What Muslim Parents Tell Their Children ( Syndicated by Common Ground News Services)


Chicago – Like all parents, Muslim parents have their fair share of do’s and don’ts for their children. Unlike most parents though, terrorism and how to handle its misguided association with Islam figures in some of our talks.

In the wake of the Boston bombings and given that one of the suspects was only a few years older than my own boy, the need for us to talk with Yousuf took on even greater urgency. Conversations usually begin with “most Americans recognise that not all Muslims are violent just because a few are,” and progress to “but I still don’t want you to talk about bombs, guns or shooting, even if it’s a game you’re discussing”.

These are tough conversations to have with an 11-year old, but they’re discussions we cannot avoid. As Muslim parents, we recognise just how vulnerable our children are.

The harder conversations go something like this: “If you are harassed or teased and called a terrorist, tell a teacher.” When my 11-year old insists that is tattling, I explain that even if it makes him look weak, it’s wiser to tell a teacher than to navigate these waters alone. I don’t want him to get into a potential argument because there’s a chance it could escalate. Best-case scenario, my child could put up a brave front, maybe while fighting back tears. Worst-case he could push back and end up suspended.

Like the rest of the nation, I feel such regret and sadness that the Boston bombing suspects, both well-liked seemingly well-integrated young men, came to be so terribly misled. As a parent, I also recognise the agony their mother and father must have felt, watching helplessly, from thousands of miles away, as their children were hunted and gunned down.

As much as I fear I will alarm him with talk of the bombings in Boston, I take on the subject. “If there are Muslims who try to tell you it’s okay to be violent, remember what your parents have taught you. In Islam, war is between militaries alone – no civilians, women, children, schools, hospitals and other civic amenities can be targets.”

A pre-teen, my son actually listens to me and shares his thoughts and concerns. Shielding him from these difficult discussions today may mean losing an opportunity to imprint the idea that, in Islam, taking an innocent life is tantamount to killing all of humanity. Not talking about this may mean throwing away a chance to warn my child that he needs to be conscious of those who may try to lead him astray.

I talk about how terrible the bombings have been for the victims and their families. “If you, as you grow older, have issues with the policies of any nation or differences of opinion, civic involvement is the way to change the status quo, not violence,” I drill into his young mind. I reiterate that there are acceptable and unacceptable ways to address issues and differences of opinions, violence not being an option.

I fear there may be a time when we aren’t there to be a sounding board for our kids. As my son takes in every word, I quietly hope I’m not scaring him.

Frustrated, my son asks, “Why do some Muslims have to go and mess it up for the rest of us?” “Because, somehow, they’ve come to believe that their actions are justified,” I respond. “But they aren’t,” I am quick to add.

But there is more on my mind that I don’t bring up. I don’t get into a tirade about how the media ties this crime to our faith or calls it a return to terrorism to US shores. What about the Sandy Hook murderer who opened fire on little children? Deemed mentally ill, no ties were drawn to an ideology for his actions. Or the white supremacist, who shot and killed six people at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin? He was not considered a terrorist by the media. Why are only Muslim suspects’ and criminals’ actions automatically motivated by faith?
These thoughts aren’t far from my mind, but I don’t need to add that kind of baggage to this conversation with my 11-year old. He has enough on his plate.

###

Her first days in America were lonely, but this immigrant from India built a life here ( Originally published on Public Radio International)


In Bombay, we're surrounded by people — the cook, the cleaning lady, the vendors who come to your door to sell eggs, fish, vegetables or milk. There are uncles, aunts, cousins, second- and third-cousins of your extended family. If you are a friend of a friend, upon introduction you instantly become a friend of mine, and that means you are invited to come home for a meal even if we've just met, are gladly offered a helping hand, and generally live a life governed by the rules of reciprocity. In the US, I discovered, people could be friendly but it often stopped at a handshake.

Like many immigrants, it was marriage that brought me to the US in the early 90s. My husband was an undergraduate engineering student at Northern Illinois University at the time. I wasn't scared or nervous about leaving India. It was expected that girls would move away from their parents' home to wherever their spouses lived. Many people I knew in India had relatives who lived in the US, UK, Australia or Canada. But I was diving into the deep end and didn't even know it.

We lived on campus at Northern Illinois University, an hour's drive from my in-laws' home. While my husband went to class, I sat in on film festivals and theatrical events, took a political science class, freelanced as a writer, worked as a telemarketer and haunted the college library. In a nutshell, I mostly spent my days on my own.



(Naazish YarKhan with her husband and children in the US. Photo Credit: Sarwath Khan)

While I could feel the gnawing emptiness, I couldn't pinpoint where my loneliness stemmed from. Each weekend, my husband and I attended at least two social gatherings with friends of the family. The Indian immigrant communities in the Chicago area are large and connected enough that people socialize with each other frequently. My in-laws had been here since the 60s. They had close ties with more people than I knew even back in India. Though I felt welcome and fit in seamlessly, the need to connect at a deeper emotional level, to be understood for who I was, was missing.

I didn't have the comfort of cultural shorthand. I didn't understand what made David Letterman amusing. I didn't get what made Friends such an awesome show. I had to learn that when someone said, "How interesting," they meant "how odd." "How are you?" isn't really an invitation to tell someone how you are doing and "We must do coffee sometime," isn't a literal invitation. I learned that the norm is to use words rather than emotions. I had to say, “I'm so upset” rather than allow myself the luxury of tears. And if I was excited, it served me better to say, “I'm so excited” than to lose volume control and interrupt a conversation. In India, emotionally rich relationships seemed to have formed on auto-pilot. Here, it was all about scaling walls of others' "alone time" and "my own space" to make friends.

It often fell to my husband to play the roles formerly held by my aunts and grandparents, siblings and parents. My cheerleader, my rock of Gibraltar — he had to be all those things and no one had prepared him to do any of it. How could one man do the work of an entire extended family?

I became committed to creating for myself the support I craved, the security I felt back home, the confidants and cheerleaders I could always depend on. It meant pushing myself to be vulnerable and wholly present in every relationship, just as I had been when I was growing up in India. It meant realizing that I didn't have to have the same interests, the same background or age as someone else to become close friends. It also meant having patience. A beautiful garden grows slowly. In my case, what started out as seeds, has flourished for 20 years.


WHAT'S THE STORY OF YOUR FIRST DAYS IN AMERICA?

Global Nation is partnering with the South Asian American Digital Archive's First Days Project to tell the stories of your first days in the United States — or those of your parents or grandparents.

SHARE YOUR STORY




Telling Tales at Work - The Case for Getting Personal

What is it about Facebook that's made it so addictive. Once upon a time, having to look at other people's travel pictures or children's photos was considered an experience to avoid. How things have changed with Facebook! What makes it addictive is the unfolding of stories - they give us the means to get to know each other personally. According to the HBR article, Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams, getting to know your co-workers stories too can result in improved productivity.

What is America built on if not the Abe Lincoln “Log Cabin to White House” story about this country being the land of opportunity? The Rosa Parks story and the Emmett Till story have served as reminders of the injustices of segregation, better than statistics about hate crimes or discrimination, could ever. It was the story of the tenacity and courage of the 33 trapped Chilean miners that held the world's attention and its heart strings.

Similarly, it was insufficient stories from flood hit Pakistan in June 2011, that resulted in the tragedy falling under the radar. 1/3rd of that nation was under water and more people died in those floods than the combined lives lost during the Tsunami, the Pakistan Earthquake in 2005 and the Haiti Earthquake. How many of us know that? These facts go to prove that story has the power to influence and the strength to mobilize or water down both relationships and movements. As Cohen and Prusak assert, this is true irrespective of whether a story is rooted in fact or fiction, or presented as a fable or as a comic book. When there are working groups with members who do not know each other well, divergent opinions could end up creating walls, bad feelings or hostility even. As we get to know each other’s stories, even seemingly inconsequential ones, we discover commonalities. Bonds form. Lunch room conversations slowly become the “connective tissue”.

Over time, exchanging stories has the power to create a work environment where members feel safe enough to express divergent opinions, and take risks, without fear of being misunderstood or devalued. We have the potential to graduate from being working groups to Senge's synergized 'teams'. The trust underlying the exchange of stories, gifts individuals with the latitude to see fellow team members idiosyncrasies as just that, rather than as reasons to take umbrage. 

When interactions are only task oriented, the feeling of being connected that gives team members mutual leverage for use during negotiations or persuasion, is rarely forged. This is exacerbated when working virtually. Instead if we take a few lines in a few emails each week, to also discuss a book we’ve been reading or ask for advice on a non-work matter, we evolve from just being words on a screen. Instead we become someone the other can identify with at some level. We now become more willing to give each others perspective a platform, even if we may disagree with it. The act of simply being willing to hear the other out, conveys respect and oils the wheels of team work.


Are Family Dinners Over-Rated?


