Wear Someone’s Shoes

Now that I’m home, I’ve noticed all the Christmas music being played on the radio.  One of my favorites is this song:

As an occupational therapist, we are trained on empathy for others.  We go through simulations of what it is like to have a disability.  Sometimes it means spending a day in a wheelchair or using crutches.  Other times it may mean wearing Vaseline covered glasses and stuffing one’s ears with cotton balls to simulate a vision and hearing impairment.  For students, this is temporary and silly in many ways.  We easily forget what it’s like to be permanently affected by these deficits.

As I listen to the song, “The War is Over,” I am reminded of the feelings of compassion and love that the holidays emphasize.  While many holiday songs remind of us of this special times, I have to reflect on whether we are actually living big those emotions in action.

Many of us are thinking about the holidays with shopping and activities, the world news reminds me of the grim reality that others in the world face.  They aren’t as lucky as us.  Some face nothing to eat or no roof over their head.  Young children are living in fear and confusion because of factors beyond their control.  What kind of lasting impact will this have on them?

The research already shows that long term stress on parents and children can have a negative impact on them.  What kind of adults will they become if life has treated these innocent children so poorly? If they have no hope, what can they aspire to become when the world has treated them with discrimination that they don’t even understand?

If I were in the shoes of a Syrian mom, I’d be pleading for compassion for my children.  We all want the best for our children regardless of where we are in this world.  I am deeply saddened by the reactionary social media commentary coming from “leaders” of our land.  The amount of shortsighted thinking about this issue is disheartening.

We all want a world of peace so that our children will avoid facing wars but the knee jerk political decisions being made can be leading us to future battles.  Taking away technology for feeding a growing population can contribute to instability and unrest.  Denying children access to nutritious food can limit their ability to meet their highest functioning capacity to be productive citizens.  Allowing families to be in constant danger and living in fear can create future problems with growing up in an insecure environment.  Are we fostering peace by the stand we are taking or are we further jeopardizing our own future?

The social media encourages quick, impulsive decisions, however, our lives can’t be sustained with constant reactionary stances.  We have to think about the future and the lasting impact what we are asking for entails.  Our children are long term investments of hope for a better future.  What about the children of the world? Don’t they deserve the same?

When your humming those Christmas songs in your car, start listening to the lyrics and ask yourself if you’re living the words you sing.  I want a world of compassion and empathy for others as well as my children.  Isn’t that what we all deserve?

Grateful 

  
Today marks exactly one week since I got home from my fellowship at Cornell.  I am so grateful for being given that experience.  I’m hopeful too that through it, we fellows can indeed make change and inspire others to make a better world.

As I reflect on my experience, it still feels like a dream almost.  From the lab job that I thought would lead me no where, it actually has had a lasting impact on my life.  The experience of seeing the start of biotech in saving my dad’s farm has really enabled me to help educate others about this powerful tool that can help so many in the world. 

The many years of hard work growing up on the farm has also given me a huge sense of appreciation of what it means to put food on the table.  I’m lucky to have been raised a farm kid despite missing all the Saturday morning cartoons and being able to sleep in.  I’ve had my hands in the dirt and in the fields to know that it’s easy to talk farming but doing it is a whole different story.

I’m glad I had tough but loving parents who kept me focused on getting educated.  They are also fostering that in my kids by helping me while I studied up at Cornell.  They exposed me to the university experience as a young 7 year old.  My two daughters also got to see what it is like to be on a prestigious university like Cornell.  My older daughter said that she’d want to study there one day.

I’ve really had an experience of a lifetime.  I’ve met a whole new alliance of others who want the same future for their families and communities.  I am truly grateful for the experience and hope that we will change things for a brighter future.

I am blessed.  I am lucky.  We are all lucky to have the life we’ve been granted.  Move forward in appreciation and share it with others.

Happy Thanksgiving all!

  

Why Saying GMOs Are Safe isn’t Helping

  
Last weekend, I finally had some free time in my fellowship to take my mom and kids sightseeing around Ithaca.  I decided to take them to the Cayuga Nature Center.

The nature center is a small museum of sorts but mainly an outdoor series of trails that you can explore.  The first thing I wanted to take my kids to was the Tree Tops House.  From the start of the trail, you can’t see this treehouse at all.  As we walked further into the woods, this neat hidden structure almost magically comes into view.  

My two daughters screamed in delight when they saw this 6 story treehouse.  It stands on several stumps and blends right into the woods.  The local high school student came together to build this for the community.  It’s just a thrill for any kid.

After they had plenty of time to play in the house, we decided to look for the pioneer house.  At the start of that trail, there was a warning sign about Lyme disease and a picture of a tick.  It just said to beware of ticks and the risk of getting this disease.  My eldest looked at it and not knowing what the issue really was, she proceeded to freak out.  

