This week Professor Mona Siddiqui, Assistant Principal Religion and Society, reflects on the the changing seasons and the chance to check in on how we’re feeling.
Category: Thought for the week Page 1 of 2
This week Professor Mona Siddiqui, Assistant Principal Religion and Society, reflects on the importance of empathy right now.
A few days ago I was taking part in an online conference on healthcare chaplaincy. I was in conversation with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby who has been volunteering as a chaplain at St Thomas’ hospital in central London. During the conversation we spoke of the value we place on certain jobs and how important it was to recognise the significance of healthcare chaplaincy in the whole healthcare and hospital environment.
This week Professor Mona Siddiqui, Assistant Principal Religion and Society, reflects on the return of some of our students.
My youngest son is studying at Edinburgh and went back to university last week. In spite of all the uncertainties around teaching and student life right now, he was excited. Having secured a large room in a lovely flat, he stuffed the car with suitcases, his Xbox and as much soft furnishings as he could squeeze!
This week Professor Mona Siddiqui, Assistant Principal Religion and Society, reflects on how we’ll be navigating the coming months of uncertainty.
Last week I went into a hair salon for the first time since the March lockdown; it was a strange mix of being a banal and yet a most rewarding experience. The salon scrupulously followed all the necessary protocol and other than the face masks and the absence of a cup of coffee, everything seemed as before; my hair actually looked good after a very long time!
The stylist, a bubbly and chatty young woman, spoke of her initial anxiety and feelings of deflation when lockdown began. She explained her frustration at not being able to see her clients in person, “My life is all about talking to other people as I make them feel good about themselves. When I couldn’t do that any longer, I didn’t know how to make myself feel good.” As I walked out I thought about the different ways we all work. As academics, most of us are trained and often happy to seek and work in solitude. But those whose livelihoods depend on a daily interaction with diverse clientele, will have found the last few months particularly challenging, even lonely.
We’re all taking small steps each day, and these steps reflect our mental and emotional resilience. It’s true that some have enjoyed this period of relative quiet, but many also feel strangely suspended between different worlds. At the moment we don’t really know how things will be when the semester starts in September as so much will have to change. But looking after ourselves, doing the best with what we have, and appreciating small daily joys, is all we can do just now to stay hopeful; it may sound banal but it’s a sign of real progress.
Photography: Sam Sills
This week Professor Mona Siddiqui, Assistant Principal Religion and Society, reflects on our wellbeing as we think about returning to work.
A colleague recently told me that he felt both stressed and deflated with the current demands of home life and the frustrations at work. Nothing seemed to be falling into place and there was very little sense of belonging to any supportive community. As I tried to offer some consoling words, I began to think about what kind of staff and student communities we should be creating when we all return in September.
As well as the focus on delivery of services to allow for flexible ways of working across teaching and research, universities should also prioritise the physical and emotional environment they create. The very purpose of a university is that it remains a place where one imagines alternative ways of being, where one fosters new intellectual horizons and friendships. So often the joys of learning come from the joys of our relationships, whether between colleagues or between staff and students. They have their own chemistry and can often provide the solace we need when feeling alone or anxious.
As we respond to the challenges of the coming months, it’s important that we give due attention to the emotional wellbeing of all who make up the university. Whether it’s in person, online or hybrid, teaching and research will continue because that is what universities do; we will for the most part overcome the technological hurdles. But we aren’t always aware of other people’s struggles and often reluctant to confess our own. This is why the emotional support we both ask for and are able to give to others is what will help us flourish as a place of community and integrity in the years to come.
Photography: Sam Sills
This week Professor Mona Siddiqui, Assistant Principal Religion and Society, reflects on what cover image she will choose for her latest book.
Other than the initial topic, for me, the best stage of writing a book is when you are asked to decide on a suitable cover. Most academics know that even at that point, the manuscript is still a few months away from actual publication but the excitement is still palpable. For the last few days, I’ve been thinking about a cover for my own forthcoming book on the theme of human struggle in Christian and Islamic traditions. But despite doing several online searches into museums and art galleries, I haven’t had much success in finding an image that really fits.
Maybe the art on the cover isn’t as significant as the words on the pages but a good cover can encapsulate the very essence of a book, an entire story in a single image. At a time when so much of what we consume is done online, visuals and creativity matter even more. Celebrity artists and writers are inviting children and adults to send in art work as well as illustrations for books. Adults are being encouraged to write poetry, draw and paint not only because creativity leads to greater positivity but because art in all its form is about sharing some part of our lives. Most of us want to share through our work and just now, the online world is the medium through which we can step out of our solitude and tell a part of our story in words or pictures.
I’m hopeful that I will find the right image, one which is original, tells the purpose of the book and even fills in those gaps in the text where words are simply not enough.
Photography: Sam Sills
This week Professor Mona Siddiqui, Assistant Principal Religion and Society, reflects on our way out of lockdown and how old routines will be changed.
