Rushing into the winter break in December, you probably thought that going back to the grind after some time off would sparkle your rusty motivation. After all, most of us had at least a couple of days off in a warm company of family, friends, and delicious food. Away from the daily hustle, our minds and bodies hit reset and regrouped for a new adventure. But why, after the January lull and into the dark month of February, is motivation lagging behind?

Despite high expectations, January might be a year’s most unproductive month and cold temperatures in the following month can extend that lack of productivity. As you ease into 2019—powered by family gatherings, friendly get-togethers, and, most likely, a disrupted routine—it almost feels like you need to remind yourself of your past pre-holiday self in order to function. We’re resurfacing from a timeless, placeless oblivion back to the world of order and responsibility. Not only are we burdened by the societal pressures, but also self-imposed resolutions to start a new life when the clock strikes midnight – resolutions which many of us have already tossed aside as the months chug along. Alongside our efforts to re-establish a routine, living life inspired might be a bigger challenge than we think.

Inspiration is often perceived as a metaphysical concept: a transcendental phenomenon, a feeling that has to be nourished and pampered. An inspired life is living with purpose every minute, despite any curveballs that may arise. Along with identifying the triggers that awaken inspiration, it is equally important to sustain it—through many roadblocks and downturns. This is where most people begin to struggle. Once life throws us out of the environment or mindset conducive to an inspired living, we can quickly lose our mojo, plummeting into what we perceive to be a dull existence.

Staying inspired is a skill that you can pick up and hone. Follow these tips to turn inspiration into a habit.

  1. Actions over feelings. Think “inspire” rather than “inspiration”. Instead of waiting around for a feeling, focus on the actions that you can take to evoke it. Inspire yourself and inspire others. Why do you do what you do? When inspiration is hard to summon, zoom out to the bigger picture and think of the impact of your work, how your actions affect your family and friends, and the community at large. Remember, an inspired living is living with purpose. Be clear about your purpose and go back to it when inspiration starts to fade.
  2. Seek inspiration in the mundane. Unless you live in a perfect world, you can’t always surround yourself with things that inspire you. While it is instrumental to design a personal inspiration heaven—an image of an environment where you feel most inspired—it is equally important to find inspiration in the mundane: in a grocery store, on your way to work, on the bus. We touch thousands of lives every day. Every interaction matters. Listen to the stories around you, learn from the incredible people out there in the world. Find someone who inspires you. If you wish to be more proactive, challenge yourself to inspire at least one person a day. This can be your family member, a co-worker, or a complete stranger.
  3. Practice makes perfect. Life can wreak havoc our plans, throw off our inspiration, and turn our habits upside down. It is in these moments when you need to remind yourself that actions trigger feelings, and practice actions that inspire.

Screenshot_20181023-160649Olga Ivanova is an Edmonton-based communications professional and writer with a knack for storytelling.

 

After four long, active days of hiking in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile I am not sorry to spend a few hours listening to podcasts and watching the Patagonian landscape roll by from the comfort of an air-conditioned bus. As we wind our way out of the park towards the Chilean-Argentine border, we are treated to dramatic views of the Paine massif from various angles as well as a photo op with a herd of guanaco and one very distant and lonely flamingo. By the time we reach the border, the mountains have receded into the Patagonian steppe, which is all rolling grey-green and brown scrub under harsh blue sky. After some last-chance Chilean souvenir shopping we cross the border into Argentina and continue for hours more before seeing mountains again on the approach to El Calafate, a pretty tourist town and the gateway to Los Glaciares National Park.

Guanaco

A few years ago, I convinced some friends to take the Greyhound for three days and $130 from Victoria, BC to Austin, Texas so I have not only a great appreciation for the beauty of barren landscapes, but a high tolerance for long distance bus rides. Something about this bus ride, whether it was the previous four days of early mornings, poor sleep and physical activity, or the dehydrating air conditioning and hypnotic landscape of the bus ride itself, I could not handle. About half way through I began to nod off, occasionally waking up groggy and uncomfortable.

