Wait a minute! Did you just yawn and shift in your seat at the very …
It feels like we have been gazing into a dark mirror lately. Reflected images of anger, helplessness, and hopelessness seem to look back at us as we struggle to find a glimmer of happiness. But our dim vision is one based less upon reality and more on biased constructs. While it is evident that there are significant concerns over important issues such as racism, religion, gun violence, addiction, and corruption (among a host of others), our bleak perspective may be just a bit skewed. There is an incredible amount of good to be found and joy to be discovered when we look just a little bit longer.
I was talking to a 16-year-old boy this morning. He is a bright young man who has taken on a part-time job while starting his junior year at what is considered one of the best and most challenging high schools in the country according to U.S. News and World Report and the Washington Post. Their mission is to “provide all students with a data-driven, intellectual and creative learning environment appropriate for success and citizenship in an ever-evolving world.” However, his experience is one of which he calls a toxic learning environment where vicious competition exists even in the quest for valedictorian. Stress seemed to be oozing from every pore of this gentle young man. It seemed to me to be a fine time to share with him the insight of The Serenity Prayer.
I discovered The Serenity Prayer in 1972 while reading Kurt Vonnegut’s book Slaughterhouse Five. The hero, Billy Pilgrim, is an optometrist who is struggling with his inability to protest the bombing of North Vietnam, despite many horrible things he witnessed as a soldier during World War II. He is unable to trust in a traditional notion of God because of the trauma he suffered but does find a power greater than himself which he finally accepts. The prayer is framed on the wall of his office and ultimately helps guide him to try to change humanity’s sorrow and pain over death. His courage is restored.
Legend has it that Bill Wilson, a co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous was introduced to Reinhold Niebuhr’s prayer in early 1942 by his friend Jack who saw it used in an obituary in a New York Herald Tribune obituary. He was so taken by the Serenity Prayer that his fellowship printed 500 copies and distributed them to AA members. Since then, it has become a cornerstone of recovery for untold thousands (or perhaps millions) of people who suffer from substance abuse disorders.
Much more can be written about The Serenity Prayer, but suffice it to say that this simple little verse continues to do what Billy Pilgrim so desperately wanted. It changes the world. By offering a plea for serenity, courage, and wisdom, the prayer guides us along a sacred and intentional path to peace especially in times of struggle, despair, and uncertainty.
Other-Reliance; Invisible Means of Support
Authentic serenity, courage, and wisdom become possible when we begin to understand that there is a power greater than ourselves which is in charge. When we trust this is true it removes us from the driver’s seat and directs the ego to take a break. This is not so easy in a world that so highly values self-reliance. For those who have experienced trauma, it is even harder. People who practice The 12 Steps have come to believe that such other-reliance is necessary in order to grow beyond addictions and compulsions.
Most of us have some sort of relationship with a God of our own understanding. But many do not…or feel like they cannot. Finding a power greater than oneself becomes a greater challenge when this is the case. I once counseled a group of eight adolescent boys who had suffered unimaginable trauma at the hands of predatory adults. For them, it was almost impossible to trust in a God who they believed allowed them to be wounded so deeply. But their desire for healing was greater than their pain and fear. Each one of them embarked on an exploration to find a Higher Power. One boy chose the Universe because of its obvious endlessness. One, who was the son of a math professor, chose numbers because there is no beginning or end to them. Another chose nature with all of its awesome power and beauty. Each of them was able to find something that was bigger than they were. The result was a restoration of resilience, hope, serenity, wisdom, and courage. These boys taught me how to Let Go and Let God.
Grant Me Serenity; A Calm in the Midst of Chaos
There is a secret to finding serenity. You cannot hope to find it through pursuit. In that way, it is like trying to capture the beauty and grace of a butterfly. Though you may learn all about serenity in a study of philosophy or divinity, there are only facts to be gained there. You might catch a butterfly in a net, but all you will have is a pretty bug. However, if you sit quietly in a garden of flowers, the essence of beauty and grace will alight on you in the form of a butterfly. If you let go of your expectations and give up trying to control the outcomes of everything, the essence of serenity will find its way to your heart. Religions, self-help groups, and life coaches try to provide us with directions and gimmicks which might guide us toward it, but the pathway is really not so complicated. Serenity can be achieved simply by accepting life on life’s terms, letting go, and embracing the many gifts you’ve already received.
Grant Me Courage; You Are an Agent of Change
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”~ Mohandas Gandhi
Gandhi was a great teacher of courage. It is not the courage of violence over tyranny, but rather the courage of a warrior who is willing to die for his beliefs while refusing to kill for them. When we let go of our stranglehold on the belief that we must control in order to overcome, something wonderful happens. We become agents of real change. Jesus was very clear about this notion when he offered The Great Commandment. The Buddha instructed of The Dhamma which is a code of conduct rejecting violence while embracing moral change. These principles are embraced by all religions.
The kind of courage required to live a good and happy life is not so much about overcoming evil. It is about facing every situation without shrinking from the truth. It requires standing tall while holding on to your morals and not allowing the storm to throw you off course. It doesn’t mean we resist change. It means we become active agents of change as we grow in wisdom.
Grant Me Wisdom; A Compass to Guide You Home
It has been written that King Solomon asked for only one gift from Yahweh. His prayer was not for more wealth or power, but for wisdom. Wisdom guides us with what Senator Ted Kennedy called a ‘True Compass’ which displaces an emptiness found inside each of us and provides an awareness of the right direction to take.
Wisdom involves knowledge and experience but knowledge and experience do not necessarily provide wisdom. The gift of wisdom comes with when there is an openness to the ups, downs, and uncertainties of everyday life. It is a deep understanding that everything passes and plays out over time which offers us a feeling of calm and balance. It gives us a sense of tolerance and the knowledge that we are all connected with each other and with all things. It requires that we live fully in the present moment with acceptance of the past and willingness for the future.
Happiness and Peace; Played from the Inside Out
We have discovered that serenity, courage, and wisdom are the ingredients for a happiness and peace recipe. When combined, they should be allowed to reach a temperature of about 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. In other words, it’s an inside job. There are several ways to get there. One of the most popular trends is through the practice of mindfulness meditation (or what I call iMindfulness). Regular devotion and prayer time is just as good. It is important to be consistent with these by allocating at least ten minutes a day to them.
Finally, use The Serenity Prayer freely and often. Memorize it. When troubling situations show up (as they are bound to do) use the words as a silent mantra.
This will activate your True Compass and set you on the better course. Remember that forces on the outside will be both hot and cold. Storms will blow up out of nowhere. Material things will promise comfort and can certainly provide temporary joy…but they are transient. Other people will walk in and out of your life “like busboys in a restaurant” but you will remain until the very end.
Now take that longer look into a brighter mirror. Look at you! You look marvelous. After all, peace and happiness were always that close.
Robert Kenneth Jones
is an innovator in the treatment of addiction and childhood abuse. ,In a career spanning over four decades, his work helping people recover from childhood abuse and addiction has earned him the respect of his peers.
“There’s a hero, if you look inside yourself” ~ Mariah Carey
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, before there were digital reminders everywhere, before we measured life with clocks strapped to our wrists, before seconds and minutes were so crucial to our financial wellbeing, there lived in a kingdom now almost forgotten, a small child who was destined to shape the future of the universe. I bet you’d like to hear the rest of the story. So would I. But it is a tale that has yet to be fully told. It’s waiting for some more beginning, a compelling middle, and a happy (or even a-not-so-happy) ending. In that way, it is like our own stories waiting to be told. Because it is well known that nothing starts without a story.
