A Mindful Use of Digital Media

How difficult is it nowadays to engage students in a deep discussion? Or if you’re a parent, how difficult is it to engage the whole family in a talk?

 

There has been much debate about the role cell phones and other digital media has played in making face-to-face in-school discussions more difficult in the last few years. A teacher and former colleague recently told me that students even use their phones to order food to be delivered to the classroom. When I asked why she put up with it, she said she couldn’t do anything about it. It was too engrained in the school (and national) culture. She said parents added to the problem by wanting 24/7 access to their children.

 

I was as frightened by this situation as my former colleagues were. How can anyone learn well, and engage with others in meaningful discussions, when their attention is tuned to the expectation of a text?

 

In our world today, we are all bombarded with messages to keep up with the latest technology. The ping of the cell phone is an affirmation that we are valued and important. So, especially for young people who grow up with digital media, being disconnected means being less valuable. They fear what they might miss (FOMO), even to the extent of keeping their phones with them at night, which can interfere with sleep and contribute to anxiety, depression and possibly narcissism.This serves the interest of big corporations whose primary interest is in turning children into malleable consumers; it does not serve the interests of educators and parents interested in their children becoming clear thinking adults.

 

Self-Reflective Questions For Teachers

 

Adults can be as addicted to their devices as children. Ask yourself:

 

How much time do you spend on your phone, computer, and social media?

Who do you prioritize: the person standing before you, or the one on the phone?

 

To read the whole post, click on this link to mindful teachers.org.

To Keep Love Alive, Know How Love Is Born

We all want to be loved, so it is no surprise that so many blogs, so much art, so many movies, plays and novels have been written or created about it. And no surprise that so many of us want to understand how to have a good relationship or keep love alive. When someone says to us, “I love you” or we say it to someone else, it is a pivotal moment in our lives.

 

When we feel loved, we can feel we have “made it.” We might feel not only that “life is good” but “I am good.” What we yearned for has been found. We feel whole.

 

But to keep love alive it’s important to know how love is born. When we look within our self and study how the emotion is constructed, we see that love, like any emotion, is not just one overwhelming entity. It involves so much of who we are. It is feeling and sensation mixed with memory, thoughts and how we view the world and ourselves.

 

For example, when we fall for someone, we usually think it is the other person who fulfills us or makes us feel so alive and complete. But it is not the other person who completes us. It is our loving that completes us. It is the way we relate to another person, by caring so deeply that we feel open, vulnerable, and yet strong enough to take whatever occurs. It is our ability to recognize another person is not the same as us, yet part of us, which completes us.

 

If we think of the other person as the source of our love, all kinds of craziness can ensue. We can think our happiness lies in someone else’s hands and we are powerless—or that this other being exists entirely for us. We can feel so overwhelmed by our attraction for the other person that there is little room left for the reality of that person.

 

This is why love can turn to anger, possessiveness, even violence. We come to see the other only in terms of how he or she fulfills our image of whom they should be, and we never see who they are….

To read the whole post, go to The Good Men Project.

 

 

Mindful Teachers: Mindful Listening In A Noisy World

What happens to your thinking when you feel surrounded by noise? This is a particularly relevant question in schools today. The noise can be external—car horns, fire engines, people screaming in the halls outside your classroom. It can be your own internal voices, dictating what to do, or passing judgment on your character. It can be a combination of the two, as when you spend hours on social media or listening to news where there’s more yelling and attacking going on than listening and understanding.

 

When you hear noise, you are not just hearing a sound you find unpleasant. You are hearing a sound with baggage. You are hearing dislike, resistance, or a threat. It’s difficult to think when there’s noise because noise is a signal that your thinking is impeded or you feel under attack. And what’s attacking you is not necessarily someone external to you, but internal. Something is demanding attention, but it’s not simply the sound….

 

To read the rest of this post, go to Mindful Teachers.

 

The Aim of T and the GOP Is Not To Win An Election, But End Elections; Not To Foster Democracy, But End It.