The roast lamb

I rallied in time for dinner with the rest of the group and went all in, ordering a plate of precariously stacked roast lamb and vegetables. The meat slides off the bone and is satisfyingly charred on the outside. Sadly, I barely make it halfway through the mountain of meat and root vegetables before exhaustion overcomes me in the form of mild nausea and light-headedness. Rather than pushing through the discomfort for the sake of the night out, I bought a bottle of Powerade and went back to the hotel for a full night’s sleep. I still regret not being able to finish, or fully appreciate, that meal but by missing out on one culinary experience I ensured that I was back in full working order to enjoy the next day’s glacier walk on Perito Moreno Glacier.

perito moreno glacier.jpg

Travel can be exhausting. The best trips tire you out and revive you in equal measure. The pressure to maximize your time in a new place and to experience everything on offer can backfire, though. Even on holiday, it is important to have downtime and listen to your body’s needs or you run the risk of burning out. My recent trip to Patagonia taught me this lesson in a number of ways.

Although I am in adequately good shape, I am not an experienced hiker. The main hikes on Intrepid Travel’s “Patagonia Trekking” tour are challenging, although the tour is designed to be manageable for a range of experience levels. The first hike of the trip gave me confidence. The second was one of two all-day hikes with some difficult uphill sections. I started the day at a steady, confident pace which deteriorated before even reaching the most challenging section of the hike – the last, uphill leg before our destination. By the time I returned to the campsite, far behind most of the group except one of the guides and another member of the group who was pacing himself, I was hobbled by burning toe pain and seriously doubting whether I could keep up with or enjoy the fourth hike which was said to be both longer and steeper.

almost near the summit

Two days later we set out on the fourth hike to Mirador del Torres, the grand finale of the W Hike. Somewhat refreshed, but still cautious, I paced myself from the very start of the walk. Instead of instinctively trying to keep up with the group at all times I focused on staying relaxed, breathing and maintaining an easy, sustainable pace. I soon realized that rather than falling way behind the others, the group ebbed and flowed around me as everyone’s energy and pace fluctuated. Sometimes I was near the front, other times at the back. I was able to make it to the summit of the hike feeling challenged but not frustrated or dispirited. Pinched toes eventually made me fall behind on the very last stage of the return to camp, but this time it did not affect my sense of accomplishment because I had maintained control of my experience throughout.

patagnia firebush

Slowing down, resting and taking time to myself when I needed it rather than rushing to keep up, to do everything and never miss out meant that in the end I was able to fully enjoy my trip without getting exhausted, sick or grumpy. When travelling, the tendency to overdo things comes from a desire to make the most of life. In daily life we often overextend ourselves out of a drive for productivity, desire for accomplishment or to be of service to others. Instead, without rest and downtime we become burnt out, anxious and more likely to flake on commitments. Saying yes and taking opportunity as it comes is important, but so is knowing when it’s time to go to bed – whether that bed is a tent in Patagonia or a queen sized mattress at home.


IMG_20180718_115103_621Elisabeth Hill is an Edmonton-based writer and researcher who currently works as a Programming and Engagement Coordinator at the Art Gallery of Alberta.

Let’s face it – we’ve all been in a dark place called The Writing Slump. Writer’s Block is a phenomenon that happens to every writer at some point. When words start to escape you and ideas get stale, you need a reliable emergency kit for working through blockages and staying productive.

I plummet into the writing abyss of Writer’s Block when my mind is bogged down with a million different things, when I accidentally lose all hope in the piece I’m drafting or when the caffeine from my latte starts to wear off. To be honest, there are a million triggers that can send me straight to the writing slump but as a professional writer with constant deadlines looming, not writing is not an option!

How can you write yourself out of linguistic stagnation when taking a day or even a couple of hours off might not be an option?

Take a few deep breaths. If you find yourself torturing your pen or smashing your keyboard, close your eyes, let annoyance and frustration dissipate, and take a few deep breaths. Accept the situation with a serene mind and focus on getting back on the writing track. There’s nothing worse than savouring the emotions you might be feeling in times of a writing paralysis; rather, choose to tackle the blockage with concrete .

Fight the temptation to quit, because you won’t always have the luxury of taking long breaks or waiting for inspiration to kick in. The reality of writing – especially if you get paid to do it – is that you don’t have all the time in the world to polish off every sentence. Learning to combat writer’s block is key to becoming a successful professional writer.

