Murphy’s Law

In my last month’s blog, I mentioned a fun run/walk to raise money for our local cancer foundation. Well, it was a success with over 1,600 participants finishing with gusto under the rain.

My Greek holiday was almost perfect till I got to Luxembourg airport. The airline company concerned emailed me this message: “After having contacted our legal department, we would like to inform you that you do not have the right to mention one of our employees nor our departments nor our Airline in your blog.” I wanted to write about my experience to warn travellers of unforeseen misfortunes, alert them of their rights, and contribute to making our society fairer (not to tarnish this company’s reputation).

Can an experience or true statement be defamatory?

“If a statement is actually true, then it cannot be defamatory”, according to the EU-funded manual on defamation. Freedom of expression is an individual right which is connected to the individual’s freedom of conscience and opinion (Article 19 of the UDHR and the ICCPR, and Article 10 of the ECHR).“ The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has made this point repeatedly: Freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of such [democratic] society, one of the basic conditions for its progress and for the development of every man. Subject to Article 10(2), it is applicable not only to “information” or “ideas” that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population. Such are the demands of that pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness without which there is no democratic society”. (https://www.mediadefence.org/sites/default/files/resources/files/MLDI.IPI%20defamation%20manual.English.pdf.  Produced by Dr Richard Carver, Oxford Brookes University, for a series of defamation law workshops for lawyers and journalists in Europe under the auspices of the Media Legal Defence Initiative and the International Press Institute, and funded by the European Commission and Open Society Foundations.)

On 4 September 2019, our flight arrived in Luxembourg more than 30 minutes late and without my check-in suitcase. We were supposed to land at 10:00 PM and be at home at 11:00 PM; however, by the time we had finished registering online the claim for our lost luggage, it was almost midnight. Since the last bus for home, i.e. Thionville – France, was at 11 PM, I rushed to the train station; unfortunately, the train had already left. I proceeded to a nearby hotel thinking of staying there for the night, but the price prevented me from doing this. I was prepared to stay at the airport hoping that I would get my luggage the following early morning. However, I was told by the airport staff that I couldn’t as it would close in 10 minutes (i.e. at midnight). To cut the story short, I took the taxi home as it was cheaper than staying in a hotel (35-30 km – average evening rate 145-150 euros).

The next day at 1:00 PM, I got a call saying that they found my suitcase. To my surprise, it was just slid in a quarter-opened door with only the arms of the person visible to me. There was no explanation nor apology; not even a face to say “hello”. I felt like a non-human being. As well, the suitcase – which was a birthday present from my sister in Australia last April (only 4 months before this incident) – had been damaged.

I contacted the airline’s Claims and Customer Relations Department, and they responded promptly but with un-sensitivity and lack of customer care. According to them, my suitcase, though damaged, can still be used; the flight delay was less than the minimum hours required for compensation; and the luggage was returned less than 24 hours.

I do not have relatives and friends to bother at 1 PM to pick me up 30 km away. When I travel, I have a budget and bring just enough (including a pre-paid credit card) to avoid unnecessary spending. I was lucky to have 150 euros leftover that evening. Imagine if I didn’t? Hitchhike? Sleep outside the airport’s ground, on the bench somewhere, or …? Murphy’s Law – something could have gone wrong.

ActionAid’s survey on street harassment found that 75% of women in London, UK have been subjected to harassment or violence in public. A French study found that 100% of more than 600 women surveyed across the country had faced sexual harassment on the transit system. (http://www.stopstreetharassment.org/resources/statistics/statistics-academic-studies/). Though violent crime is rare in Luxembourg, it does exist. It doesn’t have to be a violent one to have a lasting devastating effects on individuals and their families. Murphy’s law – if something had gone wrong that evening, who would have been responsible?

I received a negative response from the airline company though the European Court of Justice (CJEU) has established the concept of ’damage’ as both material and non-material (e.g. emotional). (https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/ecc-net_air_passenger_rights_report_2015.pdf). Regulation (EC) 261/2004 applies in cases where a flight is cancelled or delayed and the Montreal Convention establishes that it is the airline’s responsibility when a consumer suffers economic loss or damage due to a flight delay or damaged luggage.

I’ll keep you posted…         

Marathon

I’m not a marathon runner but a great fun of it. The farthest I had run was 5 km for Refugee Week in Australia several decades ago. (I did a 10-km walk for our local Cancer Foundation two years ago and will participate in a similar one on October 10). Yet, I went an extra mile visiting Marathon, a quiet town 42 km from Athens in Greece, to see where it all started.