A democracy is a government where the ultimate power belongs to the people of the nation (demos is Greek for people). It is the will of the people that should guide decisions. The views and lives of the great majority of people, their education, livelihood, health and security must be valued. Since the will of the people is paramount and must guide decision-making, relationships amongst the people must be carefully fostered. Compassion must be fostered.

 

Yet, what is the reality of T’s GOP? Kevin Baker, in a recent article in the New Republic, describes what almost everyone who pays attention has observed: our politics has become open warfare, with the aim being not to serve the people but to make sure the other party never again comes to power. It is to seize power and keep it, by any means. That includes lying and distorting the truth, attacking the institutions that keep us safe, undermining voting, civil and legal rights, enormous corruption, and even colluding with the dictator of a foreign and hostile government.

 

Our government was deliberately structured to prevent a return to power of a monarchy or one-man rule. Three branches of government were established by the constitution in order to have checks on power. Today, we have a one party government; one party controls all three branches of the government. Since the party is led and controlled by one individual, we have a government controlled largely by one individual.

 

A government of a small group is an oligarchy. A government by a class is an aristocracy. A government by one legally prescribed hereditary ruler is a monarchy. A government wherein one person takes power and/or eliminates his or her opposition is a tyranny. A kleptocracy is a government of corrupt rulers who use their power to exploit the people and the nation’s resources in order to extend and keep their own personal wealth and power. Which kind of government do we have now?

 

A democracy requires that laws rule and must protect the people as a whole, not serve the interests of any one person or small group of persons. Yet, T asks the department of justice to protect and serve him, not the law. He tries to undermine investigations by his own DOJ and attacks the FBI.

 

According to a great body of evidence, T and several people from his campaign and administration, including his own son, son-in-law, campaign manager, etc. colluded with a foreign dictator to undermine US elections. And he has largely refused to protect our own election infrastructure.

 

A democracy needs the participation of the people. Yet the GOP undermines voting rights. T encourages hate instead of compassion, calls immigrants whores, criminals, and animals. He rips children from their parents as a deterrent for immigration. He divides the nation and whips up hatred against these fellow humans, despite the fact that immigrants, even undocumented immigrants, are less likely to commit a crime than those citizens born in this country.

 

He not only whips up hatred against immigrants, but against anyone who opposes him, even from his own party. He viciously attacked, in the past and even just recently, John McCain. He insulted and/or or threatened Senator Lisa Murkowski, Jeff Flake, and others for going against his wishes. Certainly, he attacks Democrats and the press almost daily.

 

To make political decisions that actually solve problems and improve the well-being of the people, a democracy needs educated people. It needs to support and promote the dissemination of scientific discoveries and information. This administration attacks education, both in public K-12 schools and universities, and has blocked access to scientific data.

 

This administration shows a profound disregard, even contempt, for health care for a great number of citizens, and has consistently advanced policies that most Americans oppose, creating pressures that cause insurance rates to rise and undermining protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

 

It has attacked supports for the poor, like Medicaid, and programs that all Americans contribute to as insurance for when they are older or retired, like Medicare and Social Security—and they do this in order to protect tax cuts to the super rich who don’t need more wealth.

 

When a very small group of people get a large percentage of the nation’s wealth and income, a democracy of, by and for the people becomes impossible. According to the Congressional Budget Office, between 1979 and 2007, the income for the top 1% in the US has grown by 275%. Since last year’s GOP tax cut, income inequality is growing even more. Instead of one person one vote, and freedom of speech for all, we have one person’s voice drowning out millions of other voices.

 

Hate destabilizes a nation. When we hate, we feel hated in return. We then strike out. Anger boils up with the least provocation. Increasing numbers of us experience a deep sense of dread or anxiety. The number of children suffering from anxiety has been greatly increasing. Increasing numbers of people can’t tolerate hearing the news.