Seek inspiration in the work of others. Is there a writer you find exceptionally talented or eloquent? Or a magazine you like skimming? Turn your attention to the content and style of fellow writers for fresh ideas, new phrases, and a spark.

Get caught up in technicalities. When your creative juices ebb, shift your focus to formatting, laying out your pages, assembling appendices. Writing is a multi-step endeavour that involves editing, fact-checking, revisions, approvals, research, and much more. Just because your word count isn’t growing, you can still be moving forward with your writing project.

Freewrite for two minutes. Zoom out your computer screen or open a new page in your notebook and write. Jot down everything that comes to mind on your topic. Even if you’re repeating yourself or words don’t go well together, refrain from judgement until the time is up. This well-known writing exercise can help ideas and sentences coalesce into a unique creation.

Tell a friend what you want to write – but currently can’t. Alternating between different modes of expression can help reset your brain. If your friend really listens, maybe they’ll even offer feedback. If no friend is available in the moment of a writing crisis, give your imaginary audience an elevator pitch about your topic.

Go back to the basics. Why are your drafting this piece? What’s the message you’re attempting to convey? Oftentimes, we get bogged down in perfect grammar, elegant style, active verbs, and paragraph transitions that we forget what we’re trying to say. In desperate times of a writing slump, be ready to sacrifice your eloquence (and polish it off when you ).

No matter how dissatisfying or dark your writing abyss looks like, it’s just another setback you need to power through. There is, probably, no single magic recipe for breaking out of a writing slump – so make your own soup.


Screenshot_20181023-160649Olga Ivanova is an Edmonton-based communications professional and writer with a knack for storytelling.

We are constantly engaged with technology, and, sometimes, it can be difficult to justify buying or bringing a notebook when we know that we can just type our work on our laptop, phone, or tablet. Technology affords us many great luxuries, but especially in the initial, frenzied, creative stages of writing, it can be best to go back to basics and pull out a pen and paper. The artistic freedom that a blank page affords can be liberating. While I may find myself frozen and frustrated before a computer screen, there is a special joy that accompanies writing with pen and paper. Below, I have compiled a list of my favourite reasons for going back to basics when I write.

writingwednesdays

Automatic illustrations. Drawing, doodling, scribbling: whatever you call it, being able to add artwork instantly to whatever piece of writing you are working on can help to keep your creative juices flowing. Doodling can help you come up with new ideas, see things in different ways, and can even alleviate anxiety. For readers, illustrations (no matter how crude) can catch the eye, add to the tone, increase dimensionality, and make the piece feel more personal. Difficult to accomplish on the computer, but so automatic with a pen in hand, doodling has some major upsides for creative minds of all varieties.

Change the shape of words. Sometimes words need to be big, or zigzagged, or adorned with curlicues. They may need to be in seven different colours, or dripping with slime, or be spread out all over the page. Maybe you want to insert a word that requires a different alphabet, like Arabic or Ukrainian, right in the middle of your English poem. Something that can be difficult and frustrating to accomplish on the computer can become a fun and invigorating project on paper. Easily being able to make your words look how you want helps to maintain the flow of creativity and can lead to greater satisfaction at the end of your work period.

Spell however you want! Trying to write a short story from the perspective of a child? Are you looking to stretch out or compress words in the song you’re writing? Have you coined a new term? Are you perpetually distracted by your spelling mistakes when all you want is to quickly get an idea down? It can be infuriating to have to go back again and again to change what autocorrect has “fixed” for you, or try to continue on bravely writing amongst the many red underlined words in your document. Writing on paper will never pose this problem.

Format the words on the page easily and quickly. Whether you want words in all four corners of the page but nowhere in between, or spaced out like bricks, or placed in the shape of a dress, writing on paper will always allow you this luxury with the least amount of fuss.