I took a public transport and was glad that the bus stop was only a few steps away from the museum where I enjoyed looking at photographs of amazing marathon winners in many cities of the world, like Boston, London, New York, Paris, Tokyo and, of course, Athens. I had goose pimples (goosebumps) staring at first female and oldest marathoners and the hurdles they overcame to participate. There were medals, trophies, shoes, descriptions of runners and their triumphs. It was Thursday morning and there were only my hubby, me and two Greek women in that historical place full of sporting memories.

Across the street were merchants selling clothes, household accessories and gadgets. The photo on this website is that of a seller sleeping who probably woke up at 4 AM to install his stand at a convenient spot. My thoughts are with him while writing this because I didn’t do what I should have done. Two young women got out of their car and, after a mite of looking at his merchandise, each one picked up pairs of socks to buy. They looked at the sleeping vendor then me and smiled. They were shy to wake him up, thus, after a while they put back the socks and left. For the whole time I was there (a total of two hours including the stay at the museum and waiting for bus back to Athens), he didn’t have any customer. I felt sorry for him but didn’t follow my instinct to wake him up. I’m sure he would not have been angry but thankful. If I knew to speak Greek, I would have told those women to wake him up. Would they have listened to me? I’m still sad thinking that he missed the opportunity to earn a bit of money to feed and shelter himself and those who are dependent on him.

Life is like a marathon for many men, women and children, particularly for the 734 million people in extreme poverty (roughly 1 in 10 people worldwide; based on World Bank definition of poverty – US $1.90/day or 1.74 euros/day).  It’s a long-distance race for survival that involves hard work and perseverance.

According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, these are the historical facts about Marathon:

“Battle of Marathon, (September 490 BCE), in the Greco-Persian Wars, decisive battle fought on the Marathon plain of northeastern Attica in which the Athenians, in a single afternoon, repulsed the first Persian invasion of Greece. The Greeks could not hope to face the Persians’ cavalry contingent on the open plain, but before dawn one day the Greeks learned that the cavalry was temporarily absent from the Persian camp, whereupon Miltiades ordered a general attack upon the Persian infantry. In the ensuing battle, Miltiades led his contingent of 10,000 Athenians and 1,000 Plataeans to victory over the Persian force of 15,000 by reinforcing his battle line’s flanks and thus decoying the Persians’ best troops into pushing back his centre, where they were surrounded by the inward-wheeling Greek wings. By the time the routed Persians reached their ships, they had lost 6,400 men; the Greeks lost 192 men.”

The Greek legend says that an Athenian messenger/day-runner/courier Pheidippides (also spelled Phidippides or Philippides), was sent from Marathon to Athens, a distance of about 40-42 km, to announce the Persian defeat before dying of exhaustion. This tale of running from Marathon to Athens became the basis for the modern marathon race.

Whilst I was in Marathon, I also found out that there’s an annual Spartathlon in September reviving the footsteps of Pheidippides, as he was also sent to Sparta to request help to fight against the Persians in Marathon.  Sadly, I didn’t see the monument of this fit, determined, brave and patriotic man. Apparently, the statue of Pheidippides is in the port of Rafina, northeast of Athens. Though this may only be a legend, it conveys timeless and universal themes, such as dedication and perseverance, which inspire and motivate us today.

Travelling vs tourism

I’m writing this while on holiday in Greece; however, it’s not about it but on Ljubljana – the capital of Slovenia.

I know little about eastern and central European countries and their people, so I’ve made it my priority to visit at least one of these places every summer. My last month’s holiday in Ljubljana was relaxing and eye-opening in many ways. Slovenes are friendly and accommodating. The hotel where we stayed didn’t only allow us to use their locker for our bags after we had checked out but offered us unlimited tea. These were the exact words of its male receptionist “You’re still our guests and feel free to use our facilities till you depart from our city”.

I took every opportunity to mingle with the locals and be a traveller rather than as a tourist. The more I learnt about them, the more I became interested in their history and culture and able to empathise with them.

It’s fine to talk about the advantages of international travelling when you have the means to do so; however, for many families this occasion remains a dream. Where’s Ljubljana? Ljubljana is the capital of Slovenia in central Europe and has borders with Italy, Hungary, Austria and Croatia.  The Roman Empire controlled Slovenia for nearly 1,000 years; most of it was under the Habsburg rule (Austria) in the mid-14th century and 1918. The state of Slovenia was formed in 1945 as part of Yugoslavia; gained its independence in June 1991; and today, it is a member of the European Union and NATO.

