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A question of judgement
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 20 - 06 - 2019

One of the problems that has been confronting Egyptian society for some time has been the willingness of some people to judge others. Whether judging people's behaviour, meddling in other people's lives, stereotyping or other related issues, the problem has been growing, and its victims can often suffer emotionally or psychologically if not on other levels.
However, help is at hand with the establishment of the campaign group Mesh Qesetak (None of Your Business) by a group of American University in Cairo (AUC) students who want to cure society of some of its ills including nosiness and judging other people based on their appearance.
“When I returned from Australia after spending my childhood there, I started to notice that some people were mocking my way of speaking Arabic, the way I dressed, and even the way I behaved. They were treating me like an alien,” student Jasmine Hamed said. “Many people cannot comprehend how difficult it is for someone to adapt to a new place, but I wish they could have been more supportive or have minded their own business and let others walk their own paths,” she commented.
Dana Lasheen and Khaled Salaheddin are seniors at the AUC double majoring in psychology and integrated marketing communications, and they started the initiative to encourage people to mind their own business with six other colleagues. In a matter of months, their website had become so popular that it has been featured on TV talk shows. They now have some 1,258 followers on Facebook.
“There are a lot of stories we have been through in our own lives at school or university, and we have witnessed the behaviour of both close friends and strangers. Before starting the initiative, we brainstormed a lot and decided there was a big problem that was being brushed aside in our society to the extent that it is often unapologetically judgemental and we thought that this should be discussed,” he said.
Lasheen likes social gatherings and travelling with friends, and this had a role in choosing the idea of Mesh Qesetak since she had experienced life in different cultures. “The first thing that came to our minds was the Rania Youssef dress issue. Some people, without understanding, just started judging her and attacking her on social media,” she said, adding that she had then “realised that this was something many people do every day without noticing and justify by saying that they are joking or only expressing their opinions.”
“But what society has been overlooking is that this is not a joke since someone is actually being judged. You don't know the story, you don't even know the person, so why would you assume something when you don't know anything about it,” Lasheen asked.
“We watched an interview with celebrity Amir Eid after he had lost a lot of weight because he was sick, but there was still talk about him allegedly using drugs. The automatic assumption was that something was worse than it was. People don't take the time to listen and understand what is going on. They just assume, based on what is on their minds,” Salaheddin said, adding that it was this that had motivated them to start Mesh Qesetak.
BEHIND THE IDEA: The members of the initiative began by brainstorming for an idea to impact or even change behaviour, Lasheen said. “We don't remember who exactly came up with the idea, but we all agreed on it and were all very excited to pursue it.”
The group conducted research before starting and discovered that there was a specific age group, from 18 to 35, that could influence generations to come if their attitude was changed. Its members are at university or are working young adults or are about to get married and have children, and they can thus help to instil values into the next generation. This age group is also the period when behaviour can change.
“The older you get, the more difficult it is to change your mindset,” Salaheddin said, adding that for this reason they had decided to target the young-adult age group that could be most influenced by their ideas.
They started preparing the initiative two months before the official launch on social media in April. They first organised advertisements and talked about the initiative in public, Lasheen commented. “First, we filmed two advertisements. One of them was shown on a satellite TV talk show. But our main outlet is social media because we have a target audience there aged from 18 to 35.”
They now also have their own PR department and are organising interactive activities such as filming people responding to different situations to help evaluate how they judge others.
“There are many reasons why people may judge others, including if they are projecting their own insecurities or maybe trying to make themselves feel better. A person may feel self-conscious and so may be trying to divert attention away from himself,” Salaheddin said, adding that in some cases parents have a big role to play, particularly if they judge their own children.
“The older generations have been guilty of saying things without any basis in fact. This results in insecurities and in inhibiting people from doing things,” Lasheen said. She summarised the campaign by saying that the main idea was “don't judge someone at first glance. It is not your business,” also the name of the campaign. “We wanted people to remember something catchy so they could use it in their daily lives. Even our friends have been using the slogan,” she added.
“Mesh Qesetak means ‘none of your business' or ‘it is not your issue.' It wants to say that because you judge someone based on first glance, you make up a story in your head about that person, who they are, and what they are like. We are trying to combat that by saying that it is not your story to tell” and that they are many other stories, Salaheddin said.
“Our aim is to help everyone who comes across our page to share their stories and allow people to realise that judging people is something that is very prevalent in our society. We also invited celebrities or social-media influencers to raise people's awareness, and there is a link people can use to share their personal stories. It is not about who did what; it is about what happened,” Lasheen said.
“The aim of asking celebrities and others to share their stories was to make it like a challenge in which everyone could share,” Salaheddin added.
REASONS: Ali Suleiman, a psychologist, explained the psychological processes behind behaviour such as judging other people. “Some people may only see the superficial side of things, and it can be human nature to judge what they see in front of them, though this differs from one person to another,” he said.
“But inside each person is a conscience that allows them to judge people in the light of their beliefs. A person with good principles will judge according to his beliefs, not according to what he sees. And people interpret and judge things differently depending on their principles,” he added.
Reacting to a situation in which a person is judged also differs from one person to another, according to Suleiman. “There are people who are psychologically fragile and can be almost destroyed by a look or harsh words. They do not have the psychological strength to protect themselves. This type of person could break down or be subject to psychological problems. On the other hand, a person who is psychologically strong will not listen to what others say about him because he has an internal strength. This is a rational type of person.”
“There is also a third type who ignore what others say and never listen, but these people are bordering on the pathological,” Suleiman said.
