When to reveal your age

It is rude to ask someone their age, how much they earn and other personal stuff like religion and sexuality (unless they talk about it themselves) but I found there are times when it might be advantageous to reveal your age.  This is when you work in an industry where age or experience matters and you look younger than you are.  I look younger than I am and I work in a very male dominated industry where I’ve been dismissed by both men, and surprisingly by women too (I suppose these women follow the males).  I was being also ignored for promotions and my suggestions or advice not being listened to. One colleague even calls me ‘kiddo’.  Friends told me to stop worrying about it, saying, ‘You know that people actually reduce their age on social media?’ or ‘You are so lucky!’  People have different problems and I had this strange one. I wondered what I should do as it seemed a ‘non-problem’ to some, and even ironical to complain about it.

I spoke to a female mentor and she said I shouldn’t worry about this and should use this to my advantage. But what advantage was it giving me? None, I decided.  Then I noticed a female colleague who had set out her date of birth in her C.V., unlike me.  She is the same age as me but actually looks older.  But instead of dismissing her, I noticed the men saying we should all support this ‘young woman’ and the women giving her respect too.  So obviously being careful with online scams and ‘cat fishing’, I’ve decided to reveal my age (but not the day and month) on my social media profile on sites like Linkedin and my CV.  I noticed that this also stops me from getting unwanted chatty emails from men saying things like, ‘I love your smile, shall we meet up when I am next in London?’

Have you had any experience of this?  What actions did you take?

Don’t judge me!

How many times have you heard this, ‘Don’t judge me!’  We hear it mostly from people who have been accused of something on social media and they hit back with this.  These are people who are doing something that is considered not ‘normal’ or have lifestyles or looks that are not what we are used to seeing in the media.  There are many examples- from overweight people, to how parents are bringing up their children to extreme lifestyles.  Do we really need to comment on everything others do? No, we don’t but it is not easy to stop ourselves from judging.

Making judgements is what makes us human and living beings. If we didn’t stop judging situations as dangerous or not, we’d be dead.  When we all lived in jungles and were in constant fear of survival, we had to judge each moment in order to survive.  But even now, we are still judging, especially in intellectual, cultural or social matters.  Judgements are passed on criminals by courts, or on artistic endeavours (whether it be music, art or drama) by critics or on sports performance by commentators. But those not working in the ‘careers of judging’, will also pass judgement on how other people look (especially for celebrities), live and what they say. People feel the need to judge and comment, even on innocuous matters about things that don’t really affect them. As a result, critics will get angry and those criticised will be angry and hurt.  In the days of media exposure of celebrity lifestyles, key board warriors can hide behind made up names and write cruel comments on anyone, people they don’t know and will never meet.  People have even trolled dead people, something that can be so devastating to their families.

This kind of cruel and unthinking social judgement has become so common that it has set off an extreme reaction- people do not listen to any advice, even if it comes from a good place.  People who work as ‘judges’, writers and critics find it harder to criticise anything or anyone, in fear of being sued or their work destroyed.  But living a non judgemental life is not good for us. We lose that sense of philosophical, moral and social progress in our lives if we cannot allow a well thought out criticism to come out of anyone.  Criticism also allows us to have a proper perspective on the situation and allow us to look at the pro and cons, thereby affording us the freedom to make a choice.  How can anyone progress if we are constantly told that we’re okay?  Constructive criticism is an essential tool for anyone looking to improve their lives and work.  But that criticism is best delivered in privacy, and face to face- not anonymously and online.  Being criticised is hard for anyone.  So we need to become more open human beings, open to being criticised and also being able to give well considered criticisms.  Reading, listening to others and reflecting are tools that can help us.  Critical thinking needs time.  In fact the people who write cruel online comments are usually ones who have often just read the headlines or looked at a photograph.