The Slovenian independence war in 1991 lasted 10 days, which was the fifth short war in the world’s history. [The shortest was the Anglo-Zanzibar War in 1896 when the British Royal Navy defeated the Sultan of Zanzibar in East Africa that lasted in 38 minutes. (“The Top Ten Shortest Wars” Independent https://www. independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/the-top-ten-shortest-wars-10267712.html seen on   04/08/19)]. With a population of just over 2 two million, Slovenia is the most industrialised and westernised among other less developed parts of former Yugoslavia.

I wanted to be a traveller while in Ljubljana, but I was really more of a tourist than the former. I carried a camera and map at all times (By choice, my mobile has never have Internet connection), and sometimes asked for information from shop attendants and hotel staff in English instead of trying to learn phrases in Slovene. Except for a long walk at the scenic and green Lake Bled, I only ventured in the city and landmarks.

I would have loved to explore the less-visited areas and interact more with locals (i.e. being a traveller) but managed only to have a chat with a fellow restaurant patron, who happened to be the brother of the restaurateur. Though our conversation was limited to food and tourism because of my zero-knowledge of Slovene and his basic English, I found it informative. According to him, the majority of Ljubljana’s residents are tourists and temporary inhabitants, which is an economic necessity and fun for him and his family as they’re able to practise their English and meet people from many parts of the world.

I took buses and trams to move around but also went on guided tours for convenience. So, I suppose I was a tourist; but, I would like to think that I was a traveller. I knew how I could have been a traveller. However, I wasn’t in the mood to go to places where locals hang around after work and when it’s dark. I could have had more conversations with Slovene people of all ages about their culture and country yet I did not because of lack of time squeezing in everything in four days before heading home. Most workers, like me, just need a vacation or a relaxing trip to wind down or recharge before starting the year.

Were you a tourist or traveller last summer? How can we be more respectful and acculturated tourists (i.e. travellers)?

Everyone is vulnerable to stereotyping

I first came to Europe in 1985 and spent a few days in Innsbruck (Austria), a sunny city 168 kilometres from Salzburg and lies on a high mountain plateau with green alpine meadows and secluded groves. The classic 1964 movie ‘Sound of Music’, which is based on the memoir of Maria Von Trapp starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, made Salzburg famous; and more than 300,000 cine fans come to this place every year to walk into the footsteps of the Von Trapp family. 

Last month, after nearly 35 years, I visited Austria again but, this time, I didn’t see rolling hills and didn’t find its inhabitants cold and rigid. Contrary to my subconscious oversimplified image of Austrians, I experienced their friendliness and warmth. They are distinctly different from the Germans in terms of cultures and behaviours though they share the same language. However, it’s true that Vienna is bursting with classical music and schnitzel, and I joined the bandwagon by attending a Vivaldi concert and had a plate of the latter.

The more I travel to different European countries, the more I want to learn their diverse cultures and people and get rid of my stereotypes.

Stereotype is a set idea or opinion that we have about someone or something, which often focuses on the differences between groups rather than their similarities. It causes over-reaction to information that confirms such a stereotype and under-reaction to the one that contradicts it. Psychology research and essays reveal that stereotyping is one way to feel good about ourselves, i.e. we (our group – where we belong) are better than them (the outsiders – those who are not in our group).

Stereotypes have positive and negative impact on the individual’s relationships and professional life.  Positive stereotypes, which are favourable beliefs about people from a particular group, can hasten interpersonal and intergroup relations. One of my friends prefers to hire Polish tradespeople because they are known to be hardworking and trustworthy. When I was living in Australia, I heard these same stereotypes from employers of AbC (Asian-born Aussies). These positive stereotypes contribute to and perpetuate systemic differences in privileges and outcomes. Negative stereotypes, on the other hand, such as the rigid Germans and flamboyant Italians, have negative emotional and interpersonal effects (sometimes financial consequences). A lot has been written about severe negative impact of stereotyping of immigrants from developing countries and people of colour.

Jacqui Hutchison and Douglas Martin (Evolutionary Perspectives on Social Psychology pp 291-301), on their research on ‘The Evolution of Stereotypes’ have stated “Stereotypes are template-like cognitive representations whereby membership in a social group is associated with the possession of certain attributes (e.g., scientists are geeky, Scottish people are miserly, women like the color pink)”. According to them, “stereotypes have the capacity to influence how cultural information evolves and how changes in the cultural environment have, in turn, influenced the content of stereotypes”. (https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-12697-5_23 seen 01/08/19).