Are family dinners over-rated? The question is kind of like asking whether taking the time to add a link in a chain of memories is over-rated. The exchange of stories, the unexpected laughter, the griping about some teacher or fellow student - all footprints etched on the sands of my heart. (Sand that's slipping through my fingers because I know there are only so many dinners left before college comes calling and my baby girl succumbs. She is my baby girl - all of 18 years of being my sweetheart. How did she come to be all mine?)

Today,  unbidden, my Taskeen set the table for dinner. Forks, knives, glassware included. It made me want to buy new table mats -  beautiful, expensive, gorgeous table mats edging our family to gather together for dinner, making it the norm. Rushed meals, standing in the kitchen and eating. This is our norm. Staggered meal times - each when they are hungry, this is our norm. Dinners in front of a TV set that quells any discussion, night after night. This is our norm. These habits, as regular as the beating of our hearts, are our little clicks on "unlink". In their wake, I can hear the unhinging of chains, fledgling memories carelessly aborted. I am supposed to write an article on the value of one-on-one face time on mental health. When even close-knit families like ours consistently leave moments for face-time with each other untouched, is writing any article on its value, worth the words of advice that will flow across my page?

And yet, just as clear as the air that sustains my days, I know it is the sharing of memories and the making of new ones that is the glue that joins hearts. It is the impetus behind what I would like to call a "cheesy-jokes only" WhatApp group that my friends from 9th grade and I are part of. There really is no reason for that group other than those memories created more than 20 years ago. Memories, and emotions, still powerful enough to oil the wheels our hearts today.

If we aren't connecting, if our fingers aren't holding onto each other's joys, tears and fears, if my dreams aren't inter-laced with yours, are we really living at all?

Are family dinners over-rated? I guess yes if the experience of being immersed in love, as a mother, daughter, friend, neighbor, lover too is over-rated.




Being an Immigrant - A Steep Learning Curve



Naazish and Sonia first became friends in sixth grade ( above), while living in Dubai. They continue to be close friends.

(This essay is the original version submitted to PRI. The final version appears elsewhere on this blog)


"Where is the hot water tap?" I called the transit hotel front desk, feeling a bit idiotic. Perhaps that was one of my first questions fresh out of JFK airport, or was it LaGuardia? Here I was, a big city girl from Bombay, India, not quite sure how to work the faucets at the sink or in the shower. Yes, they were a puzzle - just one faucet, rather than two taps, one for hot water and one for cold.


Like many immigrants, it was marriage that brought me to the US. When I immigrated, it was time to find work, pay rent, adjust to a husband (who had only known the US as home), and find my place in my in-laws' family. It meant discovering that big meals, three times a day, were non-existent; I learned that I spoke too loudly, and when I said I'd do something, or be someplace, by a certain time, I found out my husband expected just that. In India, 'tomorrow' had meant any day but today; 'soon' had meant eventually and 'now' had meant some time today. Yes, as you can guess, drama and miscommunication haunted the early days of my new marriage!

That said, even as a new immigrant, I don't recall feeling like I was lost, or like didn't know what I had to do professionally. In India, given the competitive spirit, and the challenges to getting even the simplest things done, we learn tenacity, by default. Given the relatively limited opportunities at the time, our environment instilled us with a sense of persistence and a willingness to hustle. So, I did just that. I was writing as a freelancer within a couple of weeks.

I worked evenings as a telemarketer, and was the third highest producer. The accent intrigued people. "Where are you from?" "Oh India?" "That must be so interesting." At the end of those conversations, I guess they felt obligated to make a purchase. While the accent may have been interesting, imagine my exchanges at the local Jewel-Osco grocery, asking if they carried lady fingers! Here it was okra not ladyfingers, eggplant not brinjal, and sidewalk versus pavement, sorry versus pardon, pajamas versus nightsuit, vacations versus holidays ...

My husband and I lived on campus, where he was an undergraduate. I took a class, too. One of my clearest memories, was when I was spelling my name, Naazish, at the registration desk. I pronounced the letter Z as 'Zed' and couldn't get why the lady didn't understand me. I repeated it a few times before deciding to write it out. "Ah, Zee," the woman said. "Yes, Zee," I sighed.

In class, I was surprised to see students eating. When the bell rang, they'd leave even if the teacher was talking. Where was the respect? Speaking of surprises, winter was a shock. I hadn't experienced such freezing temperatures before and it took forever to dress, or undress for that matter. I had never had to wear so many layers in my entire life. My gloves didn't do justice at all. I still remember how much my fingers stung as I waited for the bus in the biting cold. Most importantly, I found out it was a bad idea to take short cuts across a field - the wind will freeze the marrow in your bones and, no, you will not get to a washroom in time.

Over the weeks, I didn't know what was supposedly 'out of my league' so there were no doubts and fears to overcome. I pitched to write for the Chicago Tribune, Chicago's largest newspaper, and the dots connected! Within the year, that same naivete worked in my favor as I applied for an internship at Chicago Public Radio, and pitched commentaries for NPR successfully.

What was hardest, however, was the emotional adjustment. Strange considering that my husband and I attended at least two dinner gatherings, each weekend. You see, the Indian immigrant community is large and yet small enough that everyone maintains their connections. I knew more people in my first month here than I ever did back in India.

But though I felt welcome, and fit in seamlessly, there was that gnawing, emotional void. The need to connect at a deeper level, to be understood for who I was on the inside, a short-hand to one's heart and mind, was missing. New husband, new family, new social circle, not withstanding, the void came from not having connections at a deeper level, either intellectually or emotionally. There is something to be said about the comfort of cultural short-hand and common histories, growing up watching the same TV shows, sharing a similar sense of humor. In the early years here, I didn't have much of that.

I became committed to creating the sense of security I had felt back home, nurturing confidants and cheerleaders I could always depend on. It meant pushing myself to be vulnerable and wholly present in every relationship…just as I was naturally, in India. It meant realizing that I didn’t have to have the same interests, or even the same background, as some else to become close buddies. It meant realizing that age was no consideration when picking a friend. It meant being committed to friendship and being an accessible, good friend. And as I now see, it meant having patience. A garden grows slowly. The friends I made 20 years ago, are my inner circle, my emotional and intellectual sounding board, today. Given my loneliness from the early days, I have learned that spending time with close friends is important to my sense of well-being and vital to my existence.

Lost in Translation

By Naazish YarKhan


If I gave you my heart today, would you still not want it? That was the only thought that flitted through Naina’s mind as she gazed out on the shroud of white that entombed the city even as the snow lit up the night. Around her, a smattering of red, green and gold lights flickered on balconies and in more than a few windows, a Christmas tree glistened. Naina’s heart hurt at their inherent promise of love, families spending time together, the making of memories. She watched as a snow plough braved the winds, a stab at recreating normal, while a spool of CTA buses inched towards shiny, hopeful Navy Pier.


If I gave you my heart today, would you still not want it? The question grazed at the edge of her conscience, yet again. It bothered her how, over the months, it had impudently grown more insistent for the answer she wanted to hear. Naina lifted her gaze eastwards and it seemed like she only had to reach out and her fingertips would graze Lake Michigan - a dream, icy and cracked in so many places. Cracked like the cocoon of familiarity once woven by her parents, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles. India’s smells, sights and sounds; the warmth borne from the uninhibited mingling amongst friends and neighbors – whether it was asking for a cup of sugar or sharing news of a grandchild’s birth – all of it an ever present memory.


Naina still remembered the day she’d discovered she was pregnant. Even before she’d broken the news to Ravi, she’d rushed to share her happiness with her family across the continents via Skype. Their unrestrained whoops of joy, the fountain of questions, the heaps of advice, she knew, was the reaction she most needed. It would warm her insides, make her feel loved and cared for. Yes, Ravi would have been happy with the news, but a smile from him would have had to suffice. She wished those closest to her didn’t have to be oceans apart. But then, if they lived in America, would they have learned to be as restrained as Ravi and his family were in their reactions? So polite, emotions invariably under check. Or was that self-control the American way? She had never imagined that one could look South Asian on the outside, but be all American on the inside. What was the name her siblings had given Ravi? An Oreo cookie?


With studying for her USMELE, so she could qualify for a medical residency at a local hospital, to having morning sickness throughout her pregnancy, friendships she’d created at the clinic, where she’d worked part-time, stayed there. What Naina couldn’t understand, however, was why neighborly friendliness never seemed to go beyond the perfunctory hello’s in the hallway or elevator? Why didn’t those overtures ever extend to coffee together? And it wasn’t for lack of trying on her part. Her gifts of freshly baked cookies, samosas or chocolate bark hadn’t led to any friendships. “Why did introductions to new people, in India, invariably lead to invitations to tea, dinner, the beginnings of a life-long relationship. Didn’t both countries have the same 24 hours, the same busy, demanding days, so what made people in India so open to nurturing relationships?” she wondered. 