Piece together pieces of different drafts. Have you ever found yourself writing draft after draft of the same idea, sentence, or poem? Well, there’s no easy backspace or delete function when you’re working with paper, and, if you’re like me, even if something was crossed out in a crazed bout of frustration, I can usually still read it. After I have written all my drafts, I can take all the pieces of my brainstorming, take the best from each, and weave them together. On a computer, my ideas are so easily deleted; on paper, they remain traceable.


rachaelRachael Heffernan has recently completed a Master’s Degree in Religious Studies at the University of Alberta. In the course of her academic career, she has received the Harrison Prize in Religion and The Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship. During her undergraduate degree, Rachael was published twice in The Codex: Bishop University’s Journal of Philosophy, Religion, Classics, and Liberal Arts for her work on Hittite divination and magic and philosophy of religion. Rachael has also had the opportunity to participate in an archaeological dig in Israel, and has spoken at a conference on Secularism at the University of Alberta on the Christian nature of contemporary Western healthcare. Her wide-ranging interests in scholarship are complemented by her eclectic extra-curricular interests: she is a personal safety instructor and lifelong martial artist who has been recognized for her leadership with a Nepean Community Sports Hero Award. She is an enthusiastic reader, writer, and learner of all things, a tireless athlete, and a passionate teacher.

As a non-Muslim ally, you might be watching the current state of affairs with regards to how Muslims are treated in the West, in Western political rhetoric and while being massacred in their homelands, and you just might be wondering what you can do about it. Or at least you should be wondering that. It is entirely understandable that you might feel overwhelmed by the deluge of hatred being lobbed at Muslims these days and you might not even look to yourself as the source of the antidote to this hatred. But you are.

Here is a quick list (literally off the top of my head) of 20 things you can easily do to combat Islamophobia starting right now. You might look at some of these items and think you lack the capability to do some of these things but I am here to assuage some of your concerns. Firstly, you don’t have to do all 20 at once. Combatting Islamophobia is an ongoing and never-ending process. Islamophobia has been an issue since the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) himself, and it periodically rises and falls depending on a lot of converging factors. We happen to be at a time when Islamophobia is at a fever pitch, mainly because of geopolitical problems and hideous orange cheeto-puffs who think they can say whatever they want when running for the US presidency.

The second thing to bear in mind is that yes, you can do all of these things. There is no magic to becoming an activist. It isn’t something you study in University (although studying a lot of other things helps build the necessary mindset because: “knowledge = power” but that is beside the point). Anyone and everyone with a kernel of compassion in their heart can help do many of the things contained on this list and would go a long way to fulfilling your duties as a non-Muslim ally. Yes, you have duties.

If you are wondering how and why any of this applies to you, know this: Muslim or not, Islamophobia affects all of us. It divides our world. Its end logic is genocide. If you want any part of making this world a better place and preventing harm against a marginalized group (which, frankly, should be all of you out there), then this list is for you. Get on it.

Self

  1. Call it what it is. And know where it comes from. Some people are hesitant to use the word Islamophobia. Heck, I even attended a lecture recently by washed-up writing troll in which he declared that Islamophobia is a term created by all Muslims to apologize for Daesh. What?

Islamophobia is real. It affects Muslims every single day. There are a lot of definitions for it rolling around the ol’ internet but mainly it is “an unfounded hostility towards Muslims and therefore fear or dislike of all or most Muslims” as well as describing an attitude that addresses “the discriminations faced by Muslims that [can] not be explained by their race, class or immigration status.” Although, I would like to point out that the latter points often go hand-in-hand with fear of Muslims and ignorance of Islam.

This is going to sound really harsh but one has to remember that, sometimes, describing the facts is difficult to accept: part of knowing where Islamophobia comes from is recognizing that it is a cultural problem. Islamophobia dominates in white, Western culture. There are a lot of reasons for this, some of which I will list now:

  • As hard as this is going to be for Westerners to accept, we are way more isolated than other cultural groups. We tend to be withdrawn and get most of our information about other cultures from mass media rather than actually interacting with them. Add to this fact that the mass media is far from impartial about Muslims (in particular) and the air is rife with possibilities for Islamophobia. Misinformation and a lack of information are some of the largest contributing factors to a prejudiced worldview. Simply recognizing this fact is crucial to moving forward.
  • Islamophobia does not have its origins in white, Western culture (after all, the first Islamophobes tended to be members of whichever dominant culture Muslims found themselves in), however, it is fairly common to this culture because (believe it or not) white, Western culture tends to define itself on what it thinks it is not. And historically, because of close proximity and the legacy of colonialism, the “others” against which white, Western cultures have defined themselves are, not surprisingly, Muslim cultures.