Everyone is vulnerable to stereotype either as the doer/enforcer or the target/victim.  How can we avoid stereotyping?  Well, we should do the thinking and analysing as individuals, i.e ourselves, and stay away from generalisations; e.g. Luxembourgers are rich and French are snub. Though the majority of people in one social, cultural or national group may have something in common, it does not mean that all of them are the same — this message should be repeated at home and at school. At work, interaction between all employees from different backgrounds and a clear directive from management on fair treatment of every worker can prevent and stamp out negative stereotyping.

Psychology of feedback

Our highly competitive world requires good and service companies, organisations and employees to improve constantly to stay on the top of their game. Giving feedback, which is information provided regarding aspects of one’s performance or understanding, is part of this “room for improvement” business.

Employees undergo appraisals periodically. Clients and customers have access to online reviews. During a birthday dinner party last June 15, I sat next to a lady who advised me to get into our city government’s website and expose my displeasure with their inaction regarding the pigeons’ invasion of my neighborhood that has caused financial and health anguish. 

Since we are all either employees, employers, consumers, clients, or mere citizens, we do give or/and receive feedback regularly. As well, we get and give remarks, comments and advice from our family and friends, which are actually receiving and providing feedback.

Feedback, if not positive, should only be constructive criticism. Positive feedback can be manifested in many ways. Above is a photo of flowers given to me by a language school where I have been working for 10 years. I consider this as a positive feedback – a show of appreciation and encouragement to continue performing well.

My students fill in mid and end-of-course evaluation forms, which can be awkward doing it in my presence, particularly in a diverse environment where cultures and personalities come into play. Nevertheless, I insist on going through this as I am adamant that giving and receiving feedback helps me aid them achieve their goals and maximise their potential.

I value my students’ feedback as when done in an objective and fair manner and with the right intentions, it improves my performance.  I have to know what I am doing well and not so effective. However, with voluntary feedback, you get the extremes – those who quite like you and think you’re so marvelous and those who are naturally critical and cynical. Those in between often don’t bother doing it. I had been told by a friend that there’s this teacher whose entire lesson involved watching films that his students hardly understood, but he always got positive feedback because his “favourites” (term they used to describe his friend-students) followed him in his courses and gave him comments that were the opposite of reality. Whereas, his colleague who’s a valued teacher received a lower score.  Thus, should we take feedback seriously?

Emotions, such as anger, envy, fear, friendship, indignation, happiness and sadness affect individuals’ perceptions, judgments and behaviours.  As such, their feedback – whether positive or negative – is  also about them. Online surveys have anonymity but do not guarantee honest responses. Should feedback be done face-to-face to have an opportunity for both parties to air their views? This is time consuming and has limitations due to power imbalance, as in employer-employee and teacher-student relationship. As well, even face-to-face or focus group feedback is not free from biases, which can be cognitive, confirmation or attribution.

According to Psychology Today (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/bias seen 21/06/19), cognitive biases are repeated patterns of thinking that lead to inaccurate or unreasonable conclusions; confirmation biases refer to the brain’s tendency to search for and focus on information that supports what someone already believes while ignoring facts that go against those beliefs, despite their relevance; and attribution biases occurs when the person tries to attribute reasons or motivations to the actions of others without concrete evidence to support such assumptions. These biases help feedback givers make decisions and comments, which may not always be accurate. Therefore, when giving and receiving feedback, it’s important to be aware of these biases, particularly cognitive ones, and try to redress these. If you are the receiver of an unfair feedback, be open-minded and do not let this experience (which sometimes can be attributed to the critic’s bias or inadequacy to give feedback) damage your confidence and self-esteem.

Eurovision? Why not “Europe and friends’ musical extravaganza”?

During the Eurovision Song Contest in Israel on 14 May 2019, one of my students asked me what I thought of Australia being in it. When I was still living in Brisbane, I always looked forward to watching it as I found all participants talented; many were creative, and some were outlandish. Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), whose mission is “to provide multilingual and multicultural radio and television services that inform, educate and entertain all Australians and, in doing so, reflect Australia’s multicultural society”, covers this event every year. After I had said to my student that it should not be in it based on geography, I did some research.

Participation in the Eurovision contest is, firstly, open to those who belong to the 56 member- countries of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and its 21 associate member-nations. Therefore, participation is not by geography, which makes the title of the event “Eurovision” misleading and susceptible to innuendo. In 2019, 42 countries travelled to Israel and 36 of them performed in the semi-finals to qualify for the finals. Every year, the so-called “Big Five” – France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom – are prequalified to take part in the finals.

