Five reasons why you should vote in the upcoming federal election

I’m not here to tell you who to vote for. I’m just here to tell you why you should.

1. Even if none of the Prime Ministerial candidates seem ideal, starting October 20th, one of them will be our national leader whether we like it or not. 

“None of the party platforms align perfectly with my values and I just don’t think I can get behind any of their platforms in good conscience.” Sound familiar? Voting for a particular party doesn’t mean you support everything that they do, just like being friends with someone doesn’t mean you condone every single decision they make. No one is perfect, and that is certainly the case for our Prime Ministerial candidates. Voting for one of them just means that you prefer them above all of the other options. Better may not be best but better is better than worst.

2. Whether you vote or not, you are responsible for the outcome of the election.

We’ve all heard the argument before. It goes something like this: “I would vote, but I don’t really know much about politics or the election and I wouldn’t want to vote for the wrong person so I’ll just leave it up to people who know more about it”. Makes sense, right? Wrong. If you are an eligible voter, then sure, placing your vote makes you responsible for the outcome. But here’s the thing – if you are an eligible voter and you choose not to vote, you are equally responsible for the outcome of the election.

Enter cheesy metaphor: your vote is like a puzzle piece and every eligible voter gets to have one. The outcome of the election is like a puzzle and if the image is distorted, your missing puzzle piece is just as responsible for that outcome as any misplaced puzzle piece. So if it’s the responsibility that you’re worried about, it’s an unavoidable reality. You might as well vote. Spend 5 minutes today to educate yourself and make an informed decision. Check out the links below if you’re not sure where to start.

3. Having the ability to vote is a privilege and there are hundreds of thousands of people living in this country who wish they could vote, but can’t.

When people make the point about eligible voters having privilege, they often reference people in developing countries in autocratic regimes who would die for the right to vote. As valuable a comparison as that may be, it’s important to recognize that there are people right here living in Canada who do not have the right to vote. They live here, they contribute to our diversity and our economy and the richness of this nation, the outcome of this election will affect them, and yet they don’t get to have a say.

These are people like the permanent residents who have spent years living here and who have not been able to acquire a Canadian citizenship. These are the politically active young people who are almost 18 years old but not quite there yet, the young people whose lives will be most affected by the decisions we voters make in this election. These are the international students who spend many years of their lives getting educated in our schools and contributing to our economies. None of these people get to vote, but they live here, and who we vote for affects them in a really big way. So the few of us who actually get the privilege to vote, should vote – not only for ourselves but for those who can’t.

4. Our ability to vote is what makes Canada a democracy. If we don’t vote, we aren’t really a democracy.

You know how down south, President Obama’s term is coming to an end next year? In the US and in many other countries, a country leader’s time in power has an expiry date. Not in Canada. Whereas US Presidents can hold power for up to two terms for 10 years maximum, Canadian prime ministers can hold power indefinitely. Stephen Harper has held power here since 2006 — for almost an entire decade — and if we don’t elect someone else this time around, he would begin his third term in power – something that isn’t even allowed in the US. The thing that limits a ruler’s power in a democracy like Canada’s is our votes. If we choose to vote him out, his term comes to an end. If we choose to let him stay, then he stays, indefinitely.

5. If you’re afraid of change, then allowing the same party to rule doesn’t necessarily mean that there won’t be any change.

Change is inevitable, no matter who is in power. Many electoral campaigns focus around the idea that it’s “time for a change”, implying that if we don’t elect a new party things will stay the same. A lot of you may want things to stay the same. But it’s important to realize that even under the same government, a lot has changed within the last 9 years between elections. Power drives change, whether we give it to a new leader or leave it in the hands of the Conservatives. Voting for the conservatives will cause changes, because it will give them power to implement policies that they haven’t implemented yet. Voting for a new party will cause changes too, but in a different direction. Voting is about choosing a direction for the many changes that will ensue under any party. We can’t change the fact that change will happen, but our votes can influence the direction in which the change occurs. Nothing is certain, but that’s what makes getting to vote so empowering. Anything is possible.

federal-leaders
photo from the CBC

Convinced? Check out these sources below for quick and easy access to learn more about the different political platforms and some different strategies you can use to make your vote as influential as it can be on election day — Monday, October 19th.

