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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

HARNESSING THAT REVOLUTIONARY SPIRIT ON YOUR CAMPUS

Revolution, change and disruption should not be negative words that lead to negative actions on your campus.  Take the recent example of a school in Colorado where they had to shut down the football program because of organized sexting issues that may possibly lead to legal issues and may force minors to register as sex offenders.  Another example lies in the revolution taking place on college campuses where administrators are forced to resign.  There is, and should be, a better way to harness the energy necessary for change before it leads to unforeseen and unwanted consequences.

 

First and foremost, people want to be heard and validated.  Did the president of a major university assure the student body that he heard them and that he would effect change?  Additionally, and maybe more importantly, did officials attempt to engage the very constituents calling for change?  Have we forgotten that our schools, both secondary and institutions of higher education, exist to serve the students and without students there would be no need for them?  I would argue that the revolutionary spirit stems from the students who realize they make up over 90% of the population of a school and with that realization, these students understand who really holds the power.

 

What do we do, most ask?  Without answers to that question, we set ourselves up for the negative publicity and the negative consequences we are seeing like key resignations, the shutting down of programs and merciless, career-killing press reports about otherwise well-meaning adults.

 

We continually question, and are amazed, that institutions of learning have ignored ways to “disrupt” status quo.  “What status quo,” you may ask.  The age old (and tired old) idea that only the administration, teachers and parents wield the power to dictate the behaviors of passionate youth!  As we are beginning to see, when students organize and mobilize, the power structure definitely changes.  We can and must harness this passion, energy and creativity utilizing those emotions and energies of the youth themselves.

 

As we see it, the only solution is engaging the very constituents who wield massive amounts of influence.  We have written, tested and perfected an entire manual of ways to harness the energy that the students on a campus bring and that make the students themselves instruments of change. There are strategies that help the teachers, administrators and parents aware of the changes coming and we have found that when students feel heard and are empowered to make the changes that THEY themselves identify, magic happens and dire consequences are mitigated.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Have A Catch


Where I grew up we never asked, “Do you want to have a catch?”  We said instead, “Do you want to play catch?”  Regardless of how the question was asked, for boys, and perhaps some girls, the invitation and implication seem universal.  Usually two boys (even if one is enjoying his second childhood) , ball gloves in one hand, a white, though often scuffed hardball in the other, stand facing each other and begin the simple yet mind-boggling, life-changing ritual of playing catch.

It’s the simple question Ray Kinsella posed to his father, John, in the Field of Dreams, arguably the best baseball movie ever made.  They were estranged, in fact, John passed away before they were able to reconcile their differences.  Only through the magic of the Field, were they given a second chance.  The beauty of this male rite is that it’s often best enjoyed when little or nothing is spoken.  Though words typically are few in number—“nice catch”, or “my bad” may most frequently be uttered—volumes are communicated.

The “pill” is simply a cork core, covered with two layers of rubber, wrapped with over one hundred fifty yards of wool and poly-cotton yarn, held together by two figure eight pieces of Holstein cowhide, hand- sewn with one hundred and eight stitches using eighty-eight inches of waxed red thread.  Horsehide covered the ball until the mid-1970’s when cows outnumbered horses, but little else has changed with this five ounce object of obsession. 

Six decades ago, my dad, with his flat-faced, odd-looking three-fingered glove, started tossing the baseball to me in an alfalfa field.  Three decades ago, I began the same ceremony with my sons on a neatly manicured lawn.  To this day, when together, we still seem to find a reason to toss something back and forth.  Today I perform this sacrament with grandchildren, each with varying degrees of skill and interest.  Yet I can’t imagine not doing it! It usually occurs spontaneously, though sometimes requires some planning and preparation including finding the gloves and ball and a decent piece of ground, but the true beauty is that catch can break out anytime, anywhere!  Backyards, streets, playgrounds, swimming pools, airports, living rooms, it doesn’t matter—I defy you to find a place where a game of catch can’t be celebrated!

And so it continues.  Those of you who have or are currently imbibing in this art form, I implore you to never stop!  If you’ve quit, begin again, there is no age limit!  Buy a glove if your mom threw yours out or sold it at a yard sale when you went to college.  Find a baseball, Major League Baseball uses over 600,000 per season alone.  There’s always going to be someone around who is dying to play catch as much as you are.  The unexplainable satisfaction achieved doesn’t have to be understood, just enjoyed. 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

INTENTIONALITY


Intentionality and purposefulness are very intriguing to me.  It’s become trendy to talk about a purposeful life and living with intentional goals in mind.  However, we frequently confuse results and outcomes with the essential behaviors necessary to reach this admirable goal.

