Solidarity. A word that is now more and more used in this Europe of crisis.

It is still a controversial term, specially when it comes down to homeless people. Not everyone is in favor of endorsing or giving money to homeless people. Indeed, it is usual to think that people who are on the street are there because they don’t want to work enough, or because they got into alcohol, drugs etc… Judgmental feelings are common when it comes to this subject. And there is this whole part of society that lives aside, who bottom line is almost less human than the others… Then there are many people who support it and there are a bunch of new initiatives to help those who are less fortunate for misfortunes or choices of life. Indeed, it is possible to talk about the “cafés suspendus”, when a person who is buying a coffee can decide to buy another and offer it to another person, or the initiatives of sharing food. Here is another nice project that we discovered, which is supposed to incentive people to give money to homeless people with cool punch lines such as “Who was the idiot who turned the heater off?” or “When I bet on Paris Saint Germain there was not Zlatan Ibrahimovic yet.”.

Either way, doesn’t solidarity need to be more spread, specially in this time of crisis? Shouldn’t those who are more fortunate try to help the others as best as they can, despite what might have brought people where they are?

Burning Man Festival

Burning Man is known as the biggest contemporary arts festival in the world, and it is held once a year in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, United States. It started in 1986, when Larry Harvey and Jerry James, burned a two-meter tall wooden figure of a man, in order to celebrate the summer solstice, in front of a crowd in Baker Beach in San Francisco. They repeated the ritual for the next 4 years with taller and taller figures, until the police forbade them from doing so. In 1990, the event was moved to the Black Rock Desert. It takes place now every Labor Day, and it always starts by the burning of the wooden figure. It is a major festival in contemporary art, that attracts more than 50 000 people every year. Each festival has a specific theme, and each year a “city” is built for it, going in accordance with the theme. If it receives famous personalities, such as the founders of Google, you also see people dressed in weird outfits, or just running around naked. Some who
attend it call it an “utopian” society brought to life. Check out their website or this Burning Man’s 2012 edition video.

Three-Hugging is Good For Your Health

For many years the term “tree-huggers” has been used to denigrate environmentalists. It turns out that those who claim that tree-hugging is positive for human beings are very right after all. Besides being our main provisioners of oxygen, in his book Blinded by Science, Matthew Silverstone proved that trees can help with various health problems, from improving concentration issues, to headaches, even depressions or Attention deficit hyperactivity disorders. How is this possible? It has to do with vibrations that trees issue. Indeed, as any other living being, trees send out vibrations and energy, which ultimately are very valuable for human health when the two beings are in contact. Moreover, you don’t even have to hug a tree for it to help you. Just living in a forest can be highly beneficial for children and adults. You can read more about the subject here!

The Rastafari Movement

The Rastafari movement was born in Jamaica in the 1930’s, derived from Ras (head or chief) Tafari, the name of the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I before his coronation, who played an important role in the development of pan-africanism and is considered as a Messiah by the movement. Inspired by the works of Marcus Garvey, Rastafarianism highly embraces pan-africanism. It is based on Christian, Jewish and mystic beliefs, being a religion that believes in a single God, Jah. The movement believes that African descendants living in the Americas are exiled in “Babylon”, the Western system and culture that opposes Jah. This latter, is putting them on a test, submitting them to slavery, racial inequalities, social injustice and “downpression” (meaning oppression that pulls you down). The movement claims that one day all the descendants of African people will set free and return to Zion, kingdom of Jah, which can mean either Ethiopia or Africa. The movement has its own
interpretation of the Biblical scriptures. Furthermore, it created its own language “lyaric”, since most of the dialects who had come from Africa had been lost when they got to Jamaica and English was the language of the colonizers. It is a way of life, that includes wearing “dreadlocks”, which is a way to be connected to Jah and to defy Babylon, to wearing red, green, gold and black, that symbolize the colors of Africa, or eating “I-tal”, which is vegetarian food. The use of “ganja” (marijuana) or drums is common in their religious ceremonies, in order to have a better link to Jah. The Reggae music that emerged in the 1960’s was highly influenced by this Rastafari movement. You can read more about the history of this interesting movement here!

Mustafa Atatürk

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938) was the first President of Turkey and is seen as the father of modern Turkey. In his earlier years he became involved in the development of the movement for Turkish independence. He was a violent critic of the Ottoman regime, which he regarded as profoundly corrupt. Being a military, he served along with the Allies. At the end of the First World War, while Greece wanted to invade Turkey, Ataturk convinced the national assembly to fight this. He was able to defeat the Greeks and in 1922 the independence of Turkey was achieved. Since he embraced the ideals of the construction of modern Europe, he decided to break with the old Ottoman traditions, and separate the State from religion by abolishing the Caliphate. This highly diminished the power of Sunnis over the State, making politics more independent and building a secular Turkey. He allowed women to dress as they wished, built many schools and made primary education obligatory. Although the
country was effectively uni-partidist, Ataturk was very popular amongst the people. His legacy has still a great importance in Turkey, where his image is displayed in most public places. However, this legacy might be compromised by the rise of modern Islamic parties.