An FAQ on how and where to vote: http://www.elections.ca/content2.aspx?section=faq&dir=vot&document=index&lang=e

A concise summary of party platforms: https://pollenize.org/canada

A personalized, riding-specific, area code-based, thorough cross-country strategy to unseat the conservatives, if that’s something you’re interested in being a part of (think open democracy, fair & strong economy, and a safe climate): http://www.votetogether.ca/

A quiz that will tell you which party your values align with most closely: https://canada.isidewith.com/political-quiz

A video challenge and why I’m voting:
https://www.facebook.com/aliyadossa/videos/10156176210600037/

Happy voting! 🙂

On growing up, living deliberately, and the ever-changing self

Lately, when people have asked me my age, I find myself stumbling for the words and awe-struck by the reality, every time. Don’t get me wrong — age has always seemed fairly arbitrary to me. Without question, the number of years we’ve lived characterize who we are far less than the number of challenges we’ve overcome, the number of lives we’ve touched, and deep belly laughs we’ve shared with loved ones. Growth in character absolutely surpasses growth in age.

Yet while I still stand by all this, I can’t help but feel that embarking on my twenties is a little bit different than ages prior. It feels a little less arbitrary, a little more weighty. Eighteen brought with it my technical initiation into adulthood but twenty-one feels like the real deal. I can no longer justify blaming my faults and insufficiencies on my age. It has sufficiently escaped its scapegoat relegation. No more “she’s just a teenager”. I’ve lived long enough to know the difference between right and wrong, in, at the very least, the way in which I’ve defined them for myself. Whether or not I’m ready to take responsibility for the person I’m becoming, corner-creeping adulthood has officially crept.

I see my early twenties as the sweet spot between reflection and planning ahead. It feels like an ideal place for deeply intentional self-development. It’s the mid-point between zero – the very beginning of it all – and forty – an age associated with having things figured out (although, the older I get, the more I’m realizing that you never really figure it out – you just get more adept at navigating the ambiguities and understanding the unexpectedness of it all). It’s taken a lot of stumbling and growing, learning and exploring to make it to this point, and I think it’s time to take advantage of the exciting and terrifying malleability that makes me human.

Caveat: It’s important to remember that we’re human beings and not human becomings. But it would be unwise to pass up opportunities for self-growth, especially the kind that allows us to be our best selves and in turn enables us to put forth our best efforts, for others and for all that extends beyond the self.

So, I’ve been analyzing myself closely, monitoring my habits and differentiating between the ones that are conducive to who I want to be and those that don’t quite make the cut. Whether it’s apparent or not, we are a product of our habits. What I do or don’t do each day quickly translates into who I am or who I am not. And while all dichotomies are false this can still make the difference between leading a healthy life or an unhealthy one, a compassionate life or an uncompassionate one, and, dare I say it, perhaps a fulfilling life or an unfulfilling one. The habits and behaviors I nurture today will shape me into the adult I’m already so quickly becoming.

I know, I know, I’m still young. But in similar truth to it never being too late, it’s really never too early. After all, if I’ve learned anything as of yet it’s that this dance of life and living is a process above all else. You can’t snap your fingers and become the person you’ve always dreamt of being. Rather, from my understanding, it takes time, conscious effort, and grueling commitment. But it’s the best gift we can give to what I like to call the “future self”.

You know when it’s time to wash your dishes and you don’t want to do it at that precise moment? Putting it off until later would be rewarding your “present self”, and doing them right away would be a gift to your “future self”. The same goes for eating the cookies instead of the broccoli, or going to bed without brushing your teeth because you’re too tired now. If you spend all your time gifting the future self, it’s difficult to enjoy living the life you’re living today, even just in the simplest of moments. And, unsurprisingly, the opposite is true – caving into the wants of the now can make life difficult for yourself later on.