 

We have to be careful not to become what we oppose. One of the worst results of this administration is that too many have begun to doubt the efficacy and strength of kindness. There is so much to be angry about that we can forget the deleterious effects of anger. We mistake actually listening to others for weakness.

 

The aim of this administration might be to end democracy, but they haven’t succeeded, yet. And we can’t let them. Anyone who wants a real democracy, who has compassion for other humans and believes in the rule of laws, not rule by a few powerful individuals, must do what we can to make opposing the policies of this administration a normal part of our day. Must make activities to keep us sane and compassionate part of our day. This is our only viable option if we wish to uphold our humanity.

In Today’s World, Reading Books and Caring for Others are Acts of Defiance

One of the biggest threats of this administration is to your sense of who you are as a human being. It is difficult to believe in mutual love and caring when faced with the actions and words of Roy Moore or Steve Bannon, or compassion when faced with the actions and words of Paul Ryan, or beauty when faced with Mitch McConnell. It is difficult to believe courage is possible when many Republicans, who once criticized the president’s racism or spoke out for health care for children, now support his agenda and this tax bill. It is difficult to believe learning, clear thinking, and scientific research is possible when faced with Betsy DeVos or Mr. T. In today’s world, reading books on topics such as (but not limited to) science, philosophy, anthropology, history or poetry is an act of defiance.

 

So, as a new year draws close, dedicate yourself to rebel not only against the abuses of this administration, but for the possibilities of human nature this administration seeks to squash. Seek to understand the actions of people like Mnuchin, Pruit, Sessions, and Flynn, but also Elizabeth Warren, Doug Jones, and the courage of women who spoke out against abuse by Moore, Mr. T, and others.

 

Rebel not only out of understanding how destructive this administration is to our health care, environment, democracy, and national security—but for love, compassion, and a desire for beauty.

 

When you come home from work tired, tired of long hours of work. Or you return from a protest or from completing phone calls to congress and you feel you have lost the sense of what hope is, read Rubin Alves’ poem Tomorrow’s Child. Or if you need to quiet the noise inside and aren’t able to meditate, or walk along a seashore, read Pablo Neruda on Keeping Quiet. Or you don’t know if you should take a chance on your dreams, read about what happens to a Dream Deferred, by Langston Hughes.

 

When you feel taking action or even listening to the news is too difficult, or “When despair for the world grows in me,” read Wendell Berry’s The Peace of Wild Things. Or when you feel you are catching the illness of fear and selfishness, or that you have no power, read about the power of Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye— “…it is only kindness that makes sense anymore.”

 

When you feel alone in the struggle even though most Americans, most people in the world, agree with you, read The Low Road by Marge Piercy:

“…it starts when you care

to act, it starts when you do

it again after they said no,

it starts when you say We

and know who you mean, and each

day you mean one more.”

 

And, along with Mary Oliver and her poem What I Have Learned So Far, “Be ignited, or be gone.”

 

Do not forget that love is a possibility in every life. (I don’t know about psychopaths.) We all share more than we differ. But for some, love is a possession and a wall. They hold tightly onto the few as if to possess them, and wall away all others. And in doing so, they wall away themselves. But for many, love is a second skin. It is a boundary allowing you to feel life, to feel yourself, more intensely, and to contact, open to others, more securely.

 

Yes, do what you can to find the power in yourself not only to take action and rebel against injustice and ignorance, but to make joy, kindness, education and care for others the central point of what life and even politics is about. This is the greatest gift you can give anyone, including your self, in this or any season.

Thank You.

Thursday is Thanksgiving. It’s been a very full week already. We buried my Dad on Monday, in New Jersey. This afternoon, we will drive three and a half hours to my friend’s house near Woodstock, New York, to celebrate the holiday.

 

I am lucky. For the last forty-two years or so, my wife and I have joined with my friends from College, the University of Michigan, to share the holiday together. When we were younger, we all stayed in one house, like a small community. Now, we need to rent an additional place to sleep. This was always one of the most important events of the year for me, the time I could let go of demands and just be with people without the need for any pretense. They were part of my family.

