December 26, 2012

It’s the time of year where many of us think about all that has happened over the past twelve months (and plan for the next) and I think Heidi Grant Halvorson has described a very interesting approach that can be used at the personal “year end review” where “ego is effectively out of the picture“:

To Succeed, Forget Self-Esteem



May 25, 2012

Over the past seven or eight years, as “homestay mom” to over a dozen high school kids (from Japan, China, Taiwan, Mexico, Thailand and Korea), and with kids of my own — I have been to a lot of graduation ceremonies. Bus service is good from where we live, so these kids have attended four different secondary schools in our city. Each school is a large urban facility and the graduating class sizes are always around 300 kids – sometimes more. The shortest grad ceremony I’ve been to was three hours long; the longest was close to five hours. I’ve had time to think about what these mean. And the “recognition ceremony” personality is different for the different schools.

I don’t like to generalize too much, but I’d say the overall public perception of these four schools is:

School A: an inner city school with a focus on arts and trades, not regarded as an ideal school (my own son went there and we LOVE it – but some of our friends questioned his decision)
School B: a very academically-oriented school known as one of the best in the province; as well as academics, it has a focus on arts and athletics (our daughter went here briefly, then she was home-schooled, and then she went to music college)
School C: an “edge of the city” school with a decent academic reputation as well as being recognized for athletics and environmental sustainability
School D: a school near the city’s university with a well-rounded program and lots of athletics

I’ve been able to compare the values that leap out in these schools and again, without generalizing too much, there is a noticeable difference in several things but one in particular is the ratio of how much the kids take charge of the final ceremonies. In some schools the teachers do it all but in others it’s almost completely up to the students. To me it seems that the two schools where students more or less completely planned and ran the ceremony were the schools “best-loved” by the kids I know. And one of the schools where the grad is much more teacher-organized happens to be a school that two of my kids didn’t like, in fact they transferred away from it, in spite of its great reputation. One is just making that choice and I suspect he’ll do well once he makes the change. The other was several years ago and he did do just fine – now happily at college. Obviously this is highly anecdotal, but I know which ceremonies I have enjoyed the most (never the teacher-planned ones).

I suspect it’s about the notion of perfection. Some schools have a philosophy that allows for more experimentation and more mistakes and they’re even willing to present themselves that way to the huge auditorium of parents and grandparents at the final ceremony. I think these are hidden values that are passed down. And of course here, in this city, the school you attend isn’t just based on where you live — it’s possible to choose a school outside of your catchment area. So a school with a specific reputation will attract different students. The perfectionist kids may well end up at the perfectionist school and they may be quite happy to not take the “risk” of a student-run grad. As always, education is a complex topic and there is no one “best” way.

But we do move through the generations passing along a set of values about learning, competitiveness versus collaboration and even the role of compassion. My bias is towards giving kids the opportunity to make mistakes even if they don’t present something perfect to the world. It’s how innovation occurs. At the same time, I want zero slip-ups when I’m at the dentist, so perhaps I’m not giving a completely consistent point of view here….. but I do hope my dentist has a hobby where he can make a mess and enjoy it! It may be about balance.

And, in a different but related train of thought, it is amazing how a human mind can protect itself by re-framing events. I was astonished to receive the gift of these dolls. They mean something that the giver may truly not understand at a conscious level and yet, from her, they are the most perfect gift possible (Vicky you know what I mean here! I can’t wait to tell you everything!)

Social Media and love between Israel and Iran

April 2, 2012

Ronnie, in this video, says it all….

Secrets and Compassion

March 31, 2012

I guess I have to end this month with a cryptic blog post. I usually like to be as clear as possible but this time it’s just not possible.

Some of my friends will know what I am referring to here. If you don’t, you will have to guess about the details, because there are other people’s secrets that I don’t want to disclose. Things I’ve discovered only recently.

Much of it “gelled” for me in month of March, which has been an amazing time for me. I can truly say that it has been a totally unexpected lesson about love and the mysteries of the human mind. And it has brought me to a significant revision of what I thought I knew about certain aspects of my own “story”. Almost too late, but not quite 🙂

There’s a reason I wasn’t able to learn this earlier, but it’s not the reason I had imagined. It involves more fear and sadness than the arrogance I had believed was at its core; it’s a kinder, gentler and more vulnerable story and it resonates with me in a way I didn’t expect. It’s really about a person trying to get by, doing the best she could with what she had.

