Sunday, 26 June 2016

Not Just a Pretty Face

After my last post, I heard back from a pretty friend that she felt in some ways the post reinforced stereotypes and prejudices of pretty girls. A lot of people think that pretty girls live in this bubble of privilege and good fortune, untouched by the harsher realities less privileged mortals have to face.

But the truth is pretty girls have their own set of problems and burdens that they have to face.

Pretty girls are told at a young age that their looks are the most important aspect of their identity: It's the first and only thing everybody notices and comments on. People rarely notice or care about their intelligence or their talents or their sense of humour. Leave that to the people who you have to think harder about to compliment.

People often 'use' pretty girls: They can never be sure if people want to be with them for THEM, or for the added value they bring with their looks. It's hard to get rid off the nagging thought- 'Would you still want to be my friend if I didn't look like this?'

Guys often see pretty girls more as an accessory: They want to be the guy with the pretty girl on their arm, it helps with their image (consciously or subconsciously).The guy is looking for someone to fill this cut out of the perfect girlfriend/ trophy wife- an achievement, a possession. Often guys who think like that use expensive gifts to win this pretty girl, because they think that makes them worthy of her interest. They see it as a fair exchange- my money (or service) for your looks. I've seen guys get offended and angry when a girl doesn't respond in the way he thinks he deserves- "After all I've done for you!" You can't buy people!

Other girls can be standoffish with pretty girls: Just by virtue of being pretty, they are seen as a threat, as dangerous- especially when there are guys around. They have to prove that they mean no harm, that they are not proud or egotistic. The introverts who are pretty have the hardest time because their quietness is seen as pride.

It's hard for pretty girls to know when to trust people: Similar to someone who is wealthy, or rich or powerful, when you get used to people using you, it's hard to know when people are not. So when a guy comes a-courting, it's hard not to look at him with a little skepticism and suspicion, because they have been so many who came for the wrong reasons, and without an authentic interest based on seeing her as a real human being, not a goddess or a movie star, or a means to an end.

Pretty girls are likely to struggle with self worth and identity: The prettiness can often feel like a mask that obscures the real person. 'Do you see ME?' she wants to ask, but she often feels that people can't or won't. And then the lie that the Liar whispers, "Maybe the real you isn't worth knowing. Maybe once a guy gets used to the prettiness, and meets the real you, the love will fade." And if that lie is accepted, the temptation can be to keep the prettiness at any cost- make up, plastic surgery, beauty products, beauty salons. And to use the prettiness as a means to get what she wants.

So the next time you meet a pretty girl, try to see past the prettiness, to see a normal human being with insecurities and strengths, and all sorts of weird habits and quirks, and skills and talents, and a desire to be loved and treated as a human being first, and a pretty girl second. Don't treat her with deference, suspicion, adulation, or judgment. She is a PERSON, a daughter of God, an immortal soul, and that is what makes her valuable. And pretty girls, don't believe anyone who tells you differently.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Why I’m Glad I Wasn’t the Pretty Girl

Disclaimer: I promise I’m not fishing for compliments, or trying to get people to shout me down,“WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU’RE NOT PRETTY EVERYONE IS BEAUTIFUL IT’S THE SOUL THAT MATTERS.” I’m sharing my own perspective of my own story. 

From the age of 12 to 20, I was pretty awkward. I had crazy hair that couldn’t decide if it was straight or wavy or curly or angry (also known as 80s hair). I had never heard of hair product. No fashion sense whatsoever. The only times I looked cute were when I stole my older sister’s clothes. I also identified strongly with Jo from Little Women, in that I was gruff, hated most social situations, and couldn’t be bothered with social graces. My mum would remonstrate with me for refusing to wear makeup or earrings, or make much of an effort at looking presentable.

(This is not the worst of the pictures, but you didn't really think I was going to pull those out for the Whole World Wide Web to see, did you?)

I was not only awkward, I was aware that I was awkward. I remember at sixteen being excruciatingly aware of how awkward my gait was, as my arms hung lifelessly at my side as I walked. My body posture seemed to scream SELF CONSCIOUS (the more you think of your arms the less you know what to do with them.. try this when posing for a photo). So I started practising my confident, graceful walk, as I walked home from college. I’d swing my arms, try to place my feet one in front of the other (like on a beam balance), and hoped that the external would somehow help with the internal. I'd even try a kind of swagger sometimes. (I wonder what the passersby thought.)