 

My Mom and Dad had a similar relationship with some friends. I had an Aunt Matilda and Uncle Murray, and Beatrice and Jack. They weren’t blood relatives but our families would celebrate holidays and go on trips together, along with my actual aunt and uncle, Sylvia and Jonas. They would all support each other. Jack, who owned a gas station, would help with the car. Murray and Mat, who sold blinds, would help with covering windows. My real uncle, Jonas, would help if there were electrical problems. My Dad, the accountant, would help with financial and tax matters. My Mom, the historian, would fill in the historical context. Etc.

 

And on this past Monday, representatives of all these families and more came or called. After a death, it is truly helpful to realize all that you are grateful for. Mostly, I am grateful for the love, support, companionship, advice—the central presence of my Dad in my life. I am grateful for all the people who were touched by my Dad’s life and who helped us say goodbye to him. I am grateful to my brother and sister-in-law who were so reliable and caring, who had to deal with so many of the arrangements, for the funeral, for my Dad’s hospice care, and all the times they had to rush to his side when I was too far away. I am thankful for my wife, Linda, for her steady wisdom and love and that look she gives me to remind me to focus on what’s most important in life. Thank you to the Rabbi and others who helped with the funeral and the hotel staff who helped with our Celebration of Life afterwards.

 

I could go on and on. I could thank other relatives, friends and neighbors from New York, Virginia, Atlantic City and other parts of New Jersey, California, and Colorado.

 

And for people I know and don’t know, who take the time to care for other people and our world. Who, despite fear of retribution, speak out, take action to oppose the abuse of powerful men, or the greediness and stupidity of this political administration. Without thousands, millions of people speaking up, the economic and other resources of this country will be ripped off by the powerful and the lives of most of us made more difficult, if not oppressive. My Dad opposed such rip offs and so all those who join together to speak out are, in some way, also family.

 

So, thank you. Enjoy the holidays.

Why Don’t People Act?

Why don’t more people take action? Or, why don’t people who grow up in the U. S., in a democracy, where the stability and continuance of the government ultimately rests in the hands of the people, act? Even more, why don’t people who are informed of what’s going on, who read reliable news sources and have a conscience, act? People might not act because they are so frightened by the news they turn it off—or the news they do read or listen to is the propaganda arm of some group more interested in manipulation and control than education. Or what they’ve heard has been carefully crafted to increase their anger and distrust so they can’t discern who their allies are?

 

Why don’t more Americans vote? About 60% of eligible voters supposedly voted in the last election. And an even smaller percentage of those who vote actively participate between elections. Why don’t more people call, write, or demonstrate by the offices of their Congresspeople? Is it that they haven’t practiced being democratic at home or in their schools or workplace so it doesn’t feel natural to do so?

 

I hear people say, “Wait until 2018 or 2020 and we can vote them out of office.” But I don’t think and certainly don’t feel we can wait that long. What about today, for example, when House Republicans are trying to vote on a tax measure that would give corporations a huge tax break, give the rich an individual tax break, while many in the middle class would see their taxes increase, if not now then in 2026, and their economic security decrease due to increased costs for health care, and decreases in Medicare and Social Security. And those who rely on Medicaid, like the poor, children (48% of those on Medicaid are children), parents, the disabled, Seniors—that, too, will be cut. The Senate version will result in at least 13 million people losing their health care. And this is all being done right in our faces. They lie about it, as if we can’t hear the lie. They flaunt their disdain of the democratic process, excluding democrats from the discussion. So why isn’t everyone calling Congress? Demonstrating?

 

I’m sure there are many reasons. A phone call to a Congressperson takes about a minute. All you have to say is “Please tell the Senator to oppose this tax cut.” Give two or three reasons, and say “Have a nice day.” Some people say they are too busy. But how much busier would they be if this bill passes and their disposable income was reduced and they needed to work even more hours to pay their bills? Some feel their voice will not make a difference. If you do nothing, you certainly can’t make a difference.