Hardest of the two for most of us seems to be gifting the future self, mainly because it requires robbing our present selves of a little bit of time and joy. Psychologically, we prefer having things now as opposed to having them later. That goes for time, joy, and leisure, among much else. It’s what lies at the core of why we procrastinate, why most people never actually do their physiotherapy exercises, why so many people never use their gym memberships more than twice, and why you haven’t followed through on calling your grandpa in weeks. On the flip side, fewer but surely some nonetheless struggle with the opposite dilemma — spending too much time making life easier for the future self and denying the present self of its right to enjoy the moment.

Needless to say, there exists a fine line between knowing when it makes sense to cut yourself some slack and when it doesn’t. And right now feels like the best time to get to know this line and its intricacies intimately, where it curves, where it frays and where it’s drawn inside of.

It seems to me like leading a fulfilling life requires a balance between the two. I’m not sure that the solution requires a priority of one over the other. We’re so often fed a polarizing narrative – “live in the moment!” or “plan for your future!” but perhaps what we need most is to find the sweet, sweet middle ground between the two. And to do so requires developing habits that nurture us in that direction – habits that I feel compelled to commit to fostering now in my twenties, even when doing so means depriving my present self of a little bit of leisure.

On my list? Things like prioritizing self-care, erring on the side of kindness, practicing healthier sleep routines, eating more nutritious foods, flossing more, being more consistently punctual for others and for myself, and weening myself off of refined sugars and caffeine gradually over the next few months, among others. They’re simple, far from extraordinary, and anything but new. But since reaching my twenties I’ve been approaching them with newly-found vociferous passion and drive.

Like most things, this whole lifestyle I’m speaking of — from the deliberate habit-development to the translation of reflection into action — is far easier said than done. That’s admittedly why it took being in a confined airplane without internet connection for me to finally write this blog post. But I’m twenty-one now and more than ever before, I’m working on it. And it’s exciting.

101 Days Later…

It’s (already!) been exactly 101 days since I finished the “101 Days, 101 Strangers, 101 Stories” project.

I’ve been asked countless times since then about how the project has shaped me, whether or not I still talk to strangers, if I’m writing a book about it, if I have plans for future projects, etc. I’ll do my best to do those questions justice here.

The day after the project came to a close (day 102, if you will), I ended up talking to not one, not two, but three strangers — each fairly spontaneously. One, I met on the bus — he was carrying ski poles on a route nowhere near a mountain, so I just had to inquire. Another, I met while watching a rainbow take shape over the ocean around sunset. Its beauty was far too remarkable to remain silent, so we naturally turned to one another. The third was a 70-something year old man who was dancing free-spiritedly so I joined him and we salsa danced together. It seemed like strangers would continue to be an actively significant part of my life.

The day after that was the first time in 103 days that I didn’t leave the house. And it was lovely. The introverted side of me had been challenged during the project to reach further outside myself, and it was nice to be able to spend an entire day alone, delving further within.

Each day after that, life resumed to normal, for the most part. But I noticed 3 main things about myself that have perhaps permanently shifted:

1) I have a deepened awareness of the people around me and a renewed understanding of what I’m missing out on when I’m not engaging with them. Put simply, for example, if I’m on the bus and I’m not engaging in a conversation with a stranger, I understand that there’s something potentially really valuable I’m giving up to savour my silence. Knowing this, I do still initiate the occasional conversation — in elevators, buses, while walking down the street, you name it. And it comes far more naturally to me than it had before. But, truthfully speaking, I certainly don’t initiate these interactions nearly as often as I used to. That’s okay. And to be fair, I’m still percolating and sifting through all the words of wisdom from the first 101. They guide me through my every day.

2) I’m more perceptive of my surroundings. I am, as though by default, more in tune with what’s going on around me and as a result I’m more in tune with myself. It’s as though the project was like taking a leap, thrusting me into the very real sense in which my existence is deeply interwoven within the lives of others. There are parts of ourselves that can only be realized through other people and for 101 days, 101 different people helped bring that lesson to life for me. To speak a little less abstractly, this reveals itself in different ways on different days but in general, I am better able to gauge the emotions of the people around me. If someone is upset, for example, I can usually sense it, because, in a sense, it manifests itself within me, too. And I’m more intuitive. Sometimes, I can guess what people are going to say before they say it. Perhaps listening to the stories of a diverse group of folks does that to a person. All I know is that it’s been incredibly valuable and interesting to navigate.