The telling of your own personal story is one of the most important things you can do. The unique journey each of us travels is far from insignificant. Nothing will ever duplicate it and nobody can ever experience the life given so exclusively for you. It is the story of a hero. The triumphs, trials, adventures, adversities, joys, and tragedies tell a tale which absolutely must be told. It is more than a shame to keep its’ passages secret. If you do…if it remains hidden…then how will this life be of benefit to others? No matter how young or old, you have lived and learned. You have fought and survived. Revealing those truths will serve as a touchstone for someone else if only you are willing to share them.
A Powerful Medicine; Healing the Hero with Listeners
I have always been a storyteller. Some of my fondest memories are of sitting by a fireplace telling scary sagas to delight my little cousins, practicing jokes to tell friends, and making up fairy tales for my children. But I found little value in my own story until I connected with Alcoholics Anonymous. AA is all about people sharing their life experiences. This is the first step in their recovery from addictive disorders. The Big Book of AA tells its followers; “Our stories disclose in a general way what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now. If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any length to get it — then you are ready to take certain steps.” It then goes on to devote about 1/3 of the book to personal stories. This is a foundation of their prescribed process of healing. I cannot count the number of times when a chosen speaker disclosed the tale of his life only to have one or more people in the group come up to him saying something amounting to; “I felt like you just told my story. I always thought I was alone in what I have been through.” The power of such storytelling has healed thousands of people over the years. Suddenly we unique individuals are all connected through a common journey.
“When we tell our stories and others bear witness, the notion that we are disconnected beings suffering alone dissolves under the weight of evidence that this whole concept is merely an illusion and that millions of others are suffering just like us.” ~ Lissa Rankin M.D in Psychology Today
There is evidence which supports the notion that listening to personal stories helps to control high blood pressure as effectively as the addition of more medications. The Annals of Internal Medicine has published results of a study which monitored the blood pressure of nearly 300 African-American patients who lived in urban areas and had known hypertension. The researchers at three-month intervals gave half the patients videos of similar patients telling stories about their own experiences.
The rest of the patients received videos of more generic and impersonal health announcements on topics like dealing with stress. While all the patients who received the storytelling DVD had better blood pressure control on average, those who started out with uncontrolled hypertension were able to achieve and maintain a drop as significant as it had been for patients in previous trials testing drug regimens. Dr. Thomas K. Houston, lead author of the study and a researcher at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Bedford, Mass tells us that “Storytelling is human. We learn through stories, and we use them to make sense of our lives. It’s a natural extension to think that we could use stories to improve our health.”
There are other health benefits to telling your story and listening to someone else telling their story. Heath care experts advise us that you actually turn off the body’s stress responses and toxic stress hormones. At the same time relaxation responses turn on increasing oxytocin, dopamine and endorphins. Not only does this turn on your self-repair mechanisms and function as preventative medicine (or treatment if you’re sick), it also relaxes your nervous system and helps reduce depression, anxiety, fear, anger, and feelings of disconnection.
When thinking about the healing power of storytelling, I am reminded of a version the ancient King Arthur, Fisher King, tale in which Arthur is mortally wounded in battle but is unable to die due to a magical spell cast by Merlin who informs him that the only way his wound can heal is by pouring liquid over it from Jesus’ cup from The Last Supper, The Holy Grail. Arthur sends his knights to the four corners of the world searching for it to no avail. The king lies on a table in the great hall suffering unbearable pain from the open, festering gash in his side. One day, the cooks’ boy brings Arthur his dinner finding the horrible sight of suffering.
He innocently inquires what has happened. Arthur summons his strength and tells the boy his story from Excalibur in the stone, the Round Table, the battle with The Black Knight which left him in such a condition, and a futile search for The Grail. The boy asks Arthur to describe the cup only to reveal that he has just seen such a vessel. It was located just out of sight behind a curtain in the room where the king lay. Arthur commands the boy to retrieve the cup. They pour wine and water over the wound and it disappears immediately. All that was needed for healing was the teller of the story, a willing listener, and faith that the answers are always nearby.
Playback; Bringing Stories to Life & Life to Communities
“To be heard…really listened to and understood…is such a gift. But to tell your story and see it come to life through Playback is simply stunning. Playback helped us laugh until our sides hurt, cry with empathy, gasp with recognition. Words can barely express how exceptional the experience of Playback truly is.” ~ Pastor Carla Meisterman, Balmoral Presbyterian Church, Memphis, TN
There is a community based movement called Playback International which began in upstate New York in 1975. Since its inception, their concept of instant improvisational theatre has spread across the globe to six continents. Playback can be found in cities all around the United States from New York, to Memphis, to Austin to San Francisco. Playback Theatre happens in theatres, workshops, retreats, schools, businesses , clinical settings, and churches. Audiences or group members tell stories from their lives and watch them enacted on the spot. It draws people and communities closer as they experience their common humanity.
I spent part of a day with one of the Playback Memphis programs recently. This group, called Performing the Peace “brings police officers, ex-offenders and youth together in a safe and open setting in which the participants examine and explore the barriers and solutions to positive community police relations.” But it is so much more than that. Executive Director Virginia Murphy, who facilitated the group during my visit, says that Performing the Peace “helps people be human with each other.” A mother of two preteen boys, Murphy has dedicated her life to connecting people from all walks of life. She is convinced there is no better way than telling, listening to and then acting out personal stories. I must agree. An hour and a half with members of Performing the Peace was akin to the many psychodramas I conducted as a therapist for abused teenagers and with adults who struggle with substance abuse disorders. But, once again, it was so much more than that. This unlikely mix of police officers and folks who had been released from prison shared their deepest joys, sorrows , and stressors. They did not hand out advice. They offered listening ears, empathy and real compassion. Then, near the end of the group, Playback members acted out some of the stories. It left everyone more connected than I have ever experience in such a short time. The open dialog between members of the Memphis Police Department and people who have been through the criminal justice system create previously unimaginable connecting. One of the officers described to me how he is doing Mindfulness walks through the most violent streets in the city.
If you want to make your story come to life and would like to build community in your area, I strongly suggest that you contact a local Playback Theatre. They are eager to include everyone.
A Golden Age of Storytelling; Unveiling Your Hero
As I have asserted, you are the hero in a novel that no one else can write. If you leave it untold we will all be deprived. And now, in this golden age of storytelling, the ways to unfold, write, verbalize and record personal stories are opened through a variety of forums. I will mention three of my favorites;
StoryCorps has studios around the country in which you can record the stories of people who have given meaning to your life. They are played regularly on NPR and even stored at The Library of Congress. StoryCorps even has an app for your mobile device so that you can record and upload these stories from the comfort of your own home.
Our friends at ChaplainUSA have been digitally capturing the stories of heroic American Police Chaplains at their online site. The words of wisdom and compassion overflow as you watch the videos presented.
Getting Started; Know What Makes You Unique By Creating Six-Word Memoirs
Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway was once challenged to write a story in only six words. His response was this;
“For Sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.”
Back in November 2006, SMITH Magazine asked readers to send in their own Six-Word Memoirs. They were meant to be short life stories which would be shared in the publication. So many people responded that the Six-Word Memoir project formed and grew wings. Stories have ranged from the bittersweet (“Cursed with cancer, blessed with friends”) and poignant (“I still make coffee for two”) to the inspirational (“Business school? Bah! Pop music? Hurrah”) and hilarious (“I like big butts, can’t lie”).
The Six-Word Memoir project has become a global phenomenon and a bestselling book series. Six-Word Memoirs have been featured in hundreds of media outlets from NPR to The New Yorker and covered on tens of thousands of blogs. Hundreds of thousands of people have shared their own short life story as well as in classrooms, churches, and at live Six-Word “slams” across the world.