“I’ve made fresh aloo paratha’s for dinner,” she nodded in Ravi’s direction. A smile slipped across her face as she remembered the many times she’d pulled the towel off his body, the days and nights they’d made love like they couldn’t have their fill.


Reaching for the remotes, he turned the music off, flicked ESPN on.


“Where was the hug, the kiss on the head? Their first after his two days at the hospital?” she wanted to ask. Instead, “I was listening,” Naina pressed her lips together. Then, for the second time, “I’ve made fresh aloo paratha’s for dinner.”


“You go ahead. I’m not hungry,” Ravi drawled, his eyes riveted to the game.


A knot tightened in Naina’s stomach. Why did she do this to herself, she wondered? Hadn’t he told her since the early days of their marriage that she wasn’t to wait for him for meals? That, as a resident, there was no telling when he’d be done at work? 


It was a homecoming that couldn’t have been more different than what she wanted, desperately needed. Her own father had children leaping to greet him on his return from work. It meant a family gathering to enjoy a hot, freshly cooked meal and dinner table conversation about how everyone’s day had gone. Ravi, on the other hand, saw no point in reliving his day if all he wanted to do was put it behind him. Between Ravi’s medical residency, the NFL, the NBA and whatever ESPN doled out, Naina couldn’t remember when she and her husband had last shared a meal that brought them closer. Eating food, in her new home, seemed so functional that Naina was certain it was robbing her cooking of its flavor.


Ravi eased the baby from Naina, and nestling Manal’s tiny body in his arms, he made himself comfortable in front of the flat screen TV. That was where he unwound best.


“I hope you don’t mind if I eat while we talk,” Naina cradled the phone between her shoulder and her face.


“Not if you don’t mind my baby fussing in the background. The minute I get on the phone, she gets gassy,” Sheena replied.


“Why don’t you watch the game with me?” Ravi asked.


Naina took another bite of her paratha. That this typically was the nature of their interaction after days of not having seen each other, and barely two years into the marriage, grated on her. It poisoned whatever desire she may have had to snuggle next to her husband and watch a game, especially since sports just weren’t her thing. 


Naina listened to Sheena lament the challenge it was to get a newborn bundled and ready for a trip to the grocery store, only for the baby to need yet another diaper change. She empathaized, knowing the feeling only too well, even as her eyes lingered over Ravi’s face. He was still as handsome as when they’d first met. He visiting from America, an only child, looking to get married. She, one of six children, one of the many hopeful’s he was to interview. They met at dinner, the two of them, her siblings, his cousins. Amidst the group’s non-stop chatter and the clinking of flatware against china, his quiet measured manner and ready humor had attracted her. His choice of water while everyone else chugged beer, his ease despite being mercilessly teased for taking the “desi” career path dutifully, impressed her. Unruffled, he could obviously stand his ground, be a rock she could lean on.


If their babies allowed, what Sheena and Naina would begin as a conversation about their newborns would evolve into a discussion about the price of diapers and formula, the nature of love, the emotional costs of relocating. If either of them had had any time to watch TV or follow the news online that week, then that invariably become fodder for discussion. The Sandy Hook killings, Obama's re-election, global warming, international news.


Even after all these months, Ravi was still incredulous that anyone could have such capacity for conversation as Naina did. “Can you take your call to the next room?” he rocked a now whimpering baby Manal in his lap.


Naina turned her back to him, reducing her side of the conversation to the occasional “oh no” and “uh-huh”. 


“Do you have to use the phone when I’m trying to watch the game?” Ravi asked, no sooner than Naina had hung up, her next day’s plans with Sheena shimmering like a fragile ray of sun.
Naina felt anger bubble up from deep within her. “I feel so lonely in your company,” she wanted to rage. But what use was it? It had been impossible to convey the depth of her loss to someone who lived less than a dozen miles from the home of his youth and childhood. She bit her lip, hating the game, despising the TV, loathing the shared space they called a marriage. Outside, the snow continued to fall thicker and thicker, burying everthing.


If I gave you my heart today, would you still not want it? Once again, Naina had her answer. Her eyes boring into Ravi’s, she pulled the baby out of his arms. Ravi stared, his face contorting with anger, as she stalked out of the room. Silence fell as each recoiled to nurse festering wounds, neither aware they were speaking different languages, seeking love in different tongues, neither recognizing that even love could be lost in translation.
A long sigh escaped her leaving smudges on the clear glass panel of windows and Naina clung to little Manal tighter. Padding across the polished hard wood floors, she nestled into the burgundy leather couch, gingerly placing her feet onto the coffee table. The warmth from the fireplace tickled her toes and she let her head drop against the back of the couch. Manal’s innocent and fragile scent teased her. She had imagined that the baby would give her the sense of family she so craved since moving to America two years ago. Between a somewhat colicky newborn, sleepless nights and Chicago’s cold, short days that often kept mother and baby indoors, the ache had only deepened.

Switching the baby to her other arm, she rose to turn the music up. Perhaps Bruno Mars’ voice could erase the loneliness? Tears pooled in the corners of her eyes, surprising her. Noticing Ravi emerge from their bedroom, his hair still wet, a towel wrapped around his waist, she wiped the back of her hand across her face.
“Are we planning to do anything this evening?” Naina asked at length, even though she knew the answer. He’d been home barely a couple of hours after being on call for the past forty-eight hours. There wasn’t going to be room for her needs. Her Facebook ‘friends’ seemed to hear her thoughts and feelings more than her husband, she thought wryly. She couldn’t figure out why, then, the more time she spent online, the more alone it made her feel. Besides her family overseas, who else was there to open her heart to?

With no answer from Ravi, nor insights forthcoming to any of her questions, Naina micro-waved the aloo-paratha, added a small bowl of yogurt to her plate and sat down to eat. Digging into her purse, Naina groped for her cell phone. Sheena was a new mother too, and an import like herself, albeit from Atlanta. Their ever increasing sense of isolation had knit the two women closer since they had first met at a party.

Naina’s interest in raising a family, rather than pursuing a full-time career as a physician, her easy confidence and gregarious personality, had drawn Ravi to her as they talked more after that first dinner. They discovered that their big picture ideals dovetailed – family came first, charity and hard-work were the foundation they wanted to build life on, and education was key to all their aspirations. That both of them were pursuing careers in medicine gave them so much in common.
( To be continued)

Video Scripts Based on Input from All Stakeholders


For a series of videos that we are planning here at IFANCA, it's not me in my silo deciding what the script should entail. Rather it is me speaking to all the various departments who interact with our target audience and asking them what frequently asked questions come up in their conversations that we could perhaps address via our website and videos. Given that every company has limited resources, fretting out the most pertinent information that needs conveying, is what helped me decide what each video would comprise. It may be time consuming to cull this information but it's better than running with assumptions, especially since  meeting audience needs is truly the goal. Doing the research allows us to narrow our focus and trim scope down to what really needs to be done.  Having a solid 'why'  - That is the only way to avoid a redundant product.

So yes, this speaks once again to the idea that when you step outside your silo, you get better results.Aarron, noted author and leader of MailChimp's UX design shared a similar approach in an interview with RosenfieldMedia.com

Why do we connect with some and not others? From Like to Love to Lasting Love.


I have often wondered why we connect with some and not with others. Why some relationships fizzle out and others weather the stormiest seas? What does lasting love, whether with a spouse, parent or child, look like ? I stumbled on Yasmin Ayyad's blog and believe I have found one component that takes us from Like to Love to Lasting Love in any relationship. It comes down to feeling heard.

As Yasmin puts it:

"We are people, and we need people. Sometimes no matter how much confidence we have, we need validation. We need support. Find those positive, encouraging people that are around you and talk to them. Let them fill you up with energy and power. They can help you accept whats coming your way and see the best parts about it."Quoted from Overcoming Your Fear Of Change

Do we really have "Friends" online?

I'd agree that friendship is “a distinctively personal relationship that is grounded in a concern on the part of each friend for the welfare of the other, for the others sake, and that involves some degree of intimacy." It's someone who actually cares, who likes you for you, makes you laugh, is a shoulder to cry on, makes you feel comfortable about who you are. I would add it's someone who knows your moods, who listens, who understands and loves you despite your flaws. It is certainly not someone you choose to have in your life simply to be able to say you have a friend, or simply because you've shared 25 FB posts with or twenty tweets with. It is not someone you choose to call 'friend' because you need to fill that gnawing void created by a lack of real, physical meaningful interactions that forge tried and tested "I'll always be there for you" friendships. Real Friends pull on our heart strings.

Our online networks do comprise friends whom we have made the effort to actively include in our joys and sorrows, and are part of a real life, mutual support system. The rest of the people we know online are acquaintances for whom we may want the best, to whom we may blurt every thought that comes to mind, but if tomorrow they disappeared, we'd perhaps notice their absence, without necessarily missing their presence.

