Ask Sadia: HWSF Experience

Jane Smith asked: Describe your experience so far at HWSF

Dear Jane, 

Many of my former teachers from my secondary school tried to convince me to stay; they told me that moving to a new school for sixth form is unnecessarily stressful and pointless. Looking back, I have no regrets about my making this decision. Although I love routines and familiarity, I also love change and new adventures.

I have been at HWSF for nearly three months now, and already I feel I have developed extensively as a person. At my old school, people rarely formulated their own ideas and opinions. Instead, many of them ‘went with the flow’ and complained incessantly about how much they hated school. At HWSF, however, this is far from the case: the students here are eager to learn, and each new day brings new things to explore and discuss. The diversity is something I particularly like: my new friends belong to different cultures, religions, fandoms and political groups; each person brings something different to the table. I love that my new friends (and this new experience) challenge me: the atmosphere is, undoubtedly, rather competitive, but very friendly and supportive at the same time.

The school is located in Central London, very close to significant historical establishments like the Houses of Parliament, and Westminster Abbey (where we occasionally have assemblies). St. James’ Park is just around the corner, and there are also several cafes dotted around the area. The nature of the school’s location serves as a constant reminder of the school’s slogan: Ambition, Perseverance, and Legacy.

There is a huge emphasis on ‘scholarly behaviour’ and ‘academic promiscuity’. We are encouraged to debate, read, attend lectures, and go above and beyond what the curriculum expects of us. All in all, I am grateful for this new experience, and I am grateful for the joys and challenges that I am being faced with on a daily basis, even if it means that I have to climb up seven flights of stairs in order to reach the canteen…


Sadia Ahmed, 2017

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Review: ‘Unveiled’ by Rumki Chowdhury

Rumki Chowdhury’s Unveiled is an amazing piece of work; it succeeds in conveying the complex nature of the lives of Muslim girls in Western society, attempting to carve out their own identities against a backdrop of confusion, prejudice, and paranoia, especially in the wake of terrorist incidents. The book is a statement of defiance against ignorance, as well as an emblem of reassurance and hope for Muslim women everywhere. 
In the first three parts, Chowdhury skilfully explores the three separate but united components of being: the mind- and its barriers to achieving freedom, the body- as well as social pressures pertaining to outward appearances, and, finally, the soul- and creating a sense of inner beauty, strength and peace. 
Chowdhury writes about the hijab from her own perspective, as a symbol of choice and empowerment, as opposed to one of oppression; her writing provides an authentic voice, which is extremely necessary when it comes to the discussion of such topics; we are in desperate need of having more genuine, witty, and sincere female Muslim voices like hers to be at the forefront of our discourse. 
As someone with a Muslim Bangladeshi background myself, I was able to fully appreciate Chowdhury’s humorous anecdotal tales, and found many of her references very relatable. Her words are eloquent, yet equally accessible and enjoyable. All in all, Unveiled sends a message of hope to readers, and will encourage non-Muslim readers to view the world through the eyes of a strong, intelligent, though frequently misunderstood, Muslimah.

Sadia Ahmed, 2017

Man as Machines

It has long been thought that man is in prolonged conflict with machines- they are stealing our jobs, our talents, and our livelihoods. It seems that, whilst machines are becoming increasingly anthropomorphized, humans are starting to resemble robots, too. Sullen-faced, square-eyed, and excessively concerned with productivity and efficiency, it is almost as if we are sculpting ourselves to become economic goods on conveyer belts; everything is about maximising output and minimising procrastination, and schools with liberal and creative outward appearances are on the brink of becoming de facto exam factories. Students are becoming the unsuspecting victims of an academic dystopia, and our souls are paying the price for it.

Constantly being occupied with something of prudence to do has become the new norm for students; we tend to be inundated by tasks to complete, goals to strive for, and guilt to be absorbed by when our bodies insist that we need a break. With incessant advancements in technology, as well as the growing accessibility of education, the world is progressively becoming more fast-paced and frenetic, resulting in restlessness and overall dissatisfaction amongst pupils. Excuse this cliché statement, but it seems as though we are gradually declining into human doings instead of human beings.

In this game of academic and professional ‘survival of the fittest’, we are told that lacking in ambition will get us nowhere in life, which is, no doubt, true, however the present moment is not just a seed of the future, nor is it exclusively a culmination of the past. Life, believe it or not, is short. Time passes. Although, in modern society, it is highly advisable (necessary, even) to invest in the future, it is also important to focus on your own wellbeing and enjoyment, in the present. Not everything should be done with a future objective in mind; unlike with machines, the value of people is not derived from the value of what we can produce, in a given period of time.

Formal education is very demanding; every student is aware of this. We are forever drowning in oceans of to-do lists, assignments, deadlines, and worries about the future. It is essential that we are willing to let ourselves relax and have fun, from time to time. Self-improvement is dependent on the maintenance of every component of the self: the mind, and also the body.

