Peeing in Your Own Bath

Peeing in Your Own Bath

It’s very easy to see what others could do better, the flaws and joins in others’ handiwork. It’s really very easy; which is why we find it such a good way to pass the time. What else offers a feeling of superiority and the illusion of involvement whilst costing absolutely no effort or commitment? Football crowds are a good example: thousands of pie-eating men, sat on their butts, shouting instructions at the players madly chasing around the field.  Football and community development have this in common. Many claim to know what’s needed. Few get on the field, roll up their sleeves, and give it some energy. ‘Here’s what you should do…’ ‘I wouldn’t do it that way…’ ‘That will never work…’ If you’re on the sharp end of this kind of negativity I found value in this advice: Firstly, learn to differentiate opinions from convictions. There are a lot of people with a lot of opinions. They cost nothing. Remember this when you get inundated with advice on how you should do what you are doing, or why you should give up because it will never work. Like junk mail, it’s often best put straight in the bin. Convictions are different. If a person is willing to back up an opinion with a commitment:  to get involved; to come and see; or even to spend time listening to you without interrupting – they are likely to be offering a conviction. And that’s worth a million cheap opinions. There’s a second lesson. Little change happens if we play it safe all the time. Transformation takes risks; spiritually put, it takes...
Shibboleth*

Shibboleth*

Last month I wore a hijab for two weeks. I was in Iran to celebrate New Year with friends from Istfahan. In those 2 weeks I picked up 4lb in weight (Iran is not a place for dieters!), amazing bargains from the bazaar, many, many wonderful memories, and a valuable lesson in Shibboleths. ‘Shibboleth’ is a sociological word used to describe dividing lines between ‘us’ and ‘them’. It can be any number of identity markers: from clothes to food – simple, but profound ways by which we express ourselves through culture. We use them to determine who is in our cultural group – and who isn’t. The new shibboleth I was encountering in Iran was a piece of cloth – a hijab. It’s illegal for women not to wear Islamic dress in public places in Iran. As soon as our plane came in to land, every woman on board ‘scarved up’. There was a great variety, from the very conservative black-to- the-toes chador, to the young woman in front of me in full make-up, jeans and a tiny strip of cloth covering the back of her head (Iranians have rebellious teens too). What all women had in common was complete covering of their necks, sides and the tops of their heads, as is their custom. The women I spoke to were very proud of their dress-code and said they enjoyed wearing it. Some said that it gave them freedom to move around without unwanted attention. For others it was an important aspect of religious obedience. What would I, as a Western feminist, make of it? Firstly, attitudes towards hijab...