I have used the Six-Word Memoir project in counseling groups and as an interactive presentation for over a decade. Initially, I used it as an icebreaker but soon it became a powerful tool to inspire and encourage conversations which get to the bottom of how kids and adults are experiencing their lives. The memoirs disclose in six words what might have been impossible otherwise.
The Six-Word Memoir is a great way to get started with the process of writing your story. It gives a foundation for where you are right now and provides insight into your unique journey.
You can download instructions on how to write your Six-Word Memoir below.
Write Now; There Is No Time Like The Present
The process of writing your story, whether using the Six-Word Memoir or some other method can only begin with your effort here and now. There is no time like the present.
Our stories carry messages of empathy, compassion, honesty, and faith. They will connect us in ways like no other. A kind of spiritual awakening occurs when we finally discover that we are, on one hand unique, and on the other hand never alone in our struggle. For, as Joseph Campbell said, the heroes of all time go before us.
Robert Kenneth Jones
is an innovator in the treatment of addiction and childhood abuse. ,In a career spanning over four decades, his work helping people recover from childhood abuse and addiction has earned him the respect of his peers.
Hatred is a powerful force and something we all have the capacity to experience. It’s part of being human. It’s a feeling embedded deep within us. It’s just that some people feel its pull more deeply.” ~ Guy Raz (TED Radio Hour)
I think that we are in trouble. Flood waters of hate are threatening the very fabric of who we are. When growing up in Danville, Illinois six decades ago we were not even allowed to use the word hate in my home. Now I hear it every day. My grandfather’s motto, “Don’t Worry, Don’t Hurry and Don’t Hate” seems passe.
One of the things going on to address a growing concern about this rise in hate has Oscar-winning filmmakers Steven Spielberg and Alex Gibney participating as executive directors of a six-part docuseries entitled “Why We Hate” which is headed to The Discovery Channel. Production is in high gear with a release date scheduled for some time in 2019. “Why We Hate” will tell stories from the past and present to help us understand the nature of this emotion which is, to greater or lesser degrees, shared by everyone. They are drawing on extensive research in all fields of study. This series comes at a time when we seem to be drowning in this tide of hate.
A social media study by SafeHome.org released in February 2017 reported that there were at least 917 organized hate groups in the United States. The study was based on data collected by the Southern Poverty Law Center. It specifically looked at the presence of hate groups on Twitter and found that the number of likes and comments on hate group accounts grew by 900 percent from 2014-2016. Their graphics depicting the concentration and makeup of hate groups is quite disturbing.
What Hate Is and Where It Comes From;
I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain. ~ James A. Baldwin
Hate has been explored by psychologists, neuroscientists, anthropologists, sociologists , and historians. One of the strongest of emotions, it comes to us all at one time or another.
Gordon Allport was a psychologist who pioneered the study of hate in the early 1900’s. His findings have been used extensively as the Allport Scale which measures the manifestation of prejudice. Dr. Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychiatry, taught that hate is “an ego state that wishes to destroy the source of its unhappiness.” Both Allport and Freud might agree that hate wants us to be a terminator. Hate identifies people, places and things as “the other” directing our anger and hostility toward them. We cannot be happy until their perceived threat is eliminated. Sometimes we gather in communities of like-minded people to form hate groups combining forces to overcome our identified enemy.
What is happening inside your brain when you feel hatred? In a recent study, researchers have compared fMRI brain scans to answers that subjects had given on a questionnaire about people they hated. The more intensively a person said that they hated another person, the more powerfully their frontal cortex lit up at the sight of the person. Parts of this so-called “hate circuit” are also involved in initiating aggressive behavior.
“Hate is in our DNA. If we begin to understand this, that’s how we begin to get to a point of being able to hope that we can overcome hate.” ~ Alex Gibney
We are wired to hate because of DNA which has evolved through fear of an unknown “other’ from the beginning of humankind. The threat of such unknown and unfamiliar others was met with violence and tribal warfare. It comes to us through a need for our in-group to survive an out-group as defined by behavioral researcher and renowned life coach Patrick Wanis. Hatred is written about in Genesis, by ancient Greeks, the Buddhist Dhammapada and throughout the books which chronicle our history. But who we hate is learned. There is no DNA to make us racist. In the words of the Rogers and Hammerstein standard “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught.”
Patrick Wanis goes on to tell us that; “Hatred begins when we believe that an object/person/group is not valuable, insignificant, unworthy. Next, we become fearful of them believing that they are a threat to us or our survival. Next, we begin to devalue them, reducing or neutralizing their humanity and progressing to the belief that we must eradicate that person or group, and, reversing our moral code so that we believe that we are fully justified in doing so and it is our right to do so. Eventually, that behavior becomes accepted, normal and promoted.”
Genocide and The Holocaust; Definitive Examples of Hates Outpouring
Drowning in rising tides of hate has too often led humanity to horrific acts of genocide. Genocide is the deliberate killing of large groups of people of a particular ethnic group, religion or nationality because of extreme hatred. In the past 100 years, tens of millions of men, women, and children have lost their lives in genocide. We have witnessed it in Armenia (1915), Cambodia (1975) Bosnia (1991) and Darfur (2003). Much attention (albeit too late to help at the time) has been given to the April 1994 genocide in Rwanda when the Hutu militia and elements of the Rwandan military begin the systematic massacre of Tutsis.
Within 100 days around 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus are killed; Hutu militias fled to Zaire, taking with them around 2 million Hutu refugees. But the most devastating and haunting example of hatred and genocide, known as The Holocaust, came after Germany’s Nazi Party took power in 1933. A highly organized strategy of persecution and murder called The Final Solution was aimed at the ethnic purification of Germany. Under the direction of Adolph Hitler, six million Jews and five million Slavs, Roma, disabled, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, and political and religious dissidents were killed during The Holocaust.
“Someone who hates one group will end up hating everyone – and, ultimately, hating himself or herself.” ~ Elie Wiesel
Much has been written about The Holocaust by historians and by its’ victims. But especially compelling are the memoirs of children. Teenagers tell us their stories in The Diary of Anne Frank, and in Night by Elie Wiesel. Most recently the accounts of eight-year-old Steven Ross can be found in his book “From Broken Glass.” He describes the horror of living through ten death camps including Auschwitz, Dachau and Bergen Belsen. Young Steven endured unimaginable acts of hatred and violence. He survived through cunning resourcefulness, determination, and the help of his fellow prisoner.
Now in his 90’s, Steven’s life has been one in which he turned his awful experiences by dedicating himself to service and education in order to “inspire people to stand up to hate and fight for freedom and justice.” He devoted himself to underprivileged youth, teaching that despite overwhelming obstacles in their lives they could overcome suffering like he had. Over almost forty-years as a psychologist in the Boston city schools, that was exactly what he did. Then, after retiring, he organized the creation of the New England Holocaust Memorial which has been visited by millions. A Study Guide of “From Broken Glass” has been created for high schools to show what happens when hatred, anti-Semitism, extreme prejudice, and discrimination are allowed to flourish while individuals, institutions, and governments fail to take a stand.
Bullying, Cyber-Bullying and Hate Speech; How We Experience Everyday Hate
The Holocaust and extreme hate in genocide may seem distant and remote to most of us. We have never experienced it, nor can we identify with such horror. But we do come into contact with hate regularly in the form of bullying, cyber-bullying and hate speech. You can hear it and feel its palpability on cable news and talk radio. It walks the halls of schools and haunts our places of work and play. It overflows on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram despite promises from the companies to contain or eliminate it.
