May the Circles Be Unbroken

Starita Boyce Ansari designs out-of-school programs for elementary through college students. She studies the economics of discrimination and education equity, equality and access, and she has co-authored two books on youth leadership. Her work in the fields of philanthropy and social justice has been recognized by Ford and W.K Kellogg foundations. Reposted from ECE Policy Works by permission of the author.

By M. Starita Boyce Ansari

The 2016 U.S. presidential election has made so many people angry, anxious, and divisive.  Our nation, particularly its children, cannot afford the hate and separation our educators are seeing in the classrooms. Bigotry and bullying are on the rise, intensified by the tragedy of what the Southern Poverty Law Center and teachers are calling the “Trump Effect.”  My own fifth-grade son fears that our nation has returned to the “Ruby Bridges Days” of hate.

I believe that, in spite of all the hate, hope shines in the form of a generation of 83.1 million millennials, who have been primed not merely to make America, but the world, a better place. That means more than one quarter of the nation’s population can catalyze change.  We must be willing to come together so they can realize the power of their voices.

The millennials and baby boomers are America’s first- and second- largest generations.  Along with countless other Americans, I have benefited from the civil rights and women’s movements. We may call them different names today (Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, Color of Change, etc.), but we share many goals—from environmental justice to trans rights to equal pay to corporate social responsibility. We have the time, talent and gifts to bring to this task.

To get there, we must be empathetic and open our hearts. We must break down the silos between us so that we can help each other.  From there, we must commit to making sure that compassion has a real impact. We need to create responsive intergenerational engagement within our communities. We must be honest, however, about the collective challenges that face us.  Millennials often express the feeling that the system ignores their voices.  There’s a wall of suspicion between the generations. The time for listening, learning, sharing, caring, and mentoring is now.

Among the greatest challenges is the focus of our educational system on “racing to the top,” at the expense of the whole child. When we erase experiential learning, we deprive our children of the opportunity to reflect on the world and be problem-solvers.  From prekindergarten to college, we have not done our duty of creating empathetic citizens who understand how to be responsive in their philanthropy and considerate of others’ cultures, mores, identities, and personalities. Those who are empathic and inclusive have witnessed acts of kindness at home.

Education can become the bridge to leadership, civil discourse, community engagement, and commitment to change. Actually, not only can it do so, it must! Through responsive philanthropy, our educators will open the door to a new generation of civic leaders.

Part of the process is moving beyond test scores and career readiness. Educators must integrate empathy, community, and citizenship into the curriculum. In too many places, the misplaced priorities of the Common Core inhibit student participation in the community. Test-centered teaching leaves no room for our students to learn, appreciate, understand and respond to the feelings and experiences of others.

There are many ways to accomplish this goal.  Giving circles have shown the highest potential.  A giving circle nurtures students appreciation and understanding of others’ needs, enabling them to come together to support charitable organizations or community initiatives for a set period of time. Their members become more aware of and engaged in the causes they fund, and learn how to make our world better, not just for them, but for all.

A powerful model, a giving circle melds responsiveness and altruism with community engagement.  This isn’t about a tax deduction—often the focus of millennials’ parents and grandparents.  It’s a replication of the model used by civil rights, women’s rights and LGBT activists, harking back to a time when people of a wide variety of backgrounds and interests pulled their time, talents and resources together to work for social change. It is transparent, responsive, empowering and collaborative.

Creating space for giving circles means bringing philanthropy and civic engagement back into the classroom. We need to be pragmatic and strategic in our approach. Institutions can start by piloting giving circles that integrate administration, student government organizations, students, themselves, philanthropists, parents, and other community members.

Most importantly, we must break down the silos between us so that we can help each other.  We cannot return to the “Ruby Bridges Days” of fear and selfishness. A movement of philanthropy, in the sense of loving one’s fellow human being, is what we need. With so much ahead of us to do, we cannot afford hate and separation.  I have a higher goal in mind. We all do. We must protect our children from these misanthropic forces.

Kind Business, Kind Results: TEALarbor Stories

Jennifer Wilhoit, founder of TEALarbor stories, focuses on listening and writing as instances of kind action within an ecological mindset. By helping people learn how to find and tell their stories, she helps them unlock their self-compassion. I firmly believe that self-compassion unlocks our ability to practice kindness and greater levels with greater impact. I feel so honored to have met this fellow kindness practitioner as a co-instructor for The Charter for Compassion Education Institute. Later this year, she will teach a course entitled “Compassion: Growing Tenderness for Self and Other via Writing and Ecology.” You’ll learn more about it just by hearing her present it in her own words, and, taking a page from her wonderful thinking, after you’ve read it, promise yourself you’ll go out and take in the beauty of nature around you.