What Captures Your Attention Controls Your Life - Kare Anderson - Harvard Business Review

What Captures Your Attention Controls Your Life - Kare Anderson - Harvard Business Review

Who'd have thought that a Harvard Business Review article would lead to some soul searching.  But that's exactly what has happened. "Giving and receiving undivided attention, even briefly, is the least that one individual can do for another — and sometimes the most," writes Kare Anderson, who is also author of Say it Better. "And yet, attending to others doesn't just help them — it helps us, by evoking responses that help the listener feel cared for, useful, and connected to the larger world. Paying attention may be an individual effort, but ....simply gazing steadily and warmly at that person, nodding at times and reiterating what you heard will activate an empathic, mirror-neuron response in both of you."

Heeding Anderson's recommendation to become aware of where we are focusing our attention,But that's exactly what has happened. For a few days now, I've become increasingly aware that while I may be in the same room as my kids, I'm not always present. In choosing to be preoccupied or only half available, or half listening, I've realized that it's not just them I'm robbing of an emotional bond but myself too. Love, relationships, emotional bonds are about connecting and in order to connect we need to be fully present. This article, though applicable to our work life too, solidified that thought for me.

Perhaps this explains how we fall in love, too. Feeling loved is nothing less than feeling heard, listened to, cared for - all byproducts of being given focused attention. If you've been there, you know just how lucky you were to have made the journey - those all too fleeting moments of actually feeling heard. Moments that don't come by so easily once you factor inthe onslaught of our daily lives, the many distractions and diversions in our day.  For me, there is only one solution. To set aside family time, to treat those moments together as non-negotiable and to guard it ferociously from the needling interference of life's many to-do lists, phone calls, pings and texts.  


For Aramco World Magazine - Saleem Ali - A Profile

“Greed is not bad,” says Saleem Ali, professor of environmental studies at the University of Vermont, an authority on conflict resolution and author of Treasures of the Earth: Need, Greed, and a Sustainable Future, a book on sustainable extractive mining. Coming from an environmentalist, that statement alone can raise eyebrows. However, rather than greed for greed’s sake, it’s consumption within a framework of regulations, with an eye on providing livelihoods, with minimum impact on the environment, that Dr. Ali advocates. Improving a region’s environmental health must also mean providing a livelihood chain for people in those areas, he says. Choices such as large scale mining for diamonds or trading across continents do involve a carbon footprint, but it is an exchange Dr. Ali encourages. “Pollution is one problem but so is people dying of hunger and poverty.”

Hope this intro. catches your attention. I tell you, he's a man worth keeping an eye on. Nobel Peace Prize winner in the making. It's for my very first article for Aramco World Magazine. To get up to speed with Saleem Ali's doings turn to http://www.uvm.edu/~shali.

Digital Transformation: How a 162-Year Old Company Moves Like A Start-Up at Social Media Week (#SMWChicago)



Sitting through the American Express presentation, Digital Transformation: How a 162-Year Old Company Moves Like A Start-Up at Social Media Week (#SMWChicago) last week, brought home so much of what we learned in both Paul Leonardi's class and with Nosh Contractor. "As the world moved online, the needs of merchants and cardmembers changed to social, local, mobile and so, American Express evolved their marketing strategies to meet these emerging needs." Dave Wolf, Vice President, Global Business & Market Development, American Express discussed Am Ex's "recent launches with Facebook and foursquare as well as a game-changing tool they call “Go Social” which allows merchants to instantly create a social media marketing strategy." As he explained how a financial company and a really old one at that had adopted social media and created such a vibrant online presence, I couldn't help but think that this sounded too much like IDEO, Google and Pixar. There had to be cross-functional teams and a flat hierarchy where information could flow across specializations, without the challenge of silo's. I asked Dave as much and yep, that was exactly the case. Another nugget of wisdom, we'd picked up in the MSC was that if there was C-Suite support for an idea, viola!, things happened. This was just as true of Am Ex. as it was for IDEO.

If you've been reading this blog, it may seem like cross functional teams, open floor plans, flat hierarchies are pretty much all I learned at the MSC! That's really not the case, of course, but in a world so keen on innovation and the next big thing, if only we adopted these methods, bright ideas and their seamless execution may not seem so far fetched a possibility.

Next stop? Crisis Communications in the Social Age with Todd Bleacher, Communications Director Boeing @Boeing and Kathy Fieweger, Executive Vice President and Midwest General Manager, MWW Group @KatFieweger.Search for conversations about it at #smwmww 
Follow me @yarkhan, or www.linkedin.com/in/naazishyarkhan

Nigel Marsh: How to make work-life balance work | Video on TED.com


My dream is to be a presenter at a TED Conference. Perhaps it should be the goal I set for the "Wish List" we are to create for Nosh Contractor's class. Here's an interesting talk : "Work-life balance, says Nigel Marsh, is too important to be left in the hands of your employer. At TEDxSydney, Marsh lays out an ideal day balanced between family time, personal time and productivity -- and offers some stirring encouragement to make it happen."  And while we're talking about success at work it, one of the keys to it lies in the breadth and depth of your smile. Ron Gutman talks about this simple yet powerful act. 

Enjoy!

Halal Comes to Campus Via Food Service Express

Food Service Express (FSE), the parent company of www.HalalHealthy.com, has been presenting webinars and speaking at Muslim Students Association (MSA) conferences on successfully approaching campus administrators to bring halal to campus dining services. This January 28-30, 2011, Food Service Express will be addressing the subject at the MSA Conference at Ohio State University. Entitled “Digging Deep: Cultivating the Seeds of Leadership”, the goal of this conference is to effect positive change by increasing awareness of civil manners, improving the spiritual self, and fostering productive activism. FSE will be presenting three different topics related to Halal and Campus Dining Services on Saturday, Jan 29th, 11:15- 12:00 & 3:15-4:00, and Sunday, Jan 30th 10:30-11:15.

FSE President, Mr. Tymchuck, will be doing workshops and speaking on "Productive Activism: Increasing the Availability of Halal Foods on Campus" at the Conference. These will cover how students can learn to sharpen their leadership skills and gain an understanding of the thought processes used by leaders to reach desired goals. Building consensus among Muslim students, assembling an enthusiastic team, gathering pertinent data to build your case for halal, approaching the campus Dining Services, fostering continuous leadership and even publicizing accomplishments in the local media will be other topics addressed by Mr. Tymchuck. A ‘Leadership’ packet with these materials, including step-by-step activities, will be distributed to all workshop attendees. On November 6, 2010, Food Service Express and HalalHealthy.com presented a similar workshop at the Chicago wide MSA conference.

Debating Dry Writing.....Oops I mean Globalization

My post on Facebook last night was along these lines: “I now know where the late night study munchies come from. If your reading is dry you eat both to procrastinate and to keep from falling asleep. Further, the drier the reading, the more you tend to procrastinate and the later and later into the night it gets!”

YES, the reading this quarter has me begging to me rescued. “Planet of Slums” by Mike Davis and “The Global Traffic in Human Organs”, though backed by tomes of research, is swaths of dry writing delivered in monotones. Could someone please read to me out of a phone directory, instead?

The readings gave me pause, for a rather unlikely reason. I was once considering an MA in Public Policy. If this is the tone that Public Policy readings are made up of, and I suspect they are, what a long grind THAT would have been. And my other consideration, law school. Hmmm..ditto!

Given this scenario, you can imagine my relief when I began reading “Debating Globalization” by Micklethwait. I am referring not to its content but its conservational tone, too. Michlethwait’s writing is liberally peppered with sarcasm and hyperbole. His word choices give the impression that these are his opinions albeit backed by research. “Slap controls on, Grasping fingers, carted off to an asylum, knuckleheads in the Boardroom, illiterates in Hollywood, two-weeks worth of penny-pinching vacations.” However, since you are made so aware of his inherent bias, you can take his opinions with a dose of salt. I just think : at least the article is readable and that means there’s a chance of learning something from it. Dry academic papers sound authoritative and important but wading through them or effortlessly absorbing their wisdom is another story altogether!

“Debating Globalization” talks of failing oligopolies propped up as businesses thanks to government support. General Motors comes to mind instantly. I voted for Obama but I did not vote for the rescue of GM and poorly handled businesses like theirs. Written in favor of globalization the article, however, acknowledges that by no means is globalization all good. It simply states that the good outweighs the bad, on average. If you were an unemployed Tea-Partier right now, you wouldn’t quite agree. If you were a family member of the tens of thousands of Indian farmers who 've committed suicide thanks to the changing climate – both literal and economic, you wouldn't agree either.

But like most things, doesn’t the answer to whether globalization is good or bad, depend on whom you ask and the context ? Call centers in India: For locals there, it's good. Increasing disrespect to parents, looser morals and materialism on steroids thanks to the independence these jobs bring: Bad.