 

I know I could make phone calls to register voters or get people to vote and I haven’t done so. I just write blogs and emails, make calls, hit the streets when I can. I think many of us are too shocked. We can’t believe this is happening. Too much is happening too quickly. But a big majority of Americans oppose this administration now. A big majority opposes this tax cut-denial of health care bill. The more each of us does, the more we will understand what can be done. The more powerful we will feel, and the more influence we will wield. The threat we face is a real one. Please make a few calls.

 

Suggestions of People to Call:

Congresspeople:

Charlie Dent

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

Darrell Issa –opposes the elimination of the State and Local tax deduction

Barbara Comstock- opposes the elimination of the State and Local tax deduction

Claudia Tenney-(NY) 202 225-3665

Any of the New York, New Jersey, California representatives might oppose the tax plan (except for Reed and Katko, I think, although I’ve called both)

 

Senators:

Susan Collins – (202) 224-2523 – opposes the elimination of the deduction for teachers who spend $250+ on school supplies, etc.

John McCain – (202) 224-2235- who called for a fair and inclusive process, which hasn’t happened

Ron Johnson – (202) 224-5323

Capito – (202) 224-6472
Flake – (202) 224-4521
Gardner – (202) 224-5941
Portman – (202) 224-3353

Bob Corker – (202) 224-3344

Is Social Media Promoting Or Undermining Democracy—Or Both?

Just two days ago, on October 25th, Mr. T once again treated the facts of a situation as clay he could shape any way he pleased. He accused Hillary Clinton of giving Russia “20% of American uranium and, you know, she was paid a fortune.” This, he claimed, is the real Russia scandal. Of course, this is another in a long line of lies and distortions. According to Politifact and the Washington Post, a one time owner of a uranium company that was sold to the Russians did give money to the Clinton Foundation, but this was before she was Secretary of State and before the uranium company was owned by Russians—plus, she had no hand in approving the sale to Russians.

 

Is this simply another example of a President who either has no care for the truth or who believes in the big lie, a lie so outrageous that people who hear it will think there must be some truth to it? Is he being so outrageous because he understands that social media, the internet, and news outlets that are more like organs of propaganda supports such behavior? Does social media promote or undermine democracy in this or any country? These questions are asked directly or indirectly almost every day lately, with Trump on Twitter and Russians on FB.

 

It wasn’t long ago that many people were proclaiming that social media would be a democratizing force in the world. In late 2010, early 2011, during the Arab Spring, we heard how social media led to powerful demonstrations that brought down established oppressive regimes in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. According to an article in the Harvard Human Rights Journal, it enabled a “twitter revolution” to build extensive networks of protest as well as to gain information beyond the borders the government controls.

 

But as the authors of the article state, using the example of the failure of student-led protests to further democracy in Hong Kong in 2014, a very tech-savvy city, “the power of social media is mischaracterized, its potency exaggerated.”

 

It is so easy to get lost in the advantages of social media and ignore the dangers. One danger is an increase in oppression. The “Great Firewall of China” is “a giant mechanism of censorship and surveillance” that prevents information that opposes the Chinese Communist Party from reaching its citizens.

 

In a discussion at the Aspen Institute on the role of social media in diplomacy, Alec Ross, former State Department senior innovation adviser, described how Vladimir Putin built a digital information system in his country that has become a “truly effective propaganda machine.” He said the success of Putin’s efforts are illustrated by the fact that just a few years ago people throughout Europe believed that the United States shot down the Malaysian airliner over Ukraine in July, 2014, not the Russians.