In my view, although it has come to be a dirty word in academics, procrastination can often be beneficial. It comes from the Latin word procrastinat, which means ‘deferred till the morning’. Sometimes it is necessary to defer things until the morning, to just step away from the monsters of scholastic stress. Chronic anxiety can lead to burnout and depression- hence, as an example of situational irony, immoderate ‘productivity’ can lead to academic fruitlessness. The majority of us are living, sentient beings, not metal, unfeeling ones: we require adequate time to sleep, socialize, and rejoice in our capacity to feel things.

The obsession with efficiency and getting things done in the least amount of time possible is accompanied by an unhealthy obsession with the future, in terms of academia, careers, and other goals. An apt analogy can be drawn from this: students and career-minded individuals are climbing a gargantuan mountain, chasing one marker point after another, never quite stopping to appreciate the gifts- the remarkable view- of the present, for fear of being labelled ‘procrastinators’. They forget that there is beauty around them, not just in front of them, and they also forget that the summit itself is an illusion. The harsh reality of the matter is that we climb this mountain, and then we drop dead somewhere along the way.

As with many things, the solution is simply to strike a balance- the flowers of productivity can be nurtured alongside the flowers of enjoying a soulful and content life (yes, I enjoy using metaphors to convey my ideas). As the saying goes, work hard, but also play hard: time is a finite resource, and it is constantly slipping from beneath our fingertips, like loose grains of sand. Men will never be machines, and it is futile to place such pressure on ourselves, pretending to be something we are not.

Though we may not rust like machines, our cells are always ageing, and soon we will grow old; we will grow up, and we will yearn for our youth and its many joys to return to us, but it never will.


Sadia Ahmed, 2017

The Colours of Love

(This was my entry for a school essay competition)

What is love? This question has managed to perplex and fascinate philosophers, psychologists, artists, writers, and even mathematicians alike, for centuries. In English, the word love can refer to love for one’s spouse, or for one’s mother, or even for a particular type of sandwich. In Greek, however, there are six different words to distinguish between the different forms of the notion: agape (selfless, altruistic love), ludus (passionate, playful love, usually devoid of any desire to commit), storge (a friendship-based sort of attachment), eros (intense romantic, passionate love), mania (obsession), and finally, pragma (a practical, mutually beneficial form) (Dewey, 2007).

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John A. Lee, a Canadian psychologist, explores these six forms of love in his book Colours of Love: An Exploration of the Ways of Loving, and my favourite diagram is an image that is featured in, and dissected throughout said book: the Colour Wheel of Love, which presents love and its spectral forms in a way that seems to provide some structure and aesthetic charm to an otherwise chaotic and confusing affair.

While I am able to fully appreciate other prominent diagrams, such as the Vitruvian man, and drawings depicting the golden ratio, when I read the book The Colours of Love, I was deeply fascinated by this particular one.

This diagram presents love- arguably the most complex, but universal, marvel known to man- in a traditional colour wheel format, with three primary types (eros, ludus and storge) which combine to create three secondary types (mania, pragma, and agape). As an avid reader and literary fiction enthusiast, I read about love and its many forms on a regular basis. I become invested in the lives of fictional characters, and, since sticking a picture of the colour wheel into my journal, I find myself constantly attempting to label and examine various fictional relationships, assigning them different colours. But in my view, the main form of love, which is omitted from, yet fully encompasses, this diagram, is philautia, or love for oneself.

The concept of self-love is not a concept that most of us in the West are unfamiliar with. Countless celebrities and corporations heartily encourage philautia, self-respect and confidence, and although the media plays a significant role in shaping such ideas, we are also naturally inclined to the practice of self-love; it is wired into our nature as human beings. Biologists argue that, as animals, our central purposes in life are to survive and reproduce, and our innate survival instincts are closely intertwined with our natural tendency to love ourselves: if we love ourselves, we are more likely to be willing to do whatever it takes in order to survive. The importance of philautia is evident when we analyse it in terms of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: whilst self-love extends over all five levels of human motivation (from physiological needs to those pertaining to self-actualisation) the love we possess for others is limited to only two strata: the stratum of love/belonging (as we are social beings who necessitate companionship) and that of esteem (as we desire approval and acceptance from others).

As amoral as it may sound, self-love is even at the heart of altruistic behaviours, because by helping others, we ultimately help ourselves. We make ourselves feel better by engaging in charitable endeavours, and there is typically some pleasure to be derived from seemingly selfless acts, such as volunteering or giving charity. Doing good for others stimulates the pleasure centre in the human brain, and results in the release of ‘feel-good’ chemicals, namely dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin (Breuning). Moreover, although the Confucian, Biblical, and Quranic principle of treating others how you would want to be treated may, upon first glance, appear like a didactic statement of an inherently selfless nature (which may fall under the categories of storge, pragma, or agape), upon closer analysis, it becomes clear that, once again, this form of love is deeply rooted in self-interest. Indeed, self-interest appears to be the central motivation of human behaviour, and, for this reason, the invisible (yet ubiquitous) colour that extends over the spectrum is philautia. Pragma brings us practical benefits, ludus brings us laughter and enjoyment, eros satisfies sexual desires, and storge gives us companionship- an escape from the abysmal void of loneliness.