In our work, we are often contracted by individuals and groups who want to make a difference.  They either want less bad stuff or more good stuff.  For example, many communities want to lower their school dropout rate and raise their graduation rate.  By impacting these numbers, either higher or lower, they believe, rightly so, that they would positively improve their community.  What they seek is a result or an outcome—but a result or an outcome of what?  What actions does one need to embark upon to achieve such aspirations?

We refer to these needed actions as essential behaviors.  Continuing with the above example, essential behaviors could include the following: provision of academic support; an environment conducive for study; a regular pattern of attendance; sufficient resources; and, an expectant attitude of success.

To expand on this desire to live a life with purposefulness or intentionality, including the most recent version of this theme, mindfulness, the following essential behaviors are not exclusive or complete, but a start:

     *Be fully engaged with what is happening now;

     *Say Yes to more opportunities—say No less often;

     *Be excessively grateful each day for your blessings;

     *Appreciate your relationships and work tirelessly to nurture them;

     *Learn something new every day—challenge your comfort zone;

     *Be slower to judge and quicker to try and understand.

Remember, a goal without a plan is just a wish!  (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Waiting...


Stop or go.  Black or white.  Yes or no.  Up or down.  In or out.  Boxers or briefs.  Easy, right?  Much of our time is consumed with making a choice and then implementing that decision.  Many aren’t that complicated.  We can either take an action or resist it.  But when it isn’t so easy and we have to wait, what do we do then?

According to Tom Petty, “You take it on faith, you take it to the heart…the waiting is the hardest part!”  Otis Redding admitted to wasting time as he sat on a dock in the bay, hoping against hope that something was going to come his way.  Jerry Seinfeld hates waiting rooms because there’s no chance of not waiting.  “Why would they take you right away when they’ve got this room all set up?”

Waiting.  It may find us frustrated and inactive, neglected or fearful with an overpowering sense of dread, or perhaps, in a state of anticipation.  Waiting is that time between what just happened and what is about to happen.  We don’t seem to be designed to handle this very well.  Waiting forces us to deal with uncertainty and to move around in a space void of answers and sometimes even direction.  Waiting seems to steal our power of being captains of our fate.

What is the doctor’s report going to show?  Is she cheating on me?  Will I be offered the job? 

Edgar Degas, the French founder of Impressionism, created a painting entitled “Waiting”.  It portrays a young ballerina massaging her tender feet as she waits to perform.  Students of Degas suggest that the painting illustrates the psychological tension between the physical pain inherent in the grace and beauty of the dance.  Irish playwright Samuel Beckett’s existential experiences of Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot is all about waiting—but for what?   The critics offer multiple interpretations but agree that the waiting is real.

But…wait.  Bishop Fulton Sheen says waiting is necessary to learn patience and that patience is power.  Patience (waiting) helps us establish the most advantageous time to act.  In other words, don’t minimize or waste the gift of waiting because it can be used strategically in your favor.  The prophet Isaiah says that our strength will be renewed if we wait upon the Lord.  The proverb, ‘good things come to those who wait’ is attributed to several, but the challenge is the same.

 Each of us must discover how to fold waiting into our lives.  What are you waiting for?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Hurting People Hurt People


This blog is primarily an observation.  It is not an opinion, a rant or a political statement.  It’s an observation and subsequent pondering about the state of our world and a level of hateful thought and atrociously evil actions that we are witnessing as an almost daily occurrence.

Back in the day when I worked with school mental health services and juvenile justice systems, youth that were viewed as unattached presented extreme challenges. Many were likely diagnosed as having a Reactive Attachment Disorder in an effort to receive psychiatric treatment.  Their behavior made it impossible for them to escape notice as their histories typically involved cruelty to animals and other children, a fascination with fire and shame related to issues such as bed-wetting.  For various reasons, some children are unable to form healthy attachments with caregivers.  Often times this is due to inconsistent care from multiple caregivers and can include neglect and abuse.  Many with RAD have a history of institutional living as an infant and during childhood.  Sometimes referred to as children without a conscience, traditional treatment was rarely successful because these children were said to lack the ability to empathize.  This being the case, their behavior had no filter to screen out hurtful actions that may have been done with intentionality or because there was no emotion to regulate the conduct.  Theorists often connected this to infantile issues of trust that were not met or honored on a consistent basis.