How do you see writing and listening contributing to kinder interactions between people? 

My business, TEALarbor stories, aims to compassionately support people as they discover their deepest stories; these might be in written form, spoken aloud in natural landscapes, involve difficult life transitions, or are focused around conflict. Writing offers individuals an opportunity to express themselves differently. Taking the time to journal, for example, people discover a voice that is wise and compassionate within themselves. The writing page doesn’t judge; it simply holds. Writing our truth on the page frees, opens, and heals us; this is a precursor to kindness. 

“Deep listening” is more than just presence with the auditory sense organ. It mandates a heart opening to “other.” I listen with my heart, in kindness, dropping judgment. Sometimes deep listening means sitting in silence with somebody, being a quiet presence to bear witness to and hold someone’s pain.

When we truly listen to another person, from our heart, we see how connected we are; we find our shared humanity. Listening from the wisdom of our hearts and releasing our desire to fix or change someone else are perhaps the greatest gifts we can give each other. Writing and listening are kind acts when we drop our agenda and graciously accept what’s being conveyed.

I notice many people stifle their voices because they criticize themselves so harshly. How can self-compassion help people break that silence? 

I spend the bulk of my time with my clients teaching them how to release self-judgment. One of my hallmark practices is called “scrap” – this doesn’t magically make the harsh, critical, tenacious inner voices go away forever, but it can help us to put them aside for now – at least during the (writing) session. Once clients engage this practice a few times, their natural instinct is to go to self-love, self-compassion.

I also encourage people to let go of their prescribed notion of outcome, especially when they are first beginning their writing project or healing process. It takes huge “courage” (being afraid and doing it anyway) to write a memoir, proceed with a rigorous scholarly paper, to shift something within so that we can move out of protracted conflict, to become restored to a new sense of wholeness after loss, or to open in stillness to what nature has to teach us. So I guide people to trust their own inner wisdom.

I think modeling compassion toward others is another really powerful way we can facilitate someone else’s move toward self-compassion. I often offer clients a short, positive mantra that they can repeat. Clients have come back to me and said, “I kept hearing your voice saying that loving phrase and I was reminded that I do deserve to love, be kind and gentle to, myself.” We practice compassion toward others, show how we can be compassionate with ourselves, and offer simple ways others can do the same for themselves. These are silence-breakers; people cannot not write once they’ve released themselves into the deep waters of self-compassion.

What is the role of nature and ecological thinking in your philosophy of kindness? 

We are nature.

When we look at the natural world around us – how the trees don’t complain when their leaves dry and the wind blows them off and the icy winter covers their limbs – we can see that our lives are beautifully interwoven with nature. The flora and fauna, the landscapes, the oceans, earthquakes, or volcanoes don’t hate or love. They just are. They do as their nature dictates. Trees stand rooted, soak up sunlight, shed leaves to conserve energy in winter, flower again in the springtime. That’s just what they do.

We humans also have a nature: human nature. The more we spend time in natural areas, find strength, inspiration, solitude and quiet, learn about what is around us in the outdoors, the more we find those things within ourselves. For nature mirrors us.

My work, my writing, my spiritual life, my leisure revolve around what I call “the inner/outer landscape.” We are inextricably interconnected with the natural world. And the more we can foster gratitude for our lives, our presence on this sumptuous planet, the gift of breath moving in and out of our lungs, sunlight and moonrises, the more we will replenish and be able to give of ourselves to others in love and tenderness. I believe this is what kindness is…at its most genuine core: kindness is gentle, compassionate, and natural.

Keep this thinking in mind whenever you feel you need a kindness reset, or when you want to unlock your own stories, your writing, your thoughts, or your feelings. You may find the key as close by as the nearest patch of open grass you can see or the next birdsong you can hear.

Kind Business, Kind Results: Margaret Meloni

Later this year, I will be teaching a course called “Becoming an Agent of Kindness in the Workplace” under the auspices of The Charter for Compassion Education Institute. One of my fellow instructors, Margaret Meloni, will be teaching a course called “Leading with Compassion: How YOU can be a Compassionate Leader.” I reached out to Margaret to learn more about the work she does. She focuses on conflict resolution strategies, emotional intelligence, dealing with difficult people, and effective communication, all of which help to build successful working relationships and keep the peace. According to Margaret, “a peaceful team is a high performing team.”

Here is a transcript of the discussion:

You describe your consulting and coaching process as a path to peace. How do you help people and organizations become more peaceful environments?