She adamantly refused to walk on the leaf covered path.  She said that the sign says there’s danger and that she won’t go.  I explained to her what Lyme disease really was and that it wasn’t as bad as she thought since it was colder and the excessive grasses that ticks cling onto were gone.  I had to physically show her how it wasn’t as risky as she thought.  After much reassurance and explanation about the actual risk, she reluctantly agreed.  However, she was remained cautious which limited her ability to fully partake in the experience.  

My youngest daughter on the other hand, had a completely different reaction.  She looked at the sign and stopped to think about it, then quickly ran off into the woods.  She really didn’t care about Lyme disease or the ticks after I told her she just had to check her clothes when we were done.  She fully enjoyed frolicking in the freshly fallen leaves without a care in the world. 

Here I have two children raised in the same environment but with completely different reactions.  It made me think that this is exactly what is happening about the issue of science communication.  For too long, we allowed others to use fear about farming and technology.  There wasn’t enough informing happening and fear besieged the public.  The results are apparent when a prominent scientist is attacked with mob like mentality for attempting to educate on the basic construct of life, DNA.

It is evident to me that the general public is not well informed enough and is a goldmine for hucksters trying to use the lack of knowledge to part people from their hard earned dollars.  Like my older daughter freaking out about the warning sign, the poorly informed consumers have the same reaction to something considered biotech derived.  Just the idea of three letters will make people willingly spend some 30% or more on groceries all in the name of fear. Constant fear and no desire for education leads to angry people who lash out when confronted with facts.  Sadly, the real education remains elusive and is threatening to a shallow set of beliefs.

Whether the issue is the GM label or pesticides, as humans we want easy ways to protect ourselves and operate.  We make thousands of decisions each day and as a result, we need a quick and easy way to do that.  It’s one of the reasons why the anti-GMO/anti-pesticide messages are so effective.  Like the GMO label warns the uninformed people of a perceived danger,  some think that the organic non-GMO label is supposedly healthier.  The same applies to how the idea that the terms chemicals, synthetic, and toxins are used for those fear mongering messages.  We simply are looking for ways to avoid dangers and decrease our risk. 

Complex problems are never solved by simple solutions.  It’s the same with any issue in our lives, it takes more than a quick and easy solution to solve an issue.  Simply saying that going to organic farming is a panacea for reducing pesticides and changing our food system is a shortsighted solution for a multifaceted problem.  Putting a label on GMOs as a way to decrease obesity is a weak solution to this growing problem.  Even with a nutritional label, there has been no sign that obesity is going down.

Like my daughter freaking out over the tick sign, the concept of GMOs equates to pesticides and Monsanto is a clear indicator of human behavior to simplify the subject of biotechnology.  Those who tout this message cleverly repeat it over and over.  The science side then tries to enlist facts to counter the misinformation and it doesn’t change minds or hearts.

There’s farmers telling their stories and pouring their hearts out to consumers for their support while scientists risking careers trying to provide factual information to the masses.  It’s been happening for years and have we gotten anywhere? Apparently not if I’m still penning my thoughts about this issue.

I have a decent following on my blog and science communication is great, but it has to go further than that.  We have to stop using our own heuristics to try and simplify what biotech really is.  I have to go back to my graduate school training where we learned problem based learning to establish critical thinking again.

Yes, we live in a world of problems and who is going to solve it and what are we going to do about it? It’s not going be millions of moms or millions against Monsanto making a loud noise on the social media who will really impact on problems.  It’s going to take someone well studied and trained in the field to figure out the potential options.  Politicians have a duty and responsibility to foster an environment to address these issues also but thinking about it holistically for the greater good.  

When we are faced with a problem, who will be there to study the issue and determine the best path?  When we are ill, we don’t go to a plumber to get treated.  We go to those who are knowledgeable t will be a scientist using evidence to guide us.  It will be the farmer who feed us to meet our maximal potential for a better society for the future generations.

Thousands of farms across America are right beside corn fields . This has existed for some 20 years with no case brought to court proving harm from living near a farm. Shouldn’t evidence be applied to imposing laws upon our farmers?

  

The Future of Hawaii Can’t Rest in a Protest

  
Once again, the anti-TMT, anti-GMO, anti-everything folks are going to protest yet again.  This time, their groups have united to “protect” Hawaii.  They have decided to “malama the aina” and “protect the mauna” and save agricultural lands.  These folks can stay really busy doing all three.