3) I feel more connected to my community, and I feel safer because of it. The places I visit around the city are no longer just places, but places with stories and familiar faces that make them come to life. One of the most exciting parts about this is that many people who had been following along this project have told me that they feel safer in their communities, too! Knowing that my adventures were able to help in this regard is invaluable, and understanding through stories that we are all fundamentally human is a pretty special thing.

Back in October, right after I finished the project, I had a chance to share my story on the TEDx stage. I’m excited (and slightly terrified) to announce that the audio version of my talk is available here, and that the video version will be out shortly!

As for future projects, well, I’m going to try to focus my attention on school for a while (which is, although a privilege, especially difficult when I know how much more I can learn from people than from textbooks!) But the project has, perhaps surprisingly, managed to inform even my economics and philosophy degree, which is pretty neat in and of itself. That said, if anyone has ideas for future shenanigans or collaboration opportunities, do keep me in the loop. And I’ll do my best to keep writing.

Until next time, here’s another big thank you to everyone who followed along with words of encouragement. It’s pretty clear that the experience has changed me and having people to share these stories with made it easier in the seeking and the telling.

101 Days, 101 Strangers, 101 Stories: Day 101

She spoke quietly now, and then stopped speaking altogether. There were tears in her eyes — the kind of tears that somehow, relentlessly, make you tear up, too. “Sorry for getting so emotional”, she said.

Her name is Lynn and she is my 101st stranger of the day. Her openness with me today was such a gift. She was walking in the park right past me when I engaged in conversation. I asked her how her day was and if I could ask her a question. When I explained my project she stepped back, took a good look at me and said, “I guess I could chat for a couple minutes.”

Half an hour later, we were still talking: about kindness and trust, family and relationships, life and struggle — its inevitable companion.

What had moved her to tears was a recollection from her past: a time of struggle when she was raising her child as a single parent roughly thirty years ago. “No one wanted to take us in”, she said. She struggled and struggled some more trying to find a suitable place to rent. She got so desperate that she put up signs saying “single mother and child looking to rent.” And then something miraculous happened. A man named Harry reached out to her and found her a place to live.

“He was an East Indian man”, she said, “–someone from a different culture. And yet he was so helpful even when people from my own culture refused to help me.”  It was a life lesson for her on kindness and its unwavering power to make a difference. She became more culturally sensitive and experienced a shift in world view. And, thirty years later, it still moves her to tears. “Seek and you shall find”, she said wistfully, her vocal chords quivering a dance of gratitude.

Lynn studied business and real estate. She used to manage and sell properties across Vancouver and Los Angeles. She’s part of a walking group and loves going for strolls. She also loves reading. It’s something in which she’s sought pleasure and refuge since her childhood. One of her favourite books is the Pulitzer prize-winning biography on Charles de Gaulle and what she described as “the catapult that launched him from anonymity to fame.”

Her advice? “Laugh a lot.” She spoke again of Harry, describing to me his personality. “He was such an easygoing and kind human being”, she said. His character alone had put her at ease.

Lynn wasn’t a fan of being captured on film but was fond of the view. She said her father used to work on the ships and that she’d like it if I posted a photo of them instead:

photo (12)

And there we have it! 101 Days, 101 Strangers, 101 Stories. Never have I ever so meticulously measured time as it passes and well, I must say: time flies. Thank you so much for joining me along this 49,279 word journey!

I’ve learned a lot over these last 3.3 months: about trust, about life, about hardship, about triumph. I’ve learned that “don’t talk to strangers” is some of the worst advice my parents ever gave me.

I’ve learned about getting outside of my comfort zone and experimenting with the prospect of rejection every single day.

I’ve learned about process and commitment, accountability and dedication, priorities and what to make of them. I’ve realized that more often than not, we really do have a choice about what we do with our time.

I’ve reflected a lot on the significance of conversation and how our inclinations towards or against it in certain spaces is a result of how we’ve been socialized — by, perhaps, our educational and economic systems, to name a couple.

I’m very excited to share that I’ve been invited to speak about this story — all 101 of them and my own — at TEDxTerryTalks at the end of the month! Will you be in Vancouver? Come say hi!