Like any condition, there are pro’s and con’s. Gobalization is no different and the benefits will come with a price tag. The question then becomes, what are we willing to do to mitigate the risks and avert the potential negatives, not just for ourselves but our friends and neighbors across the yard, the border, and those across the seas? What are the buffers we - the global community - must be willing to put in place to break a potentially catastrophic fall?”

Why Muslims Want The Community Center in Lower Manhattan

I've read more than my share of news reports that claim that Muslims don't denounce terrorism. We do, but those pronouncements really don't make for riveting news. After all, what bleeds leads. And why wouldn't we denounce terrorism? Muslims died in the 9/11 attacks, and they are murdered by terrorists during embassy bombings and suicide bombings. We are looked on with suspicion at every airport, and often have spent grueling hours explaining to immigration why our names are, unjustifiably, on a no-fly list.

So the next best thing, or perhaps the very best thing, is for Muslims to actually mingle with their neighbors and get people to know them on a personal level. The better people know each other, the more commonalities they discover, and the more their common humanity unites them. Wouldn't it make sense that the reverse would also be true, that those who made the effort to reach out to Muslims would be able to understand what we are really about, rather than have only stereotypes to depend on?

To foster just such opportunities is the goal of the proposed Muslim community centre in Lower Manhattan, originally called Cordoba House and now called Park51. When asked if he'd have done anything differently over the many years he'd worked on the Middle East peace process, Ambassador Dennis Ross, a veteran U.S. Department State negotiator, answered, "More person-to-person contact."

So why the hate and the vitriol against the Muslim community center? Don't people believe Muslims have a right to honor the memory of those lost to 9/11, just as any other American? Or is the very idea scary, that getting to know Muslims up close and personal will threaten closely nurtured prejudices?

Yes, even as New York City wisely allows for the Muslim community center's construction, the flood gates of hate against Muslims have been opened. I dread to think of the backlash, both verbal and physical, our community may receive in the face of this, in the coming days.

The irony of the situation doesn't escape Josh Stanton, editor of the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue:

In spite of Park51's clear value to the city and its citizens, its location several blocks from Ground Zero has prompted protests that aim to keep some Muslim Americans from practicing their faith in freedom and peace, and from opening their doors in a truly American way to welcome guests from all faith traditions.

The terrible irony is that under the guise of fighting extremism, some critics of Park51 are unwittingly furthering the agenda of the terrorists who attacked us so viciously on 9/11. The terrorists wanted us to be afraid. They wanted us to put our rights in jeopardy. They wanted us to believe that not all religions are welcome in America. They wanted us to undo ourselves by debasing our own principles.

Although the First Amendment of the US Constitution makes clear that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof", it is ultimately up to American citizens to ensure that the principles enshrined in the Constitution are applied in full. When a religious group, in writ or practice, is kept from establishing a gathering place for the community, those ideals are undermined.

The protests against Park51 are all the more severe, as they undermine the freedom of a religious community seeking not only to build a gathering place for itself, but to provide a space that is open to Americans of all faiths.
Yes, it's a space that will honor Islam and inter-faith learning. It will help us get to know each other better. Can we please give it a chance?

Open Letter to Pastor Terry Jones Re: Burn Quran Day

I think Pastor Terry Jones, leader of the miniscule, 50-member, extreme right-wing Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, and brain behind "International Burn a Koran Day," was out for some cheap publicity at the cost of being totally un-American, unpatriotic and un-Christian. Just ask Hillary Clinton and Gen. David Petraeus. They've said the move places American troops abroad in harm's way and have called it "outrageous," "disgraceful," and un-American. I'd add "ignorant" to those qualifiers, considering he hasn't opened the Quran once and doesn't even know what it says.

"If there's any good to come from this, may it be a wake up call to all Americans to see the insanity and danger of prejudice and ignorance," says Jonathan D. Scott, author of The Woman in the Wilderness, a historical novel about the search for religious freedom in pre-colonial America. "American government was virtually founded on the principle of religious freedom and tolerance, and to deny that is to deny one's patriotism and birthright."

"International Burn a Koran Day" is scheduled for September 11, to "warn Americans about the dangers of Islam." A reader, Aisha Kureishy, sent me a letter that she has written to the pastor. Her words echo my sentiments, so I've reproduced it below:

"Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you" (Colossians 3:13).

"Be quick in the race for forgiveness from your Lord, and in the race for a garden wide as the heavens and the earth, prepared for the righteous -- [the righteous are] those who spend whether in prosperity or adversity, who restrain anger and who pardon all people. For God loves those who do good" (Quran, 3:133-134).

Dear Dr. Terry Jones,

I write this letter as a message of peace. I am an ordinary woman, a loving mother, and most importantly, a caring American Muslim. My voice may be tiny and distant, but it is not weak or insignificant.

Dr. Jones, the world is shocked to know about your magnitude of unawareness towards Islam and its Holy Book Quran. Muslims have been deeply hurt by your ignoble and sordid plan to burn the Holy Quran on September 11, 2010, in honor and remembrance of all the people who lost their lives that day. There were also Muslims in the Twin Towers also who died that day. You will not be honoring them or any non-Muslim, for that matter, by burning a sacred text.

The Holy Quran belongs to all the Muslims of the world just like the Holy Bible belongs to all the Christians of the world and not just some of them. Such a relentless statement to punish the Muslims by burning their Holy Book indicates deliberate disrespectfulness towards a sacred text. You said in your CNN interview that you are a devout Christian and a true American, but your September 11th demonstration does not prove you to be either. Indeed your Dove institute will be reflecting its true colors to the world by rendering such heart-breaking activities. In this act you will be leading the nation towards intolerance. Instead, I hope this act raises people's curiosity about the Quran and leads them to the Truth that it is.

You claim that Quran is a book of the devil and deception. However, Quran discusses numerous Prophets of Judaism and Christianity such as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jacob, Joseph, Lot, Isaac, John and even Jesus to name a few. Unfortunately neither the Torah nor the Bible recognizes the Quran as the last Book of God. However, the Quran unquestionably authenticates the revelations of both predecessor books. If you still choose to burn the Holy Quran, I would kindly ask you to at least be respectful by removing all of Quran pages that also mention any Prophets of the Bible. In fact you should definitely remove the pages that mention Jesus, Mary and Angel Gabriel. The entire Chapter 19 of the Quran is titled and based on the Virgin Mary. She is our mother too. With such strong similarities in our faiths, would you consider Christianity "from the devil" as well then?

In the Quran, God declared and promised that His message will not be altered, and that it is an eternal message affirmed onto His creation. The Quran is a miraculous Book that calms the disturbed mind, mends a broken heart, purifies a corrupt body and relaxes a disturbed soul with lessons of compassion, faith, patience, hope and forgiveness and respect for all.

Islam presently is the second largest religion in the world. Despite being regularly ridiculed by false accusations and speculations heightened by the media, it continues to grow rapidly. Islam is an authentic religion that gives precise answers and states detailed facts in its Holy Book for the reader. It was revealed as the last book after the Bible from God to the last Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him, through Angel Gabriel.

Dr. Jones, burning the Quran may give you and your flock temporary satisfaction, but that will deepen the wounds of all American Muslims post 9/11. Even after nine years, Muslims still face discrimination and hate crimes. For example, Mr. Ahmed Sharif in New York was recently stabbed, a Muslim woman with a headscarf from Dallas was shot in the throat and paralyzed, another Californian Muslim woman was shot while walking her toddler, and Farhan Khan from Allen, Texas, was tortured and murdered by two men in a park. These are just to name a few. The American Muslims are trying very hard to mend all broken hearts since 9/11, but your atrocious act will certainly ruin any progress that has been made thus far.

Peace is never acquired through hatred and humiliation of people's religions or their sacred texts. Someone of your stature and omnipresence must overcome all the misunderstandings towards Islam and Muslims. As a devout Christian, you can set a global example of respect, tolerance and forgiveness to be emulated by the people. Choose love over hate and forgiveness over punishment. I hope that you will find my request to be the most humble and sincere.

Aisha Kureishy
Really, Pastor Terry Jones? What would Jesus do?

Follow Naazish YarKhan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/yarkhan

See You at the American Muslim Consumer Conference

The American Muslim Consumer Conference broke ground last year with a conference that was titled "American Muslim Consumer: Who? What? Where?" and drew a crowd of over 250 participants. This year they are back, and I hope to be one of the attendees. The conference is a platform for industry professionals to examine the American Muslim market sector and explore its rich potential. This year's conference is titled "Charting the Landscape."

According to Zogby International, there are approximately 7 million American Muslims living in the United States (or 9 Million, according to IFANCA), with an estimated buying power of $170 billion. The American Muslim Consumer Conference focuses on promoting dialog and raising awareness of this multicultural niche where many mainstream companies are now seeing a growing opportunity.