How deep can a secret be? How much can one brain hide from itself? Why would someone need to hide something so completely? No one on the outside can know for sure but I now look at a particular person and realize that I might not have been that different had my circumstances been the same as hers.

Marshall Rosenberg says:
“Everything we do is in service of our needs. When this one concept is applied to our view of others, we’ll see that we have no real enemies, that what others do to us is the best possible thing they know to do to get their needs met.”

I brought white tulips as a white flag. Later I found myself bringing books, art supplies, candy, pictures and daffodils.

The Birth of Venus

The next piece of art I created myself (a glass on glass mosaic) was based on Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” although I didn’t see the connection until after the work was complete. The morning after I finished the piece, I looked at it with fresh eyes and realized what I’d done. Not a copy but definitely a tribute. I gave its its rightful name and acknowledged that although the original work that inspired me is still my favourite historical painting, it doesn’t apply to me any more and never had. It was never true that I’d been blown in from the sea, fully-formed.

Who knew?

I look in the face of dementia and imagine my own mind slipping away — what will I remember when that time comes? what will I forget? What skills will I draw on to make everything appear socially normal when the foundation is actually crumbling? I doubt I’d have the charm and grace to carry it, but who knows. Perhaps it *is* there in my DNA. Is there any degree of choice in this?

As for right now, I hope I have found (and can maintain) the right balance as I proceed on this adventure.

Compassion after Grievous Harm

February 20, 2012

The story behind this posting is already familiar to many. It’s not new, but I wanted to share it because of the way it exemplifies how an individual, even when grievously harmed, can respond with compassion.

It’s about Trevor Greene, a Canadian who, in Afghanistan in 2006 , was severely wounded by an axe to his skull wielded by a sixteen year old boy during an otherwise peaceful meeting of Canadian peacekeepers and Pashtun village elders. Greene had taken his helmet off as a gesture of respect.

Details of this horrifying incidence and its aftermath are widely available and have made medical history. Here are just a handful of the many links:–how-capt-trevor-greene-came-back-from-an-afghan-axe-to-the-head

But it’s Trevor Greene’s amazing compassion that I want to share here.

Greene, after he emerged from a lengthy coma, was able to forgive his young attacker (who was shot and killed at the time of the attack) and Greene expresses regret and apologies for the fact that the young man lost his life. This beautiful compassion is strikingly similar to what Marshall Rosenberg advocates as part of his philosophy of nonviolent communication (NVC).

One interview with Rosenberg is especially interesting to me because it led me to make the connection between the ideas of NVC and the actions of Trevor Greene and also addresses the protective use of force.

Rosenberg’s work focuses on meeting the needs of individuals. He says: “Conflicts, even of long standing duration, can be resolved if we can just keep the flow of communication going in which people come out of their heads and stop criticizing and analyzing each other, and instead get in touch with their needs, and hear the needs of others, and realize the interdependence that we all have in relation to each other. We can’t win at somebody else’s expense. We can only fully be satisfied when the other person’s needs are fulfilled as well as our own.”

When Trevor Greene spoke of his attacker, he acknowledged needs in the village and needs related to the boy and his family. Later Greene said “you can’t hate and heal at the same time.” I believe it’s a message the world needs to hear.

And here’s some classic Rosenberg that addresses healing at a different level – the intimate family level.

Porcelain Unicorn

February 13, 2012

My friend Sheila from Boston sent me a link to this video, which, almost without words, speaks volumes about compassion. It’s about two individuals, and it fits with things I’ve been thinking about lately (and blogging about, in recent posts) regarding the beautiful ways we could relate to each other as individuals if we could just strip away our preconceptions based on nationalities, religions, etc.

It’s a three-minute long prize-winner called “Porcelain Unicorn” from American director Keegan Wilcox.

Our view is much different when see the two children in this video as simple, vulnerable individuals than if we label them as “a Nazi boy” and “a Jewish girl”. I love how this short video expresses how the vulnerability can last a lifetime.