Now, the last 5 paragraphs started with “I” but that’s not who this project has been about:

Thank you to all of the strangers I’ve met for sharing your stories with me. I’ve realized that every time I spoke to a stranger, a stranger spoke to a stranger, too.

Thank you to everyone who read along. Your encouragement is what helped me keep with this on the more challenging days.

Thank you to the friends who so patiently put up with me lingering at events and catching the bus late because I was busy talking to strangers.

Thank you to everyone who helped capture memories through photos.

Thank you to my dad who decided somewhere along the journey to take on the self-appointed role of my personal editor. I would get voicemail messages from him every now and again, and I eventually realized that either it meant somebody died or I made a grammatical error in a blog post. Thankfully it was never the former.

Eg. Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 7.55.57 PM

And thank you to my roommates for this heartwarming gesture. Every night when I’d come home, they would always ask firstly, how I was, and secondly, who had been my stranger of the day:

photo

I know that I’ll keep talking to strangers and I hope that maybe I’ve inspired others to do the same every now and then. They are so, so ordinary, and yet so, so wise.

101 Days, 101 Strangers, 101 Stories: Day 100

I think today might have been the first actual rejection I’ve received from a stranger, but I’m still not entirely sure if it counts. The two men were working in the film industry so I’ll script the initial interaction in scenes.

Act 1: Two men are sitting down outside. I approach one, asking him if he’ll share his story with me.

“Sorry, young lady. I’m kind of incognito.”

I told him that I could uphold his anonymity. People who want to remain anonymous still have interesting stories to share, after all. His friend calls him Big Al. Big Al has a triangular white beard.

Act 2: Big Al grabs his pack of cigarettes, making them visible. “You can talk to my friend over here”, he said, glancing at the man beside him.

Up until now, Big Al’s friend, sitting less than half a metre away from us, hasn’t so much as acknowledged the conversation that’s been going on. He’s completely absorbed in his phone. “You look busy”, I said, staring unapologetically at the phone that stood between us.

“Busy with this?” he said, lifting his phone up like it were a useless toy. “It’s a waste of time”, he said. His name is Chris.

Act 3: Chris and I start chatting. Big Al stays for a few moments before excusing himself, presumably for a smoke.

I had caught the two of them on their break. My assumption is that Big Al just wanted to smoke and didn’t want to be rude by doing it in front of Chris and I. Being a part-time asthmatic, I could appreciate this. Having spoken to two strangers over the last hundred days who started smoking mid-conversation was a challenge for me, and I can appreciate Big Al’s discretion. But this is just a theory. Maybe he just didn’t trust me. Maybe he just didn’t feel like talking. And I’d continue to speculate, as futile as it can be, if I weren’t so eager to share Chris’s story with you.

Chris was on set to help with the filming of the brand new television series, “Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce“. Living under as many rocks as I do, I couldn’t quite appreciate the level of fame of the stars in the show. And I didn’t care. I was more interested in Chris’s story.

Chris has two dogs: one named Gizmo and the other named Rick Astley. (I wonder how often he gets them to roll). “I didn’t name them myself”, he assured me. “I kind of inherited them from my girlfriend.”

photo (12) 2

Chris works on the behind the scenes stuff: lighting, staging, planning, strategizing. One of the biggest challenges he’s faced at work is manoeuvring the props. He told me about a time when they had to get giant lights on top of Grouse Mountain. They were over 400 pounds and it was literally a huge problem.

I asked him how he and his team persevered to make it happen. “Gotta get it done”, he said.

I asked him if he’d faced any big challenges in his personal life. “It would take two days just to even begin talking about the challenges I’ve faced”, he said, looking down, as though seeking atonement.  I didn’t prod.

Chris told me about how difficult work-life balance is in the film industry. It’s difficult to maintain personal relationships when you’re working those kinds of jobs. “The way I see it”, he said, “I’m not living to work, I’m working to live.”

I asked him how he manages to balance everything, and he said he’s started working only three to four days a week now.

He said he’s not interested in acting and being on the big screen,  although once upon a time he’d aspired differently. “If someone on set approached me and asked me to be the star of the show, though”, he continued, “I’d probably do it.”

