How do we explain our need to feel respected by others? Is there something in the human condition or is it the conditioning of and by society that causes us to feel wounded when we sense someone has disrespected us? Is it a global phenomenon? Most importantly, how often do we mistake someone’s actions for disrespect when in fact it had nothing to do with us in the first place?


Our interpretation of any given situation is just that, an interpretation. It can be so easy to feel disrespected when in fact the person’s actions had very little to do with us. This is directly correlated to the idea presented in Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements that nothing is personal; everything is merely a reflection of the other person’s reality.


Experience has taught me that using the word “kind” instead of “respect” accomplishes at least two things. For one, it is difficult to argue with the word kind, it’s definition being so clear. Respect on the other hand can be vague and can even put a person on the defensive, “I didn’t do it on purpose!”


On top of that, when delivering a message with the word respect, it is easy to take on a tone of command or superiority which is rarely conducive to defusing a situation. On the flip side, try saying, “Be kind!!!!” in a bossy way. The results are quite ridiculous. I promise you, it’s true. I’ve tried. (You should try it too, right now…that’s if you’re not riding the bus or something. That could be embarrassing…)


Whether you’re a parent, a teacher, a principal, or a childcare provider, the use of the word “kind” in place of “respect” helps to build social skills by giving children clear actions to take in order to solve their problems. It avoids the possibility of accusing children of having poor character and instead empowers them by providing them with opportunities to be seen as kind.


Remember, children innately want to be seen as good. They want to belong. The children we see today who resist this are the ones who have been neglected one way or another. That is not intended as an accusatory statement. I am not trying to make anyone feel guilty. I firmly believe however that children will only regularly seek out negative attention when experience has taught them that that is what is easier to get. For these kids, any attention is good attention. It’s our (professional) obligation to guide them compassionately, thereby helping them to reconnect to their true self. We are all born loving. Just some of us do not have the privilege of it being reinforced properly or effectively.


I am not suggesting that we stop teaching about respect. What I am suggesting is that we make kindness the first stepping stone or building block on a child’s journey to learning how to be respectful. Let’s stop being indignant towards children who seem to lack respect, and give them the concrete tools for being respectful, which ultimately comes down to acts of kindness and practicing empathy. Let’s remember that their brains, their spirits, their hearts, and their souls are still developing, all the way through the primary years and beyond. Let’s accompany them on their journey in a heart-felt way, rather than a judgmental way. By placing our attention first and foremost on kindness, we naturally instill respectful behavior in them.


The bottom line is this: Ask yourself when have you been the most motivated to do your best? Hands down I am certain that when you are treated with kindness, you feel respected by the person for whom you are working, and you are willing to go above and beyond. Children are no different. In fact, what I love about kids is that they are less likely to “fake it” for anyone. Their honesty and generosity are worth a pound in gold when we honor them and challenge them authentically. Let’s give what we wish to receive.


Kindly yours,


Kathleen Murray


The Only New Year’s Resolution You Will Ever Need

The sweeter side of life.

I gave up making New Year’s resolutions several years ago. “My resolution is to have no resolutions!” I would joke with my friends. This year, however, when I was asked to share my resolution, it suddenly occurred to me that I could have one that would be unbreakable. Since the making of resolutions is so popular, I thought a healthy, forward-thinking, spiritually enlightening option may be something many people might like to adopt. Every worthwhile resolution under the sun could be an extension of this resolution without anyone ever experiencing disappointment for not meeting their goal. It is the simplest of ideas and ties in quite nicely with this blog: My goal is to practice more kindness.


Kindness is something that starts within ourselves. When we practice kindness, we can more easily forgive ourselves for our imperfections and mistakes. Once we begin being kinder towards ourselves, the ripple effect is that we become kinder towards those around us. By practicing kindness more consciously, we set ourselves up for a “no fail” goal. Allow me to elaborate:


Did you lose your patience with someone today? You can be kind by forgiving yourself for lacking empathy in that moment and the next time you interact with that person, you can let them know you wish you had been more patient with them.


Did you skip going to the gym today after promising yourself you would? Kindness means that you acknowledge you lacked motivation and that that’s alright because you are allowed to be human. It allows you to see that you must lead a balanced life and perhaps the schedule you have set for yourself needs to be tweaked in order to make it work better for you.