Peace, protective force, compassion

February 11, 2012

Douglas Dolstad, someone Deryk and I found via the nonviolent communication (NVC) network of support, (Douglas is involved in the NVC family camp ) has been sharing ideas with us related to our concerns about the situation of Iran and Israel — our fears that missiles might soon be launched. In part, we were looking for a deeper understanding of the NVC concept of the protective use of force.

Douglas wrote:

What happens when I imagine this violence – even, or especially, if cloaked in the garb of “protective use of force”?  What happens when I think that thought?   Am I willing to go into that depth that has no bottom and needs none to define itself?    Through the halls of rage, and fear and sorrow  to a place where the names drop away and…. there is … a… fire burning?       NVC encourages us to be Alive in every moment as framed by what we’re feeling and needing.  What happens if I go there first – not just briefly as in a mean spirited road house but to linger as in a nest in which I am deeply held?
I know that if I steep in that place, whatever I do next will happen from a different energy.  

Right now, because I’ve been thinking about this in other conversations (like the one I’ve had with Miki Kashtan), when Douglas mentioned “the names dropping away” it seemed to mean the point at which there is no “us” and “them” — no “this side” or “that side” but only individuals. I asked him if that was what he meant and it did indeed seem to resonate with him.    

He asked: What goes on in you when you think these thoughts?  Is there a fierce love present?  A resting place full of power?  It may be that there aren’t individuals either, just needs.      

and part of my answer revolves around whether wanting to change the world is, in itself, a form of violence. because the assertion of wanting to change the world seems to imply an imposed solution. It can feel like a “do it my way”, rather than a “find information, think critically, act for yourself” (which is the view of education and the role of information technology that inspires me, personally).

Here is an addition to my original post (this block of text is an update as of Feb 12) based on a reply from Douglas, who said:

If I want to change the world and do not care of the effects of my actions on others, then I would agree that violence is a likely outcome. If, on the other hand, I want to change the world and extend care to the well being of others as I act to upon the changes I want to see, then the path of nonviolence is of great value. Ahimsa will guide the actions. The action might be minimal or quite major. Depends on circumstances and what evolves. In either case, there is a choice to come from a nonviolent place.

As I see it, what Douglas says requires dimensions of both intent (you mean to change the world in a positive way) and of attention (to ensure that your actions truly do extend care and are not harmful). These ideas could help guide the concept of protective use of force as well.

So what does go on in me when I think about there being no “this side” or “that side” and the “fierce love/resting place full of power” question that Douglas asks. I have felt fierce love at some of the strangest times…. watching an infinitely patient cellphone rep cross a barrier of language and culture to build a plan for my new-to-Canada homestay student, a stranger scrambling to keep a hat from blowing off on a windy day or the expression of joy on the face of a marimba player in an outdoor market (I mention these because they are examples of when a level of love jumps out that is almost completely unexpected — of course fierce love is there for family and friends but it doesn’t contain the same element of surprise.) And yes, though not always consciously, I do feel fierce love for any person doing something to meet a simple (or complex), individual need. And that resting place full of power that Douglas asks about? I’m less certain. It seems more like a resting place of letting go, temporarily. At least for me 🙂

Is there a difference between wanting to change the world and wanting to help individuals change (or wanting them to see/experience new things that might change them?)

Another addition to my original post (again as of Feb 12) — the reply from Douglas:

The moment you, me, anyone changes, the world is changed.

It might just be as simple as that, for better or for worse.

And how does protective force fit with this? The Dalai Lama talks about this and says that a harsh action might sometimes be compassionate — if it is motivated for maximum benefit. Sort of “when all else fails” or like Marshall Rosenberg’s NVC concept of needing to use force to restrain “when the child runs into the street”. See 3/4 of the way down this page for the Dalai Lama answer to an interview question on this topic, noting that he later points to the strategy of solving large problems (like Mandela’s leadership of South Africa towards independence) without “touching the gun”, so the harsh actions are clearly not intended to be the norm.

Marshall Rosenberg talks about it here:

These are my thoughts/questions for today.

And a public thank you to Douglas for pointing us to the film “Fierce Light”