 

In the US, the last election has led to an epidemic of “fake news,” much of it seemingly supplied by Russia to support Mr. T and increase divisiveness and anger in our country. It has intensified racial and religious divides, for example, as well as political, such as between Bernie vs. Clinton supporters. It has become increasingly difficult to know what’s true. According to an article by Hunt Alcott and Mathew Gentzkow, in the Stanford University Journal of Economic Perspectives, during the election 62% of US adults got their news from social media and “the most popular fake news stories were more widely shared on FB than popular mainstream news stories”—and they were believed. Fake news was both widely shared and heavily tilted in favor of Mr. T. “Our database contains 115 pro-Trump fake stories that were shared on Facebook a total of 30 million times, and 41 pro-Clinton fake stories shared a total of 7.6 million times.” The authors conclude that fake news most likely helped elect Mr. T president.

 

Madeline Albright also took part in the Aspen Institute discussion. As reported by Catherine Lutz in her article on the subject, Albright said, “We’re operating in a rudderless world.” Social media technology is helping create a “dangerous force” of nationalism. People are “grouping more and more with their own kind, whether it’s national, ethnic, or religious groups.” [Italics are my own.] This was in August, 2014, and Albright’s words are proving even more true today.

 

Ross said, at the Aspen Institute discussion, that the media is value-neutral, but I question that. I can’t forget Marshall McLuhan, in the 1960s talking about “the media is the message.” We have to look more at the effects of the media itself, not just its content.

 

One effect of social media and related technologies is an increase in the hold on us of a consumer-driven capitalist society. They enshrine ever more deeply the values of immediate gratification, distraction, us-them thinking and an over-simplification of how we view issues in our society. Ease of pleasure replaces depth of experience. Many of us recognize that usage of media has become a habit we feel we cannot do without. We worry if we are away for any length of time from our phones or social media platforms, “what have I missed?” We want the latest cell phones or other devices, despite the fact that this technology can be costly. Some studies claim American teens spend on average 9 hours a day on their cell phones and other media, more time than most of them sleep. According to the World Bank, Americans in general spend 1.7 hours a day on social media.

 

Parents and educators especially are seeing an increase in anxiety and difficulty concentrating in their children. This can partly be attributed to the “Trump Effect” and the fear engendered by this administration, but social media shares some of the blame. (I’d argue an increasing divide between the very rich and the rest of us is also to blame, but that’s for another time.) Psychologist and educator Larry Rosen, in his book iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession With Technology And Overcoming Its Hold On Us, argues that social media has contributed to an increase in disorders like narcissism and anxiety in both children and adults. He goes further and argues that when hidden behind our media screens, our thinking is more easily distorted, and we display thoughts and actions that characterize different psychological disorders. For example, Rosen cites studies showing many people, on FB or other social media, display the “me first” grandiosity, lack of empathy, envy of others, sense of self-importance and entitlement that characterizes a narcissistic personality disorder.

 

According to Mark Matousek in his book Ethical Wisdom: What Makes Us Good, words are never more than a small part of any face-to-face communication—one study showed as little as 7% of the emotional meaning of a message. The rest is expressed through facial expression, posture, gestures, and tone of voice. But on social media, we only have words, names, or photos to respond to. We can lose the feeling that the people we meet on FB have an inner life similar to our own. We have to fill in so much with our imagination and prior understandings that it is easy to misunderstand or not care. Matousek argues we suffer a virtual blindness that can undermine our sense of shared humanity and morality.

 

Truth has a difficult time competing against the pressures to fit in a group and believe what your friends believe. We understand only in a context, and one of the most important elements of any context is who we are with. This leads to a cognitive bias to believe what other people, especially those in our group, believe (bandwagon effect and herd instinct), and we are more likely to notice information that supports our pre-existing views than what doesn’t (confirmation bias).

 

Never before, thanks to the internet, have facts been easier to find. Yet, lies and distortions by politicians have increasingly filled the headlines. We have to take time to check sources of any information we read in order not to be deceived by a fake news story. Democracy is a complex, time consuming political system demanding more education on issues and involvement from its citizens. Yet, the internet itself fosters the expectation of immediate answers, undermines tolerance of complexity, and thus makes it easier for corrupt politicians to deceive and manipulate.