Why is it important to recognize in which cultural contexts Islamophobia typically dwells? Well, if we know where something flourishes, we can better address it. If you are a white, Western, non-Muslim, the chances are much higher that Islamophobia is part of your subtextual daily narrative, particularly if you consume mass media in any way (which is most of us). It might even be an intrinsic part of how you define yourself without your realizing this to be the case. Learning that and recognizing it is critical to challenging that narrative and then abolishing it entirely. It is also important to recognize how certain cultural contexts will create negative associations with groups we perceive as “Others” at an unconscious level in our minds.

  1. Look inward at your implicit bias. Implicit Islamophobia is a type of prejudice that results from subtle cognitive processes which operate at a level below that of conscious awareness. The bias refers to stereotypes and an overall ethos (set of attitudes subscribed to) that initiate behavioural patterns and thereby effect how we understand others, our actions towards them and decisions about them. There are quite a few common stereotypes associated with Muslims through overt messaging or more subtextual associations in media and writing that affect our unconscious biases towards them. Some of these associations are internalized by Muslims as well and can affect how they think of themselves and one another. Recognizing that these associations exist and might be operating at the level of implicit bias is just the beginning of your journey in cleansing one’s self of these harmful associations.

According to the research on racial implicit bias compiled by the Open Society Foundation, it was shown that negative associations can affect people’s decisions and their behavior toward people of other demographics than themselves. Implicit bias also affects how people act with people of another race. In spite of their conscious feelings, white people with high levels of implicit racial bias show less warmth and welcoming behavior toward black people, as an example.

  1. Do a de-bias cleanse periodically. Yes, this is an actual thing and it represents the ultimate responsibility taken by an individual seeking to live in a way that reduces their harm on others. You can consider signing up for this 7-day online cleanse which provide you with daily tasks to de-bias yourself. Other important steps include:
  • Raising awareness of implicit Islamophobia
  • Identifying and acknowledging differences between you and Muslims and knowing that those differences are OK
  • Checking your thought processes and decisions for bias
  • Identify distractions and sources of stress in your environment. These tend to force reversion back to stereotypical associations in our mind and therefore habitually harmful behaviours.
  • Institute feedback mechanisms. Get your friends to tell you how you are doing. It’s a thing and will likely inspire them to begin this process in themselves.
  1. Educate your children. Prejudice starts young and begins with the messages we are taught in adolescence. If these messages of prejudice are consistent growing up, the possibility of growing up Islamophobic is very high. Educating your children includes teaching them about Islam and Muslims directly (yes, you can do this! There are many resources out there!), visiting a mosque as a family, getting to know your Muslim neighbours, attending Ramadan fast-breaking meals (iftar), and much more. Educating your children about Islam also means a less-direct approach by which you limit the negative messaging around Islam from coming into your home. This means scrutinizing what media your children are consuming and replacing it with more diverse educational options. If you think that is too much work, take one look at the state of our world right now and recognize what could have been prevented if even a few more parents did this.
  2. Visit a mosque and speak to people there. Don’t be shy. Mosques are typically inviting places – albeit they can a bit disorganized. Recognize that most Muslims are forbidden from proselytizing and trying to convert people so you don’t have to worry about any uncomfortable conversations or ulterior motives in people being excited that you have appeared. Introduce yourself to people inside, let them know why you are there, maybe watch a prayer in action. You will be shocked at the response when people thank you for taking the time to learn about Islam and Muslims. And you might just learn something and make some new friends to boot. A mosque is more aptly called a “masjid” or “Jamia” in Arabic – meaning a place to gather together to submit oneself. This doesn’t only mean a place that Muslims put their faces on the ground to pray – often mosques are community centers which house language classes, knowledge courses, counselling services and much more. If you live with a mosque in your community, you are more than welcome to join in the community activities provided therein.
  3. Join an interfaith coalition. There are a great many of them and they are always looking for more participants. If you do not belong to an identifiable religious group or you consider yourself an atheist, fear not. You are still welcome. Approach organizers and find out how you can contribute to the conversation and, most importantly, learn from members of other faith groups. You can take that knowledge back to your family and your communities as well.
  4. Become friends with Muslims. This is easier than people realize. First of all, you might already be friends with a Muslim and not even realize it. Not everyone is “visibly” Muslim as the media would have us believe. Second of all, visiting mosques and joining interfaith coalitions is a sure-fire way to meet them. The next step is initiating friendship – not so that you can have your token Muslim friend that you reference every time someone mentions anything about Islam or says something Islamophobic, but simply to branch out, know someone from a community and way of life different than yours. Muslims are just like regular people because they are people. Some Muslims may be more approachable and socially adept – others, not so much. Regardless, taking the initiative to get to know others and forge lasting bonds goes a long way to bridging false differences and divided communities.
  5. Visit a Muslim country. Who doesn’t love traveling?! Of course, you want to pick one of the few that is not on fire right now, but visiting a Muslim country is one of the quickest ways to learn a whole lot about Islam and Muslims and to see that they are just living their lives like the rest of the world. Speaking in generalizations, you are bound to get some delicious food and incredible hospitality along the way. Plus, hearing the call-to-prayer five times a day is beautiful and a totally unique experience. Morocco, Egypt, Indonesia and many others are on the list of those filled with wanderlust so be sure to get them on your list too!