As Evelyn Beatrice Hall said, ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’

The power of dialogue, divergence and doing

Modern ethics arose out the philosophical questions of morality, right or wrong and about treatment of other people. In today’s world where we are more exposed to other’s pain and suffering, we are constantly trying to understand and overcome not just other’s pain but our own. Masao Yakuta, says, ‘One of the deepest forms of pain is the pain of separation. (SGI quarterly, April 2002, p 10). So how do we deal with this pain which starts from the time our umbilical cords are cut? To overcome this pain, strangely enough we create behaviours and barriers that we think distance us from this vulnerability such as anger, arrogance and superiority. We tend to emphasise our differences rather than connections. Yet obviously it is only through connection that we can overcome the pain of separation. The way human beings can make an immediate connection to another is through dialogue. Dialogue as tool for engagement and for furthering our understanding has been used for many thousands of years, from the Eastern traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism to the Socratic methods of posing questions.

As an architect, I have worked in many parts of the world where there is conflict and inequality. Conflict and inequality exist not just in poor countries or those with civil unrest but also in rich, democratic and stable countries, as I have described in my book, Architecture for Rapid Change and Scarce Resources (Routledge, 2012). Although we have had two major world wars in the last century, today’s wars may be smaller but equally vicious and more widely spread. The only reason I have been able to work in areas of conflict and unrest is through using the power of dialogue. I am not going to say that it is entirely safe or that one has to be naively trusting but through talking we can make the process of work easier and safer. This technique works equally well in a ‘safe’ office environment. However, talking takes time and understanding another’s position takes even more time. So while it looks like this is a slow process, ultimately this is the direct and best route. After all Gandhi, Mandela and many others have demonstrated the power of dialogue in overcoming impossible situations.

In Nichiren Buddhism, there is a concept called ‘cherry, peach, plum and apricot’ which signifies that we are all different. Our differences give rise to divergent thinking. The purpose of dialogue is not convergent thinking but divergent thinking. Many different mind sets and experiences bring a plethora of opinions and views to the table, and the discussion and debate that follow give rise to new solutions to old problems. There is no ‘one truth’- we have opinions and these opinions must inform us of the best action to take for ourselves and for greater good. However, if we stick to our opinion as if it were the ‘truth’ even in the evidence to the contrary, then we are in deep trouble because sure enough something will happen to make us examine this truth again. We will then need to invent another truth to cover up that failure. So we might as well surrender to the power of our vulnerability, to our pain and find creative solutions from that.

The final report into the investigation of the American guards’ behavior at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, described following aspects that allows a particular group to feel superior over the other-

  • ‘Deindividuation’: the anonymity, suggestibility, and contagion provided in a crowd that allows individuals to participate in behavior marked by temporary suspension of customary rules and inhibitions.
  • ‘Groupthink’ is characterized by two main kinds of illusions-
    first of invulnerability, i.e. group members believe that the group is special and morally superior; therefore its decisions are sound; and secondly that of unanimity which members assume all are in concurrence and pressure is brought on to those who might dissent.
  • Dehumanization: Individuals and groups are viewed as less than fully human
  • Moral exclusion: one group views the other as fundamentally different, therefore prevailing moral rules and practices apply to one group but not the other.

Although we are not working in these extreme conditions, we are constantly being exposed to similar situations in everyday life, perhaps even in our homes and offices. These situations are opportunities for us to examine our own behaviours and correct them. After all the prison guards in Abu Ghraib prison were also people just like us, yet by considering themselves separate and superior to others, they went down to the level of inhuman behaviours. By dialogue and consideration of diverse views, we can overcome common problems. So I am not disappointed when I see photos of Aung San Suu Kyi talking to the generals who imprisoned her, as many people were.

Finally by actually working in these conditions, one can really describe the reality. Armchair activists have many opinions but are those informed by experience? I have deep respect for those who have actually ‘walked the talk’. Working in areas of conflict is not the easiest thing to do-even the smallest project or pieces of agreement that are reached, conclude through months and years of dialogue. The UN’s work is thus a long affair but they and many NGOs are the only organisations that one can rely on to do ‘peace-keeping’ and working in conflict zones. Whether the dialogue is across the table or across a trench, peace in many parts of the world, including the Middle-east, is dependent upon dialogue and doing. If we stop talking, it is then that we need to feel afraid. By not speaking we separate and by keeping talking, no matter how hurtful it may be to our ego, we connect. As Joan Anderson says, ‘In fact dialogue is the only legitimate weapon for realising peace’. (ibid)