The Centers for Disease Control and Department of Education released the first federal uniform definition of bullying in 2014. Contained in their publication “Bullying Surveillance Among Youths,” The definition includes
- unwanted aggressive behavior
- observed or perceived power imbalance
- repetition of behaviors or high likelihood of repetition.
The two recognized modes of bullying are direct (which occurs in the presence of the targeted person) and indirect (which is behind the back of the target in the form of rumors). There are four kinds of bullying identified as;
- verbal (includes cyber attacks)
- relational (efforts to harm the reputation or relationships)
- damage to property
The federal government cites the following national statistics on their stopbullying.gov site;
- Been Bullied
- 28% of U.S. students in grades 6–12 experienced bullying
- 20% of U.S. students in grades 9–12 experienced bullying
- Bullied Others
- Approximately 30% of young people admit to bullying others in surveys
- Seen Bullying
- 70.6% of young people say they have seen bullying in their schools
- 70.4% of school staff have seen bullying. 62% witnessed bullying two or more times in the last month and 41% witness bullying once a week or more
- When bystanders intervene, bullying stops within 10 seconds 57% of the time
- Been Cyberbullied
- 9% of students in grades 6–12 experienced cyberbullying
- 15% of high school students (grades 9–12) were electronically bullied in the past year
- However, 55.2% of LGBTQIA students experienced cyberbullying
- 9% of students in grades 6–12 experienced cyberbullying
- How Often Bullied
- In one large study, about 49% of children in grades 4–12 reported being bullied by other students at school at least once during the past month, whereas 30.8% reported bullying others during that time.
- Defining “frequent” involvement in bullying as occurring two or more times within the past month, 40.6% of students reported some type of frequent involvement in bullying, with 23.2% being the youth frequently bullied, 8.0% being the youth who frequently bullied others, and 9.4% playing both roles frequently.
Their research also shows the LGBTQIA youths, kids with disabilities and socially isolated children are at the highest risk of all forms of direct and indirect bullying.
The American Bar Association defines hate speech as “speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits.” It does not have any fixed meaning under United States law nor is there a hate speech exception in the First Amendment of the Constitution. In other words, hateful ideas are just as protected under the First Amendment as other ideas. But hate speech and hate crimes are increasing.
I just reviewed my Facebook feed and easily found posts made within the past several hours touting positive attributes of hate groups, vicious and vulgar slurs against both the 44th and 45th Presidents of the U.S., anger with all Muslims, and a joke about ‘colored people’. These were all made by adults who fully recognize that children and other impressionable people might see, believe and act upon what they have written. It just seems to me that we are losing our very valuable and precious sense of decency. The words of Joseph Welch to Senator Joseph McCarty ring in my ears; “You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”
What You Do Matters; Arm Yourself With Compassion
The opposite of hate is not love. The opposite of hate is the realization of our common humanity and the action we should take is to find common ground. Though rather hard to swallow, it would be safe to say that everyone has been hated and everyone has been a hater. We are all broken people.
Much of the action suggested for dealing with hate seems to underscore the idea of fighting it and stopping it which reminds me of the effort to reduce drug abuse by Just Saying No. On the other hand, there are groups across the country that are striving to combat hate in different and positive ways.
The National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ) is a human relations organization that promotes inclusion and acceptance by providing education and advocacy while building communities that are respectful and just for all. There are great books to guide us on the way such as Sally Kohn’s “The Opposite of Hate: A Field Guide to Repairing Our Humanity.”
The inter-religious group Sojourners, which operates out of Washington, DC has an impressive online presence with study guides and articles. The CEO, Jim Wallis, tells us to be strong and courageous in the face of hate saying; “There are times when just being appalled by bigotry isn’t enough when just opposing racist words is no longer adequate, or only being a critic of hateful and violent rhetoric is morally insufficient. There are times when must find the courage to speak and to act — and to intervene in situations of violence and hate on behalf of those who are being attacked.”
Important words appear on a banner at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington, DC. It simply says, “What You Do Matters.” What each of us does, or fails to do, says, or fails to say matters more than we can imagine. We are responsible for our behavior.
We are responsible for each other. After my visit to the museum, I was able to re-examine how powerful and important the actions of one person can be in terms of promoting dignity, diminishing hatred and making a difference.
Every time we reach out and provide compassion, lift a spirit with delight, forgive a transgression, or otherwise give of our time and resources, something wonderful happens. If we do not reach out, lift and give, what happens is worse than nothing. What happens in the void of our action can be devastating. We must focus on being instruments of good today if we are to control the floodwaters of hate. The impact, either way, could be felt for an eternity.
Bob Jones’ blog, An Elephant for Breakfast, testifies to the power of the human spirit to overcome the worst of life’s difficulties. We encourage you to visit and share this rich source of healing, inspiration and meditation.
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Bob Jones’ blog An Elephant for Breakfast
“Many people are alive but don’t touch the miracle of being alive.” – Thích Nhất Hạnh
As a long-time practitioner of meditation, centering prayer and mindfulness, I have taken the liberty of coining the word iMindfulness. There is a good reason for my new term. As the younger generation recently has been tagged iGen, it seems only right that the meditation practice they are being exposed to in a variety of activities be similarly branded. Just to clarify, I am being a bit sardonic. But I still want to lay claim to the word.
There has been much hand-wringing by older folks who belong to The Silent Generation, their later cohort Baby Boomers, and even from some Generation Xers about the youngsters who will inherit the planet. While we range from curmudgeons who brag that they ‘don’t even know how to turn on a computer’ to those who look up from there smartphones less than teenagers, there is one thing we seem to have in common. We are fully engaged in relieving our anxiety about aging and mortality by complaining to our young replacements that we lived in better times and that they are going about life in the wrong way. This is an old tradition called Intergenerational Carping. The Silent Generation was told that comic books would ruin their brains. Boomers were similarly warned about TV. So, despite the fact that griping can sometimes be one of my default activities, I would like to align myself with our beneficiaries.
Kids are better off than we think. The ongoing Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey conducted every two years by the federal government proves this to be true across categories. Young people watch television less, use addictive substances less, fight less, have unprotected sex less, and smoke cigarettes less than we did. Studies also show that they are smarter, more creative and better communicators than us. They are not without problems though. Childhood and adolescent obesity is on the rise. Teen depression and suicide rates are skyrocketing. And, often following the lead of their elders, kids spend too much time in front of smartphones and other handheld devices. A recent study links increased screen time for teens to ADHD symptoms. These things concern me. I propose that Mindfulness and iMindfulness could be a way to overcome some of these problems.
Mindfulness and iMindfulness; Plug in to Recharge and Reboot
Mindfulness is a practice which teaches us how to live in the moment and without judgment. It broadens perspective and increases awareness of what is going on around us while enabling us to be more in tune with our thoughts and feelings. It allows us to slow down and helps us regulate or to be in better control of emotions and stress levels. It also introduces a level of reflection and self-awareness that people often don’t have when they’re scrolling through feeds online.
iMindfulness is simply digital mindfulness. It uses the very devices which might be causing problems to lead young and older users into the Mindful Revolution and discover new secrets of health and happiness. There is certainly a growing body of evidence suggesting clear benefits. Headspace and Smiling Mind are two online sites and apps which are great for kids while 10% Happier is popular with adults. There are many others from which to choose. This much is certain. We are not going to put down our mobile devices anytime soon. So why not use them to improve and maintain our neurological and psychological well-being! Because that is just what a regular mindfulness practice does. It is a fine way to recharge and reboot in an overstimulated world.