To make matters worse, I had two very pretty sisters, who always effortlessly seemed to collect droves of admirers, guys who would take them out to dances, give them gifts, and flowers, and chocolates, and swear undying devotion. It was too easy to compare myself with them unfavourably. Other people did it too. "You're very... different."

I finally and gradually began to grow into my skin, learnt the secrets of side partings, and hair clips, and coconut oil, and hair product, and eye liner, and wearing clothes that worked together.

Beauty tips I still haven't got the hang of

I began to enjoy who I was, and not be so scared or disdainful of the world. It was around the same time that I went on a retreat where I felt that the Lord helped bring healing to some wounds. Each year of my 20s was better than the last. Now I'm 30, and I am SO much happier here than I was at 18.

Now on the other side of the awkward non-pretty phase, I think about it, and I realize that although there were many things I would have liked to have changed about my teenage years, I also am very grateful for how I became who I am through those years.

Pretty girls often get too much attention too soon: I have seen so often the bad effect of young, or insecure, or needy girls becoming the center of attention. Attention is heady! It’s intoxicating. It makes you feel like you’re the center of the world, and spoiler alert: you’re not. It’s too much power put into the hands of unsteady hands. Actually, what the heck, even mature adults such as myself can lose perspective with too much attention. But when you're older you're more likely to recover it and laugh at yourself a lot sooner. I think not being the center of attention helps one have a more down to earth perspective of oneself. And I wish that all young people could have the same.

Non-pretty girls are usually funnier: Not that being non-funny makes anyone of any less value… but sometimes not being at the center of things means, the non-beautiful (or short, or overweight) often get their share of the attention by developing a sharp wit. Not that I ever consciously did it because I was trying to get attention, but I found that I enjoyed social situations so much more when I was making witty comments under my breath to an appreciative audience.

I observed a lot more: When I wasn't at the center of everything, I had space and energy to observe and analyze the workings of the world, of human behaviour, of social situations. Again, a little perspective.

I am much more aware of what it feels like to be the outsider: And hopefully more empathetic. Only a few people have grown up in a graced circle of acceptance and special-ness. But when you’re in the center, it’s easy to forget that not everyone is. If you walk into a party and always have someone who wants to talk to you, you forget that lonely, awkward, unsettled feeling of not having that. But it’s when you’re on the inside that you have the special privilege of being able to pull the outsider in. But how few of us do that. It’s so much easier to gravitate to the people we know well, and are comfortable with.

I wrote about this before- but I still remember a young man (a friend of my older sister) asking me to dance at a wedding when I was awkward, young, and uncool, sitting with my parents. He told me it was because my older sister had once asked him to dance when he had no one to dance with. I had never felt more special- he was older, handsome (to me), and picked ME! I KNOW what it’s like! You can't know till you've been there. But then you need to remember.

I delight in feeling beautiful and graceful: Probably far more so than if it had always come easily. It’s like a gift that is ever new. It’s what makes all makeover movies so relatable (think Princess Diaries).

But I realize awkward bodies can hide beautiful, interesting souls: And maybe judge people a little less based on their terrible dress sense, their sticking out hair, their acne, their self consciousness. Outward beauty and grace is nice. It's pleasing to the eye. But it surely isn't all that is to be known of a person. 

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

A Few Thoughts on the Gorilla Story

Wow. The Internets just exploded as Harambe, a 17 year old male western lowland gorilla was shot dead in a Cincinnati zoo to protect a 4 year old boy who accidentally got into the gorilla's enclosure. So many comments, articles, blogs. And SO much of anger.

I've seen reactions ranging from this:

To this:

And a lot of this:

I've been thinking about it, and of course I decided to think in the public eye. Because that's what bloggers do.

It seems as if in many people's opinions, the life of an animal is as valuable (or more valuable) as the life of a human child. It is seen as selfish to consider human life as more valuable than animal life. You see your 2 year old child and a puppy in a burning building, you can only save one. Which one should you pick? This belief system says there is no right answer.

