Start as You Mean to Go

Since before my children were born, I have always known what kind of relationship I wanted to have with them. I have always dreamed of a day when my children would be grown and we would speak to one another as equals, as friends. I have this image of us sitting at a cozy table in a trendy café, chatting easily with one another about anything and everything. What’s more is that I have been sharing this image with them for as long as I can remember.

 

“Perhaps we’re in the Old Port of Montreal…or maybe we’re on Dobson Street in Vancouver…” I’ll suggest. Now that they’re older, they like to make suggestions of their own and they’ll name cities and countries from around the globe. It has become our dream.

 

Why did I choose to tell them about this dream from the time they were little? I believe that in sharing my dream of our beautiful, loving, lifelong relationship, I am setting up the conditions under which it may flourish and become a reality. I tell them that as much as I love being their mother, it isn’t easy having to make difficult decisions. It is never my wish to disappoint them. But right now, it is my job to be their parent, not their friend. But one day…one magnificent, glorious day…though I will always be their mother and I will always want to look out for them…they will be adults and we can have a friendship wherein I respect their choices and offer advice only if it is requested.
I don’t pretend to know that this dream will come true. I am well placed to know that life can throw all kinds of twists and turns at us. What I know for certain though is that I stand a much better chance at achieving this dream if I consciously work at it in the present moment. Rare are the dreams that come true just by chance.

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?