In a recent interview on CNBC's Street Signs titled "Muslims & Their Money," Mostapha Saout, CEO of Allied Media Corp., highlighted why big business should focus their attention on the American Muslim market. The Muslim demographic is relatively younger, with 89.3 percent below the age of 50, compared with 45.2 percent for the general population. They are also well educated, with 77.9 percent having a Bachelor's degree or higher as opposed to 43.7 for everyone else. This translates to a very affluent niche market, with 44 percent of American Muslims earning $75,000 or higher each year.

There are several companies globally that are starting to take notice of this untapped market with abundant opportunities across all industries, including the financial sector, food, fashion and even Hollywood. Ogilvy & Mather, a leading international advertising, marketing and public relations agency, has launched Ogilvy Noor, the world's first marketing consultancy service focused on Islamic branding practices.

John Goodman, Ogilvy & Mather's regional director for South and Southeast Asia, puts it into perspective: "It's like being in 1990 and telling people that China doesn't matter. Twenty years ago you might have said that, but now you're being foolish."

Miles Young, CEO of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, will be the keynote speaker at the second annual American Muslim Consumer Conference. He stresses the strategic value of the Muslim consumer: "A market of 1.8 billion people that has scarcely been tapped, Muslim consumers offer enormous potential to businesses around the world -- but only if their values are fully understood."

To be held at the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick, New Jersey on Saturday, October 30th 2010, the show promises to be as important to multinational companies as it is to large- and small-scale entrepreneurs.

Follow Naazish YarKhan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/yarkhan

Neither This Nor That By Aliya Husain

Filling a gaping void in the world of American young adult literature, Neither This Nor That explores the struggles of an American Muslim girl living in the United States. The novel, written by Chicago author, Aliya Husain offers American Muslim youth a fiction novel that they can relate to in more ways than one. Neither This Nor That enters the young adult literature market, bringing to light many difficulties that American Muslim youth and children of immigrants face while acclimating to life in the United States.

This is a novel about Fatima, a young American Muslim whose parents immigrated to the US from India in the 1970's. Although she was born in the USA, Fatima isn't quite sure if she completely belongs. Her Desi upbringing combined with her Islamic morals, seem to be at odds with everything around her. She is Neither This Nor That.

"I felt that there was a need for our youth to read a book that they could relate to and realize that they are not alone," says Lisle, IL resident and author, Aliya Husain. "It seems like almost all other youth have some literary outlet to turn to when they want to read about any subject of interest or topics that relate to their people. The American Muslim youth haven't been given that same attention even though there is a dire need in our community for it."

The story is set in the pre-9/11 era. Challenges such as those the protagonist, Fatima, faces have gotten exponentially more difficult for Muslim youth now. "Fatima faces the same struggles that almost all American Muslim youth face. In the 70's and 80's these included culture classes and ideological differences in faith. Now our youth must deal with outright slander and character assassination simply because they are Muslim," says Ms. Husain.

The book is intended to help American Muslim youth deal with just such dilemmas. It shows them a way to come to terms with all of their identities without becoming an apologetic Muslim. It helps them build confidence and pride in their Muslim identity. According to Husain, "For the average American youth, this book opens their eyes to what is going in within the head of an American Muslim teen. It lets them see what types of struggles the Muslim boy or girl down the street may face. I think they will be very surprised to find out how similar Muslims are to all other youth."

Ms. Husain identifies in more ways than one with the protagonist. "I was born and raised in Morrisville, PA so I've lived Fatima's life and know how Muslim American youth feel. My family is originally from Hyderabad, India and there was a very strong cultural influence in our home. But we knew that our faith was different than our culture and, in our home, faith superseded all. This indoctrination of faith really helped us through all of the difficulties we faced at school and with our non Muslim friends. I am blessed with a very sensible father who guided me with tremendous wisdom . And of course, the prayers of my mother are the reason we made it through adolescence in this society without losing our identity."

"Till now there were hardly any Young adult novels that reflect the American Muslim population," she elaborates. It was this void that Ms. Husain set out to fill by writing Neither This nor That. Read it to discover what will become of a feisty young girl who struggles to find who she truly is...

Neither This Nor That is now available on www.amazon.com . For speaking engagements contact thebookneitherthisnorthat@gmail.com

Here at Last !

Sheer exhilaration! I couldn't summarize my feelings better as I drove home from the MSc orientation. This was the first day of the beginning of my new life and a turn in the road that I had wanted and waited for, for 14 years. Somewhere between career, finances and young children, my Masters degree, had been put aside for another day. Sept 16th, 2010 - it was finally here. One of the first things that struck me were the variety of backgrounds that students were from. I realized that I was going to learn much more than I had anticipated - from them as much as from professors. The other reason I knew I was in just the right place was because the students actually communicated with each other. As a consultant who works virtually, I don't necessarily work with people face to face or even within the communications industry. Being able to share ideas...in real time, and find both common ground and divergent thinking ... in real time, is a welcome relief. So many windows to so many minds. On the first day of class, I saw more of those exchanges. Discussions and questions were encouraged. We were reminded repeatedly that we were adult learners and the onus was on us to get out of the class as much as we wanted. I was particularly surprised to find an almost "spiritual", "get into the mind and heart" approach to the Decision Making and Leadership class. Would it work in real life, I emailed Professor Arnston. On the home front, I cannot believe how organized I've become - I juggle time better. I actually like doing my assignments and want to give it my best to get to my reading and writing sooner rather than later. Yes, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and I believe, God willing, that I have taken mine in the right direction.

Questioning Theories

This week's readings were on "How to Motivate Your Problem People" and "the Tools of Cooperation and Change." “Culture is a pattern of shared assumptions that was learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough ….to be taught … as the correct way to perceive, think and feel in relation to those problems.” This is a quote from "The Tools of Cooperation and Change". According to the author, corporate culture is created as a result of the repeated use of successful approaches to a problem. I had instead assumed the opposite - that vision and culture molded the problem solving approaches taken. Here is the definition of the Google Culture: “.. we still maintain a small company feel. Our commitment to innovation depends on everyone being comfortable sharing ideas and opinions. Every employee is a hands-on contributor, and everyone wears several hats. Because we believe that each Googler is an equally important part of our success, no one hesitates to pose questions directly to Larry or Sergey in our weekly all-hands (“TGIF”) meetings.” Based on this nugget, wouldn't one think that companies first determine a vision, and a culture, and that in turn influences the problem solving approaches chosen. 2) “Behind most cynics is a frustrated idealist,” “a paradigm shift” or “walk in the other’s shoes” seems to summarize Nicholson’s approach in "How to Motivate Your Problem People". While his suggestions are theoretically good, I wonder if they can be executed with success given the human element involved? For instance, how often have members in a family been able to resolve new or existing issues with siblings or parents, if they've had a tenuous relationship to begin with? I doubt a work situation can be any easier. Nicholson even suggests that bosses ask around to get insights into any personal matters that may be affecting an employees work habits. Errr..How much trust would be left if an employee were to discover that their boss had been asking questions about their personal issues, from co-workers? I'd love to read actual case studies about situations where these author's recommended theories were used successfully. Any thoughts, folks ?

"8 Ways to Build Collaborative Teams" Inspires

The Decision Making and Leadership readings are invariably a mixed bag. They are meant to be. Last week's read "Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams" was inspiring and authentic in more ways than one. The study looked at huge companies with truly large, diverse, far flung teams to make its case. In taking seemingly ‘too big’ companies as case studies, it was able to drive home the point that if collaborative efforts and team spirit could be fostered here, it surely could be done with relatively smaller teams and relatively smaller companies. Having worked extensively in a virtual environment myself, every point made by the authors rang true. Face-to-Face interaction, even small doses of it at regular intervals, can make all the difference. Most employees can recognize at least a few of these "tips" playing out at their own companies, no matter the industry or organization’s size. From open floor plans to offices campuses that mimic a town to HR sponsored events where employees can socialize to job rotation - these concrete ideas can be emulated or inspire variations. Google, in fact, shares some of these very features. Those in upper management, including the founders, are always accessible to answer questions and have conversations, fostering a sense of “ we are all in this together”. Further, its offices are on "college like-campuses", with plenty of room for social interaction. A local family owned business, that a member of my family works for, fosters this ‘we’re all family” feeling. Come Thanksgiving, all employees receive a check for a turkey purchase, in "thanks". At its annual Holiday Party, the keynote address and annual overview of the company's doings are delivered by a sprightly old lady. She is the grand-mother of the current Company President and the grand-daughter of the original founder of the company. There certainly were benefits from HR investing in relationships, for all the reasons listed in this article. My favorite examples though were Nokia and BP’s job rotation initiative. Job Rotation at BP probably fostered collaboration because it is easier to see another’s perspective ( and empathize with their challenges) if you’ve been in their shoes at some stage. Also, imagine the dollars, time and opportunities salvaged when Nokia’s mentors not only point out whom new employees should build relationships with, but facilitate those interactions with paid time/ travel, and information as to what one can discuss with the other. Truly some very cool ideas!