Australia has been in the Eurovision Song Contest five times since its debut in 2015 in Vienna, which was to be a one-off event; however, its participation has been confirmed until 2023 by the EBU.  Its best result in the contest is a second-place for Dami Im in 2016. It finished in the top ten in three of its other appearances: Guy Sebastian finishing fifth in 2015, and both Isaiah Firebrace and Kate Miller-Heidke finishing ninth in 2017 and 2019, respectively. Most points it received in the finals were from Scandinavian countries (Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Iceland) and Hungary. Australia always got better scores from the jury than TV spectators. Do you think that a country down under can win the votes of political and sentimental Europe? As well, it has been announced publicly that if it won, it wouldn’t host the contest but Germany or the UK. Hence, the question whether Australia should be in the Eurovision is not for me to answer (though Australian by citizenship) but by the Australian Government and taxpayers. (It should be noted that Australian-born individuals have been involved in Eurovision since its inception as song writers and musicians for other countries, particularly the UK).

Israel (since 1973), Cyprus (since 1981) and Armenia (since 2006) have competed in the Eurovision even though they are outside the geographical boundaries of Europe. My French student of Muslim faith told us two weeks ago that she had watched some Eurovision events where middle-eastern countries blocked out or put a flower vase on their TV screens during an Israeli performance. She added, “Israel has to be in the Eurovision as it can’t have a friendly competition with its neighbours”.

According to Latto, A. et al (https://www.theguardian.com /notesandqueries/query/0,5753,-1900,00.html), the EBU membership is primarily to organisations in the area defined by the International Telecommunications Union, which extends from the Atlantic to the meridian 40-degree east and bounded on the south by the 30th parallel. Jerusalem, the official headquarters of Israeli Television, is 35-degree east and on the 32nd parallel. “This definition also allows for participation by Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, the Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Syria and Tunisia”. Except for a one-time participation by Morocco in 1980, the other countries have not participated on principle.

Is it possible to change the name of this annual musical extravaganza? How about calling it —Vision for Cooperation and Peace through Music; Europe and Friends’ Musical Contest; Incluvision Musical Contest; Selective Diversity Musical Contest; or EBUvision Contest?

Please add your ideas on the above list. Have fun doing it …

Earthquake – never thought it’d happen to me

I took a 21-hour flight to be at the reunion of my maternal family (Carañgan) in La Castellaña, Philippines. Whilst on stopover in Manila on 22 April 2019 at 5PM, there was an intensity 5 earthquake.  I was in a parlor when suddenly the ground trembled and furniture started to shake, then the power went out.  The six people in that beauty saloon, which is on the ground floor of a 22-level building, stayed where they were whilst I rushed to the door barefoot and run to the nearby one-level-structure. I was the first person to get out and one of the last to get back as I was worried about aftershocks.

After the earthquake, there was fire two blocks away from where we were. I took this photo from our window.

Aftershocks are tremors that follow the main earthquake. They happen more frequently in the hours and days after an earthquake, but their magnitude and frequency decrease over time.  Even though their shaking intensity is relatively small compared with that of the main earthquake, they can destabilise buildings and injure people.

My sister, who flew from Australia to join our family reunion, was out shopping at that time when she realised there was an earthquake and walked back immediately. Several people advised her to stay where she was but refused telling them that she had to go back as her sister (that’s me) was still inside the building. Before she reached the parlor, she found me barefoot on the sidewalk beside a single-level elementary school. There was only a dozen of us in front of the elementary school, however, more than a hundred people were in front of the condominium as if waiting for the structure to collapse on them.  I couldn’t believe that after a stressful exit they would just stay right in front of the building. In times of panic, the brain switches on what it is used to. In that condominium the stairways are in front of the elevators and where the garbage bins are kept, which residents see or use regularly; whereas, the emergency exit is located at the other end of the building and is unknown to some residents and visitors, like me.   I could have been in a worse situation, e.g. having a shower or being in the elevator without a mobile phone or a torch.

According to Australia’s Victoria State Emergency Service (https://www.ses.vic.gov.au/), if you are indoors during an earthquake, you should do the following:

“Drop to the ground; take cover by getting under a sturdy table or other piece of furniture; and hold on until the shaking stops. If there isn’t a table or desk near you, cover your face and head with your arms and crouch in an inside corner of the building.

Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall, such as lighting fixtures or furniture.

Stay in bed if you are there when the earthquake strikes. Hold on and protect your head with a pillow, unless you are under a heavy light fixture that could fall. In that case, move to the nearest safe place.