Preventative

  1. Interrupt Islamophobia every single time you encounter it. This is the principle behind the recent anti-discrimination #makeitawkward campaign. Every time you hear someone uttering falsehoods about Muslims, or generalizing about Islam: speak up. Every time you are watching a film or television show with others and Muslims are depicted in a harmful light: speak up. It doesn’t require explanation. It doesn’t require follow-up. A simple “That kind of harmful stereotyping is unacceptable here” will do. It takes practice to be assertive but once people realize that being prejudiced around you is not allowed, they might think twice about doing it altogether.
  2. Start a conversation circle in your community. Do you know people who are scared of Muslims or hate them? Why not take a tiny bit of initiative and start a discussion group? There are surely organizations in your community that would be willing to join forces and support such an initiative but really it doesn’t take much more than getting some people around a table to have a conversation. The power of this kind of initiative is in its simplicity. Making safe space for people to be real about their concerns and simultaneously un-learn harmful behaviours is a crucial way forward.
  3. Meet with local Muslim leaders to find out what they need. Yes, you can do this all on your own. It will likely help you to understand how interrupting Islamophobia can best be done and how to initiate conversation circles to exact actual change. By backing those actions up with knowledge of what marginalized people need from their mouths directly is extremely powerful. Start by asking at the mosque and keeping your eye on local media stories to find out who the important Muslim leaders are in your community.
  4. Spread the word on social media. Don’t be afraid to share positive stories about Muslims on your social media accounts, even if you don’t have a single Muslim friend or ally on your page to back you up. You do not have a single need to respond to haters so let them fill the comments sections how they want – for every ten haters your posts attract, there are likely double that amount of sensible people, watching in the shadows, learning from the information you put out there and changing their worldviews as a result.
  5. Talk with family and friends. Painful conversations need to be had around familial prejudices that you will no longer stand for. Be direct and unemotional letting your family members and friends know that you will not stand for Islamophobia in your midst. Or ask them to explain their Islamophobic jokes because you don’t understand why they are funny. Be compassionate and patient. With time, love and kindness will conquer anyone – it is just a matter of being consistent with your message. Interrupt prejudice every time it arises and don’t be afraid of being the only person standing for compassion and justice in a room full of your peers.
  6. If you’re a business owner, hire Muslims. Diversify your staff. Give others the opportunity to learn about Muslims through proximity to their coworkers. Just make sure you educate yourself first on typical Muslim etiquette and holidays, and if there is anything you are unsure of, just ask them. Most Muslims with culturally-sensitive employers would have nothing but respect for someone who took the time to learn what makes them comfortable in their working environments.
  7. If you’re a journalist, share good news about Muslims. Take the time to find the positive stories (and there are plenty) that have Muslims at their heart. Use these narratives as a way to counter the overwhelming deluge of Muslim stereotypes found in mainstream media today. At the very least, use measured and mindful language when writing about negative stories that might involve Muslims and be aware of double standards employed against them when they are not even involved. A case in point is the fact that the term terrorist is only associated with acts of violence perpetuated by Muslims, whether or not that individual acted alone or was mentally unstable. In the cases of white violence, mental illness excuses pervade. Changing those narratives subtly by vocabulary shifts has a bigger impact than can be measured.
  8. Don’t be afraid to plan ways to educate others about Islam. Do you belong to a church group or youth organization? Do you sit on the board of a community league? Why not take your social position within specific organizations as an opportunity to advocate for some knowledge about Islam to be disseminated. This could mean bringing in a Muslim lecturer to talk about Islam generally; it could be facilitating interfaith dialogue; it could be joining forces with Muslim organizations to get advocacy work done. Whatever you decide to do, you can take seemingly small, simple opportunities to make a world of difference.