Usually I can find some common ground with varying belief systems. But in this... I don't know what to say, how to respond. Because in a non-Christian world, humans ARE just animals. Not more or less important than any other species. It makes sense.

But in the Christian worldview, there IS something different and more valuable about human beings. We believe that they are made in the image of God- they are capable of choosing love even when hurt by others, they are able to show mercy, to forgive, to love by CHOICE not by instinct. We believe they are made for heaven, not just as creatures, but made to be CHILDREN of God, the Creator. And so no matter whether they are ugly, or stupid, or handicapped, or weak, or unkind, or a 'burden' on others, we consider that God has given us a special task in loving and caring for human life. That's the real meaning of pro-life.

But does that mean Christians have no responsibility towards animals? Can a good Christian kick a cat? No no no. Here's what the Church says-

Animals are God's creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals.

God entrusted animals to the stewardship of those whom he created in his own image. Hence it is legitimate to use animals for food and clothing. They may be domesticated to help man in his work and leisure. Medical and scientific experimentation on animals is a morally acceptable practice if it remains within reasonable limits and contributes to caring for or saving human lives.

It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. It is likewise unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery. One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons.

You would think in an ideal world, we could care equally for humans and animals. It wouldn't be a conflict at all. But it seems like that isn't usually the case. For many, the more we elevate animals, and in many ways ' humanize' them, the less we are affected by human suffering and misery. As I read in one article, it seems very unlikely that the news of the 4 year old being killed by the gorilla would have been particularly noteworthy or even compassion-worthy.

Pope Francis recently said, "Sometimes you feel this [pity] towards animals, and remain indifferent to the suffering of others. How many times we see people so attached to cats, dogs, and then leave without helping the neighbor in need? This will not do!" 

So.. what am I saying?

I believe that we need to let God stretch our hearts, to see the world as He sees it. That means changing from hard-heartedness to soft-heartedness, from indifference to compassion, from judgment to mercy towards the least of his brethren. It means having compassion on that poor mum who almost lost her child, even if it was from a moment's negligence. It means feeling deeply grateful that the little 4 year old's head wasn't accidentally smashed by the strong hand of the 400 pound gorilla.

It means not despising the human race, but seeing the goodness, and the potential for good- as God does. It means even though human beings have hurt us, and in many ways, it's easier to love animals who are a lot less likely to, choosing the hard path of forgiveness, and vulnerability. Allow your love for animals to spur you on to a love for not just humanity, but for human beings. For that is what you were made for.

And for those who think caring about humans exempts you from caring about animals, here is your challenge- it also means feeling sadness at the regrettable death of one of God's beautiful, mighty creatures. It means doing what we can to prevent the needless killing or mistreatment of animals. Allowing our humanity to translate into humaneness. For that too is what we were made for.

A hard choice had to be made, as it often has to be in a world where accidents really do happen. You can both feel relief that the little boy survived, and sadness that the gorilla didn't. But maybe hold the blame, and serve an extra helping of compassion. Our world needs it.

P.S. For those who disagree, and I know there are many- let us agree to disagree, and each attempt to change the world in the way we are convinced we must.

A few articles:

This Gorilla Thing is Going to Make Me Go Bananas

How Tears for Gorilla Water Seeds for the Culture of Death

Of gorillas, control, and swiping left

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

The Loss of Innocence

A few days ago, my room mates and I had some friends over and were playing a very boisterous game of Fish Bowl. Shrieks of laughter, loud conversations, guys and girls. Little did I know that was the perfect ingredient that made us seem open to the following encounter:

There was a knock on the door. We fell silent, as I jumped up to open the door. We don't often have unexpected visitors. Outside my door were a couple of young men, a couple of young women, and a perhaps five year old little girl. They obviously were renting the apartment opposite for the weekend. I live in a guesthouse in the party state of India.

I looked enquiringly, "Yes?"

"Do you have some stuff?" the guy asked, in a matter of fact tone,

I thought I had misheard him.

"Some what?"

"Some stuff." All their eyes were on me, including the five year old.

"What kind of stuff?"

"You know, weed."

Outraged. "No! Why would you think I had weed???"

"Oh.. Sorry." They backed away.