The idea of having a path to peace in the workplace originated from watching how one harsh word or thoughtless behavior could negatively impact a colleague for an extended period of time. With this came the realization that in any difficult situation, what you and I can control is our own emotions and reactions.

Initially, I provided coaching to individuals who were experiencing difficulties at work. Typically these difficulties stemmed from a challenging professional relationship or working in a corporate environment that was not a good fit. What this has evolved into is providing individuals or groups with tools that help them to strengthen their own skills in dealing with difficult people and difficult situations. The approach is really that peace comes from within, so why not become aware of how you behave while in conflict, how you communicate and how you lead? Work on yourself, because that is where you will make the biggest impact and the greatest contribution. You cannot force others to change. But your own behaviors and your response to their behaviors may in fact lead to positive changes. Then you can model peace at work, and you can set the tone for bringing kindness to the workplace.

How can kind project management approaches lead to better results (in teamwork, outcomes, etc.)?

Quite a bit of work has been done around the negative impact of stress in the workplace. High stress environments contribute to low morale, absenteeism and poor quality of work. A common cause of stress in the workplace comes from poor working relationships. Poor working relationships often stem from unresolved conflict and feelings of being disrespected and unappreciated.

Social support among employees helps to combat stress. In one laboratory study participants were exposed to equivalent levels of stressors.  Researchers leading the study found that members of cohesive groups reported the least amounts of stress. Although employees can develop strong social support structures without their leaders, it is even better when a leader sets the tone by creating a culture of kindness.

It may sound trite, but it is true that a happy team is a productive team. A happy team is better able to work together to solve problems and overcome obstacles. The result is the highly sought after high performing team.

What can project managers do to maintain authentic and compassionate relationships with project stakeholders, especially when the project hits bumps in the road?

Here is a list of behaviors that a project manager can use to bring compassion to his or her stakeholders.

  1. Encourage the productive resolution of conflict.
  2. Discourage pent up negativity.
  3. Practice forgiveness.
  4. Reach out to team members who are going through a difficult time and express your concern and let them know you are sorry they are suffering.
  5. Stop thinking about ME and start thinking about WE – when you stop focusing on your own status and ego, so will your team and this fosters a culture of kindness.
  6. Allow your team to question you and even to occasionally debate with you – without fear of repercussion.
  7. Allow your team to experience failure and then use the situation to teach and to help them grow, not to punish and admonish them.
  8. Don’t think that being compassionate makes you weak.
  9. Encourage employees to interact with one another, it is these interactions which create the bonds which help us to think about others besides ourselves.

Margaret’s ideas about intentional peace in the workplace create a healthy, stable foundation for kindness between colleagues as well as fertile ground for solid business results.

Kind Business, Kind Results: (Re) Engage Consulting

In Kindness Communication’s latest Kind Business, Kind Results discussion, I spoke with Jennifer Hooten, Founder & Principal at (Re) Engage Consulting. I have the great privilege of working with Jennifer on a team of instructors offering online courses with the support of The Charter for Compassion Education Institute. I was struck by her vision for helping organizations and wanted to discuss it with her more.

Here is a transcript of the discussion:

What is your overall vision for (Re) Engage Consulting?

(Re) Engage Consulting exists to unlock the power of people.

Our work begins with a single premise: People are the single most powerful lever for organizational change.  Human potential is a critical but often neglected component of an organizational strategy. The desire to make meaningful contribution exists in everyone, but if employees aren’t plugged into their work – if they don’t think and feel that they are contributing to something bigger than themselves – then organizations aren’t getting the best from them and employees themselves feel unsatisfied.

(Re) engage means “to establish or re-establish a meaningful connection with; to take part in or participate again.”  Helping organizations participate again in a meaningful connection with their people is the most effective way to achieve lasting transformation.  This is the (Re) Engage vision and is our specialty.

When companies face big change or difficult decisions, how does kindness play a role in enabling change and moving forward?

Bringing kindness and compassion into the workplace is a critical factor in an organization’s ability to navigate change constructively – for both the individual and the company.

But before we can give any attention or energy to pursuits beyond basic survival mode (physical needs like food, water, air, etc.), we must first feel safe.

Jim Haudan says it well in his book, The Art of Engagement:

“Ranking just above [physical] needs is the most basic psychological need: the need to feel safe…When we’re afraid, we’re guarded, cautious, and restrained, and we do everything we can do regain a feeling of security.”

