attention. When we’re engaged in the moment. Recall the last really memorable meal you had. It probably wasn’t one you ate in the car or standing at the kitchen counter. It was one you savored with full awareness of flavor, texture, scent. Most likely there were other important elements as well. Perhaps it was a meal shared with a new friend or made from a challenging cookbook. Perhaps it was a last meal you had before a loved one passed away, a meal you now try reconstruct in detail.

Emotion plays a part in memory formation. And our five senses are integral when forming strong memories. Particularly smell, perhaps because the olfactory bulb is closely connected to the hippocampus (related to learning) and the amygdale (related to emotion).

For years I’ve encouraged my family to take “sensory snapshots.” We may be standing out back together, having just finished stacking firewood (because togetherness on our little farm often has to do with work) and I urge them to remember the moment in their bodies as well as their minds. We notice the scent of blackberry and milkweed blossoms, listen to frogs croaking in the pond, feel the evening’s coolness on our skin, look at the fireflies beginning to arc through the dusky sky. I don’t just want the moment to linger, I want to be able to retrieve it long after today. I want to hang on to our easy banter and feeling of shared accomplishment.

That’s where memory-storing traditions come into play. Yes, it’s easier than ever to take photos and videos. But there’s something about writing down our impressions that augments the process of locking them into place.

One tradition you might want to start in your family is a memory jar. Grab any jar, name it the Memory Jar, and keep it in an accessible place. Filling it is pretty easy. Encourage your family members to scrawl memories on any piece of paper, sign their names, add a date if they can, and stuff these memory scraps in the jar. Let the youngest ones dictate their memories to you and pop them in as well.

You’ll be interested to note what different family members regard as significant enough for the memory jar. Good grades on a test probably won’t get in. Watching the neighbor’s puppies born probably will. Your five year old may stuff in a new memory each day, your teenager may add one only at your prompting, you may tend to write down funny things the kids say. But if they’re not noted and saved, chances are they’re lost.

It’s helpful to have a “no grudge” rule. Memories don’t have to be happy, of course. The most powerful are probably those that aren’t. Your daughter may write,

“I was really scared when Max fell off the slide. We went right from the park to the hospital. We waited a long time and I fell asleep watching a TV high on the wall. Max got a green cast on his arm and I was first to sign it. I was mad my name didn’t come out too good because it’s not easy writing on a cast. The letters are kinda bumpy. We were so hungry Mom stopped for ice cream on the way home. I got peach, Max got chocolate chip, Mom got a smoothie. I think it would be fun to have a cast too but I don’t want to fall off a slide to get it.”

There are plenty of options that go along with opening and sharing the tidbits from your Memory Jar. You might choose to have a memory ceremony once a year. That’s a day when the jar is opened and the memories are read. You might want to do this on Thanksgiving, New Year’s Day, or every July 13th because that’s your family’s yearly Dad Finished His Tour of Duty party.

And you’ll want to store these memories safely. It’s easiest to start a new jar every year. Label last year’s jar and tuck it in the back of your closet. If you’re ambitious, carefully scrapbook each slip of paper next to photos or turn them into a photo collage to hang on the wall. Or, your family may prefer to keep adding to a collective jar of memories without going over the contents together, happy to make the jar a sort of time capsule to be opened well into their adult years.

While a memory jar is well-suited for family use, there are other great ways to use this random-memories-on-scraps-of-paper approach.

For couples, why not start a Memory Bank? This is best made with an opening no bigger than a piggybank. This way the memories each of you contribute can’t be fished out and read in private. It’s a way of noting little tidbits about your lives together without the pressure to contribute. Of course a “no grudge” rule is still important. And when a Memory Bank is shared by a couple, it’s best to make it a long-term project. Vow to keep it sealed until your 25th anniversary or some other far off date. By then neither of you will care if she contributed 95% of the memories, you’ll both simply have fun going over recollections you thought were long gone.

Perhaps the best impetus for storing and retrieve memories is in partnership with the oldest members of the family. On each Father’s Day card I used to share a reminiscence about my childhood to let my Dad know how much he factored into my happiness then and my resilience now. I thought I was doing it for him but I know now that sharing these memories was one way I strengthened a link with someone so dear to me.

preserve memories with your elders, keep a memory book, daily log book for seniors,

You can keep track of up-to-date memories with the elders in your family using a Memory Book, one that’s always open. A large format blank book is especially good for this purpose. With each visit write down a recollection (old or new) to paste in the log book. Add drawings and photos. If you’ve exchanged memorable phone calls, texts, and other communications remember to add notes about them when you visit. The Memory Book is a warm reminder of your affection. It’s also helpful if your loved one is in an assisted living facility or nursing home because other visitors can flip through the pages, starting conversations by talking about these and other memories while making new ones.