Lately in the news, we hear about young people who seem attracted to an alignment with extreme groups bent on acts of horror that shock us and seem out of the realm of our imagination.    Profiles of these recruits seem to mirror those of unattached youth.  Many have experienced traumatic early separation from caregivers, have lived in multiple institutional settings, often were neglected or abused and generally have difficulty trusting others and entering into intimate socially acceptable relationships.  This is not a difficult premise to consider, given countries and cultures that have been in extreme turmoil for centuries.  My observation and questioning lies with this possibility; what happens if large numbers of unattached individuals attach to each other?  This may sound like a contradiction but isn’t.

For years, the field of prevention has been fortunate to build programs and interventions based on the Social Development Strategy (SDS) created by the Social Development Research Group. The SDS provides a framework which contains three major objectives: Skills, Opportunities and Recognition.  In a nutshell, SDS instills protective factors within youth if they are taught educational, social and life Skills to navigate through society, Opportunities to fulfill and manifest those skills, and Recognition for doing so.  Healthy children in healthy communities are taught skills that allow them to sing, act or play baseball.  They are given the opportunity to join a little league team and sing in a choir or act in the school play.  They are recognized with applause, congratulations, and encouragement to tackle whatever comes next.  For a multitude of social, political, cultural, economic or religious reasons, many children and youth are deprived of this paradigm.

Deprived that is until an alternative is available to them.  Authorities who have worked in the gang culture in the U.S. see the SDS framework fitting nicely with gang recruitment and activities.  I will teach you the street skills necessary to be a petty thief, I will give you opportunities to prove yourself worthy and I will recognize you with membership.  Really not unlike joining a little league baseball team, just typically illegal.  The longing for belonging is that strong.  Now let me give you a black uniform and a knife, gun or suicide vest and teach you how to use them at one of our training sites.  Let me give you the opportunity to act in our behalf, one which we feel called to perform, or acts that are primarily designed to encourage hurting people to hurt people.  Finally, let me recognize your actions one way or another, perhaps eternally.

 Unattached children without a conscience grow up to become unattached adults who have gained skills which mask their insufficiencies and allow them to imitate appropriateness.  They become highly adept manipulators looking for prey and repeating generational patterns.  Their behaviors can never be excused but perhaps explained a bit.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Be in the Moment


“Be in the moment” is one of those pieces of advice or a homily that gets thrown around so often that it becomes white noise.  We hear someone say it, we consider it—very briefly—then we go back to fretting if our plane will be on time or fuming because the red light is so long.  Are we ever “in the moment” long enough to seriously ponder what being in the moment actually means?

Over the recent holidays we were traveling and happened upon an urban mall that was new to us.  Thinking that we might stumble upon either some pre or post- Christmas bargains, we decided to do some exploring.  We discovered several retailers that were new to us, one of which was the Lululemon store.  First impression is that they carry athletic and workout gear so we went in.  Our stay was a brief one, due to the fact that I don’t spend $60-$100 for shorts, tees or workout gear.  What caused us to linger was the Lululemon Mantra posted in the front window.

The mantra read:  This is not an ordinary mantra.  Rearrange your priorities.  Life isn’t about coming to the party with a box, it’s about being there, your heart on your sleeve, your laughter ready to exercise and your ears ready to listen.  Create magic.  Learn something new with your friends.  Be all there in the moment, it’s a beautiful day and you are way too amazing to be doing the things you think you have to do.

This mantra intrigued us and we reentered the store to visit with a sales associate, not about the clothing but the company philosophy.  We learned that the clothing line was created to offer technical athletic fabrics for a variety of workouts, but initially for those involved in yoga.  More importantly the first store in British Columbia was designed to be a community hub where like-minded folks could learn and discuss beneficial aspects of a healthy lifestyle.  The young associate also informed us that staff is not trained only to assist with sales but to be a positive influence on those who walked in the door, thus making even the act of shopping or browsing a healthy experience by encouraging a moment to reflect on personal health-related issues.  Nice idea and timely beginning a new year.