I closed the door, and then told my friends what had happened. "I cannot believe he just casually knocked on the door and asked for STUFF. And they had a child with them! Just because we're having fun he thought we would have 'stuff'? Is it normal for people to just ask perfect strangers for weed? Wow. I cannot believe that just happened."

A I was speaking, I realized that I lead a very sheltered life. I have never been offered drugs or asked for drugs even back in my college days. But many of my friends had. And experimented with stuff I guess. I realized that the two guests in our house that evening possibly were surprised by my outrage. I wondered how naive and sheltered it made me sound.

But then I thought about it some more. And I was GLAD it shocked me. I wish I lived in a world where drugs and drunkenness and sexual excess and the mockery of goodness was rare. Where our minds didn't immediately fly to the dirty double meaning. Where innocence was valued and preserved. I wish I hadn't read all the books I had read, watched all the movies I had watched. I wish I could protect young children from the ugliness in the world, and worse, the ways their innocence has been perverted.

Last month, there was a friendly lady that I met who made the most perverted jokes. She was just trying to be funny, and she really was very kind. But later someone repeated one of her jokes to me, and said "It was so funny that you and your mum had no idea of the double meaning of her joke." For a moment, I felt embarrassed that I hadn't understood. And then again, I felt, "I'm GLAD I didn't understand. I'm so happy my mother's innocence had prevented her from understanding."

I think of children in their sweet, joyful innocence... and then the changes that happen as they lose it. The cynicism that creeps in, the mockery, the self-consciousness. It has happened to most of us, hasn't it?

But it CAN be reversed. It's possible to go against the tide, to fight to regain lost innocence. I find spending time with people who choose innocence too can be so enriching. I find that I can limit the media I consume. I find that I can choose to be silent instead of laughing along to an off colour joke. I find that enjoying the good beautiful innocent hilarity of this life builds up a new culture of innocence. It is not ignoring the other side of life, but choosing not to glorify it, to act like it's normal. It is not naivete, but a deliberate choice to focus on what is good, to look with loving, pure eyes on the world, to see the good and the potential for good rather than the evil and the corrupt.

The more of us that choose innocence, the more we can allow light into a dark world.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

An Encounter With the Faulty Philosophies of the Modern World

In my work as a Catholic volunteer, I come across all kinds of people, and attitudes, and perspectives. The other day I got into an animated discussion with four young British teenagers or 20-somethings who were visiting India as tourists. As we talked I realized that I was coming face to face with a lot of the faulty and not very well thought out philosophies of the modern world, not just reading about them on blogs. Here are some snippets of our conversation.


"What do you believe? Do you believe God is a person? I don't believe god is a person, but that god is in each of us, and each of is god, but we just don't know it yet. Have you read the Alchemist?"

"Ah.. Paulo Coelho."(thinking, 'I knew that philosophy sounded familiar')"Sounds like we believe two very different things. But one of us has to be wrong."

"Or both of us."

"Or both of us. The question is- are you willing to consider the possibility that you may be wrong? That God really is a person?"

"No. I can't believe that."

"Then you're not really open minded, are you? The only way to know if something is true, is to test it. All you would have to do is say 'God, if you are really a person, if I'm not just talking to myself, can you reveal yourself to me? Can you show me that this is true?' What would you have to lose?

"My time!"

"Um.. okay" (We had an hour-long discussion, so maybe time wasn't the issue.)


"Why do you need church and all those rules? I don't believe that love has rules!"

"Well, to explain rules.. imagine that you were married."

"I don't believe in marriage."

"Okaay. Expand your imagination, and imagine that you did. Would you cheat on your wife? No, if you really loved her, you would follow the rule 'Do not commit adultery.' So... rules are just what you will and won't do out of love."

"That doesn't make sense- you're saying rules are not rules?"

My challenger's two friends tried to explain to him what I was trying to say.


"Do you believe you should follow the head or the heart?"

(Tongue in cheek) "You know it's not really the head and the heart but it's all the brain, right?"

"No! It's the heart! That's where your feelings come from."

"Um, not really. That's the brain."

His three friends go "She's right," and try to convince him it's biology, while he tries to convince them that if you had a heart transplant, you would have another person's feelings. Hmm.