Do not use a doorway except if you know it is a strongly supported, load-bearing doorway and it is close to you. Many inside doorways are lightly constructed and do not offer protection.

Stay inside until the shaking stops and it is safe to go outside. Do not exit a building during the shaking. Research has shown that most injuries occur when people inside buildings attempt to move to a different location inside the building or try to leave.

Do not use the elevator. Be aware that the electricity may go out or the sprinkler systems or fire alarms may turn on.”

If you are outdoors during an earthquake, do the following:

“Move away from buildings, streetlights, and utility wires.

Once in the open, stay there until the shaking stops. The greatest danger exists directly outside buildings, at exits and alongside exterior walls.

If you are in a moving vehicle during an earthquake, stop as quickly as safety permits and stay in the vehicle. Avoid stopping near or under buildings, trees, overpasses, and utility wires. Proceed cautiously once the earthquake has stopped. Avoid roads, bridges, or ramps that might have been damaged by the earthquake.

If you are trapped under debris during or after an earthquake: Do not light a match. Do not move around or kick up dust. Cover your mouth with a handkerchief or clothing. Tap on a pipe or wall so rescuers can locate you. Use a whistle if one is available. Shout only as a last resort. Shouting can cause you to inhale dangerous amounts of dust.”

As you have noticed, I didn’t act safely as I failed to stay inside until the shaking stopped.  Likewise, due to her love and care for me, my sister disregarded the basic safety and survival step by deciding to go back inside the building during the earthquake. I hope you won’t experience this incredibly life threatening situation; but if you do, follow the advice of the Victoria State Emergency Service and not what I did.

“Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate”. – John F. Kennedy (35th US President)

Our current society is competitive, demanding and complex that conflict has become a part of modern day living. There are squabbles or disagreements among colleagues, neighbours, friends, family members, and even strangers. The common causes of office disaccord are work style differences, personality clashes, and sense of unfairness. Many complaints made to the Police concern noises, fences, trees, rubbish and stray pets that turn neighbours into foes. 

According to www.unifiedlawyers.com, the world’s divorce rate has increased by 251.8% since 1960. Nowadays, nearly half of marriages end up in divorce with Luxembourg topping the list (87%) followed by Spain (65%), France (55%), Russia (51%) and the USA (46%).  India (1%) and Chile (3%) have the lowest rates. The most common reason given for divorce is incompatibility, which is nearly thrice that of infidelity. When marriage breaks down, in the majority of cases, those concerned knock non-hesitantly on lawyers’ doors and rush to tribunals or courts.

The legal system is long and costly, whereas mediation and arbitration involve much less time and money; but why do many people opt for the former? Why don’t they resolve conflict by mediation and negotiation?

In mediation, a neutral person helps disputants to come to a consensus on their own. Mediators allow conflicting parties to vent their feelings and expose their grievances, but they don’t impose their solution. It’s the conflicting parties that decide on the outcome of the negotiation. The mediators can help them come up with a resolution that is sustainable and nonbinding. 

In arbitration, the third party serves as a judge and is responsible for resolving the dispute. This man or woman listens thoroughly and non-judgementally to each side as they argue their cases and present relevant evidence before rendering a binding decision that is usually confidential and cannot be appealed. Then, they prepare and submit a report to the Court.

In mediation and arbitration, the conflict is resolved when the process in completed, i.e. the settlement is agreed and conflict is resolved. Contrary to what some people think, most mediations are confidential.

During mediation the underlying causes of the conflict is examined, and the solutions that best suit needs and interests of both parties are sought. This is done in a flexible manner without strict rules of procedure to make everyone participative in order to attain a win-win solution. As such, it helps end the conflict or problem; not the relationship. It can deal with multiple parties and a variety of issues at one time; for example, a family conflict involving inheritance of children and their relatives.

According to UK’s Citizen Advice (https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/family/ending-a-relationship/how-to-separate/mediation-to-help-you-separate, participants in mediation report higher satisfaction rates than people who go to court. As well, due to their active involvement, «they have a higher commitment to upholding the settlement than people who have a judge decide for them. Mediations end in agreement 70 to 80% of the time and have high rates of compliance”.

Of course, prevention is better than cure. Avoiding conflict is the best principle. However, since we can’t agree with everyone on everything, we should adjust our behaviours to ensure that we are in a peaceful relationship with others and accept responsibility for our actions. If we are respectful of others, mind our manners and apply the golden rule (i.e. treat others how you want to be treated), there’ll be no need for mediation, or expensive and long legal process. As the saying goes, “reconciliation is better than justice”.

