Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Promoting Kindness (Otherwise known as Anti-Bullying)

This blog on "bullying" has been percolating in my brain for several years.  It is a complex issue.  Each time I hear of another life lost to bullying I ask myself why we as a community have not been able to address this problem effectively.
Bullying.  Bully-Prevention.  Anti-Bullying.  Stand Up 2 Bullying.  Stop a Bully.  Pink Shirt Day.  There's no shortage of attention to bullying these days, nor should there be.  As a former child, an educator and part of a large family I have experienced first-hand the effects of bullying.  I certainly read the paper and follow the news and there is no lack of stories which document the terrible impact bullying has, not only in our schools but in our workplaces, in our own families, neighborhoods, churches, teams, clubs and any other place where people come together.  Each time a bullying story hits the news we hear a renewed sense of outrage and are inundated with anti-bullying campaigns.  It seems to me, considering how often we hear of bullying and how many of us have experienced it in our own lives that these campaigns have not been effective over the years.  So, I have a suggestion;  Stop focusing on bullying and start focusing on kindness.
Over the last few years we have experienced a renewed focus on anti-bullying. At the same time we have lost funding for programs such as Roots of Empathy. " Roots of Empathy is an evidence-based classroom program that has shown significant effect in reducing levels of aggression among schoolchildren by raising social/emotional competence and increasing empathy."  Roots of Empathy focuses on building positive skills, positive interactions and has positive results.
And for me, here lies the crux of the problem.  I'm tired of hearing the word "bullying".  It has no positive conotations for me.  It's a negative spin on a negative problem.  It's time we stopped focusing on reducing bullying and started focusing on promoting kindness.  For every anti-bullying program that's out there there is  a program that promotes peace/kindness/empathy.  These are all skills our children (and adults) need to learn.  Roots of Empathy is just one.  Tribes TLC ( is another, Random Acts of Kindness ( is a program that has been used at Kent Elementary and found to be wonderful in promoting positive interactions without the need for the usual reward that comes with some of these programs. It has long been a goal of mine to switch peoples' thinking (starting with my own) from reducing the negative to increasing the positive.  It started with our school goals at Kent Elementary a few years ago but it is also a focus in my own personal life.
Kent Elementary is a progressive school.  They believe strongly in creating the conditions for children to be successful. ( This is the type of approach that will reduce bullying.  In the same way we create a positive culture for reading or healthy living or self-discipline we can create a culture that recognizes, promotes and teaches (coaches) kindness.  Students who come to school unable to read are provided with the supports to help them.  This should be the same approach to bullying.  I strongly believe that all people (not just kids) do the best with what they have at the time.  Students who bully lack the basic skills and understandings of kindness.  Perhaps they have not experienced kindness in their own lives.  Do we punish them?  Many believe this is the way.  I do not.  I believe we take them aside, model kindness, provide opportunities for kindness, recognize (not reward, but recognize) kindness and promote kindness. We create the conditions for them to be successful.
As with other successful approaches this will take time.    It takes time to identify those people who truly are bullies (and they aren't always children).  It takes time to work with that individual, to have them see how people perceive them.  In my experience most bullies are shocked when you tell them that this is how others see them.  It takes time to identify the behaviors that need to be addressed and to decide on the best way to support this particular individual.   You see, no "program" works for everyone.  As in reading or math or behavior a multi-faceted approach is likely required.  This takes time. I believe it also requires a shift from a focus that reduces the negative to a focus that increases the positive.  Aren't our children and our communities worth it?

Thursday, January 10, 2013


Quiet.  It's a funny thing.  It can bring out the best in you or it can magnify your greatest fears.

I'm sitting in my very quiet home this afternoon and it suddenly struck me how quiet it was.  When I first retired I didn't like a lot of quiet.  By mid-morning I had usually turned on the tv, the radio or some music simply because I couldn't settle into the quiet.  I'm used to having people around.  When I was a teacher I was used to having a LOT of people around.  My last three years of teaching were in a middle-school and trust me, there's not a lot of quiet!  We have four children who somehow (?) over the last few years transformed into a group of twelve (lovely husbands and wife and lovely, lovely grandchildren).  When they were all home for Christmas (Yahoo!) there was, almost literally, no quiet.  Noise has never been a problem for me.  It doesn't take getting used to.  It just is.  And I like it.

Quiet, on the other hand, did not settle in easily.  At first it agitated me.  After a while it was less noticeable but it was still there reminding me how alone I was for the first time in my life.  Sometimes it seemed to taunt me and other times it seemed to be giving me a kick in the behind reminding me of all the things I was going to do once I had retired and had all of this quiet time on my hands.  It's quiet, get up and DO something.  This has been especially true during the gray days of winter when I am less tempted to avoid the quiet by getting on my bike or going for a walk.  Less chance of that happening with the sideways wind and the buckets of rain that keep pouring out of the sky.

So this afternoon while I was working in my "studio" (don't you just love all the images that word conjures up?  It's actually my basement that I call a "studio) I was a bit surprised to notice that it was quiet.  Has been all day.  No radio, no television, no music and I hadn't even noticed.  I had done a bit of cleaning, a bit of cooking, a lot of reading, some knitting, some playing with my latest collage and a lot of thinking and I had done it all in the quiet.  When did this happen, this comfort with the elephant in the room called 'quiet'?