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom” ~ Victor Frankl
Breathing; Good Habits are that Easy
Journalist, author, and ABC Nightline co-anchor Dan Harris encourages the use of mindfulness meditation. His practice started by simply watching his breath and meditating. By doing so, he stopped using drugs and resolved the conflict between meditation and his mega-busy competitive career. In his book and podcasts, he asserts that you can be a busy and ambitious person while still gaining all of the physical and mental health benefits of mindfulness. It only takes ten minutes a day to reduce stress, increase your focus and increase happiness. This is a pretty simple good habit to build because you don’t have to give up anything in its place. All you have to do is begin your daily online adventure by opening up Headspace (or other mindfulness apps) and give yourself a positive boost to wellness. With that, you are on your way to becoming iMindful.
Mindfulness uses the breath (inhaling and exhaling) as an object of concentration. When you focus on breathing you quickly become aware of your Monkey Mind which tends to jump from one thing to another. This simple attentiveness brings you back to the present moment and the richness of here and now. Concentrating on breathing is a good antidote for restlessness, anxiety, and even anger while helping you to relax. There is an immediate benefit to your physical and mental state.
Here is how to start as outlined by Diana Winston of Greater Good Science Center:
- Find a relaxed, comfortable position. You could be seated on a chair or on the floor on a cushion. Keep your back upright, but not too tight. Hands resting wherever they’re comfortable. Tongue on the roof of your mouth or wherever it’s comfortable.
- Notice and relax your body. Try to notice the shape of your body, its weight. Let yourself relax and become curious about your body seated here—the sensations it experiences, the touch, the connection with the floor or the chair. Relax any areas of tightness or tension. Just breathe.
- Tune into your breath. Feel the natural flow of breath—in, out. You don’t need to do anything to your breath. Not long, not short, just natural. Notice where you feel your breath in your body. It might be in your abdomen. It may be in your chest or throat or in your nostrils. See if you can feel the sensations of breath, one breath at a time. When one breath ends, the next breath begins.
- Be kind to your wandering mind. Now as you do this, you might notice that your mind may start to wander. You may start thinking about other things. If this happens, it is not a problem. It’s very natural. Just notice that your mind has wandered. You can say “thinking” or “wandering” in your head softly. And then gently redirect your attention right back to the breathing.
- Stay here for five to seven minutes. Notice your breath, in silence. From time to time, you’ll get lost in thought, then return to your breath.
- Check in before you check out. After a few minutes, once again notice your body, your whole body, seated here. Let yourself relax even more deeply and then offer yourself some appreciation for doing this practice today.
Though mindfulness meditation is not a habit that is goal oriented there are certain other gains achieved rather quickly by a regular ten minute practice. Chief among these are that you will no longer be so attracted to being distracted. Your inner and outer spaces become more interesting than your cyber-adventures. Kristin Neff, Ph.D. a leading researcher reported that even informal mindfulness practice was shown to be quite powerful in increasing self-compassion. Research does show that mindfulness is dose-dependent. Like exercise, the more you do it the better the outcome. Every little bit helps.
Using iMindfulness to Decrease Cyber Negatives and Increase Happiness
It has been pretty well established that too much screen time can be linked to some rather scary mental and physical health problems. There are over-zealous researchers like psychologist Jean Twenge who might lead us to believe that almost every fabric of society is at risk due to mobile devices in the hands of Millennials and iGens. The jury is still out on many of these studies. But there is good science which confirms that mindfulness has benefits that can counter or reverse the damage done by our cyber devices. Forbes recently identified six of these major benefits:
1. Mindfulness Reduces Anxiety
In a 2013 Massachusetts General Hospital study, 93 individuals with diagnosed generalized anxiety disorder were randomly assigned to an 8-week group intervention with mindfulness-based stress reduction. The group members had a significant reduction in anxiety.
2. Mindfulness Meditation Reduces Implicit Age and Race Bias
In a 2015 Central Michigan University study by Professor Adam Lueke, participants listened to either a mindfulness or a control audio. In this study, mindfulness meditation caused an increase in state mindfulness and a decrease in implicit race and age bias.
3. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy May Prevent And Treat Depression
Professor Willem Kuyken, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Oxford conducted a study which found that Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy helped to prevent depression recurrence as effectively as maintenance antidepressant medication did
4. Mindfulness Increases Body Satisfaction
Women who engaged in mindfulness meditation were shown in a study by researchers Ellen R. Albertson, Kristin D. Neff and Karen E. Dill-Shackleford, to experience a reduction in body dissatisfaction, body shame and contingent self-worth based on appearance, as well as greater gains in self-compassion and body appreciation
5. Mindfulness Meditation Improves Cognition
In a 2010 study published in Consciousness and Cognition Journal, researchers assigned 24 people in the intervention group. They received four sessions of mindfulness meditation training. The control had 25 people, and this group listened to an audiobook. Results showed that both the mindfulness meditation training group and the control group showed improved mood, but only meditation training reduced fatigue and anxiety and increased mindfulness. Moreover, brief mindfulness training significantly improved visuospatial processing, working memory , and executive functioning. Researchers concluded, “Our findings suggest that four days of meditation training can enhance the ability to sustain attention; benefits that have previously been reported with long-term meditators.”
6. Mindfulness Meditation Helps The Brain Reduce Distractions
Training the mind to focus and concentrate is becoming more critical than ever in this 24/7 world where our attention is being pulled in 100 different directions at once. In a Harvard study, researchers reported that “brain cells use particular frequencies, or waves, to regulate the flow of information in much the same way that radio stations broadcast at specific frequencies. One frequency, the alpha rhythm, is particularly active in the cells that process touch, sight , and sound in the brain’s outermost layer, called the cortex, where it helps to suppress irrelevant or distracting sensations and regulate the flow of sensory information between brain regions.”
In this study, participants went through an eight-week mindfulness training program. At the conclusion of the eight-week program, those who completed the mindfulness meditation training “made faster and significantly more pronounced attention-based adjustments to the alpha rhythm” than those in the control group.
Start Your iMindfulness Practice Today
Not so many years ago, we had to seek out mentors and teachers of meditation. I have sent clients to places like Snowmass, Colorado and on numerous rather expensive week long (and longer) retreats. But now it’s easy to learn the basics of mindfulness meditation through iMindfulness. There are both fee based and free courses, apps, YouTube Videos, podcasts and eBooks available to anyone who is interested . The only challenge is deciding to make it a daily habit. And, I have found through my own practice that this challenge is minimal when just tacking it on to our already established habit of checking social media, playing games or answering messages. You should soon find, as I have that you will be more aware of yourself and your surroundings. You will be more in control of your emotions during offline activities too. You might surprise yourself and enjoy life more fully.
“The most innovative people among us are breaking from traditional structures to become more flexible, more nurturing, and more collaborative.” ~ John Gerzema
There was no discussion about leadership style when I was growing up. I’m a Baby Boomer. The boss was the boss and what he (almost always a man) said was the final word. End of discussion. It was a top-down, autocratic system in which we often heard the phrase “my way or the highway.” This was common in the job market as well as schools, clubs, teams and civic organizations. Shared leadership and shared vision only existed to the degree allowed by the person in charge. Any equanimity was handed down from ‘on high’. Those principles and methods are pretty much dead and gone. Not entirely of course…some have re-emerged in governmental structures of late. But this kind of leadership is having its last gasp. We are becoming so interconnected that domineering, power-over models are unacceptable. The idea of success as winning through intimidation and blocking the upward mobility of others is now seen as morally corrupt. We are beginning to embrace an emerging kind of leadership that emphasizes power-with. It embodies heart and soul so that the organizations’ well-being is interwoven with the well-being and success of everyone.