 

So, does social media promote or undermine democracy? Maybe both. I am disturbed by how easy it is to spread propaganda and fake news on social media. But besides the obvious (check sources, not rely on social media for news, take frequent tech/social media holidays and walk in the woods, replace the current administration with one that truly cares about the well-being of its citizens and one that cares about fighting, not supporting, Russian interference in our democracy), I have few answers. I do know that in order to think clearly we need to know how to create a mental silence when we need it, so we can mindfully hear our own thoughts and feelings. And we need to learn how to listen for the reality of others, both for all that we share and all that makes us different, even when we know little about them except a name in the headlines or a few words on FB. Mindfulness and compassion can be revolutionary.

Living and Teaching In This Age of Anxiety and Threat

How do you teach when so many people feel and are threatened and the federal government is controlled by people who do not have your well-being in mind? How would growing up in this age, with this minority-elected President, influence your children? If you’re a parent, you might be thinking about this question too often. If you’re a child in a public school, a person of color, a recent immigrant, an LGBT, Muslim or a Jewish person, female, a person who believes in civil rights, a free press, or a democrat—the list of who might be threatened is almost endless. How do you teach?

 

What children will primarily learn from today’s political situation is more dependent on the understanding, creativity, and empathy shown by a teacher’s response, by all of our responses, than by the situation itself. Your response educates the child in what is possible, in what it means to be a human being. A person becomes a bully, not a clown or a desperate person, not only by his or her actions but how others respond to their actions. Your response is your freedom. Schools can begin with programs against bullying and increasing the understanding and practice of empathy; teach social-emotional skills.

 

In November of 2015, I wrote a blog about facing terror. In a way, what I said then is relevant now. I asked: “How do you talk with your children, or if you are a teacher, with your students, about… any acts of terror and violence, [or the new administration] or whenever something dreadful happens and you feel frightened or pissed off?  You might feel numb, scared, mute. You might want to cry out for revenge, or cry out to stop the killing. All understandable. All emotion is understandable. But what do you do with it? And how do you teach your children or students about it?”

 

“This is a complex question and I think answering it needs to be part of the discussion in families and in the curriculum. There are at least two directions this can take. One is teaching children how to face emergencies. The other dimension is helping students learn about the situation and learn about the attacks, what led to them and what might be done to prevent further violence.”

 

“First, I suggest starting by feeling and hearing what is going on in yourself. You have to be honest and willing to face uncomfortable feelings and look deeply into your own ways of thinking. To get out of the way of a thrown object you have to first see it. Then you need to hear from students. What do you feel? What responses to the violence have you heard or seen? [Or what do you feel about the administration?] By listening, you say to yourself and your students, ‘you are strong enough to face this and I care enough to listen.’ You teach empathy and emotional awareness.”

 

Ask students: How can you feel more comfortable and less anxious here, in the classroom? Work together with students to make explicit what you and the students need in order to create a supportive, caring atmosphere—that is within your power. Ask the children open-ended questions followed with more explicit ones. For example, What does caring look like to you? Is being kind important? What about being heard? What about feeling the discussion is relevant to your life?

 

If you can, lead the students in imaginative inquiry practices using questions based on student responses. For example, if they pick out kindness as one characteristic of a supportive classroom, ask them to close their eyes and answer in their own mind the following questions: What does ‘kindness’ mean to you? What words come to mind when you hear the word ‘kindness’? What does it look like? How do you feel when someone is kind to you? Who could you be kind to today and how would you do it? Then ask them to record and then share with the class what came to mind.

 

Once you share what you and the students think about kindness or caring, and what is necessary to create the supportive community children say they need, pledge to each other that you will do all you can to act accordingly.

 

The next lesson is on facing adversity. Ask students: How do you face what is difficult? Deconstruct what happens when you feel stressed, threatened, or anxious. If you notice the sensations of fear and anxiety before they get too strong, you can act in ways that utilize their energy without them dominating you. You learn from them and let them go. You can’t always control what arises in your life, or mind, but you can determine your response.