Thinking about the ways we form and hold on to memories is inspiring me to have more fun with my family than stacking firewood!

Five Ways Frugal Living Benefits Kids

simple living best for kids, frugal best for family, saving money develops character,

Photo by Peter Klashorst

Sophie is a single mother raising a five-year-old boy. She’s working to establish her own house cleaning business after losing her job nearly two years ago. Sophie and her son live in a small trailer home.

Marissa and Jack run a thriving dental practice while raising five-year-old twin daughters. They live in a suburban home on several acres.

The five-year-olds from these families are at opposite ends of the economic spectrum. But their parents are raising them in remarkably similar ways. Frugally.

Although Sophie would prefer a more reliable income, she wouldn’t spend a cent more than she already does on herself or her son. She adheres closely to simple living tenets. Sophie grows as much food as possible in a community garden plot and makes meals from scratch. She and her son fully enjoy the free benefits of the local library and park system. On weekends, Sophie’s folk band crowds into her trailer for practice sessions. Her son is already learning how to play the harmonica and fiddle. Sophie believes he should rely on his imagination for fun rather than on toys. When she does buy him gifts, they tend to be modest items such as crayons or socks, or ones that have long- term use such as simple tools or sheet music.

Marissa and Jack choose to live simply in their own way. They buy clothing and their children’s playthings from thrift stores, exchange only homemade gifts, and emphasize having fun outdoors. They carefully consider expenditures based on their ethics. Health is a priority, so they buy only organic foods and when they deem it necessary they pay for alternative medical treatments. Supporting the arts is another priority so they invest in original works to hang on their walls and regularly attend plays, concerts, and gallery events. They strongly believe in the importance of international travel. When they go to far-off places, they get around by bike or local mass transit, a method they find brings them closer to the cultures they’re visiting.

Many of us are living more frugally. It certainly eases financial strain. It also makes a difference in wider ways, from reducing our ecological footprint to promoting social justice.

Today’s relentlessly materialistic culture tells young people in every way possible that their identity is built on wearing, playing with, and using the very latest consumer products. That’s a heavy tide to fight against on the home front. But that tide is worth turning.

Living simply puts the emphasis on exactly the conditions that are best for our kids, now and as they grow into adulthood.

simple living best for kids, cheap and happy families, non-commercial living

Image courtesy of woodley wonderworks.

Shelter From Commercialism

Humanity has always raised her children with the stories, foods, rituals, and values of particular meaning to the people close to them. While there are undeniable benefits to today’s connections and conveniences, a major drawback is the way advertisers have insinuated themselves into the lives of even the youngest children. Nowadays, a child’s stories, foods, rituals, and values are more likely than ever provided by the marketplace. And we know what’s preached there – that meaning comes from what can be bought.

Every year, a 15 to 17 billion dollar marketing industry is aimed at our kids. That money is spent because it’s effective. It’s estimated that 565 billion dollars in purchases are influenced by four- to twelve-year-olds.

Susan Linn, who teaches psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, notes in Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood, that psychological and neurological research is used to exploit the vulnerabilities of children. She writes, “The explosion of marketing aimed at kids today is precisely targeted, refined by scientific method, and honed by child psychologists – in short, it is more pervasive and intrusive than ever before.”

These strategies are not only employed in advertising itself but are embedded in Internet sites, video games, television, and movies. They’re designed into packaging, implicit in many playthings, and nearly ubiquitous in schools.

Young people have minimal defenses against such tactics. Children under the age of eight aren’t even able to understand the persuasive intent of advertising. And studies show that a network in the brain necessary for many introspective abilities – forming a self-image, understanding the ongoing story of one’s own life, and gaining insight into other people’s behavior – is profoundly weaker in young people. Those brain networks aren’t fully established until adulthood. Just at the stage when selfhood is forming, our children are most vulnerable to the messages of a consumer culture.

Those of us who live simply shelter our kids in different ways and to differing degrees. No matter what approach we take, it’s neither possible nor desirable to shelter teens the same way we shelter toddlers. That’s why it’s vital to raise our kids to be critical thinkers with a strong sense of self. Then they’re empowered to make their own fully informed choices.

Delayed Gratification

This is a biggie in the “you’ll thank me later” department because kids who are able to delay gratification are much more likely to do well as they grow up.

We model delayed gratification each time we choose to save, make do, or make it ourselves. We demonstrate it when the whole family adds coins to a jar until there’s enough to finance an anticipated event. We teach it when we help children find ways to earn and save for their own aims. And we show that it’s expected whether our kids have to wait to see a movie until it’s available at the library or wait until the next birthday for a new pair of jeans.