Some eight to sixteen styles of leadership have developed over the past forty years. And, like the autocratic style, are becoming less effective when standing alone. Heart and Soul Leadership models which synthesize the positive aspects of each are beginning to show up in their place.
The Importance of Leadership; Steering Individual and Community Mission and Vision
Leadership is one of the most popular subjects and of great value to every kind of organization. Seminars, workshops, conferences, and a variety of classes are continually available to consumers of any age or stripe. And usually there is a big price tag associated with those proven to be most useful. For example, The University of Chicago Booth School of Business has a program offering in September, 2018 called Essentials Of Executive Leadership using the popular the Chicago Approach™. It lasts for four days and costs $10,500. Old timers like the Dale Carnegie even offer live online courses. A 2014 report put the value of this leadership training at close to $24.5 billion annually. That is up by $10 billion in just two years.
So why is leadership training and development so important today? We are guided by the vision of leaders. They steer the mission of organizations and teams within them. With our demographics changing so dramatically it is critical for everyone to reimagine their role and skill sets. About 10,000 baby boomers are retiring daily which means that a new generation of people will be guiding us. The digital age is here and concepts of leadership are rapidly changing along with the times. Even military and Law Enforcement Agencies are now engaging in leadership sharing styles to become more proactive and effective.
This is important information to process and absorb for Millennials and iGens (the post-millennial internet generation) as Boomers and GenXers step aside. The future will be in their hands. The worn out classic descriptions of leadership styles once dominating the scene such as autocratic, democratic, transformational, moral, participative, Laissez-Faire, and strategic won’t go far enough or provide adequately sustaining models for tomorrows organizations. Admittedly, those styles should not go away. Each of them is functional to one degree or another in accomplishing the two essential objectives critical to any organization’s effectiveness. These common leadership goals are:
- Setting the course and direction of the organization
- Influencing members to move in those directions
Leadership is both this simple and this complex. How will today’s young people approach these leadership goals and objectives differently than their parents and grandparents? They are placing the highest value on, and guided by, the underlying themes common to successful leadership as opposed to a specific advocated style. These themes are dedicated to common mission and vision while emphasizing personal health, safety, well-being, and success. This embodies the heart and soul of their organizations, setting the course and influencing individual direction. One of the more publicized versions of Heart and Soul Leadership has been researched and written about by Gaurav Bhalla. He has researched and written about this shift in style and theme calling for Soulful Leadership. Bhalla encourages leaders to steer away from market-centric to a human-centric focus that aspires to greater inclusion and equality.
Developing Mission, Vision and Value Statements; A Project for Heart and Soul Leadership
The first and foremost principle in creating an effective Heart and Soul Organization is to recognize that everyone has some kind of skills and leadership potential. We only have to look for it and develop it. One very effective way to do this is through the development of mission, vision and value statements. Most organizations have already adopted these, but in light of our ever-changing world, it might be an idea to reimagine them with the entire group or in small subgroups. Here are some things to know as you put them down on paper.
The Mission Statement defines the purpose of your work and the effect you intend to have on the world around you. It states what you do for others and the approach you follow as you aim to achieve the aspirations you’ve set for yourself, your organization, or your business. Think of your mission as the route you’ll follow to achieve your vision. Stephen Covey calls it your constitution.
The Vision Statement defines your long-term aspirations. It explains why you’re doing what you’re doing and the ultimate good you want to achieve through your success. Think of your vision as the picture of where you ultimately want your work to lead you.
The Value Statement defines your beliefs about your responsibility to others. It articulates and explains what you believe in. It can include specific descriptions of how you want to pursue your core principles.
A great way to create these statements starts with each member of the organization creating and writing their own set of statements. Some groups break into the process by having individuals write Six-Word Memoirs or Life Stories. This helps focus people on who they are and where they want to go.
Here are some questions and a guideline for composing personal statements:
- About Mission: How do you define your purpose as an individual? What do you want to do to emphasize this purpose?
Example: “To be a decent person who is respected by my family, friends, and my community. I will be there to lend a hand, keep an open mind, and will get involved in issues that matter most to me.”
- About Vision: How do you imagine a better future for yourself? What would it look like if you were more authentic in all you do by pursuing your true passions and interests?
Example: “I am more courageous every day. There is extra time for family, friends, activities, and fun. I don’t pretend to be something I’m not. I am successful and living the way I want to live.”
- About Values: What are your most important core values and moral foundations? How will you express them in your everyday life?
Example: “I will try to be compassionate and honest when dealing with people. But I will also strive to be more assertive so I don’t get pushed around. I will use money in conscientious ways to enjoy life while benefiting those who are hurting. I love being in nature and will respect the environment leaving it better than I found it”
Once this is accomplished, the organization is well prepared to create or reinvent corporate statements. They should be clear, powerful and broad enough to set the course for the group, inspire members to follow them, and explain your purpose to stakeholders. Based upon the individual statements they have already created; ask them what they think the mission, vision, and values of the organization should be. Heart and Soul Leadership empowers all members to provide valuable input into the process. Once the information is gathered, a team of people can synthesize it and write overall statements. The final versions are then presented in large or small group settings and adopted as the future direction of the greater organization.
Empowering Practices; Guiding Skill Sets in Heart and Soul Leadership
Specific practices can be employed to spirit the direction of an organization driven by Heart and Soul Leadership. The following series of skills help foster the acceptance of group goals and create high-performance expectations.
- Exhibit confidence devoid of arrogance. Speak with passion and conviction and be knowledgeable about what you are discussing.
- Find ways to consistently articulate your personal and corporate vision. Be a good model of that vision by showing commitment to your own action. Inspiration comes from a good role model.
- Don’t be afraid to take risks. The organization will not grow if you hide behind past performance or outdated policies and procedures. If something new is needed…marshal your people and create it.
- Always be organized while flexible and open-minded. Disorganization never works but being overly structured is equally destructive. At times, it is more effective to go with the flow, take it as it comes and explore each new opportunity (keeping in mind your goals and objectives).
- Know the strengths and weaknesses of yourself and others. Being a leader does not always mean that you are the most intelligent or capable person in a group. If you are truly passionate about the area you are leading in, not only will you be successful, but there is no end to what you can do.
- Be fair to everyone in the group. Never play favorites. Let everyone know whats going on and make sure they have the same chances to succeed.
- Be optimistic. Optimism is what is needed to change the way things work. “What you expect tends to happen,” says Gary Dees, president of Leadership Messenger Academy.
- Embrace Inner-Coaching™ which involves shifting from a negative mindset to a positive mindset, the willingness to challenge your thinking when it might not square with reality, your knowing tools for best managing our stress, practicing ways to counteract the voice of the inner critic and using strategies that support you to stay resilient when things are not going your way.
- Develop compelling directions. Evidence suggests that developing directions account for the largest proportion of a leader’s impact. This set of practices is aimed at helping colleagues develop shared understandings about the organization and its activities and goals that can underscore a sense of purpose or vision. People are motivated by goals which they find personally compelling, challenging, and achievable.
Exciting New Leadership in an Exciting New Era
Heart and Soul Leadership is neither bottom-up nor top-down in style and substance. Rather, it is circular in nature. The tired idea of climbing a ladder of success is replaced by a stimulating dance of success. Each individual owns and develops his/her strong suit leadership skills and talents. Those are recognized by the group and employed to meet and exceed organizational goals defined in mission, vision, and values. All of the classic styles have merit and useful tools that can be used by Heart and Soul Leadership. We can customize and individualize them to fit into an ever-evolving model. This eclectic approach maximizes engagement of group members and promotes the highest degree of well-being and success for everyone, including stakeholders.