The ABC of a lasting relationship


You don’t develop courage by being happy in your relationships every day. You develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.
— Epicurus (Greek philosopher, 341–270 BC)

While in a jovial mood at last month’s carnival party, I agreed to my Polish friend’s invitation to dinner in a French restaurant five minutes on foot from my residence.

After some minutes of tiptoeing on the snow, my husband and I were ushered to a table in the middle of a room directly in front of a flat stage with standing microphone and sound system. All tables had only two chairs, and we were discouraged from mingling with other couples, including my Polish friends.

On the table was a beautifully cut-out paper in a shape of a turbine with a dozen questions, such as “What’s the best moment you had with your partner recently” and “What do you like most in your partner these days?”

During the appetiser, our conversation focused on the unusualness of the evening. There was a short show about relationships, which was really an introduction to the instructions and information on what’s going to happen next. We were given a piece of paper sealed by a small heart with topics for discussions, which ranged from needs to values. My husband and I started with honesty; then, we branched out into children and movies, which we weren’t supposed to do. It was meant to be a “tête-à-tête ». Thirty minutes later, they distributed to every couple a folded A4 paper that had 2 different pictures to be described to each other.

The main event of the evening was the discussion of what the organisers entitled the “L’ABECEDAIRE de la Communication du couple qui dure» (The ABC of a couple/relationship that lasts): attentes, besoin, comprehension, differences, ecouter, ferme, gentillesse, honnetete, intentions, jugements, klaxon, lien, moment, negocier, opportunity, pensees, questions, rire, silence, temoigner, utile, valuer, winchester, X, yeux, and zenith.

When translated into English, the above doesn’t follow the ABC flow; however, the message stays remain and true:

« Attentes » – expectations. Tell your partner your expectations rather than waiting for him/her to guess these.

Besoin – need. Ask questions about your partner’s needs.

Comprehension – understanding. Understand your partner and ensure that she/he knows that you understand him/her or what s/he goes through.

Differences – differences. Face the issues of differences in your relationship with empathy rather than find faults.

Ecouter – listen. Listen and not just hear his/her views and do this with patience and empathy.

Ferme – firm. Be firm yet respectful about the issues that are important to you.

Gentillesse – kindness. Whatever your disagreement, don’t be angry and defensive but appreciate your differences.

Honnetete – honesty. Be honest when you talk about your desires and feelings rather than accusing the other of ill communication.

Intentions – intentions. Don’t entertain negative intentions. Always ask if you’ve understood it well rather than assume the intentions of your partner.

Jugements – judgements. Accept that the other person sees things differently from you to avoid judging his/her opinions, needs and sentiments.

Klaxon ‘Tu, Tu, Tu’- horn (You, You, You). Avoid this sentence structure: You’ve to…, You need to…YOU…

Lien – bond. Maintain a strong bond by always telling your partner that s/he is important to you and your relationship even in the midst of quarrels.

Moment – moment.Prefer to talk about your feelings and thoughts of the present than the past and the future.

Negocier – negotiate. Negotiate that leads to a win-win situation, i.e. it incorporates both needs, which might mean compromising.

Opportunite – opportunity. Relationships are full of ups and downs. Choose an appropriate moment to talk about problems, i.e. when none of you is upset or annoyed, which may mean making an appointment.

Pensees – thoughts. When you want to express your negative thoughts, think seven times before saying these.

Questions – questions. Answer directly to questions pose by your partner.

Rire – laugh. “Laughter is the best medicine”. Laugh at the weaknesses of your partner rather than dramatise or exaggerate these. Laughing together is staying together.

Silence – silence. Don’t let silence be a usual or permanent part of your relationship.

Temoigner – witness.  Express verbal appreciation when your partner does something for you. Go for compromise or/and understanding of your differences, and be a constant testimony of this.

Utile – useful. Be certain about what you want to/have or want to say and be useful in finding solutions to the conflict or disagreement.

Valeur – value. Avoid devaluing the personality of your partner and comment on the result of the action rather than his/her value.

Winchester – Winchester (a large cylindrical bottle for holding liquid). Avoid a Winchester of accusations and blames as these block communication.

X – x (Native English speakers use ‘X’ at the end of a message to represent a kiss). Be generous with hugs and kisses even in times of disagreement.

Yeux – eyes. Look at the person in the eyes to show your genuine interest and attention.

Zenith – zenith (the highest point). The sun isn’t always at the zenith, as with your relationship. Accept that there are different seasons and moments in any relationship, but what’s constant is never abandon the willingness to communicate to each other.