Reactive

  1. Stay calm and step in when it is safe to do so. When something terrible happens to Muslims in your community or a Muslim in front of you, the first step is to remain calm. Do not panic. Someone hurling insults at a hijabi on the train might become violent but they are less likely to do so if other people step in. You do not even need to address such a person. Simply sit down next to the Muslim person and engage them in conversation as though you have known them your entire life. They know why you are helping them and they appreciate it. Stay with them until their attacker stops and leaves.

If a Muslim is being physically attacked, start hollering and get others to do so too. Get someone to call 911 immediately in the meantime. Get someone else to take pictures of an attacker. Get the group to lay into them to stop violence against their victim. If you are alone and witnessing an attack, stepping in while screaming and swinging will usually send someone running. Being witnessed has the power to send an attacker running alone.

  1. File a report. This is crucial for agencies that are trying to track data on Islamophobic incidences. In Alberta, you can file a report with the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council Islamophobia hotline at 1-800-607-3312. They will then refer you to either mental health professionals, legal counseling or law enforcement agencies to take appropriate further action.
  2. Contact the police. Although many agencies such as AMPAC will forward some incidents to police for charges to be laid or further investigation, you can always take it upon yourself to also file a police report of a specific incident you witnessed or came upon. Anti-Muslim graffiti, hate flyers and other such issues qualify as Hate Crimes under the Canadian criminal code (not “free speech” here!) and should be prosecuted as such.
  3. Thank other allies and join forces in denouncing hatred. Once you start on this journey, you will find that you are not alone. A great many other allies from all walks of life are taking a stand against Islamophobia and other forms of discrimination. When those individuals and groups do so, take the time to thank them for their efforts and note that they do not go unnoticed. Solidarity against hatred is the way of the future and allies are a crucial part of dismantling the systems which allow for it to continue.

nakitaNakita Valerio is an academic, activist and writer in the community. She is currently pursuing graduate studies in History and Islamic-Jewish Studies at the University of Alberta.  Nakita was named one of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation’s Top 30 under 30 for 2015, and is the recipient of the 2016 Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, as well as the Walter H. Johns Graduate Studies Fellowship. She has also been honoured with the State of Kuwait, the Queen Elizabeth II and the Frank W Peers Awards for Graduate Studies in 2015. She has been recognized by Rotary International with an Award for Excellence in Service to Humanity and has been named one of Edmonton’s “Difference Makers” for 2015 by the Edmonton Journal. Nakita is the co-founder of Bassma Primary School in El Attaouia, Morocco and the Vice President of External Affairs with the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council.

This blog is an op-ed piece written by Rachael Heffernan, writer and researcher for The Drawing Board.

I don’t think I need to explain the importance of critical thinking – every teacher you’ve come across since you were six years old has probably asked you to do it, and nearly every blog post floating around your Facebook feed is probably telling you why to do it. So instead, here are some ways you can learn how to do it, do it more frequently, or get better at doing something you already do all the time.

Make Up Alternate Stories: This is my personal favourite thing to do with pop songs. Remember that “Rude” song by Magick? Well, listen to that song and imagine that the man singing is brutally abusive to his partner. Now, erase that story, and imagine that he’s actually part of an interracial relationship. Are you finding your opinion about the song changing as you go along? Good.

