Inspiring Women Part 2

Humaira

(courtesy of Intelligent Life Magazine, 2013)

“The courage of a Pakistani hero involves facing the ultimate fact of death. But the fantasy of martyrdom, where it exists, is largely a male one. A heroine needs a more supple courage. She must negotiate: with her emotions, with her adversaries, with her family, with hypocrisies. But not, if she can help it, with her ambition.” (Rahul Bhattacharya, 2013)

With life so full, I’ve not been able to finish part two of this three-part series  as soon as I would have liked. But, the topic has persisted on my mind, because of stories that have had an enduring impact on me, and because of my irrevocable life experience and relationships.

As I alluded to in the first part of the series, there were two key pieces of literature that first prompted me to start thinking about a future blog post about women and their unique potential. The second one was an article I read in the Economist’s Intelligent Life Magazine, my favourite periodical. The article was published in an edition that also features a supplement dedicated to inspiring women entitled “16 women you ought to know about” found here.

In this September/October 2013 edition, I read a piece about a woman in Pakistan who, at the age of 13, made it her mission to offer education to children living in squatter communities – including girls. This was almost unheard of, and Humaira Bachal faced many obstacles, much opposition and physical danger. Despite the threats and with great enthusiasm and persistence, she built two schools, called the Dream Model Street Schools, which have provided an education and opportunity to thousands of children who would otherwise have no way to even become literate. So inspiring have her altruistic, leadership and entrepreneurial efforts been that in April 2013, Humaira was honoured in New York City at the Women in the World Summit.

In discovering Humaira’s courageous work, I was reminded that when women take hold of their natural gifts, among them sensitivity, empathy, intelligence, creativity, tenacity and bravery, this can result in extraordinary and profound successes.

I believe that women who strive to do something unique and powerful in order to make a difference must contend with some gender-related challenges. Aside from the very significant socio-political/cultural barriers that exist for women like Humaira, it is true that women face some great difficulties in contending with themselves and their emotions. We sometimes over-analyze and process through an emotional filter; the same filter that can make us powerfully empathetic and passionately caring. We must fight self-doubt and channel these characteristics in order to be catalysts for incredible, affirmative change. I don’t mean this to be a feminist rant at all, as I believe men and women possess innate characteristics that uniquely serve in partnership. But, from a woman’s perspective, I know how my propensity towards emotionality can serve to either inspire or inhibit innovation and accomplishment.

As I began writing this series, I was travelling back from a healthcare leadership conference. It was a very nourishing conference with much significant knowledge to take away. One thing that stood out for me significantly, in a room of over 700 delegates, was that there are so many women in Canada who are healthcare leaders (and of course in other sectors as well). Some of them are the most influential leaders in the Country and have implemented changes that impact a whole province in the way healthcare is delivered and received. Women have a very special opportunity to use their natural capacity for love, their overall emotional intelligence, their cognitive and professional intelligence and their experiences to be combined catalysts for real and lasting change in whatever area inspires them.

I reflect again on the women in my life and they all inspire me in some way. So many are confident, resilient, intelligent, talented and ambitious. And, they care. What phenomenal facilitators of meaningful work are empathy and concern for humankind.

I can encourage you to read about Humaira here.

Weeds

I just recently read an article in the current spring issue of The Economist’s Intelligent Life magazine that made me think about something we most often take for granted: weeds. It is a photo essay of stunning quality; its images moved me in a way that perhaps you might find strange. It begins with a formidable photo that really looks more like a painting, one I’d purchase without a second thought. The image is of papery, fiery poppies lining a cracked roadway. A sea of teacup blossoms, soft teardrop buds and seed pods waiting to ejaculate life across their expanding lea.

The essay speaks of humanity’s desire to abolish the weed from our perfect little gardens and how yet our world would be much less colourful and in some cases, less fruitful and healthful, if it were not for those plants we call invaders. We see weeds as plants that are ugly, unwanted, or simply growing where they ought not to be. I desire not to be seen as someone that unnecessarily creates metaphors simply for the sake of them, but I truly felt impassioned to draw some simple links between my life and the weed. And certainly, I could turn this into a social missive, discussing the way we classify people as unwanted or undesirable to suit societal ideals, but I won’t.

What I will instead relay is how, in experiencing this essay, I was struck by the image of a lone chamomile plant stubbornly surviving in a dark subway. I closed my eyes and imagined the sweet scent the chamomile blossom emits, and the lovely, calmative tea it gives us. Then, I was moved by a winter photograph of a tenacious bramble bush pouring over a fence, so abundant it reminded me of the strength and fullness with which a river flows over every rock and outcropping in its path, unrestrained. And finally, a photo of ash seedlings, sheltering between abandoned railway tracks; where humans no longer see utility, the minimalism of nature finds solace.

And so, it occurred to me that so many times in my life, circumstances have seemed imperfect, untimely and ugly. I’ll spare you the details of those hurts and disappointments, but I think many of us know that if we are wise, we’ll look back upon difficult situations in our lives and attempt to draw strength and opportunity from them. And even as I struggle now with arduous, complicated situations and decisions, I recognize these occasions are really a gift. All of those trials have provided me with a realistic perspective of life and its sometimes inconvenient circumstances; the strength I own in my mind and spirit to conquer them; the relationships that have been built in the process; the innumerable joys that have ultimately resulted after the worst storms. As I read the article, I was reminded that this same poppy, purposefully plowed out of farmers’ fields, has prevented much human suffering through its medicinal properties. Then, I contemplated the comforting yet haunting imagery of Flanders Fields, from whence it became the inspiration for a timeless poem. What more strikingly immortal place could a weed occupy?

I’m in no way indicating I’ll allow weeds to overrun my garden, but I will say that I will look at them differently when I struggle to pull their deep roots out of the soil in which they cling so obstinately. As the article clearly states, weeds are our most successful plants. They live abundantly in some of the most desolate, tortured and extreme living conditions. They keep trying, despite our best efforts to eradicate them, to live richly in the face of adversity, and some of them manage tremendous beauty in the process.

You can read the essay here and the photo gallery is viewable, but you’d be remiss not to pick up the magazine to see the full sized photographs in the set if they interest you.