Most jobs today require some degree of creativity, problem-solving, awareness of self and others, openness to collaboration, etc.  Yet many workplaces are driven by manipulation, greed, and unethical decisions, which keeps people operating in survival mode and unable to make the contributions they most desire and that companies most need. Capacity for collaboration, creativity, innovation, and curiosity diminishes when one’s professional, psychological and/or emotional safety is in question.

Leaders who allow their people to spend an extended period in this survival mode can cause significant damage to themselves and those around them. This is where compassion comes in. Genuine compassion relaxes fear, increasing access to the workers’ ability to make unique and meaningful contributions.

Can you describe the before and after of a business situation where more kindness led to better outcomes?

I was hired by a real estate entity to assist them with a major restructuring.  They had recently reduced their holdings by 40 percent as well as their staff, creating an immediate need for strategic change management as well as an opportunity to re-assess the functional effectiveness of the existing organizational structure. Our goal was to address both the short and longer term needs with special emphasis on building capacity through staff development.

Those who survived the lay-offs were understandably paralyzed by fear. They were balancing a mountain of new work and the constant weight of anxiety about their job security. People began to protect departmental “turf,” trying to remain relevant and necessary. Skepticism became the norm; the large rift between those at the top and those at the bottom had grown wider.  With such low morale, how could they move forward to determine just how the work was going to get done?

We began with human needs first.  I conducted confidential, one-on-one sessions with everyone who was laid off and everyone remaining in the organization.  I listened.  I empathized.  I extended kindness and goodwill to people in the throes of threatening change. There were tears, hugs, and many awkward silences, and no easy answers.

Once we created a sense of safety, the fears subsided just enough for deeper concerns and desires to emerge.  Interview questions adapted from Dr. Frank Rogers’s Compassion Practice helped people identify and better understand reactivity around a particular situation.

These questions form a handy acronym (FLAG) that created a different conversation than would have been possible with fear in the driver’s seat. It also provided a common language for this organization to use in the future as they communicate with one another.

FLAG questions

FLAG questions open opportunities for kind dialogue in difficult situations. Feel free to share them!

From session responses, the freshly tilled soil of common ground emerged.  I reflected back to the group the general themes that were shared, and the collective release was visible in the room. People nodded in solidarity when I voiced the prevailing fears.  They noticed each other’s sighs when hearing about each others’ burdens.  Compassion flowed…and it created the foundation for a new way forward.

After paying attention to each individual experience, creating a new workflow became more a matter of details than navigating personal angst. Because we began with a compassionate response to the human experience of change, the company attained organizational results that were more comprehensive, sustainable, and humane than moving into problem-solving mode first.

Jennifer will be offering her Charter for Compassion Education Institute course, entitled “Compassion @ Work,” later in 2016. I look forward to seeing more of her approach in action and to learning more about how it activates workplace kindness.

Kind Business, Kind Results: Story2

In Kindness Communication’s latest Kind Business, Kind Results discussion, I spoke with Carol Barash, Founder and CEO of Story2. Story2 works with students to help them tell their most authentic story as a way to achieve college admission success. Unlike most other college admission support services, Story2 focuses on helping students be their own best advocate. The company offers a mix of online tools and coaching to help students explore their own stories and transform them into authentic writing for college, work, and life. It promotes the idea that telling stories unlocks a bigger, bolder life, beyond getting into college. I deeply appreciate the way they introduce this level of empathy and kindness to the highly fraught, stressful world of students aspiring to get accepted at colleges of their choice.

Here is a transcript of the discussion:

College admissions place so much stress on students and parents. The process can seem cold, even cruel, to aspiring students. How does Story2 work to make it kinder, truer to student needs, and better in outcomes?

​The college admissions process has become very commodified and transactional. Students struggle to get top grades and test scores, as if these are ends if themselves—and in the process, they often lose sight of their own purpose and possibilities in the world. Story2 encourages students to start with who they are, what they bring to college, and what they want to achieve and contribute once they get there. When you reflect on the experiences that shaped who you are today, and imagine what type of world you want to create with your unique gifts and talents, the process becomes much more positive and there is tremendous potential for student learning and growth. Students who use Story2 storytelling tools to write their college admission and scholarship essays consistently outperform students with similar grades and test scores. When you reveal your honest and authentic character—in college admissions, job search, or any part of life—people respond and want to help you.

What do you do with communities of educators and admissions professionals to promote more kindness in the process?

​First of all we help students and counselors to organize all parts of the admissions process—and especially all the different essays—so they can spend their precious time on the parts that really matter. Students can write better essays; teachers can provide one-on-one feedback; and counselors can spend time with students who most need their help. We encourage students to approach college admissions as a team sport, and to help everyone get to the shared goal of college completion with minimal debt.