Businesses, civic groups, the labor market and other organizations will be faced with leadership challenges as Baby Boomers move into retirement. People will have more choices and leverage regarding where they work, when they work, and how they spend their free time. We will need to have embraced and integrated systems like Heart and Soul Leadership to cultivate interest and offer opportunities that lift up both the individual and the organization. It is the sure way that emerging generations will deliver the kind of success, energy, and clarity needed for the future.
Robert Kenneth Jones is an innovator in the treatment of addiction and childhood abuse. In a career spanning over four decades, his work helping people recover from childhood abuse and addiction has earned him the respect of his peers. His blog, An Elephant for Breakfast, testifies to the power of the human spirit to overcome the worst of life’s difficulties. We encourage you to visit and share this rich source of healing, inspiration , and meditation.
For over two decades, the Junior Police Academy has supported the efforts of police officers across the country who know first-hand the power of reaching out to the young people in their community.
The Junior Police Academy Leadership Manual walks you through the steps needed to create a program in your community.
“She stood in the storm and when the wind did not blow her way, she adjusted her sails.” ~ Elizabeth Edwards
We have arrived at a most exciting time in the course of dealing with childhood and adult trauma. We are now armed with science and technology which can bring about real healing for thousands and thousands of people whose lives have been severely damaged by terrible things that have happened to them.
The challenges facing those who provide care for people who have experienced trauma involve helping them find comfort initially and then by guiding them back to wholeness. A flood of emotions and uncertainty follow the death of a loved one, abuse, terrorism, the ravages of war and other such events. We have found that this toxic stress alters the brain, damages the psyche and compromises the physical health of victims. Now there is an approach that can help restore their lives. It combines three programs which use brain and behavioral sciences. Those who receive this kind of treatment dramatically increase their capacity to adapt, navigate and bounce back from adverse and challenging life experiences.
Resilience; Using ACEs and Trauma Informed Care to Change Lives
Resilience has been called “the birth of a new movement among pediatricians, therapists, educators and communities, who are using cutting‐edge brain science.” We are determined to fight back against the effects of childhood trauma (Developmental Trauma Disorder) and adult PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and end the nightmare of toxic stress.
Two incredible breakthroughs in brain science dealing with trauma have emerged over the past two decades.
- ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Kaiser Permanente’s research which includes the impact of traumatic experiences in childhood on adult health and health behaviors
- Trauma Informed Care programs which incorporate knowledge of the impact of early trauma into policies and programs along with new strategies which help people cope and heal
Despite the many positive benefits that have come from both contributions one thing seemed to be underemphasized. That is the development of practical, resilience-oriented interventions.
- Resilience is neuroscience-based action with practical skills to build greater capacity for self-regulation and self-care in clients.
Resilience is the process of adapting well. We all know that some victims of difficult situations find a way to bounce back from significant sources of stress. They seem to experience trauma but continue their lives without lasting negative effects. Many, however, experience impaired neurodevelopmental and immune system responses as well as development of high risk behaviors resulting in chronic physical and behavioral disorders. Poor performance on tasks, dysfunctional social and emotional functioning, cognitive problems, and substance use disorders has been linked to trauma.
This is not to say that there are a lucky few who are immune to the consequences of difficulty or distress. Emotional pain and sadness are common to everyone who suffers trauma or major adversity in their lives. The difference lies in resilience. And the road to resilience involves considerable energy and hard work.
The New Resiliency: A Focus on Healing Centered Engagement
Resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. It involves behaviors, thoughts, and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone.
Adults who suffer with PTSD and children with Developmental Trauma Disorder (DTD) respond quickly to Trauma Informed Care weaved with Resilience therapy interventions. This weaving of treatment models is called Healing Centered Engagement (HCE). It is an emerging field of positive psychology offering insight into the limits of treating symptoms. HCE focuses on enhancing the conditions that contribute to and strengthen the roots of well-being.
Trauma Informed Care moved us from the clinical question of “what is wrong with you” to “what happened to you” which shifted the focus from symptoms to action. Healing Centered Engagement as defined by Dr. Shawn Ginwright of San Francisco State University moves beyond “what happened to you” to “what’s right with you” and views those exposed to trauma as agents in the creation of their own well-being rather than victims of traumatic events.
Dr. Ginwright’s work with youth who suffer daily toxic stress in impoverished communities has been embraced by human service providers who work with both adults and children. It views trauma from a ‘community well-being/engagement’ model. These are some of the ways to build such healing centered programs.
Step One: Building Empathy
“When our wounds cease to be a source of shame and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.” ~ Henri Nouwen
One of the first things we learn as students of psychology or counseling is that we should avoid self-disclosure at all cost. I have long believed that this created a distance between the client (group or individual) and therapist which set up a barrier to empathy. The popularity of 12 Step Recovery Groups blew the efficacy of that model apart. We have found that when staff members self-disclose by telling their stories, a mutual vulnerability and power-sharing rather than power-over dynamic is established in which honesty can be risked safely. Individuals and groups begin to share feelings openly and a sense of well-being is established.
Step Two: Encourage the Dream and Foster Imagination
Healing begins when we admit that we have been harmed and injured. Ignoring or denying that bad things have happened force the mid-brain to hang on to survival behaviors. In this second element of HCE, participants come to believe that they will no longer be defined by that harm and injury.
Most folks who have suffered chronic trauma lose the ability to dream and imagine because they are overwhelmed by a focus on crisis and survival. Hopefulness and optimism are foreign concepts when the present moment is filled with toxic stress. Healing Centered Engagement treatment creates a variety of activities which enable the participants to play, to envision a different life, and to develop attainable goals toward realizing their dreams.
One way to start dreaming and imagining again is by conducting the popular Six-Word Memoir activity in a group setting. It is a powerful tool which inspires and encourages conversations through simple and non-risky personal storytelling. The process quickly gets to the bottom of how kids or adults are experiencing their lives. It also sets up the possibility of following dreams and building imagination which contribute to well-being.
Step Three: Grasping Reality and Taking Action
This step toward healing from PTSD or DTD deals with helping individuals to consider the situations, and even community practices, which have harmed them and others. Until those who suffer from toxic stress can externalize the reasons for their trauma they continue to blame themselves. When they begin to understand that poverty, substance use disorders, mental health issues and other factors have facilitated the pain they experience, a weight is lifted. At that point they can begin to mobilize personal strengths, community resources, spiritual practices and a variety of other elements in their culture to by taking ethical and loving action. This positive action of responding to the causes of trauma builds a sense of power and control over their lives. A good example of this is the March For Our Lives Organization which has empowered the victims of gun violence in schools. Such action is one of the most significant features in restoring well-being.
Our Trauma Won’t Define Us; Paul’s Journey to Well-Being
The Resilient stories of my clients have been life lessons for me. Several stand out as examples of how childhood trauma has been overcome by the power of empathy, imagining a new life and acting on it with compassion. Choosing one of them was easier than I thought. Paul’s inspirational transformation informs anyone who meets him that Trauma Informed Care along with Healing Centered Engagement foster remarkable recovery. He is an amazing fellow and a model of resilience.
Paul’s story is a very public one. He was one of the adolescent sexual abuse victims of a priest/coach during the 1970’s. News of the nightmarish behavior of the adult pederast hit newspapers and other media around 2003. Paul brought suit against the Roman Catholic Church and his perpetrator but was denied compensatory damages due to the statute of limitations. A book called “Denial: Abuse, Addiction, and a Life Derailed” was recently written by Nanette Kirsch and published in 2017 which details the tragic life of one of Paul’s teammates. It “confronts difficult truths with honesty and compassion in the life of the victim and his family with the goal of empowering others to break free of the past and embrace a life of wholeness and peace.” Paul collaborated in the writing.