As the lockdown starts to gradually lift in various parts of the UK, albeit with restrictions, many of us are wondering what we will do first with our new freedom. As someone who often worked from home even before the current situation, I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve missed and want to return to from my former routine.
These last few weeks, I’ve been lucky to have most of my family with me at home. But I haven’t been able to see my eldest son who lives and works in London. I miss the gym but not shopping or even travel that much. I miss coffee and lunch with colleagues although I still haven’t joined them for the weekly staff social on Microsoft Teams! I’ve kept up with online marking and giving feedback to my postgraduate students by phone or email. I even bought myself a new desk to complete old writing deadlines and find inspiration for new projects; productivity is a way of feeling normal.
My new routine sounds simpler and less active, but maybe I’m not being honest with myself. Perhaps the real issue is that in my mind this seismic societal shift, while temporary, is still too daunting. We need the comfort of feeling that we are connected to the outside world, to other people however much we tell ourselves we can work alone or remotely. The online world is a lifeline but for most of us, it’s not a substitute for the beauty and complexity of our physical interactions. Whatever our future routines, whatever else we can do without, we should all emerge with a greater appreciation of what we get from seeing family, friends and colleagues.
Photography: Sam Sills
This week Professor Mona Siddiqui, Assistant Principal Religion and Society, reflects on the power of food and hospitality.
This weekend I celebrated Eid, the day which marks the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting. It was the first time in 29 years of living in Scotland, that I didn’t have friends and relatives round at home for the traditional mid-morning brunch. My eldest son also was unable to travel up from London because of the current Covid-19 restrictions so all in all, the day felt a little flat despite the efforts we still made as a family.
I was brought up in a home where hospitality was central to the way we lived. My mother loved cooking and hosting and as girls, we learnt to cook very early on. She always said: “it’s better to have guests than be a guest.” This could of course be very demanding but for her, hospitality was what made home. In later life I began to appreciate the creative and therapeutic power of cooking. Food brings families and conversations together, preparing a meal helps children to learn skills far beyond the culinary, and perhaps most importantly, it seems to me, there is nothing as simple yet as profound as feeding others.
Under the current lockdown, people are cooking and baking more as families. But while food may be central to hospitality, hospitality is far more than food; it’s an attitude to life itself helping to nurture patience and the art of being together. Even though many of us are missing distant family at important occasions, there are always new people near us with whom we can make deeper connections. It’s in this reaching out and breaking down barriers, that hospitality can be both personally and socially transformative.
This week Professor Mona Siddiqui, Assistant Principal Religion and Society, reflects on our current sense of community and how it will grow and change in the future.
A couple of weeks ago I went out for my daily walk. It happened to be a Thursday evening just before 8.00pm and I’d forgotten that this was the weekly clap for our carers hour. As a few people came out for an event which has assumed the status of a national ritual, I carried on walking. Suddenly a woman shouted: “you should clap as you walk.” She was smiling but her terse tone made me feel that clapping was no longer just a voluntary show of gratitude but a public duty now.
For many, the weekly applause creates a genuine sense of coming together in a time of crisis, but I think as a society we struggle with how to understand human suffering, how to connect both the sense of loss and hope which together give weight and meaning to our lives. Yet it’s this weighing up of struggle, suffering and hope that produce the best narratives of human existence, often so poignantly reflected in the disciplines so many of us study and teach – literature, theology, philosophy and art.
Our current crisis means that community amidst separation is the narrative of the day. For now, most of us are less indifferent to the destiny of others, we are more empathetic towards those taking risks every day, and we remain grateful. But for how long will this renewed sense of community and generosity remain? Once this struggle has passed, maybe a gentler and kinder future for all could be based on nurturing gratitude as a way of life rather than expressing it as a momentary, albeit well intentioned thank you.
Photography: Sam Sills
This week Professor Mona Siddiqui, Assistant Principal Religion and Society, reflects on the importance of asking for help.
I received some good news last week – my current manuscript on human struggle, cleared the review process and is now officially `in press;’ its such a great feeling but on this occasion, there’s an overwhelming sense of relief more than anything else. Because with this book I know I should have asked colleagues for help right from the beginning, colleagues who had greater expertise in the area. Their advice would have pointed me in the right direction at the start of the project and helped me avoid some of the issues subsequently raised.
Many of us fail to ask for help because we think it’s a sign of weakness or inability. But I’ve realised over the last few months that asking for help requires courage, integrity and being honest with yourself. It’s about facing a challenge, knowing your potential but also your limits and still wanting to do and be more. There’s never any shame in asking for help.
Right now, we’re all facing one of the most difficult times of our lives just now. None of us can escape or hide from the effects of the Covid-19 crisis which continues to take its toll on peoples lives and their futures. But while some are coping better than others, it’s important to let people know when we need help and when we can give help. Currently, our dominant contexts are our home and family, but the university too is our community. And in these challenging times, it’s both kind and wise to remember that despite the pressures and the uncertainties, we can all help each other to flourish.
Photography: Sam Sills