It's All Coming Together

I didn't think there would be a time within the first quarter itself where I'd piece together insights from the various readings, into one big picture. With my last reading for Leadership that milestone has been reached! Surprise, Surprise! “Effectiveness can be learned and must be learned,” says Peter Drucker, as his concluding statement in What Makes an Effective Leader. That opinion is loaded with hope and his article effectively outlines ways to make that goal a reality. He breaks down the traits that he believes comprise an effective leader into their various components so that you aren’t just being told to “Take Responsibility for Communicating” or “Make Meetings Productive” but are also told what specific actions must be taken to achieve those ends. His approach seemed to take a page out of our previous reading, ….Meaningful Feedback by Sloan Weitzel, which advocated that feedback is meaningful only if behaviors and attitudes are dissected into their components and then shared. His point about effective managers focusing on opportunities rather than problems was also reminiscent of "The Art of Appreciative Inquiry" which emphasizes focusing on what’s going well and unleashing energy to achieve the various possibilities. From ‘Effective Meetings’ to ‘Taking Responsibility for Decisions’ to Knowledge Sharing, Drucker wisely chooses to address the most likely ‘bumps’ to be encountered, irrespective of the size or industry of an organization. What he leaves out, whether it’s about formal procedures for group decision making or pertaining to the psychology of people, have been covered in "Why It’s So Hard to Be Fair" and the other readings we have done so far. While Collins’ findings on Level 5 Leadership may not resonate with every reader, it does seem plausible that a leader who doesn’t seek to hog the limelight, distributes credit to his team for successes and looks to himself when there are failures, could be an effective leader. When you distribute credit to others you are, in effect, bolstering their own sense of pride in their work. The resulting impact could be similar to that experienced by staffers when appreciative inquiry is employed. When you are looking inward and holding yourself responsible for failures, it goes back to the ideas espoused by Senge, to first evaluate how our actions and choices may affect the choices and actions of others, rather than holding them responsible, by default, for things gone awry. Together, the selection of articles complement each other well. All in all, an insightful read for those beginning to look at organizations and their inner workings.

Why Your Story Matters at Work

By Naazish YarKhan, Class of 2010

What is America built on if not the Abe Lincoln “Log Cabin to White House” story about this country being the land of opportunity? The Rosa Parks story and the Emmet Till story have served as reminders of the injustices of segregation, better than statistics about hate crimes or discrimination, could ever. It was the story of the tenacity and courage of the 33 trapped Chilean miners that held the world's attention and its heart strings. Similarly, it was insufficient stories from flood hit Pakistan this June, that resulted in the tragedy falling under the radar. 1/3rd of that nation was under water and more people died in those floods than the combined lives lost during the Tsunami, the Pakistan Earthquake in 2005 and the Haiti Earthquake. How many of us know that? These facts go to prove that story has the power to influence and the strength to mobilize or water down both relationships and movements. As Cohen and Prusak assert, this is true irrespective of whether a story is rooted in fact or fiction, or presented as a fable or as a comic book. When there are working groups with members who do not know each other well, divergent opinions could end up creating walls, bad feelings or hostility even. As we get to know each other’s stories, even seemingly inconsequential ones, we discover commonalities. Bonds form. Lunch room conversations slowly become the “connective tissue” that the chapter Sharing the Journey talks of. Over time, exchanging stories has the power to create a work environment where members feel safe enough to express divergent opinions, and take risks, without fear of being misunderstood or devalued. We have the potential to graduate from being working groups to Senge's synergized 'teams'. The trust underlying the exchange of stories, gifts individuals the latitude to see fellow team members idiosyncrasies as just that, rather than as reasons to take umbrage. When interactions are only task oriented, the feeling of being connected that gives team members mutual leverage for use during negotiations or persuasion, is rarely forged. This is exacerbated when working virtually. Instead if we take a few lines in a few emails each week, to also discuss a book we’ve been reading or ask for advice on a non-work matter, we evolve from just being words on a screen. Instead we become someone the other can identify with at some level. We now become more willing to give each others perspective a platform, even if we may disagree with it. The act of simply being willing to hear the other out, conveys respect and oils the wheels of team work.

Time Flies When You Are Having Fun

The quarter has ended only too quickly. I feel there is still so much more that we could learn from both the Decision Making and Leadership class and the one on Change Management. Did we learn a lot? Yes, we definitely did. Did all the writing and reading we did in Decision Making help? Absolutely. It helped internalize everything that much more. I hear my next elective has as much homework and reading and while I know it will make juggling homework, children and work deadlines all that more challenging, I also feel that maybe the only way to actually internalize the volumes we are learning. The class party at Gio was really fun. It was the same people we spend our entire day with at school, but a change in atmosphere, seems to bring out our softer sides. It was truly a pleasure to hang out and enjoy each others company. I am so going to miss the intellectual stimulation, the camaraderie come July. And to think I wouldn't have known of the program if it weren't for my colleague and MSC Alum Maria Omar. Thanks Maria! I owe you big time!

Women's Wages - A Vicious Cycle

One of my final readings reviews were "Women and the Labyrinth of Leadership" and "Diversity and Community in the 21st Century". Both were surprising at many levels. Reading "Women and the Labyrinth of Leadership", I was struck by the causal relationship drawn between the use of the metaphor of the glass ceiling and its impact on solutions proposed. I would never have realized that metaphors were that loaded. The labyrinth, I agree, is a more accurate metaphor. However, it fails to reflect a vicious cycle. Women are paid less, so when choices have to be made as to who should cut hours, or drop their career, to care for an elderly parent, raise kids or move when a spouse changes jobs, women take the hit. That reinforces every assumption about women in the workforce and the cycle continues. I think one of the root causes that women are paid less has much to do with how parenting is viewed. Since women tend to be the maincaregivers, I advocate a paradigm shift when attaching a value to parenting. Women would not be paid less than men, or considered second choice for a job, if parenting were given an economic value. Rather than see it as a ‘drain’, parenthood should be acknowledged as no less than the very fuel for tomorrow’s economic engine; an ‘incubator’ for the next generation of great leaders. Absentee parenting, instead, should be deemed a drain on the promise of a bright future. Parenting requires team building, negotiation, decision-making, compromise, multi-tasking, long hours, and working under stressful conditions. The years spent as a full time parent should be given equal if not more importance, as a job in the “official” workplace, rather than a gap in one’s career.

Quick Picks and Must Reads

The holiday season in Chicago really isn't about relaxing by the fireplace and snuggling into a good book, despite visions of the same. Nonetheless, these are the books that you've got to add to your wish list, if you have a sliver of time to read. If you'd rather not read why I treasure them, perhaps it would suffice to say that all of them have received rave reviews on Amazon.com.

I began 2010 with Charlene Baumbich's Stray Affections. I read it on a 36 hour, transatlantic journey back to Chicago after visiting with my parents in Muscat, Oman. It is always gut wrenching to leave my parents who live continents away. This trip back was particularly hard. My sister had had a fall and had broken her wrist. She had to have rods inserted into her arm to hold her bones together. Further, my parents had just completed a tiring house move. Stray Affections become my antidote to tears on the long flights back. Don't let the title fool you - this isn't a mush and gush romance. It is a warm chick flick in a book and left me with a lingering sense of well-being and hope. It also became the first 'grown up book' I shared with my tween daughter, as opposed to the many Young Adult books she reads that I find more adult than Young Adult. Both of us loved Baumbich for the same reasons and discovered a great author to bond over. We're waiting for days off from school - for both of us - to begin reading Baumbich's latest, Divine Appointments.

Switching gears from heartwarming to intellectually stimulating, I suggest Palmer's Let Your Life Speak. People either love it or hate it. I have one word for this little gem: Potent. I read it as part of my Masters in Communications at Northwestern this Fall. At 100 pages or so, give this book a chance. It may very well alter how you look at life. Also, part of my course work is Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely - it too falls in that same category. I've only just begun it and every time I put it down, it seems to call my name. It's the kind of book you wish you could devote all day to.

Now what if I told you there was a book that acknowledges that our obsession for all that bling "yields environmental destruction and social inequity" but also "fuels creativity, the desire for discovery, and needed economic development. Properly channeled, the treasure impulse might actually propel us toward a fairer and better world." That is precisely the stuff of Treasures of the Earth: Need, Greed, and a Sustainable Future by Essex Junction, Vermont resident and University of Vermont professor, Saleem Ali.
Saleem H. Ali is pro-consumption and pro-environment."--Forbes Magazine.