I can’t help but remember the pleading cries of mothers and others who testified at multiple hearings over the last several years.  They accused the seed farms and farmers of “poisoning” their children and making them sick.  They pleaded with the legislators to protect them by enacting disclosure laws, buffer zones, and bans of biotech farms.  Many of these folks still claim that they are sick and attribute it to farms despite the fact that the evidence doesn’t support it.  The campaign by the anti-groups indeed were successful even without data.

If the “protectors” really care about these folks, why are they so busy fundraising for plane tickets and bail money?  I’ve seen so many gofundme accounts set up to raise money but not a single dime is going towards the alleged sicknesses that they claim of over and over.  They aren’t even funding testing of people either to confirm the source of their health claims.  

This activism also has its roots in anti-corporate attitudes but they actively make use of those services only provided by the very people they distrust.  The activists decry money and greed but then go out and seek money themselves to fund their cause.

   

 
The activists talk about not wanting outside influences having a say in Hawaii but then join with the Washington, DC based Center for Food Safety group.  This group is nothing close to being local at all and has created more wasting of our resources in the name of the malama the aina battle cries.  They can fund plane tickets but sure can’t pay back the counties for the costs of court proceedings on badly written laws.  

  

Can no one see the inconsistencies of these groups’ messages here?  They talk about this concept of “malama,” which means to care but then their actions show the complete opposite!  Imagine how much jet fuel and gas is used to bring people to Waikiki for a day of protest.  Couldn’t that time and money be better spent by cleaning a beach or helping the homeless?

If they want to keep the Mauna sacred, how about throwing the bail money and plane ticket fares towards the education fund instead? Replace what you plan to take away.  Create a realistic business plan to help stimulate the economy there with all the opportunities that will be lost.  The thousands of dollars used could feed the hungry or buy school books for those needy schools.

Last year, a Hawaiian civic group raised money and used it to purchase school planners for my daughter’s 4th grade class.  That indeed is a worthwhile cause to help educate children and helps the schools out so much.  Why aren’t these groups marching to raise funds for those underserved areas on the Big Island? Where’s the giving spirit for the keiki? Teach them how to care for the aina with education and not transient protests.

If people are really sick from farms, stop paying Vandana Shiva $40k per talk or ask her to donate it to care for these illnesses.  The Center for Food Safety paid a nice sum of money for the misinformation manual they sent out but didn’t donate anything back to the county for any court costs.  If they care so much for people, they’d spend our resources wisely.  

  
Our leader in Washington can’t even grasp the technology being adopted to help farmers grow food.  Representative Gabbard doesn’t even realize that by bring anti-GMO means she wants farmers around the world to use old, more toxic crop protection products.  She actually is supporting the pesticide companies in developing countries by blocking the adoption of biotech crops as they are separate entities there from the agribusiness companies.  Nor does she even bother to tell her constituents the real name of the law or disclose her political funding from the organic industry.  She fails to educate others that the regulation around GE crops was in the federal level after 3 county laws were invalidated.  Like former State Representative Jessica Wooley, who said there were no regulations on biotech crops, Representative Gabbard also has a hard time with the truth.    

So once again, the battle cries will start up in Waikiki, the center of the Hawaii they don’t want.  Little do they realize that by blocking farms, the land will be paved over and forever changed.  By blocking a telescope, they send a message to the youth that you can’t come back to Hawaii to pursue a careers in science and technology because the loudest minority will squash your dreams.  Our leaders too can’t see the unintended consequences of caving to all of their demands.  

As a parent, I don’t give in to my kids’ hissy fits.  By giving in to these fits, it only encourages more of it and encourages bad behavior.  Kids are prone to bad behavior and have to learn what is and isn’t appropriate.  The issues in Hawaii must be dealt with using a realistic vision and high expectations.  Using emotions to guide policy harms all of us and lowers the expectations.  It’s time for our leaders to demand this of those who want to be an integral part of policymaking.  If our leaders don’t stick to that vision, we stand to all lose.  My kids will never be able to have that bright future in Hawaii if we can’t even have leaders leading us on that path.  

I did notice that they used the Hawaiian proverb, “Pupukahi I Holomua.” It literally means to move together in one direction.  These groups are moving together backwards and not even making an attempt to work with anyone else in any issue which is clear.  It’s about what they want and not about working with anyone else.  They refuse to come to the table unless they get exactly what they want.  

I want our leaders to stick with a vision to make Hawaii better and be brave to make hard decisions in the best interest of everyone. Listening to the squeakiest wheel is distracting us from  becoming a better place.  We need those leaders now to stand up for our island state if we want a real future for our kids.  I’m a mom and that’s what I want.  Who’s listening to me?

The Beauty of Change

  
A few weeks ago, I headed down to the farm with my kids.  My dad decided that he was fed up with having farm property stolen and set out to put up a fence to hopefully deter thieves.  I decided that I better help out so I made my way there.