This may seem negative, particularly when popular culture constantly screams “have it now” and “get what you want.” But there are enormous positives. Our children become familiar with the pleasures of anticipation, which multiplies the eventual delight when a goal is reached. They also begin to internalize the ability to delay gratification. That is pivotal for success. In multiple studies (cited in Daniel Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence) children who were able to defer gratification grew into teens and young adults who were more socially competent, better able to deal with frustration, more dependable, reached higher educational attainments, and were effectively able to make and reach long-term goals.

Delayed gratification is related to impulse control. Research shows that a child’s ability to control his or her impulses at an early age is predictive of success even decades later as a healthy, financially stable, and positive member of the community.

There are many ways to help kids gain the positive coping skills that help them control their impulses and delay gratification. It may be about waiting, but the outcome is extraordinary.

family values and simple living,

Image courtesy of Lorena


Despite advertisers’ images of happy children playing with new toys and giddy teens dancing in designer hoodies, the facts are glaringly obvious. Things don’t make us happier. Children seem to understand the “time is money” conundrum. When their parents spend more time away from home earning an income, they have less time to spend with the family. In a nationwide poll of American kids ages nine to fourteen, ninety percent said they’d prefer increased time with friends and family over material possessions. And when asked if they could have one wish to change their parents’ jobs, sixty-three percent said they would like their mom or dad to have a job that gave them more time to do things together. Only thirteen percent wished their parents made more money.

The more materialistic young people are, the unhappier they tend to be. According to research cited in The High Price of Materialism by Tim Kasser, people who hold materialistic values are more likely to suffer from a whole dumpster load of problems. This includes aggressive behavior, insecurity, depression, low self-esteem, narcissism, even physical maladies. And when people place high value on material aims, they’re prone to have trouble with interpersonal relationships and intimacy. Materialism is also related to less independent thinking and lower value placed on being “true to oneself.” Of course, we want to spare our kids this festering personal mess.

How? We recognize that a sense of well-being depends on intangible qualities like warm interpersonal relationships, reasonable autonomy in one’s choices, exactly those things that money can’t buy. But what’s interesting is that materialism and unhappiness seem to “cause” each other. We all know people who exemplify this. Unhappy people tend to seek status and satisfaction in more transitory ways such as acquisition and appearance. When they do, they feel a temporary boost in happiness, which reinforces even greater materialism.

Studies show that happiness has much more to do with experiences than with possessions. A family camping trip will provide more lasting pleasure than a large purchase. That may be due to the way we access memories. Long after the experience is over, we have fuller sensory-based recall that’s invariably richer than any a purchase can provide.

It’s important to model a cheerful approach to simple living for our kids, but that’s not enough. To ward off materialistic attitudes, our children need the personal strength found in self-worth. That self- worth tends to come from supportive relationships and a sense of accomplishment. In a marvelous example of synchronicity, these are precisely what simple living reinforces in our daily lives. We consciously choose to do for our- selves, to spend more family time together, and to focus on active rather than passive entertainment.

frugal families, simple living benefits children,

US Fish and Wildlife Service

Creativity and Enthusiasm

Many adults seem determined to keep kids busy by enrolling them in supervised activities. And they provide kids with plenty of distractions like toys, video games, and television. Unintentionally, these efforts teach children that fallow time is undesirable. But brain studies show that daydreaming, contemplation, even that uncomfortable condition we identify as “boredom” is vitally important. These natural periods of down time are necessary to incorporate higher level learning and to generate new ideas.

If we expect children to resolve their own boredom without resorting to electronic or other distractions, we help them access a wellspring of ideas that seem to come from nowhere, a wellspring they discover within. Frugal living is one way to preserve a slow pace and minimal distraction load, letting our children become familiar with generating their own ideas.

When we live frugally, we also tend to avoid popular methods of “enriching” our children’s lives such as academic preschool, specialty classes, coached sports, and other paid programs. That saves on fees. It also fosters the kind of expansive learning that’s natural for our species. Research continues to show that when adults are highly directive and exert influence even in the form of rewards or evaluation, their efforts actually diminish a child’s motivation, enthusiasm, creativity, and ability to innovate. Well-intended efforts to hone a child’s abilities through early instruction tend to be counterproductive.

That’s also true of play. Our kids don’t need expensive toys or games. Children’s creativity and resourcefulness flourish when they play without the structure imposed by most playthings. Imagination flows freely when they use what they find in the backyard to play act, build hideouts, or create their own games. In contrast, a toy linked to a movie release or a game with structured rules has predetermined uses and children are much less likely to innovate.