Me, laughing, "It's okay, it's okay. I was just kidding. I know what you mean."

One of the friends "Anyway, what DO you believe- head or the heart?"

"Both. Follow your heart, and take your brain along with you."


"Do you believe you can choose the person you love?"

"Ooh, tough one. I think you can't always choose who you fall in love with, but you can choose to stay in love, and continue loving a person, despite your feelings."

"Wait, so you'd stay married to a person even if you weren't in love with them anymore?"

"Feelings change, but I believe real love means choosing what is best for the other person no matter what my feelings are. Some people go through times in their marriage that are hard, but the ones who stick it out and persevere and choose to love in spite of how they feel in that moment, are often the ones whose marriages are stronger on the other side."

"No, that's just wrong! How could you stay with a person you didn't love? You'd be resentful!"

"You can choose whether you'd be resentful. That's up to you. Life doesn't just happen to you, you choose how you respond to it."

"But you should feel what you're feeling! That's not healthy! People can't do that."

His friend: "Actually studies prove that it's healthier to let go of resentment"

"But you should be true to yourself, and do what your heart tells you at any moment."

"You might call that being true to yourself, I would call it being selfish. Very often the emotions of the moment may not be the kindest choice to make.' (another tongue in cheek moment) 'I might at this moment feel like punching you, but I won't do it, because I know that would hurt you."


One girl told me she grew up in a Christian family, but didn't consider herself a Christian. 

"What has Jesus done for you? Do you ever doubt your faith? Why do you believe? Why did Jesus say 'turn the other cheek'? How does God speak to you?"

I answered those and many others, and she looked thoughtful. 

"Do you think it is good to ask questions?" 

"Of course I do! If you don't ask questions, how do you find answers?" 

"My parents didn't encourage us to ask questions."


"Do you really think people have questions and find answers in Christianity? Do you think everyone is searching for something?"

"You tell me. Are you searching for something? Do you have questions you need answers to?"

"I don't know."

"Well, that's a good thing to think about, wouldn't you agree? Search your own heart. Do you have questions about why you exist, what the point of this life is, if this is all there is to this life?"

The guy who asked the question looked thoughtful. It seemed like he had never considered those questions before. It looked like maybe he would now.


Towards the end I told them, "Maybe you walking into this church and having this conversation wasn't a coincidence, but an invitation from God. But it's your choice now whether to keep searching, or to close the door on this encounter. "

"Maybe," said the girl.


There was a LOT more. I asked them if I could have their names so I could pray for them, and they gave them to me. But I was left thinking, 'Why don't they teach Chesterton and C.S. Lewis in schools? Or at least logic and rational thinking?'

I recommended Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis to them. I wish I had recommended Jennifer Fulwiler. Here are some of her articles I really enjoyed-

Explore your doubts but do so in peace

The ignorable God

Doubt after atheism

Finding God in 5 Steps

Sunday, 17 April 2016

How I Know I'm Growing Old

So remember that time when I said: "I know there are times when I'm going to be depressed and melancholic, struggle with self-doubt and probably old age at some point.. achy bones and gray hair (that still seems a long way off though)."

(that still seems a long way off though).

(that still seems a long way off though). 

Yes, I really wrote that. Cue ominous music.

Fast forward to two days later, and one of my team mates is doing my hair for a party.

"Oh, look, I see the effect I'm having on you!" she chirps.

"Are you implying what I think you're implying? Do you see...?"

"Um.. gray hairs? Yeah, you have a few!"

 "What??!! I do??"

Another team mate chips in, "Yeah! Of course you do! I always thought it made you look so distinguished."

"I've had gray hair FOR A WHILE and no one thought to mention to to me??!!!"

Early to mid-20 year old team mates exchange worried glances and stay tactfully quiet.


Now the question is-

Pluck them out one by one as they appear until I'm bald?
Or dye my hair bright pink?
Or flaunt my gray hair as a sign of my maturity and wisdom?

Decisions, decisions.


When I meet new people, I introduce myself and ask them what their name is. (Or I re-meet people, and apologize for not remembering their name, and ask them to tell me their name again.) And all I hear is "My name is Blah." Between asking them their name, and hearing their name, my brain freezes and refuses to accept any new information. Not even three seconds does their name get retained in my head. Old age... or ADD?