Should our Constitutions Be Taught at School?

Recently, the Portuguese Green Party (Partido Ecologista os Verdes, PEV), proposed that the 1976 Portuguese Constitution should be taught to middle school students (from 7th to 9th grade). They argue what is undeniable: when students finish their Secondary education, they have no clue about the Constitution that governs their lives. Yet, this proposal was immediately rejected by Fernando Negrão, depute of the centre-right-wing Portuguese Party, (Partido Social Democrata, PSD). Negrão argued that the Portuguese Constitution is “dated” and for that “has a very strong ideological component”, since it is indeed marked by the communist and socialist influence that Portugal lived during the 1974 Revolution and the transition period.

The Portuguese example is just the starting point of our reflection. In a broader reflexion, should the fact that a Constitution reflects biased political ideas, be an obstacle to its learning? Can’t students understand its context and thus look at the text with open mind?

Teaching a country’s Constitution to students seems to us a brilliant idea. We believe that making students aware of what laws govern their country should be made mandatory to develop a conscious and proactive civic society. Yet, doing this for 12 to 15 year old students would be probably pointless, and high school’s final year seems more appropriate to such an ambitious teaching. But isn’t this a great idea that should be applied to all democratic countries?

Consulting a French Law teacher on this matter, her opinion opened another door for reflexion. If the Portuguese Constitution is biased, what if the European Convention on Human Rights was taught in class since it reflects the values and fundamental liberties of the European Societ

One Red Paperclip

In 2005, following some success after putting an add on Craigslist, Canadian blogger, Kyle MacDonald, created the website One Red Paperclip. MacDonald was inspired by the Children’s ‘Bigger, Better’ game, a game that begins with a small insignificant item which is offered to trade with a bigger and better item. The trade cycle is suppose to continue until the trader’s initial objective is met, and at this point, when trade has stopped, the item is sold or donated at the blog’s owner discretion. MacDonald represents an inspiring story of success. He exchanged the paper clip for a fish shaped-pen, that he traded for a doorknob and later this was exchanged for a camp stove. At this point, he was able to exchange it for a generator, and in total fourteen trades occurred. At the end, MacDonald reached his goal: he started with a paper clip and finished owning a house in Kipling, Canada. Check out this video that tells us how everything happened.

The Story of the Hezbollah

The Hezbollah, the “Party of God” is a militia group and political party that emerged as an opposition faction following Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, mainly composed by Shiite Muslims, the weakest religious group in the country. After the Shiite Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979 and the Israeli invasion of their country, the Hezbollah was formed with the goal of expelling Israel from Lebanon and establishing an Islamic State there. The group built its reputation by achieving something unprecedented in the Arab world: the ability of driving away Israeli forces. Various militant factions then joined the party, as did the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, led by Yasser Arafat, who was gaining ground in Palestinian refugee camps in southern Lebanon since the 1960s. The 1983 suicide bomb of a US Marine barracks in Beirut, was the event that brought worldwide infamy to the Hezbollah. The further US withdrawal from the country was seen as the party’s first victory, and
indeed, the Hezbollah has emerged as a leading political party in post-civil war Lebanon. Since late 1990s, the tensions have not gotten better. In 2006, the 34-day-war opposing the Hezbollah and Israel killed over 1000 people and led to the displacement of around 1 million people. Although the dream of a Free Lebanon began in 2005, internal peace is still uncertain.

Siddhartha Guatama, the Buddha

Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, i.e. the “enlightened one” or “the awakened”, lived in Northern India, in what is now Nepal, during the 6th to 5th century B.C.. Despite the historical evidence that he did in fact live, the events of his life are still debated because the Buddha’s teachings were passed on by oral tradition and writings only appeared about 400 years after his death. Gautama was born a prince as his father was the king of the Indian tribe of the Shakyas. As the story is told, to impede Siddharta from witnessing the miseries of the world, his father built him an opulent palace, where he lived in seclusion for at least 20 years, ignorant of human hardship and any religious knowledge. At the age of 29, Siddharta decided to leave his kingdom, his wife and son, to live an abstinent life and find a way to relieve humanity from suffering. For a decade, he lived an ascetic life, studying and meditating, until he realised that he could not reach the level of satisfaction
(the Nirvana) by being under harsh physical constraints. From then on, Siddharta encouraged people to give up the extremism of ascetism, and follow a path of balance instead. He called this path the ‘Middle Way’. Supposedly, the night Siddharta realised this, in a pure moment enlightenment, he became the Buddha. For the rest of his life, Buddha traveled, preaching the Dharma, the name given to his teachings, in order to help others to find the path to enlightenment. When he died, it is said that he told his disciples that they should follow no leader.