Perhaps the seeds were planted when I began meditating a few minutes a day some months ago.  Perhaps the many books and articles I've been reading about bringing peace to my life started it.  I've always been much more comfortable with chaos than I have been with peacefulness so this is a deep shift for me.  Perhaps I've just never had the opportunity to get to know quiet a little better.

What I do know is that I like it.  I like the slow pace quiet brings to my life.  I like reading a book without keeping my finger on the words so I know where I am when life interrupts.  I like hearing my thoughts, never really  happened before that I can recall.  I like imagining all the things I can do with my day, even if I don't actually do them.  I like the sound of my knitting needles against each other.  Who knew they even made a sound?  I like the beep of the oven when my blueberry applesauce loaf is ready even though it breaks the silence for just a moment. 

Quiet and I are not ready to be bosom buddies or anything but our visits are getting longer and longer and more and more enjoyable.  Quiet.  I like it.

Sunday, January 6, 2013


It seems that whether or not you intend to make 'resolutions' the beginning of a new year is a natural time to reflect and to look forward, all at the same time.  Having just passed my 58th birthday I recognize and appreciate the many wonderful people and experiences these 58 years encompass.  Reflection is something I do naturally - looking forward on the other hand is something that I find a bit more challenging.  We are at a time in our lives where there will be many changes and I am  looking forward to them while at the same time recognizing that there will be challenges that come with those changes.  The next couple of years will be exciting, adventurous and will bring a whole host of new experiences that will both enrich and challenge us.
The water colour painting above by Judi Motts Pedder is of one of my favourite places in the world.  The spit in Comox, on Vancouver Island, is where I spent my teenage years when the world seemed too much to handle, which really wasn't that often.  I don't get there as often as I would like but when I'm there I feel peace settling in all around me.  I can actually feel the salty air expand deep into my lungs as my muscles relax and the furrow leaves my brow.  There is always a breeze, always the sound of the waves washing up onto the shore, always the beautiful colours of the beach and the sea sky, always the feel of sand under your feet and always , always, the feeling that I'm home. If there was any one place in the world I would choose to go to comtemplate life it would be here.  So it seems fitting that I gaze at this picture, in lieu of being able to really be there, as I ponder what 2013 will bring my way.  I choose the word "bring" with intention for life will always have surprises for you no matter how well you think you have it all planned out.
So, my guiding word for 2013 is 'embrace'. 
While there are many definitions for the word 'embrace' my initial interpretation is in the most literal of senses.  I will continue to embrace my family and close friends, to appreciate all the love and laughter and support that they bring to my world, to pull them close and show them that I love them every chance I get.
Retirement has brought many changes to my world and with retirement sneaking up on my husband the changes will get bigger and hopefully, better.  The next couple of years will involve moving a couple of times and lots and lots of travel.  I intend to embrace all of the experiences and new acquaintances that come with these changes. 
My physical health has been suspect over the last couple of years and I am working hard to embrace some new practices in my life.  I have played around with yoga and meditation and this year I intend to embrace both fully including a yoga retreat next month.
We are all happy in life to embrace the moments that bring us joy.  We are less happy to embrace those moments that bring us pain.  Of course we'd all love a life with no pain but recognize that our joy would be less joyful without it.  While my life is good there are always moments or situations that bring out a side of me that I'm not always proud of and a side of me that I certainly don't embrace.  It is my intention this year to embrace all of me for I wouldn't be who I am without all facets of my personality.   I am a passionate person.  I am passionately happy.  I am passionately angry.  I am passionately curious and I am passionately emotional.  I love that I am passionate and will embrace this quality in both its positive and negative forms.

"Embrace who you are. You have been given every tool, every talent,
every trait you need to realize your destiny." 

This is a quote I have come across in various forms time and time again over the last few months and 2013 will be the year for me to embrace who I am.  I am hesitant, even at craft shows to say that I am an artist.  But, it's true.  I am.  I haven't been to art school and have no formal training.  I don't know how to sketch or paint or take photographs like a professional.  What I do have is a curious nature and an ability to enjoy trying new things.  In some of those trials I have found that I do have the ability to "create" and it's time to embrace this side of me as well.

I have taken on a creative project for 2013 and that project is me. I am on a quest to find out who I am and who I want to be as this new phase of my life continues.  The first few months of retirement have been quiet and I have enjoyed the opportunity to read, create, sleep, clean, cook and spend my days adjusting to having no schedule.  Mostly, it's been fun.  However, I have not yet fully embraced it and the time to do that has come.

  I will finish today's blog with a quote from the book that is a timely gift from a treasured friend, MEDITATIONS FROM THE MAT
for it seems to sum up all I intend to embrace in the coming year. . .

"A spiritual practice is one that brings us full circle -- not to a new self but, rather, back to the essence of our true selves.  Yoga is the practice of celebrating what is.  At the end of the hero's journey, he finds that he did not need to go anywhere, that all he sought was inside him all along.  Dorothy, having traveled across time and space to the land of Oz, and having struggled desperately to find her way back to Kansas, discovers that she could have gone home at any time.  In the end, she learns that her adventures have simply brought her to the point where she can believe this. 
It is the aim of all spiritual seeking to bring us home,
home to the understanding
 that we already have
 everything we need."

A New Year’s wish from Neil Gaiman that stands the test of time. All the best in the coming year!
Happy 2013 everyone!