Ostensibly, mania and agape stray from the trend that the other sections of the wheel follow, in that, in general, people have little to gain from obsessing over another person. On the contrary, it may prove detrimental to their health to do so. In the diagram, mania is represented through the colour purple; it is hence a mixture between red and blue, between ludus and eros. This relates directly to Maslow’s idea of esteem being a human psychological need: manic lovers look to love as a means of rescue, or a reinforcement of value. They come to believe that they need to be with their lovers, as a medium of self-validation, which, in turn, boosts their self-respect. For manic lovers, the intensification of philautia can lead to narcissism, and subsequently, intensified mania: they may increase the amount of power and control they exercise over their partners.

Agape has often been attributed to ‘purer’ manifestations of romantic love- as a type of storgic eros: friendship combined with romance, the fulfillment of both physical and spiritual desires. According to Lee’s diagram, when agape is subjected to an increase in ludus (or, playfulness) there is a risk of shifting to mania. Likewise, when agape experiences an increase in storge, it runs the risk of becoming closer to pragma. In the mass media, storge is often presented as the most desirable type, although according to content analysis carried out by Ward and Friedman, in films of the romantic genre, men are typically presented as ‘sex-hungry’, while women tend to be presented as sex objects (Holmes).

Gender differences are an interesting thing to consider when looking at the colour wheel: researchers Hendrick, Hendrick, Slapion-Foote, and Foote (1985) found that men were more likely to indulge in the ludic type of love, while women were more likely to be storgic or pragmatic (Hendrick, 1986). This theory links rather well with the idea of the ‘Seven Year Itch’, which (although it might sound like a kind of dermatological irritation) refers to a psychological theory put forth by Professor Helen Fisher, which suggests that (due to biological predispositions) the romantic passion within a long-term heterosexual relationship almost certainly declines before a couple’s seventh anniversary (Maestripieri). According to anthropologist Bernard Chapais (who observed similar behaviours and mating patterns among primates) this is because, after their offspring become more independent, men have an intrinsic desire to leave their families (though not all men act upon this desire!) and distribute their DNA to other women- thus succumbing to their ludic desires.

Research into the neurochemistry of love proves that there are three main stages to ‘falling in love’, which are initiated by the first stage: venereal desire. This directly corresponds with our evolutionary instincts- self-preservation and fulfillment, and, of course, reproduction. The other two stages of ‘falling in love’ are emotional attraction, followed by emotional attachment (BBC Science). This theory suggests that the cycle of love moves from eros or ludus, to storge, and pragma or agape (the two ideals, especially the latter) can be found along the way.

The Colour Wheel diagram, as simplistic as it may appear prima facie, has led me to ponder over, research, explore, and question, many different psychological and philosophical ideas. I find it particularly interesting that the dimensions of love can be explored in such a way, by comparing them to colours. Different mixtures with different amounts result in each friendship or relationship being centered on unique metaphorical colours. The English language seems to be colour-blind when it comes to such things- with only one word for ‘love’, and similarly only two words for ‘fishing net’, for which the Hawaiians have 65 different words…

Ultimately, the core ingredient in all forms of love is philautia, as love for oneself provides the bedrock of loving others. As a hopeless romantic (yet, somehow, a cynical ‘realist’ at the same time) I maintain the view that ‘true’ romantic love is possible. It is centred on self-love, and comprises a careful and healthy mixture of each of the six types of love displayed in my favourite diagram, in a beautiful mix of colours- a complex, messy, swirl of brown. In order to achieve this masterful exploitation of Lee’s colour wheel, as the legendary philosopher Justin Bieber habitually says:

“You should go and love yourself”

Works Cited

BBC Science. (n.d.). The Science of Love. Retrieved from Science: Human Body and Mind: http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/hottopics/love/

Breuning, D. L. (n.d.). Altruism is Selfish. Retrieved from The Positive Psychology People: http://www.thepositivepsychologypeople.com/altruism-is-selfish/

Dewey, D. R. (2007). Six Types of Love. Retrieved from Intropsych: http://www.intropsych.com/ch16_sfl/six_types_of_love.html

Hendrick, C. (1986). A Theory and Method of Love. American Psychological Association .

Holmes, J. (n.d.). Content Analysis of Romantic Comedies. Retrieved from Cinematherapy: http://www.cinematherapy.com/pressclippings/Johnson-Holmes.pdf

Maestripieri, D. (n.d.). The Seven Year Itch: Theories of Marriage, Divorce, and Love. Retrieved from Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/games-primates-play/201202/the-seven-year-itch-theories-marriage-divorce-and-love


Sadia Ahmed, 2017