How do the values that you’ve described affect the working culture at Story2, how people work together, and how you lead the business?

​We try to make Story2 a “judgement free zone.” If something goes wrong—and of course it will; that’s life—we try to look at the situation without shame or blame and see what we can learn and do differently next time. We created an instrument for team reflection that I’m ​quite proud of. It’s call an AOLP, short for Achievements Obstacles, Learning and Priorities. We created the AOLP at first to help students look at their work, day by day, with an eye to what was working and what they were learning—and what they wanted to work on next. When we applied it to our own work, we realized how much we actually do each day, and how much we could learn and grow if we pulled out even on thing we wanted to work on—our priority—for the next day.

To learn more about Story2, visit their website at www.story2.com. You can experiment with their EssayBuilder to learn more about their step-by-step, kindness-based process for completing powerful college essays, or help out high school students and parents you know by sharing the link with them.

Kind Business, Kind Results is a monthly series of posts in which Kindness Communication interviews business leaders who strongly exemplify kindness values and practices. If you’d like to participate, please reach out.

Kind Business, Kind Results: Kool2BKind

Earlier this month, I had an email discussion with Margaret Dolan, Founder of Kool2BKind Productions. Kool2BKind brings gamification to the practice of kindness by assigning positive points for doing kind things and penalty points for doing unkind things. It fosters a bit of friendly competition among players to see who can build up the most positive points. The current version of the game focuses on younger players, but will expand to versions for adults in the workplace and teens in coming months.

I especially like the idea that tracking kindness in this way draws attention to the fact that kindness consists in small actions, and keeps the player mindful of the impact of his or her actions.

Here is a transcript of the discussion:

What is your overall vision for Kool2BKind?

Kool2BKind is an iPhone game that promotes doing kind acts. Players get rewarded with points, encouragements, and cheers and for doing kind things and penalty points, discouragements, and boos for doing unkind things. Kool2BKind was created to be something fun that parents, teachers, student groups, church leaders — in other words, kindness cultivators — could use to educate and encourage groups on the importance of being kind.

Our current version is targeted for kids, 9-12 years old, but can be used by both teens and adults. We will be launching a Teen and Business version of Kool2BKind in the near future.

What motivated you to create Kool2BKind? Especially any specific stories or events that gave you momentum?

Like many people, I was taught to treat others as I would like to be treated.  So, I have strived to live kindness as a life principle for my whole life. In college, grad school and my early business career, I was told by many that my kindness was a weakness, i.e., I was naïve or a PolyAnna because I chose to be kind. I was not deterred by these comments because I have always believed kindness is strength and unkindness is weakness.   worked in environments where words of praise were few, but words of criticism a daily occurrence.  I make it a choice daily to be kind to others — smile, say hello, compliment their appearance, praise work well done, etc., and I always get positive responses. Kindness makes people happy; encourages them; and helps people come together as a team. I realized that people learn to be kind by watching others be kind.  They observe a family member, friend or business associate doing something kind and like what they experienced or observed.  The next time they encounter a similar circumstance, they may do a similar kindness.

So, Kool2BKind was born out of a desire to provide a simple and fun tool that people could use to learn to how to be kind; to bring more kindness into their life and those around them.  A mobile app was the way I chose to bring this goal to life — simple, fun and rewarding all around.

What specific kindness practices mean the most to you as a kindness practitioner?

As a kindness practictioner, I like to smile and to compliment people. Smiles and kind words are contagious things.

How does your kindness vision translate to the way you do business with others? Colleagues, business partners, suppliers/vendors, customers, etc.

Happy employees are more productive employees and kindness makes people happy.  I have used Kool2BKind at work with positive results.  I kept the game running on my iPhone and whenever members of the group participating in the game smiled, or said kind words to their co-workers or customers, etc., we counted the points on my phone.  And when a co-worker said or did something unkind, e.g., sent an angry email, the sound effects of the game really made it clear that the remark was unwanted; and the penalty points were noted. Instead of being upset at the unkind remark, the group laughed from the sound effects and moved on to other more productive activities. And the person who sent the angry email really learned for the future. The activity was not only fun and motivating, but it brought the group together as a team.

KBK_screens

You can download a copy of Kool2Bkind for free on the iTunes App store (search Kool2BKind); via their website, www.Kool2BKind.com; or via The Random Acts of Kindness website under Kindness Links.

Kind Business, Kind Results is a monthly series of posts in which Kindness Communication interviews business leaders who strongly exemplify kindness values and practices. If you’d like to participate, please reach out.