Communication and compromise are needed in all relationships, not just in romantic or intimate ones.

All types of relationship cannot grow without communication, which is a skill (and not just knowledge) that can be learned (also correct ‘learnt’). Like all skills, we’ve to work at it, and let’s start with the ABC of a lasting relationship.

Yes to healthy anger but no to violence

On February 19 (Saturday morning) while grocery shopping in our local supermarket, I heard a woman yelling. Since it sounded like she was only an aisle away from where I was, I pushed my trolley aside and had a look. She was pinching and hitting a young man in his early 20s, and I couldn’t believe how calm he was. Was it because there were several of us witnessing it?

I was worried that the young man would eventually lose his temper and fight back, so I hurried to the checkout and asked the cashier to ring security. Some minutes later, two sturdy men arrived and said that they saw it on their camera and thought it was just “problème de couple”. The young man approached and told us that the angry and violent woman had left.

While queuing to pay for my purchases, however, I heard loud voices again. The young woman came back with her two mates, and the safety of the young man bothered me. I turned my head right and left hoping to see at least one of the guards, but they were gone. My nervousness lessened when I noticed that the man was walking towards the male staff at the information/shop entrance. Then, there were piercing voices, but I could only see the staff’s work uniform because of the dozen people around them.

We all experience anger. Although it is a normal and healthy emotion, it can be a problem if we can’t keep it under control. It is everyone’s responsibility to control anger; and if we can’t do it on our own, we should seek help. Verbal and physical harshness or brutality is never a solution to anger; as the adage says, “Violence is a weapon of the weak”. Whereas, non-violence is the ammunition of the wise, e.g. Mohandas Gandhi’s (October 1869 – January 1948) peaceful resistance against the British rule in India that led to latter’s independence in 1947.

For me, that young man at the supermarket is wise and strong; otherwise, he would have responded with a fist, especially as it wasn’t a slight provocation. He avoided destructive anger and exerted the effort to override his emotional mind.

A week after that incident, I heard on the French radio that in the Netherlands people smash cars as an anger management strategy. Thus, I checked it out for this article and found there are companies in Amsterdam that provide this activity for individuals and groups. Participants smash cars to bits at scrapyards with an array of demolition weapons, such as sledgehammers, baseball bats and golf clubs. According to the radio announcer, this has been a success and is a growing market in Europe. I do get angry sometimes but feel don’t need to break things. This is what I do:

• Breathe in slowly and relax as I breathe out. It calms me down and enables me to think more rationally.
• If the anger takes place in an enclosed place, I get out and go for a walk. The light physical exercise and fresh air relax me. (I’m not a stressful person. However, if you are, these activities can surely help you: yoga, running, swimming and meditation. I have a friend who indulges on chocolates when stressed. Although she maintains that this works and eats only dark ones, I don’t think it should be a long-term or regular solution).
• Go to the gym once or twice a week which helps me deal with impatience, irritation and anger.
• I don’t drink alcohol and smoke. What I need to improve is my sleeping habit. I go to bed no earlier than at 11 PM and don’t switch off mentally till midnight getting only 5-6 hours of sleep, which is inadequate.
• Watch movies (mainly those based on true stories or facts), write and read.
• Discuss my feelings and views with my trusted friends to get a different perspective on the issue or situation.
• Quarrels and anger are always started by words and the meaning attached to these. For instance, I get upset when the phrase “it’s not fair” is used to describe my decision or action because I believe that this is not the case.

Always and never are often used exaggeratedly or falsely, e.g. “You’re always late” and “I never get compliments from you”, and these annoy me. Therefore, they are included in my speech only when it is really the case, i.e. always – all the time or on all occasions/never – not at all/not ever/at no time.

We can’t have everything we want, and this is not the reason to be angry and/or violent. As Simone de Beauvoir had said, “I am awfully greedy; I want everything from life. I want to be a woman and to be a man, to have many friends and to have loneliness, to work much and write good books, to travel and enjoy myself, to be selfish and to be unselfish… You see, it is difficult to get all which I want. And then when I do not succeed I get mad with anger.” (January 1908 – April 1986; French writer, intellectual, political activist, social theorist and had a significant influence on feminism and feminist theories).

However, “holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned” – Buddha.

Therefore, “it is wise to direct your anger towards problems — not people; to focus your energies on answers — not excuses” – William Arthur Ward (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/here-there-and-everywhere/201208/25-quotes-anger).

Yes to healthy anger but no violence (destructive anger)!