Did you indulge in foods that you swore to yourself would be off-limits? Kindness allows you to recognize that maybe the constraints you have set for yourself are not realistic. You must give yourself permission to change your approach without feeling as though you have failed.


Did you break your savings goal by spending money on a trivial item? Practicing kindness allows you to see that the frame of mind you have created for yourself may actually be attracting the opposite behavior.


You may notice in the examples given, that part of being kind is being able to forgive yourself and others. I believe it is safe to say that kindness and forgiveness are inextricably linked. It is a sacred relationship wherein one cannot fully exist in its true meaning without the other.


It may be tempting to view this resolution as a cop-out. I beg of you to not fall into that negative-thinking trap. (Forgive yourself if you do.) The reason I stopped making New Year’s resolutions was because it seemed like an unhealthy practice. Something seems scarily wrong to me about January 1st being the magical day when millions of people pour money into gym memberships and vow to replace cookies with miracle health shakes blended in $500 machines. It seems to me that in a way, that approach is the opposite of kindness. While the holidays are intended to bring us together with loved ones and celebrate life, two weeks later we are punishing ourselves for having over-indulged. We go from being generous to others in the giving of our love and gifts, to drastically withholding indulgences and prohibiting ourselves. I am suggesting that the pendulum need not swing so far. Rather, we could choose to appreciate whatever opportunities we had to indulge our loved ones, including ourselves. I firmly believe that the more we promise to prohibit certain activities in order to be healthier is an unhealthy construct and sets us up for failure. Somehow this practice has become ingrained in our culture, but like anything else, we can choose whether or not we wish to participate.


Once you begin to experience the beautiful feeling that practicing kindness towards yourself can bring you, it becomes that much easier to share it with those around you. Each time I forgive myself for not meeting my self-imposed beliefs on how I ought to be living my life, I quite literally feel lighter, as if a weight has been lifted from me. The shift in energy within my body is so tangible, so uplifting, that I cannot help but want to share it with others.


It is at this point when we recognize that not only does this particular resolution benefit ourselves…it actually benefits all those around us. Is that not the best kind of goal? Just think of a time when a conversation with a child, a friend, a colleague, or a lover, has left you feeling like your contribution has someone improved their life. You can feel it in your heart and soul that whatever issue it was that you addressed with that person shed light on their situation and helped them move towards a positive resolution. That is the feeling that consciously practicing kindness brings to you on a heightened level and a more regular basis.


As you witness others struggling with their New Year’s resolutions, I invite you to put this one into action. Demonstrate your kindness by letting them know that they too could adopt this resolution for themselves. Rather than beating themselves up for breaking their goals, they could recognize that perhaps setting up ultimatums for themselves is akin to self-abuse. We are the only species on the planet that punishes ourselves for our failures. We are the only ones who allow ourselves to replay a painful, shameful or embarrassing experience over and over again in our minds. Kindness frees us from these chains and allows us to see each new moment of our day (there is a new one every second!) as a gift. We are spirits having a physical experience on Earth. Let’s allow our spirits to shine and soar and connect with one another.


The next time you find yourself judging others for what you deem to be inappropriate behavior, remind yourself of the following two things. First, practice kindness by forgiving yourself for being judgemental since it can be a powerful habit that is hard to break. Second,  forgive the person you have judged since you cannot know why they are behaving the way they are. Our life is ours and ours alone to live. The journey can be as joyful or as painful as we choose to make it. The Dalai Lama said it best, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year…Right?

Ask any teacher how they feel about the last week or two of school before the holidays. Chances are the teacher will either give you a weary look or burst into hysterical laughter (tears may not be far behind.) There really are no words to describe the mayhem, the untamed energy. My childhood memories of the last few days of school before the holiday break may be vague, but the feeling that has stayed with me is that the rules seemed to fly out the window. There was this collective, unwritten agreement among the students that during the time leading up to the holidays, following the rules and listening to the teachers, would be optional. I did not understand it back then and I understand it even less now…but for one exception.