Saleem Ali thinks like an environmentalist, a diplomat, a wealthy industrialist, an impoverished villager, a government regulator, a product innovator, and a father. To him, environmental conservation can succeed only if vying factions communicate and collaborate. - National Geographic

This is the kind of book my dad would love to dissect with me, my kids and any one who'd care to listen. Infact, all these books open a window to a world that you didn't know existed. Narnia for the thinker in you. Here's my interview with Saleem for Aramco World Magazine.

Next on my reading list is Barefoot in Baghdad by Manal Omar, a Washington D.C resident. As co-founder of Refugee Assistance Programs ( RAP), here in Chicago, I'm all too familiar with the fallout of war, right here in our backyard. There are scores of Iraqi's who've been displaced since the US decided to invade Iraq. As US refugees, the Iraqi people struggle below the poverty line, determined to make it in this city we call home. Again, two thumbs up for Barefoot in Baghdad which falls into the same category as Other Side of the Sky by Farah Ahmedi.

Farah Ahmedi, a Wheaton IL resident and former Afghan refugee was mentored by my good friend and fellow do-gooder, Alyce Litz who is a Board Member of Love Christian Clearing House. Rarely do you find such a courageous read. If you're having a bad day or are living through a nightmare, read this book. Not only will it jolt you into a reality that little children in many, many nations live through, it will also give you that shot in the arm you so need. So if you think I'm attracted to just gloom and doom, it could not be further from the truth. I know there is a God, and I know He is a better friend to us than we can ever be to ourselves. That in a nutshell has always been my philosophy. If that little girl, Farah Ahmedi, could do it despite a leg lost to land mines, three years in a German hospital without any family by her side, despite all her trials.. so can you. There is a time for self-doubt and helplessness and there is a time to recognize that there usually is a light at the end of a horrific tunnel. This is a book that will help you make that leap.

As I always say, pick a book that matters. Let it challenge you, touch you, make you to grow. After all, we only have so much time.

Lessons Learned - Just Do It !

It’s Christmas Day and we’ve spent it with family and friends. It has also been a day where I am trying to get back into school mode and am actually back to reading some of the suggested readings that I could not quite get to during school. So much so that when my husband, who has the week off, suggested a road trip, I shook my head. Besides what I haven't read last term, I must also read at least some of the books assigned for the Winter quarter while I have the time. With a house move looming and full time work on the horizon, I can’t be irresponsible when blessed with time. You see, I’ve learned my lesson.

I have paid the price when I “put off for tomorrow what I could do today” and then had a totally unexpected crazy busy week, which left me careening on the edge of insanity, playing catch up. Oh how I kicked myself for not having used my down time to get reading or homework done – to get that rip taken care of before it became a tear. The scenario repeated itself once or twice before I learned my lesson. But better late than never, it eventually became a ‘learning experience’.

‘Get it done when you have a chance, even if it’s not urgent’ has become my motto. So I fill the gas tank in my car when I have a chance, without waiting for it to get really low. I no longer wait for it to run almost empty. After all, who knows when there may be an emergency and I absolutely need a full tank of gas and have no time to stop at a gas station. Similarly, I purchase stamps as soon as I run out of them without waiting to actually need them, and I’ve taken to buying milk in bulk even before the current batch in my fridge runs out. I hang the parking permit in my car days before I head off to campus and yes, I’ve even requested some of the texts we need during the quarter via interlibrary loan since my library didn’t carry them.
Forearmed has become my Northwestern-earned newest strategy. Still, I realize, there’s a ways to go before I pat myself on the shoulder. After all, I am currently down to my last parking permit when I could have replenished the lot, without leaving it to the last minute. Ah, yes. There is always room for improvement. And that is precisely what New Year’s Resolutions are for….

There are More Ways Than One To Milk a (Cash) Cow

I didn't have to take notes in my Communication in the Global Workplace class - my first for the quarter ! Having been raised on international news and as a global citizen and from India to boot, many of the Prof's references were all too familiar.

To share something from my own readings, and my industry, here are some stats/figures re: The US and Global Muslim consumer market. Valued at USD $2.1 Trillion annually, the Muslim consumer is the latest "it" market, worldwide. Companies such as Nestle, Abbott Nutritionals, Tom's of Maine, Pfizer and other big wigs are already on that bandwagon.
"While Saudi women comprise only 14.4 percent of the labor force, they have more than 40 percent of all bank accounts, she noted. In fact, Dr. AlMunajjed added, women in Saudi Arabia are financial powerhouses and control $16 billion in banks inside the Kingdom." - Washington Report on the Middle East

As Prof. would agree, having a businessperson's perspective means actively looking beyond the "if it bleeds, it leads" media race for ratings. There are definitely more ways than one to milk a cow! Just ask Nestle, my clients and
CNBC , MSNBC, WARC , TIME MAGAZINE, NEW YORK TIMES, CNBC Magazine, Today Show
Food Navigator

A HALAL SPIN ON ITALIAN AND MEXICAN FOOD AT WWW.MYHALALKITCHEN.COM

She was born to a Sicilian father and Puerto Rican mother, both Roman Catholic. Her ethnic heritage also meant growing up to enjoy culinary feasts for the senses and the soul - authentically delicious Sicilian style pizzas, lasagna, meatballs, Puerto Rican rice and beans, chicken, meat pies and custard desserts - just to name a few.
What becomes of those appetites and indulgences when one embraces Islam, which means also adopting its guidelines with regard to food which has no room for pork, pork-based products, alcohol and foods with alcohol as an ingredient?

I spoke to Yvonne M. Maffei, Editor, www.myhalalkitchen.com of DesPlaines, IL who embraced Islam and its dietary laws which include avoiding meats that aren’t slaughtered in the appropriate Islamic way. “Eating things like chicken, lamb and beef at most restaurants was a challenge,” says Yvonne. “Instead, I resorted to eating only vegetarian dishes, but quickly tired of that. I finally decided that I should learn how to make our favorite dishes, even the complicated ones. Although I had always known how to cook well, I really hadn't studied the techniques necessary to make such things as a roasted duck or homemade yogurt, for example. Once I did, I felt able to make really delicious food normally found only at restaurants.”
So what exactly are the special requirements people need to keep in mind when turning a non-halal recipe into a halal one? “As the best chefs say and do, you must "taste, taste, taste" your food as you cook. This allows one to know if a dish is turning out well. If a recipe calls for wine, I simply substitute it with a high quality 100% pure grape juice (white or grape depending on what type of wine the original recipe calls for). For most pork dishes, I will substitute any meat I think will go well in its place and then adjust cooking temperatures and times for the meat I've selected.”

Baking is a different story, however, because following directions exactly is critical to the success of the recipe. “However, I was told by Chef Sebastien Cannone, at the French Pastry School here in Chicago, that one could just leave out alcohol in baking because it is mostly used for flavor. So, for example if I choose a cookie recipe that calls for rum to be added for flavor, I simply leave it out and follow the recipe without that ingredient.”

Publishing a cookbook is one of her aspirations but Yvonne Maffei could very well be the next Rachel Ray. She’s interested in a TV show as a halal chef. “ I am passionate about all aspects of food- selecting, cooking and teaching about culinary arts, and of course all about the halal factor of food. I think Muslims today, especially those living in the U.S., are ready to explore dishes from areas of the world that are not traditionally related to Muslim lands, such as Italian or Mexican. They want to try new things but can't necessarily do that in restaurants because the food is not halal, so they're interested in learning how to substitute elements of these and other cuisines (for example French food where wine is heavily used) and make certain dishes halal.”

Statistics from the food industry in USA and Canada show that halal is slowly becoming a choice amongst Non-Muslims too. Myhalalkitchen.com bears testimony to that as well. “The non-Muslims who frequent my blog are very open-minded about other cultures and often times visit my site because they have seen a Middle Eastern recipe they've found to be interesting. For some of them, MyHalalKitchen.com, is the first time they've learned about what it means to cook and eat halal foods. The responses have all been so positive, making it very encouraging to know that foodies around the world have a common interest in quality food untouched by the chemicals, preservatives and processing techniques that are not good for us.”
“More and more people want to learn how to cook for themselves in order to feed their families on a budget as opposed to spending money for expensive, unhealthy meals at restaurants,” says Yvonne. “I hope that my blog offers some ideas for preparing one's kitchen for healthy and quick cooking as well as recipes that are tasty and well-explained so that anyone can make them.”

The interest in halal, according to a recent study by Packaged Foods, is also buoyed by the ever increasing appreciation of whole, organic and all natural foods. Not all halal meat comes from grass-fed, free range or antibiotic free animals. Still Crescent Chicken and Taqwa Eco Food are a beginning. “If meat is truly halal, then it is inherently organic, natural, humanely-treated and properly fed before showing up on one's dinner plate,” says Yvonne. “Once more and more people learn about halal and know they can buy products that are true to the term halal, they may buy halal meats not only for religious purposes but also out of a conscientious decision to eat healthier and more environmentally-sound products.”