His advice? Without hesitation, he said, “be nice to people. Everyone could use a little kindness, and the world could always be a little nicer.”

101 Days, 101 Strangers, 101 Stories: Day 99

I wish Dan had let me take a photo of him because he had a cool beard and glasses to match.

As I was waiting for the bus tonight, he came and sat a few feet away from me. When he took his eyes off his phone for a moment, I asked him if he’d share a bit of his story with me. He smiled, shook my hand and introduced himself. His name is Dan and he is my stranger of the day.

When we got on the bus, he told me that he’s pursuing a master’s degree in architecture at UBC. He was debating between law school and architecture and decided he’d leave his fate up to the admissions folks: ‘If law school accepts me, I’ll be a lawyer. If architecture school accepts me, I’ll be an architect’, he’d thought. He thought it would be easier that way. But then, to his dismay, he was accepted everywhere he applied. So he had to take a step back and ask himself what it was that he really wanted to do.  Ultimately, his decision came down to a reflection on the kind of people he’d be surrounding himself by in each program. He figured that the people in architecture would be more open and inspiring. He’s happy with his decision.

Dan pursued his undergraduate degree in economics and political science in Calgary. He really enjoyed the interdisciplinary aspect of it, which is probably why he later felt so conflicted between graduate programs. He really loves Calgary, and applauded mayor Nenshi for his dedication to the people of the city, especially during the floods. Dan told me about some intense Twitter debates that the mayor would engage in, noting that they that were actually about something useful and engaged the public in the process.

Dan likes to ride his bike. Some days, he rides his bike from downtown to UBC. He loves the way it feels to conquer the big hills, literal and otherwise, at the beginning of the day.

His advice? A quote from George Bush: “If it feels good, do it. If you’ve got a problem, blame somebody else.”

101 Days, 101 Strangers, 101 Stories: Day 98

“Everyone is different”, she said. “I was born this way for a reason.” She explained that she used to compare herself to others, thinking ‘how can I be like that?’ instead of ‘how can I be the best version of myself?’ She accepts her strengths and weaknesses alike, and recognizes that her life trajectory will look different from the next person’s because, well, she is her own person. We all are.

Her name is Aisha and I had the pleasure of chatting with her this morning over coffee. She ordered a decaf espresso (who drinks decaf espressos?! I guess everyone is different, right?). She said she likes the bitter taste.

photo (12) 2

I met Aisha through my 37th stranger, Mandy. When I had told Mandy about how I love to write and freelance occasionally, she said that I just had to meet Aisha. I’m glad that I did.

Aisha has the loveliest British accent. Coupled with a great sense of humour (think: a cross-section between sarcastic and silly), she definitely kept me on my toes.

Aisha’s work schedule is a little bit unorthodox. She goes into work for three days a week, where she manages the mentorship database for small businesses in British Columbia. On Mondays and Fridays she works from home, freelancing, building her website, and networking. She knows herself well, explaining that she enjoys independent work and being in control of her job. What she’s doing right now gives her the perfect mix.

Aisha studied marketing at UBC’s Sauder School of Business. She was interested in business but was never really into the numbers side of things. She enjoyed communications and working with others. And so marketing fit the bill. She kept reiterating that she got to where she is today partly by coincidence but mainly by working many jobs that weren’t right for her. Through trying out many different jobs she was able to learn what it is that really draws her in.

When Aisha’s not writing or working, she likes to exercise. But she gets bored easily. So, she likes to change it up every now and then. She likes cross fit, fitness circuits, yoga, and, once she builds up her upper arm strength, she thinks she’ll try parkour. She also loves spending time with her dog Max, who, she noted, is British too. Apparently, he barks in a high pitch and kind of sounds like a human. Training him taught her some important lessons on how to be patient.

Every morning, Aisha spends 10 minutes writing in her journal — just getting her thoughts down on a page. She finds that it clears her head. She described to me how there’s just something very clarifying about getting all of the thoughts that are floating around to sit still on a page, especially at the beginning of the day. It’s a technique she learned from The Artist’s Way. Aisha believes that it’s important to know what grounds you — what can help you clear your mind when there’s a lot going on? For her, it’s meditation, exercise, and playing with Max.