Perhaps the biggest myth of the Christmas holidays is that we buy into the idea that all children are looking forward to being home for two weeks. If we believe this to be true for all of our students, than we are doing them a huge disservice. I’ll never forget the first time a child had the courage to whisper to me that she in fact was not excited for the last day of school. She confided in me that her parents had been arguing a lot lately and she much preferred being at school with her friends. I had noticed she had been quieter and more withdrawn as of late, but I had attributed it to fatigue and figured that the break would give her a chance to rest. That little girl turned a light on for me. How had it never occurred to me that kids could have mixed feelings about the holidays? No longer would I assume that all of my students were anxiously awaiting the holiday break. Just because a handful of them talk incessantly about how excited they are does not mean they speak for everyone. We have a habit of projecting our own reality onto others. It’s part of the human condition perhaps. Since that day however, I have strived to view my students’ behaviors in a new light.


The greater the joy for one, the deeper the sadness for another. The law of opposites becomes abundantly clear during the holidays. One child may gleefully share with the class that his family has a tradition of eating pancakes on Christmas morning; meanwhile another child is listening enviously to the story, wondering what will happen to the traditions that once were, now that her parents have separated. This is a very real reality that teachers are dealing with in the classroom. Sadly, it seem these days that many families are either unhappy or falling apart. Worse, it becomes that much more apparent during what we would hope to be a joyous and peaceful time of year. I wish I could offer a solution for this bigger problem. If only it were that easy. Instead, I will offer some insights on how teachers can alleviate the stress that many of their students are feeling and make the last week or two more enjoyable for everyone.


I have come to discover that even the kids who claim that school is boring, or who seem disinterested or disengaged, do not necessarily look forward to the break. It would be logical to assume that the child who is often a behavioral challenge in class would be happier to stay home…yet often the opposite is true. All behaviors are symptoms. They are often the substitution for the words by which children express their needs. It is us humans who categorize behaviors as good or bad. If we were to perceive behaviors as “speech in action”, we may react differently. For instance, let’s consider the student who is fooling around during the music rehearsal for the Christmas concert. It may be tempting to assume he is being disrespectful on purpose and we could threaten to keep him in for recess to coerce him into behaving, but we would miss out on figuring out the real reason for his lack of engagement. Modeling the spirit of Christmas, here is how you may want to intervene.


Using a gentle, compassionate voice, call his attention to his behavior. “Thomas, are you really being your best right now?” This is much more effective than telling him what he’s doing wrong. It invites him to see himself through his own eyes and empowers him to take responsibility for it.


He may choose the route of defiance at first. Shrugging his shoulders and diverting his gaze, he may respond, “Whatever…this is boring.”


As teachers, we may be tempted to convince him otherwise. I suggest taking a different route. “I had a feeling you found this boring. So singing is not your thing? You don’t like to perform?” Acknowledging his feelings disarms him and shows him you respect his opinion. It is not reasonable, nor is it fair, to expect all students to enjoy every activity we prepare for them.

Sheepishly, Thomas replies, “Not really.” Already, a shift in Thomas’ energy is discernible. Someone has validated his feelings. Think about it. How much do you appreciate being told how you should feel about something? Yet, that is exactly what we do to students when we demand they show enthusiasm for something that does not interest them.


So where do we go from here? How do we motivate Thomas to stop being disruptive? Using empathy, we guide him to switch his perspective. By appealing to Thomas’ intelligence and good heart, we get him on board with us. (Remember, we are using kindness as a discipline tool, therefore we resist the urge to lecture.)


“I think you’re a great kid, Thomas. I also happen to know you’re a great soccer player…I’ve seen you playing in the school yard at recess. Imagine how it would feel if every time you went to play soccer, there were a couple of players who kept ruining the game by grabbing the ball off the ground and running away with it. How much fun would that be?”


“I’d get really upset, that’s for sure!”


“Well, can you see that that’s what you’re doing to the singers in this room? Many of these kids really enjoy singing and they are looking forward to performing for their parents next week.”


And suddenly, because you have chosen to engage in a real conversation with Thomas, you get to the heart of the matter. “My parents probably won’t even be there,” he confides in you.


“You seem disappointed by that,” you reply empathetically. “Can you think of someone you care about who will be in the audience?”


“Trevor’s dad is going to be there. I play at his house a lot.”


“Would you like him to see what a great performance you’re capable of? I am positive that if you take just some of the focus you use in soccer and apply it to being your best for the concert rehearsal and performance, not only will you do great, but you will feel really good about yourself. You’re an awesome kid, Thomas. I believe you can do it.”