 

Ask: What happens to your breathing when stressed? When stressed, your breathing gets more shallow and quick. When you notice this, deliberately take one–three longer, deeper breaths before you consider what actions to take.

 

What about your thoughts? We often turn away from what is uncomfortable and treat it as abnormal, or wrong. If you respond to feelings of discomfort, or of being challenged as if no normal life would be touched by them, you greet such sensations with fear and anxiety. The novelist, G. K. Chesterton said, “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered.” A challenge is just normal life.

 

The more aware you are of your own mental and emotional processes, the more freedom you have in your actions and the more readily you learn. To teach this, you could have mindful moments in your classroom, where you ask students to close their eyes for a moment, and allow themselves to be aware of their breathing. Or start a class with a moment of silence. Or, if you practice mindfulness, start the day with a mindfulness practice. Always practice on your own before you do it with students. If you haven’t already done so, study how to lead students in such practices.

 

Say to students: Sit back in your chairs with your backs relatively straight and at ease, and either close your eyes partly or fully, or let them rest on a blank surface in front of you. Can you feel your breath? Feel yourself take a gentle breath in. Then feel it go out. Do that again; focus on your breathing in—and then breathing out. No hurry.

 

Then ask students to: notice any sensations that arise. Do it as you would if you were on the shore of a stream and were seeing and hearing the sounds of the water, noticing any stones in the bed of the stream. Notice where the sensations are, how they begin and end. They are like the water flowing and bends in the course of the stream. You might focus on your shoulders. Simply notice your shoulders rise as you breathe in. And relax, settle down, as you breathe out. Then go to another place in the body. Notice how you body expands as you breathe in, and lets go, settles down as you breathe out. Notice also any thoughts. They are part of the water flowing. If your mind drifts away, or you lose focus on the breath, simply notice it. When you notice something, it means you are found. Right now, you are aware. Take joy in that. Just notice what arises with the inhalation, and let it go with the exhalation.

 

Take another, deep breath, open your eyes, and return your awareness to the classroom. Ask them to: look round and notice how you feel now. And then write in a journal or share how the experience was for them. Did they notice their thoughts or sensations? Do they feel more relaxed now then they did before?

 

You could ask students: What actions can you take to change their community or the nation to be a better place? How could they help others? By taking action, students feel empowered.

 

If physical exercise isn’t part of the school day or your day, add it somehow. It grounds you. Fear closes you off, divides you. When you engage both the mind and body, you feel whole, more patient, confident and you think more clearly. Take a walk in the woods, study history and social justice movements and go deeply into the question of “Who are we humans?” I’d discuss with students, “What does it mean to be a citizen in a democracy?” I’d add media literacy to the curriculum so students learn to spot bias. And compassion: we need to dig deeply into what compassion is, for ourselves and for others. But these topics are for another day.

 

What are you doing, if you’re a teacher, to help your students? If you’re a parent, to help your children? If you’re in a relationship, to help your partner? If you’re feeling anxious yourself—what are you doing to help you face adversity with as clear a mind as you can bring to the task?

 

**This blog was also published by the Bad Ass Teachers Blogspot.

 

 

 

 

Compassionate Critical Thinking and the Teaching And Living Using Spirituality Blogspot

This week, I was invited to write a blog on my book for the Teaching and Living Using Spirituality blogspot.

 

When I first discussed my book with friends, many said that compassion and critical thinking seemed contradictory to them. They thought ‘compassion’ necessitated taking in or opening to people, and ‘critical’ meant being judgmental, questioning or pushing them away. I then asked What happens inside a person when they’re compassionate? And then, after listening to their responses, What does critical thinking mean to you? If compassion leads to openness, taking in information, improved perception and understanding; and if critical thinking requires understanding a person or situation better, then wouldn’t compassion aid such thinking? …

 

To read the whole piece, please use this link. Thank you to Owen Griffith, author of Gratitude: A Way of Teaching, for engineering this guest blog and creating his website.