Stuart Brown and Christopher Vaughn write in Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul that, “play lies at the core of creativity and innovation.” It enhances development in areas such as emotional health, social skills, motivation, confidence, a sense of justice, and much more. Young people who maintain a playful nature into adulthood are, according to Brown and Vaughn, remarkably well suited for success. A playful adult is more flexible, humorous, optimistic, and efficient. They note that throughout life, “the ability to play is critical not only to being happy, but also to sustaining social relationships and being a creative, innovative person.”

When our frugal homes provide plenty of raw materials necessary for play without up-to-the-minute popular toys, we’re putting into place the best conditions for sustaining creativity and playfulness.

value of chores for kids, kids delayed gratification, kids impulse control, non-commercial kids

Image courtesy of Catherine Scott

Self-Reliance And Responsibility

There’s a resoundingly positive impact on our children when we include them in the real work of maintaining our family home, yard, vehicles, and more. Children growing up in frugal households often have regular chores. While some complaining is natural, chores help children understand how things work. They see the benefits of saving as they do calculations for the family budget. They recognize what happens if they forget to take the dog out or don’t bring the laundry in from the line before it rains. They take extra pleasure in the warm fire from firewood they helped to stack. Chores also enable children to master useful skills that will help them become more self-reliant adults.

Taking on early responsibility brings long-term consequences. A study, starting in the 1930s, followed men from young adulthood to death. These men had very different lives; some were affluent Harvard graduates and others were impoverished inner city residents. The men who helped out with regular tasks starting at a young age were most likely to enjoy stability and good mental health.

And there’s more evidence. A long-term study followed children from early childhood to their mid-twenties. What led to success? Balancing all other variables, it was found that the best predictor of a young adult’s success was participation in household tasks at a young age. And we’re talking resounding success – including educational attainment, high intellectual capabilities, a career, and good relationships with family and friends.

The optimum age to get started is three or four years old. According to researchers, starting in the preteen or teen years doesn’t have a strong association with success, although children who take an active role early continue to help out as teens. It’s important to gear the task to the child. Parents should take care to present tasks that aren’t too difficult and that fit the child’s learning style, and not to “pay” for tasks directly or through an allowance tied to the work. Researchers also suggest that children be involved in choosing tasks, perhaps through family meetings or rotating chore charts.

They key to success may also lie in the sensory riches gained by hands-on tasks. Those of us who live simply tend to do more for ourselves. We may grind our own grain and make our own bread, we may raise chickens and barter the extra eggs for a local beekeeper’s honey, we may fix rather than replace what’s broken. And when our kids take part they also gain learning experiences that apply to many other areas of life.

Neurologist Frank Wilson explains in The Hand: How Its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture that brain development and hand use is inextricably connected. And Wilson found a transfer effect. As he studied people who were masters in all sorts of fields (surgeon, puppeteer, and guitarist to name a few), he found each of them had engaged in regular hands-on efforts during their formative years. Whether they grew up doing farm work, playing a musical instrument, or helping grandpa build birdhouses,Wilson says the hand-brain link activated “hidden physical roots . . . of passionate and creative work.”

Starting our kids on tasks at an early age blesses them with self-reliance and a greater likelihood of success. It also demonstrates to them day after day that their efforts are needed. A child can see the outcome of his or her efforts in a meal the whole family worked to get on the table. It feels good. It feels even better is when a parent says, “Thanks, I couldn’t have done it without you.” There’s not a commercial product out there that can create the same genuine satisfaction.

Sophie’s little boy and Marissa and Jack’s twin daughters know that satisfaction. Their young lives have ample time for play, working alongside adults, and warm family conversation. The children soak up their parents’ values while learning and growing largely free of commercial influences, at least for now. Their parents have never met each other but they have the same focus. They see simple living as an integral way to bring forth a more conscious and life sustaining future for their children.

Natural Life Magazine  July/Aug 2011

Learn More

All Made Up: A Girl’s Guide to Seeing Through Celebrity Hype to Celebrate Real Beauty by Audrey D. Brashich (Walker Books, 2006)

Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture by Juliet B. Schor (Scribner, 2005)

Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel by Jean Kilbourne (Free Press, 2000)

Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood by Susan Linn (New Press, 2004)

Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman (Bantam, 2006)

Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Stuart Brown, Christopher Vaughan (Avery Trade, 2010)

The High Price of Materialism by Tim Kasser (The MIT Press, 2003)

The Psychology of Parental Control: How Well-meant Parenting Backfires by Wendy S. Grolnick (Psychology Press, 2002)

What Kids Really Want That Money Can’t Buy: Tips for Parenting in a Commercial World by Betsy Taylor (Grand Central Publishing, 2004)

Commercial Free Childhood

Alliance For Childhood

New American Dream