For a man in his mid 70’s, I am always amazed at my dad’s strength and agility.  He can pick up those 60 lb. bags of concrete like nothing and mixes it away with his hoe in the wheelbarrow.  He has his own plan on how he wants it all done, so I was the apprentice.  He had already dug the holes for the posts the day before and even aligned it all up already.  I helped with setting the poles and cleaning up.  

 
It’s really sad to think that the place I grew up isn’t the same place as it used to be.  The thought of people stealing wasn’t a huge deal as it is now.  We could trust the folks that lived around here and everyone watched out for each other for the most part.  It’s no longer like that.  

  
As I walked around the field, I started to notice the things around me from a simple rock to an old coconut.   The worn river rock was smooth from years of being exposed to the elements and lichen started to grow on it.  

  
The old coconut had its fibrous husk starting to fall away, leaving the nut loose.  Both the rock and coconut had changed in form over time.  

As I thought about this more, it is only natural that things change.  The way we live, eat, grow, and learn are all subject to change over time.  In our day to day living with hustle and bustle on modern lifestyles, I feel we sometimes miss out on observing those little things around us.  When life goes past us in a blur, some people long for the simpler days.

The culture of the moment is to reject every modern and new and go back to the old days that were perceived to be better.  Despite having so many conveniences, many people are desiring to return to old ways.  Some people do this by getting pierced or tattooed in traditional ways.  There are even old native practices being started up on Mauna Kea.  Some get into farming the old ways in an attempt to live like we did centuries ago.  Other people reject vaccines and medicines to go back to natural cures as a means of treating afflictions.  Whatever the case, modern life has many missing for the past.

There are things I do long for in the past but to want to turn back the hands of time is indeed unnatural.  Everything changes and it’s inevitable. In the environment, things change as well and there’s no stopping it at times.  To try and wrestle back to decades gone by is futile, however, we can take the good things from it and incorporate it into the present.

  
We can’t always save living things forever.  It may return but in a new form but still bring us the same meaning as it did before.  Whatever the issue may be, the past does live within all of us and provides lessons for how we act in the present and the future.  Learning how to adapt to change and realize what true progress really means.  I embrace the beauty of change but use the past as my guide for the future.  

A Mother’s Day Wish

 

It’s been nearly 6 months since my grandmother on my mom’s side passed away at the ripe old age of 88.  Taking care of her the last 8 years of her life was the hardest job I ever did, but one of the most rewarding indeed.  It was a honor to be able to let her live the last few of her years surrounded by great grandchildren and her beloved dog at home.  Being in her home for 50 years gave her a decent quality of life, despite her many illnesses including diabetes and dementia.  

She was hard headed and fiercely independent her entire life but also one with great love and a vision for her children and latter generations.  She always told me that she never had a chance to go to college since she was one of the younger siblings in her family.  Because her family was very poor, it was customary for the younger ones had to work to help pay for the oldest child to go to school.  She always felt like she was denied that chance to make a better life for herself.

It was through this sense of frustration that she became determined to give her children opportunities to go to college.  My grandma and grandfather worked multiple jobs to earn money to get my mom and her sister through college.  Grandma did not want to have her kids feel what it was like to be poor. My grandparents persevered and my mom became a teacher and my aunt became a nurse.  Both entered professions that my grandmother had dreamed of pursuing but never had the chance.

My grandparents giving spirit and vision did not end with their kids.  It continued on to the next generation.  When the grandkids were born and both grandparents were free on the weekends, they too helped on the farm.  The farm was a whole family event that really embodied the concept of laulima, or many hands working together.  If they weren’t watching us, they washed papayas or were lining boxes with newspapers.  My grandpa had great carpentry skills so his job was to cut lumber and build bins for picking papayas.  So many relatives would join us on the farm to do something to help out.  The farm really created a tight knit family to help succeed.  

The entire family believed in the farm and got together to make it work.  My dad had a vision of what he wanted for his farm.  Grandma Hee had a vision about what she wanted for her children and grandchildren too.  Like my dad and his belief in the value of hard work, my grandma felt the same way.  You had to have a vision of what you want and be willing to do the hard work to make it happen.  They both led by example by walking the talk.

Now that I have children of my own, I too have aspirations of making a good life for them.  I want them to have opportunities through education to make a life for themselves and become contributors to this world in some way.  I’ve been taught this and hope to pass this on to my children.

This Mother’s Day, I really don’t need any fancy material gifts because I have everything I need.  I have the best gifts already in three young lives.  I will continue to open their minds about the world around them and hopefully continue to fill it with wonder and a sense of curiosity.  Someday they will be doing something good to help make a real difference in someone’s life.  That is my wish this Mother’s Day!