THE CAMPAIGN: For Salaheddin, the campaign has already had some success stories. “Our friends are using the website, which is interesting because I have often sat with my friends and seen them judging other people. I was glad to find that we had impacted the people around us. It feels as if we had made a difference,” he said.
“Many people have also sent us messages after they saw us on TV and said that they had been inspired by the campaign and even wanted to work with us. The National Council for Women contacted us, for example, and said they wanted to work with us in some capacity,” he added.
Lasheen said that some people had criticised the campaign, however. “They may be in a state of denial. They tell us that they are just joking and that they do not mean what they are doing in terms of judging other people, though this is a very common response. However, the campaign has started to ring a bell even with such people, and I really think it is starting to make an impact.”
She added that for the moment the campaign is chiefly targeting the more educated classes, since they could exercise a greater influence there in society, helping non-judgemental behaviour to spread. “We have targeted the educated classes, since these can act like influencers and endorsers, creating a ripple effect that can then trickle down to the rest of society because we can't target everyone at once,” she said.
“It can be difficult to alter lower-middle class behaviour since it can be very defensive. It can be better to address the upper-middle classes, though I think that in a while the campaign will spread.”
Like in any project, there have been difficulties. “Of course, we need more resources and more collaboration. If we had more people to work and collaborate with, it would be easier to expand our reach because we are only seven at the moment,” Salaheddin said.
“As a university graduation project, we have also had a lot of time constraints in the actual campaign. I think it was difficult to find the right message or angle to use so that we could in fact have an impact and bring about effective change,” Lasheen added.
Moreover, some people have accused the group of being privileged and living in a bubble removed from the rest of society. “They ask us what makes us worth hearing when we are well off. ‘You don't need anything, and you don't have any problems,' they say,” Salaheddin said, adding that it was still important to convince others of the importance of the issue.
“Some people say that it is not going to happen because judging people has been embedded in our society for a long time. ‘Why bother,' they ask. This is a challenge to the campaign to use the right words and to find the right angle with limited resources,” Lasheen said.
For Salaheddin, “a huge part of solving the problem lies in psychological education and making people understand. What happens when you think, that is. I saw an article on the Internet that said that the first thought that comes into your mind is the one that society has placed in you, and the thing that you decide to say is what decides who you are as a person.”
“So, if you understand this process, you will be better able to regulate what you say. You will be better aware of your behaviour and better able to change it.”
“We are waiting to see the collaborations we can establish. We want to explore options to expand. We are planning to have a more interactive and engaging platform, rather than just telling people not to judge. We have found that when we interact with people, and people actually share their stories and talk about the issue, it raises awareness more effectively and people become more aware that they are judging others,” Lasheen concluded.
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Betfre'
Every gesture helps
EVEN the smallest gesture can make a world of difference when it is well meant, says Mai Samih.
Holding the door open for someone or saying please and thank you when talking to others can make an enormous difference since these are gestures that can bring pleasure in response to such good deeds.
Because of their strong beliefs in the power of acts of kindness and the impact they can have on people no matter how small they might be, a group of Egyptian university students decided to initiate a campaign as their graduation project called Betfre' (It Makes a Difference). The campaign targets youth across the country with the aim of encouraging them to spread kindness more readily.
“We put ourselves in the shoes of our target audience, Egyptian young people, and we asked ourselves what we needed in life. We found that kind gestures could increase productivity, so we decided to start a 21-day challenge in the form of a to-do list on our Facebook page with a different good deed for each person to do each day,” said Nour Osama, a mass communication student and one of the founders of the initiative.
The number 21 was chosen because it can take 21 days for someone to develop good habits.
“The key concept is to help other people do acts of kindness, like helping the elderly cross the street, or other simple acts that can make all the difference to the person doing them and the person receiving them,” she said. She added that the group had contacted social-media influencers to help them spread the idea of the challenge through posting videos about it. They now have 1,403 followers on Facebook, and people have been posting their acts of kindness on their Website.
The campaign organised a Sohour event in Ramadan and asked each person present to write a kind message and exchange it with others.
“We want to make this campaign better known in Egypt and to have more people follow it, maybe with the help of coffee-shop chains. We would like people to start smiling at each other again on the street,” Osama concluded.
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Saada fi Talata
Happiness comes in threes
EGYPT'S young people are contributing to the country's family planning efforts, reports Mai Samih.
“Before having a baby, think of the ones you already have” is one of the slogans of an initiative organised by a group of university students entitled Saada fi Talata (Happiness in Three).
With a focus on Upper Egypt, the initiative aims at raising awareness of family planning by highlighting the importance of families spacing births in order to take better care of their children.
Starting in the Fayoum governorate, it includes a mobile clinic to offer health services to families and raise their awareness of contraception. It also includes social workers, religious preachers, and others who are visiting villages to help convey the campaign's message. They have also distributed food and supplies to the villagers.
“When we started our campaign, our graduation project, we wanted to talk to people in Egypt's villages and find out what they thought. Our aim was to discover why not every birth-control campaign has been popular in rural areas,” said Nadine Khaled, a Misr International University mass communication student and one of the seven founders of the initiative.
Khaled said that they were able to see first-hand the habits, traditions, and preferences of people during their field trip to Upper Egypt. They also discovered why some people in rural areas prefer to have a lot of children.
“Some villagers believe that family planning means preventing them from having more children, a belief we want to reverse. We want them to see how spacing the births of their children will have benefits for them and for their children,” Khaled said, allowing them to take better care of them.
“We are also focusing on those who can influence the villagers, such as the local mayor and religious preachers. This will allow the campaign to reach people more efficiently,” he concluded.


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