There are so many possibilities for peaceful, proactive and positive outcomes once you start to think about it. Finding a parallel example in the child’s life makes it concrete for him. All humans are naturally capable of empathizing, we just sometimes need a realistic comparison to make it tangible. Will you need to invest more time and energy in that moment than you usually would? Absolutely. But those extra fifteen minutes are an investment in that relationship from which you will reap the benefits ten-fold in the months to follow. The next time that child challenges you, you have a reference point in the history of your relationship as proof that you truly care. That bond and trust that you have created will serve you and that child in unimaginable ways. By attending to that one child’s need, the entire group receives a message as well that you care about them. You won’t allow one child to disrupt the peace of the group nor will you simply abandon a child when he goes astray. You build trust. And trust, is everything. What better gift could you offer your students?

Kindness is…

WhatIMG_20140929_144023-EFFECTS is kindness?


I’m going to presume that we all know what kindness is not, but what is kindness and how can we use it to build happier homes and schools? Here are my thoughts of the day…


Kindness is:


Forgiving myself when I forget to be kind and slip into a negative pattern of behavior.


Being humble enough to admit my faults, and asking others to forgive me, especially my children and my spouse.


Asking someone to stop hurting me all the while letting them know that I see their greatness and recognize their inner beauty.


Letting someone know I like them, even if I don’t always like their behavior or the choices they make.


Realizing that when I show compassion towards a person who is causing me pain I become actively involved in making this world a better place.


Knowing that I must love myself first and foremost. My self-talk has an effect on everything in my live, for better or for worse.


Taking the time to figure out what’s bothering someone, rather than taking their bad mood or unkind gestures personally.


Refraining from jumping to conclusions or making assumptions.


Being an active listener.


Asking a question and being available to hear the answer, whether I agree or not.


Accepting other’s viewpoints without needing to prove my own.


Kindness is love in action.

It Takes a Village (based on a true story)


To empathize is to civilize. To civilize is to empathize. – Jeremy Rifkin

Do you believe it takes a village to raise a child? Your answer to this one question could very well determine whether or not you are ready to embrace the philosophy I am proposing. Examples abound around the world of societies who truly put this belief into practice. While I believe our society used to embrace this philosophy, we seem to have drifted away from this form of co-existence. Before we look at home and school environments, let’s take a moment to consider our behavior as a society in public spaces.


Consider the following circumstances. Imagine you are in a grocery store when a child starts pitching a fit. What goes through your mind? Do you immediately feel sorry for them? Or do you immediately start judging them? Although I have never outwardly passed judgement on a parent (at least I don’t think I have, selective memory perhaps!), I know in the past I have been guilty of being impatient in situations like these. Thoughts such as, “Children aren’t being taught how to behave these days!” or “What was that mother thinking bringing her child to the store when he’s clearly exhausted!” would go through my head.


Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to judge others than it is to empathize? To put ourselves in each other’s shoes takes time and effort. It means you have to hold back from jumping to conclusions and actually think about what that person might be going through. Add to that the fact that judging others can make us feel better about ourselves and it’s no wonder that we are amazed when we actually witness people doing the right thing even if they think nobody is watching. The truth I have come to realize is that many parents feel overwhelmed and at a loss as to how to react to their children at times and many of them are too proud to admit it. There is so much pressure in today’s society to be the perfect parent and very little space for allowing ourselves to ask for help when we need it. It all boils down to pride and it is getting in the way of living a more loving life. It is not for nothing that pride is often considered the worst of the seven deadly sins. It is our pride that leads us to judge ourselves as better than others. While drawing conclusions about what we would or would not do in any given situation can serve us, we rarely judge others with the pure intent to learn from the situation ourselves. The act of being judgemental feeds our sense-of-self, our ego, our pride and in most cases it does not serve the one being judged. We have all heard the expression, “Don’t kick me when I’m down.” and yet that is exactly what we are doing when we judge a stranger.


Now let’s imagine the same scenario with a twist. As you witness a child having a melt-down in the grocery store, the mother turns to you and says, “Any suggestions? I have no idea what to do!” I can’t help but think that you would be less harsh in your judgements. By appealing to you for help, she has openly admitted that she does not have all the answers to parenting. Well how about that. This is what “it takes a village to raise a child” looks like. Here is someone who is willing to put herself out there. How often have we actually witnessed this kind of behavior though? Unfortunately we don’t see it very often, but the more people who get on board with openly admitting to being imperfect, the more often these instances may occur.