I saw a kid throwing an empty chip packet on the street, and I stopped him and told him, "You're making India dirty! Don't throw trash on the ground." So he picked it up, got on to his bicycle, and clutching it to his handlebar (he didn't have anywhere else to put it) rode off, casting a worried glance at me.  Old age... or busybody?


I have unashamedly worn socks with slippers when the weather was cold enough.


Just asked my (young) roommates how they know I'm old.

"It's the way you dance."

(Sorry I asked.)

"Sometimes when I act silly, you give me looks."

"You aren't peer pressured into dancing in sarees in front of video cameras at weddings."

"Your mannerisms... your wise comments about everything."

"You don't make rash comments. I make rash comments."

Ah, old age.

Thoughts of an Introvert at a Party

I got invited to the birthday party of a friend of a friend, and inspired by the enthusiasm of my roommates and the promise of jiving, I rashly said yes, even though in the past three weeks I have been living in a whirlwind of social occasions.


"A party that starts at 8.30 pm? That's almost bedtime! Why would any party START at 8.30?"

"I'm so tired. So tired. Sooo tiiired."

"Didn't I just read an article about introverts that said introverts can survive on two to three social occasions per week.. I've been in four social situations JUST TODAY!"

Trying to pep myself up:

"I can do this! There'll be dancing and it's fun to look cute!"

Moment of panic as I arrive and see a bunch of strangers walking into the house:

"What am I doing here? Why am I doing this to myself? Why am I voluntarily putting myself in a social situation with a bunch of people I don't know???"

As I walk in and see one of my oldest friends:


Sitting awkwardly in a sub-room of the main party hall, staring into the distance. Small talk, making a small effort to introduce myself to people, then lapsing into silence again.

 "The underneath of that couch looks like a good place to hide. Whoops, introvert thought. At least I haven't located the bathroom."

Moved to main hall with disco lights and blaring music. After making small talk for a while, I find a plastic chair to be my Comfort Zone, clutch my Sprite and settle back into introspective silence.

"Ah. So this is why I usually hate parties."

"How come the other introverts I know don't seem to be bothered by this setting? It's like they've accepted that this is how life is. But it doesn't have to be!"

"How would I optimize this party? The lights would be brighter, but not too bright, so that you can sit in a corner without feeling like you look awkward. No disco lights, that's so overstimulating. The music would be softer so you could actually have conversations without yelling. There would be some kind of game that would make it easier to talk to people you don't know, without having to randomly go up and introduce yourself by yelling over the music. And there would be some way to encourage all the guys who are able to dance to go up and dance with the girls who are longing to get on the dance floor. We don't want commitment, WE JUST WANT TO DANCE!"

"Why is nobody dancing? What kind of boring old people are you?"

"Oh my gosh. I'm at a party with 30 and 40 year olds. I'M SO OLD!"

"Wow. Indians are really socially awkward. No one is initiating conversations with anyone. Except the people that they came with."

See my roommates dancing crazy in the corner:

"I could join them. On the other hand, my Plastic Chair of Comfort is getting more comfortable. Let's just stay here. I'm beginning to enjoy my Recluse persona."

Finally get asked to dance:

"Oh yeaahh! This makes it all worth it!"

Lose my dance partner, but at least a few other couples are dancing now.

"This wall looks like a great place to prop myself against while I wait for someone else to dance with. It's not socially acceptable for me to only dance or be silent at a party? Says what Party Police? I make my own rules! Rebel, that's me!"

Finally decide to create my own fun by teaching my girl friends how to jive:

"Oh yeah! Parties are fun! Dancing is fun! I'm fun! More parties! More dancing!"

 My friends are making going away noises. It's past midnight, but I just got asked to dance again.

"I don't want to go home! I love dancing! Let's dance the night away!"

Finally respond to the fact that our ride really wants to leave. Photos, goodbyes, and a ride home. Back to normal life. No more parties for a while.

P.S. I'm not an extreme introvert, so real introverts don't hate me for being a faker. I can often be the life of the party, have lively conversations at parties, and enjoy being with people. Just not always.