Be aware of power language: Have you ever heard of “THE feminists”? As if there is only one type of feminist? Have you ever heard people make big blanket statements, saying that “Organic food is better” without allowing for nuance, exceptions, or different experiences? How about claims of things being ancient, or being first? What about subtle ways of discrediting someone, such as mentioning their age, appearance, or their hygiene? These things are important to notice, because they are tiny ways that voices can be eliminated, people can be silenced, and audiences can be convinced. This is also a really excellent way to look at your own biases. Change the person in the news story to a different gender, a different age, a different race. Does your opinion change? If it does, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it might be fruitful to examine why it changes.thinking-science-3-e1377719468944

Look for what’s not necessary. I recently saw a post saying that a 12-year old girl had scored higher on a Mensa test than Albert Einstein. Does it matter that she’s a girl? I think, to be totally honest, that I would be impressed just that any human could score that well on a Mensa test, because I can’t figure out those little flash cards to save my life. If that person is particularly young, then perhaps that adds to the impressiveness of the achievement. But the gender? I don’t think so. If men and women are expected to perform equally on tests, then that shouldn’t matter at all

Put yourself in their shoes. Something I see a lot when people discuss children is that the perspectives presented are often those of the parents, or the adults, but not often of the children themselves. Try to think about these issues from all angles – what if you were the child? What if you were the parent? What if you were the teacher? What if you were a casual observer?

ZA'ATARI, JORDAN - FEBRUARY 01: Children pose for a picture as Syrian refugees go about their daily business in the Za'atari refugee camp on February 1, 2013 in Za'atari, Jordan. Record numbers of refugees are fleeing the violence and bombings in Syria to cross the borders to safety in northern Jordan and overwhelming the Za'atari camp. The Jordanian government are appealing for help with the influx of refugees as they struggle to cope with the sheer numbers arriving in the country. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 160600686

In the case of the Syrian refugees, put yourself in their shoes and think about the decisions they are making in incremental steps. What would it take for you to sell your home and move to another country? Probably a solid job, at least, and the reassurance that you could come back for frequent visits. Now what would it take for you to move to a non-English speaking country and learn the new language? What would they have to pay you? What demands would you have? Now think about what would cause you to leave your home and most of your belongings to pack yourself and your children onto a tiny boat to sail for the first available country with no reassurance that you’ll arrive alive, let alone cross the border, get a job, and learn the language. How would you feel if you had managed to grab and keep track of your iPhone, only to be penalized for owning such a piece of luxury when you’re supposedly in need? How would it feel to have someone scorn your child for having a DS when it’s their one comfort in their new life of sleeping on mats in school gymnasiums?

Look for differing opinions. It doesn’t do anything to just talk to people you agree with all the time, and you can easily get only one side of the story when you only read one article. When you feel strongly about something, learn all that you can about it. Read the work of people that disagree with you. Try to find holes in your own argument and then try to fill those holes. Look for reliable sources and then challenge them.Critical-Thinking-Skills-Tuition-and-Courses-London

Give credit where credit is due. Being critical can cause a lot of stress, so it’s important to appreciate good work and solid opinions when you find them. Stay skeptical but be careful not to fall into cynicism – it’s not good for your own well being to doubt integrity regardless of any evidence presented. shutterstock_208347706

Be willing to change your mind. If you love science, or love debate, or love learning, or just want to be a conscientious individual, this is crucial. If someone presents you with good evidence, or if you’re shown how your views are hypocritical, you have to be able to admit you’re wrong, and change your mind. I’m not saying go out without a fight – challenging views and debating things is a wonderful way to learn – but there’s a point where that fight ends, and you say, “Oops. I’m completely wrong.”

I know it’s hard at first, and it can feel humiliating, but just keep picturing it from the other side – if you convinced someone to reconsider, you wouldn’t be embarrassed for that person, you’d probably respect them for being open-minded. Plus, the more often you change your mind, admit you’re wrong, and ask people to teach you more, the easier it gets, and the more it feels graceful and enlightening.