What would a full-blown village mentality look like though? Let’s take this same grocery store scenario. It bears mentioning that this is a true story. It was 4pm on a late weekday afternoon when I ran into the grocery store to grab something for supper. As I rushed through the store, anxious to get what I needed, a little girl, no-older than four, launched into a fit. “I want Daddy!” she began screaming repeatedly at the top of her lungs. The mother spoke quietly with her daughter, asking her to stop, telling her they were almost done. This did nothing to discourage her daughter’s rant. “I want Daddy! I want Daddy!” she continued, tears now streaming down her face. The mother wasted no time getting the things she needed, dragging her child along with her as gently as possible, given the circumstances. I discretely observed the pair, fascinated by the mother’s outward air of calm. At no point did she lash out at her child, and after a few failed attempts to calm her down, she let her know in a quiet voice that they were almost done. She amazed me. To this day I wonder what was really going on? Had the dad gone away for business? Had the parents split-up? Was the little girl angry at her mom and trying to hurt her by demanding to have her father? Had the little girl missed her nap and so she was simply exhausted and completely beyond herself given the time of day? Either way, the mother’s resistance to engage in her child’s meltdown was something to behold. My guess would be that either she had mastered the art of hiding her emotions internally or, and I wish the latter to be true, she had mastered the art of empathy and compassion and we were witnessing it being put into action.


On that particular late-afternoon, we were an usual group of people. I say this because it was the first time that I ever witnessed such kindness and generosity of spirit from all the people in this mother’s vicinity. Not one person displayed impatience towards the child’s screaming. Surrounding this mother, an air of compassion blossomed. As she made her way to the self-check-out cash, I watched an older couple exchange a sympathetic look that said, “Oh my…remember those days?” The lady standing behind me in line at the cash smiled and said to me, “A mother’s job is never easy.” But best of all, was the cashier who spoke to me saying, “Poor thing, that little girl is really having a tough time, isn’t she?” Wow. I was so proud of us, this group of strangers thrown together and yet somehow connected on the same wave-length of empathy and compassion. Never have I seen so many strangers gathered in one place without at least one feeling the need to judge the situation in a negative light. It was beautiful. The question is: why is this so rare?


I cannot even count the number of times that I have witnessed judgemental stares in a shopping mall or a grocery store. It’s true that more and more parents seem scared to discipline their child in public, but why do we think that is? I get the sense that we are damned if we do or damned if we don’t. We are so busy worrying about what other people will think, that we forget to simply do what feels right. When fear of being judged is our motivator, we are doomed to fail! The next time you find yourself in this situation, I invite you to try something new. For one, resist judging the parent’s actions. It is none of your business and you have no idea what they have been through so far that day. If the opportunity presents itself, make a simple compassionate comment such as, “We’ve all had days like this before.” And to the stranger who is voicing a complaint you could say, “It’s people like you who make it hard for the mom to know what to do! Mind your business!” Just kidding! That may be what you are thinking, but instead of addressing the one doing the judging, how about saying something kind to the parent so that the “judger” can overhear you, followed by a kind smile aimed at the “judger”, eye contact and all. If you feel the need to say something, I recommend something to the effect of “A smile can go a long way.” or “I’m on a mission to build a kinder world. You’re welcome to join me.” Alright, I may have gone a little off-track here. It’s just to prove to you that I am on this journey to being a kinder and more empathic person, too. I’m modeling that we may have thoughts that are unkind, but that does not mean we should act on them, and if we give ourselves a moment to think before we act, our heart can take over for our ego and beautiful things can happen…


What am I trying to say? I’m saying that before we even talk about the relationship between home and school, we need to look at our everyday interactions with strangers. What are we doing to take care of one another? We need to be able to handle these everyday situations with basic kindness and grace. Why? At the end of the day, we are all human. We will all make mistakes and they will not always be in the privacy of our own home. If we cannot find compassion for a mother struggling to get groceries done with a toddler in tow, how can we expect to find empathy for the teacher who loses her patience with her students, or the parent who berates his child in front of the teacher, or the child who is rude to his mother in the midst of a family gathering. We must learn to be less insecure, less fearful of what others will think, and allow our hearts to lead in the place of our pride, if we expect to teach our kids the necessary life lessons for today’s world.