To say that Paul had done about everything he could do to find wholeness after his teenage horrors is an understatement. He went over and above in search of healing and resilience. When we began meeting in individual sessions it became clear that he was financially successful, outgoing, athletic, and had a great sense of humor. He had confronted his abuser in court and tried hard to move on. But he disclosed to me that his exterior life was not a reflection of what was going on inside. He could not control his drinking, had extreme difficulty sleeping, and had some serious health problems exacerbated by PTSD. When I assured him that I understood, he looked at me with skeptical eye. Two other counselors had failed to guide him to well-being and this third attempt was just that…a third attempt at the same old issues. It was then that I disclosed by own struggles with substance abuse disorders and history of childhood sexual abuse. He opened up and committed to a new course of treatment.
The only thing that Paul lacked was the guidance of someone who could truly empathize with his situation. He had done most of the work already and was eager to be free. I can never forget the moment that he broke through the barrier which plagues so many victims of predators. He always felt that he was somehow to blame…that he could have stopped the abuse and saved others from his fate…if only he had just resisted and told responsible adults what was happening. We were role playing his abuse with him being an adult who rescues himself as a child when the lightbulb came on. He realized that NO child has power-over and adult who is abusing them. The child is NEVER responsible for what has happened.
In the years that have followed his successful Resilience treatment, Paul has continued to live a life that shines for all who seek recovery. He had a conversation with the former priest who abused him and offered forgiveness. He is active in a local church. His health has improved. Paul continues to collaborate with Nanette Kirsch and speaks to groups about the sexual abuse of boys. He unselfishly helps people who have a variety of needs due to disability, homelessness and who have financial hardship. In other words, he has, through resilience, turned Post Traumatic Stress into Post Traumatic Growth. As far as I’m concerned he is some kind of hero.
Individual Strategies for Building Resilience
People do not all react the same to traumatic and stressful life events. An approach to building resilience that works for one person might not work for another. These are some methods by which most of us can build resilience in overcoming the effects of trauma.
- Develop active coping skills: Learning to face fears. Problem-solving and managing emotions that accompany stress. This requires the help of professionals who understand positive psychology and resilience. A good Chaplain or counselor can guide clients to effective therapists. Get professional help if you feel like you are unable to function or perform basic activities of daily living as a result of a traumatic or other stressful life experience.
- Engage in physical exercise: Regular physical activity improves mood, mental and physical health. The effects of trauma are reduced and brain chemistry is altered.
- Take a positive outlook: Cognitive-behavioral strategies will enhance optimism and decrease pessimism. It is also good to develop and embrace a good sense of humor. Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems. You can’t change the fact that highly stressful events happened, but you can change how you interpret and respond to these events.
- Overcome moral injury and redevelop a strong moral compass: Chaplains, clergy and mentors can help you learn to live by your own meaningful principles and then put them into action through service to others. Meditation and spiritual practices help some people build connections and restore hope.
- Seek social support: Develop nurturing friendships and seek resilient role models through your community and with support groups. Being active in civic groups, faith-based organizations, or other local groups provides social support and can help with reclaiming hope. Assisting others in their time of need also can benefit the helper.
- Make connections. Good relationships with close family members and friends are important. Accepting help and support from those who care about you and will listen to you strengthens resilience.
- Move toward your goals. Develop some realistic goals. Do something regularly that enables you to move toward your goals. Focus on achievable tasks regardless of how small they may seem. There is one thing you can do today to move in the right direction.
Conclusion; Creating a Revised Life Story
A professional in my field recently remarked that ‘the story you tell about your life could be called a lie’. He said that each of us has a unique perspective about what has happened over the years and that it is seen through an imperfect and biased lens. I guess he has a point. We especially take the negative things someone may have said to us and spin them into stories we believe are true. And then we tell ourselves those stories over and over again. Once we’ve told ourselves our negative stories, exposed our faults repeatedly, and fully believe them to be true, we put ourselves in an almost impossible rut. We begin to live with who we think we are as opposed to who we really want to be.
There is something powerful about my colleagues’ assertions. When we engage in active Resilience, we find opportunities for self-discovery. People are able to learn something about themselves and find that they have grown as a result of their struggle. Many people who have experienced tragedies and hardship have reported better relationships, a greater sense of strength even while feeling vulnerable, an increased sense of self-worth, a more developed spirituality, and a heightened appreciation for life. Developing Resilience and maintaining a hopeful and optimistic outlook enables good things to happen. Resilience will lead us to the writing of a revised life story.
Robert Kenneth Jones is an innovator in the treatment of addiction and childhood abuse. In a career spanning over four decades, his work helping people recover from childhood abuse and addiction has earned him the respect of his peers. His blog, An Elephant for Breakfast, testifies to the power of the human spirit to overcome the worst of life’s difficulties. We encourage you to visit and share this rich source of healing, inspiration , and meditation.
Contact Bob Jones on Linkedin
Bob Jones’ blog An Elephant for Breakfast
CONFIRMS IMPORTANCE OF SROs AND BUILDING TRUST WITH YOUTH
On June 27, the FBI and the Department of Justice hosted the School Safety Summit. The event reviewed best practices and policies for ensuring school safety.
Nearly all the issues discussed are issues that have been publicly supported by the Junior Police Academy, including:
- Troubled students – Warning signs and Behavioral Indicators
- Crisis Intervention – Threat Assessments
- Information sharing – What’s working, What’s not
- Role of school resource officers (SROs), school crisis response plans, law enforcement response
- BJA and COPS-Grants and technical assistance
The Summit started with a presentation by the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit on a report it just released – AStudy of the Pre-Attack Behaviors of Active Shooters in the United States Between 2000 and 2013 – whichassessed the pre-attack behaviors of active shooters to address the question of “how do the active shooters behave before the attack?” and, if possible, “why did they attack?”
This was followed by a discussion on the need for a unified message and public service campaign similar to the “If you see something, say something” campaign.
The need for a unified message came up often in the day’s discussions, including a presentation by the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management on their Safe2Tell program (https://safe2tell.org/), which the State established after the Columbine tragedy in 1999.
The Safe2Tell program ensures that all Colorado students, parents, teacher and community members have access to a safe and anonymous way to report any safety concerns, with a focus on early intervention and prevention.
Summit Makes SROs and Programs Like JPA a Priority Moving Forward
Another significant focus of the Summit was the role of SROs and crisis response plans. SROs, a safety resource in and of themselves, can play a significant role in the local law enforcement agency’s understanding the safety plans of the schools in their district and in information sharing between law enforcement and school administrators.
Since 1992, the Junior Police Academy has provided ways for SROs to build a foundation of trust with students. Indeed, the program has instrumental in the Junior Police Academy has been bringing cops and kids together in a spirit of friendship.
“The program has never been more urgent or relevant to the problems we face as a nation,” states Phillip LeConte, JPA Executive Director.“School safety, the bond between police officers and citizens, even our national character – these are the issues for which JPA offers time tested, inexpensive, effective solutions.”
More on JPA recent gathering in Austin, Texas to chart further ways the program will partnership with schools and communities to truly make our schools safe.
Learn more at www.juniorpoliceacademy.org/
Det Eric Edson, a veteran of the Sheboygan Police Department, draws upon his years with the SPD’s Emergency Response Team (SWAT) to offer students insights into leadership in life and death situations.