We crossed the mall looking for a cup of coffee and, of course, spotted the ubiquitous green sign of Starbucks.  We added the caffeine buzz to the already existing buzz of quality conversation about the business philosophy we had just learned that seemed so different than exclusively an economically-driven bottom-line agenda that is so prevalent in our culture.  Many are familiar with the Howard Schultz philosophy in general; specifically, Starbuck’s mission is to inspire and nurture the human spirit—one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.  As we’ve traveled, setting up a meeting at a Starbucks is pretty common for us because a barista is never far away, the quality of the product is dependable and the atmosphere captures one of their values which is to create a culture of warmth and belonging where everyone is welcome.  It’s not an accident that one will encounter students with laptops and tablets, business deals being discussed and new or old friends getting acquainted and reacquainted over a hot drink.

We were clearly “in the moment” as we enjoyed our coffee and discussed the interesting and inspiring visions and philosophies of these two companies:  act with courage, challenge the status quo and find new ways to grow; deliver our best and hold ourselves accountable; be present; do one thing a day that scares you; listen, listen, listen, then ask strategic questions; breathe deeply and appreciate the moment.

 A carney may call me a rube to naively swallow such drivel—it’s just a new-age marketing strategy designed to accomplish the ancient goal of separating me from my money, some may say.  However, at least in this moment, I choose to think of it as one more act of cultural redemption that we need so badly.  At least in this moment, I choose to have an awareness and appreciation of all I hold to be near and dear to me and not forfeit the time and opportunity to do so.     

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Facts—Schmacts!


Recently on the Sunday morning news shows they did what they do best—provoke opposing sides to debate and argue the latest political crises and accompanying drama.  On one particular show, Side A pointed to a recent report that described outcomes of an event with which supporters of Side B disagreed.  The selected spokesperson of Side B immediately branded the report a “load of crap” and later, “a pile of garbage.”  Such eloquent and stirring articulation from a national leader but that’s a topic for another day!  Later the same day I read an editorial regarding the young woman who traveled to Oregon where she legally received, from a physician, a lethal amount of medication which would end her struggle with terminal cancer.  The author of the editorial denounced this young woman’s action as doing God’s work and missing out on the lessons to be learned while enduring an extended and painful death.

While doing extensive work the past few years in the area of social norms marketing, we witnessed a number of cerebral gymnastics in which individuals and institutions engaged to maintain a certain opinion or position, regardless of what data may actually show.  One of the most challenging and frustrating processes utilized to hang on to a particular view, in lieu of contradicting evidence, is referred to as inferred justification.  This sociological phenomenon is described by scholars as a backward chain of reasoning whereby one assumes a stanch position, and then looks for evidence—accurate or inaccurate may not matter—to justify the position (Prasad et.al.).  Other scholars refer to this practice as motivated reasoning, i.e. an individual is motivated to support a pre-existing belief rather than first view the evidence, then form an opinion.  It’s the “Don’t confuse me with the facts” stance we’ve all encountered.  We often confronted this in schools where the evidence showed that the actual behavior of students was healthier than conventional wisdom might suggest.  This applied to a variety of behaviors such as alcohol and drug consumption, distracted driving habits, commitment to graduation and academic success and the rejection of bullying behavior, just to mention a few.  Community members, some teachers and staff, among others, disbelieved the data in an effort to hang onto and justify pre-conceived beliefs about young people.  As Paul Simon sang, “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”

What’s the intended or unintended consequence of inferred justification?  Certainly it squelches healthy debates and dialogue about any number of crucial topics facing us as families, churches, schools, businesses and governmental agencies.  One Congressional leader stated on national television that he was so opposed to the concept of C that he couldn’t/wouldn’t even say the word.  Compromise was the word he fiercely refused to say.  Remember Henry Clay?  He was highlighted as the Great Compromiser in my junior high school history book!  The ability and willingness to seek out areas of agreement rather than proclaim differences was an attribute at one time.  In our particular work in schools, relinquishing an inferred justification opinion about the habits and behaviors of young people would require the individual to rethink already established beliefs and look at youth with a clear eye. 

The stifling of openness and our collective unwillingness to reconsider positions certainly contributes to governmental inefficiencies.  It discourages people from walking into a church because the emphasis is often on condemnation rather than grace.  It prevents educational systems from being courageous enough to elevate students’ participation to a level of shared governance. 

Sociological scholars often cite a quote made by former President Ronald Regan as an example of inferred justification:  “The trouble with our liberal friends is not that they are ignorant, but that they know so much of what isn’t true.”   Try opening a meaningful conversation with that perspective!

 

Excerpts of this article taken from my book, Untapped Power:  How to Harness the Unbridled Power of Our Youth.