Common Situations: Refusal to Participate
If the person refuses to participate,
• Make sure there is a structured flow to the day, not just the emptiness of custodial care.
• Be aware of other caregivers who might be coaxing, cajoling, or bribing the person to participate.
• Bring about minimal participation by doing activities with the person.
• Continue to dialogue.
• Emphasize valuing and elicit it during any movement toward the slightest participation.
The major challenge in this situation is to make valuing occur, even in settings that contradict it. Many caregivers work in almost hopeless situations: institutions where the mentally ill are herded like animals, nursing homes where the aged are left to fade away, homeless shelters where the poor are warehoused for an evening. Although we need to fight for social justice and establish decent places for people to live, work and play, many caregivers still need to create hope and feelings of companionship where there is none. Thus, if we work alone in a setting that seems to be the antithesis of valuing and engagement, we have a special and difficult role: to bring hope where only despair reigns.
We will often be ridiculed for our idealism and seeming naiveté. Yet we can express valuing and create feelings of companionship even in the midst of hopelessness. Our interactions are what matters. If the person in the most forsaken institutional ward runs from us and falls to the floor, we can keep on teaching the meaning of human engagement. If the person lashes out, spits, or screams at us, we can move toward him or her and continue to bring about engagement and give unconditional valuing. We are challenged to enable participation and establish feelings of solidarity regardless of the hellish reality in which we find those who are marginalized.
-John J. McGee, PhD
“Mentors cannot give what they do not have. Mentors are not about changing anyone’s behaviours; they are about focusing on others feeling safe with them and loved by them. Nothing more and nothing less. When in situations where there might be opportunities to state what they are against, they merely share what they are for.
Mentors do not devalue, put down or condescend; they lift up, respect, and simply share what they might do. They do not forbid or frown upon those actions that they do not like. They must be embedded in daily hands-on experiences with the most marginalized. They find joy in being among the most forsaken; they reach out to the most abandoned. The Mentor’s work is with caregivers in union with the most marginalized.”
“Mentoring is a way to help teach others about gentle care giving, to enter into terrifying spaces and teach others to feel safe and loved.” Mentoring is an approach to do this. It is a way to share with others a spirit of gentleness and justice.
A mentors role is to define the empty and sometimes violent spaces that exist between caregivers and marginalized individuals in institutions, shelters, homes, prisons, nursing homes, schools and wherever we happen to serve. These places have to be filled up with the caregivers’ laces of affection–their loving touch, warm words, and kind gazes. Caregivers need to stop and reflect on the formation of companionship and community and the role of helping individuals feel safe, engaged, loved and loving. From this foundation, caregivers can then create communities of caring. Mentoring is a process for teaching caregivers to establish companionship and community.
Mentoring is an ever-deepening task that calls for the development of trust among caregivers and the formation of a sense of companionship and community. This trust starts by the Mentor entering into the caregivers’ space with a deep sense of humility and justice and helping each caregiver feel safe and respected. It is the informal coming together of the Mentor and caregiver around the kitchen table and the sharing of the meaning of companionship and community. It is working together and finding ways to teach marginalized people these feelings.”
At the age of eighteen I had applied for a job at a coffee shop in the city that I had been living in. I had visited this establishment numerous times and fell in love with it; at the time I had seen it as a place that screamed adulthood, something that I was craving in my life. To my surprise, I had been asked to come in for an interview; I was ecstatic! As I entered the meeting I was greeted by the manager. He asked me a few questions about my work experience, desire for growth and future plans that I had for myself. The overall interview didn’t span more than ten minutes before the manager offered me a position at his coffee shop; My teenage dream came true! For the next few minutes he talked to me about work expectations (what I should wear and when I would be trained). For the next twenty minutes the manager began to blast me with statements such as,
“I know people like your kind–you better not disappoint.”
“All you teenagers are the same.”
” If you ever dare to call in sick because you are hungover, you can guarantee yourself an early retirement from this job!”
I left the interview feeling deflated and heart-broken. ‘How could I be treated like this?’ I thought to myself. I wasn’t seen as the person I am, but seen as a stereotype. In that moment any worth that I had was extinguished with a swift blow and no filter on a over opinionated mouth.
In the world today, the idea of worth is something that doesn’t go unnoticed. A person is able to see the value of ‘worth’ on a daily basis. Whether it is the constantly changing stock market which drives the worth of our currency, the title that falls before the name of a person, or the color of robe that is worn at graduation ceremonies; a person’s worth is often built upon standards that society has crafted over time. While economics, academics and professional titles are not the problem, we need to work hard at challenging our perspective. Think with me for a moment: When a baby is born there is something magical about the community that seemingly appears out of no-where to celebrate this thing we call life. As quick as we take a breathe, this baby has been given value and worth–yet as the child changes and grows into an adolescent and then an adult so does the societal view of worth. Choices are made; some good and some bad. As much as we hate to admit it, we are capable of becoming hardened towards people and deflating a sense of worth.
Our role as part of humanity, friends and supports in building the worth of another person can be viewed through the lens of a child’s building block set; we have three options: We can either stand idly by and do nothing, which is of little value, we can build the tower of worth up, or we tear the tower of worth down. In his book, ‘Mending Broken Hearts’, Dr. John McGee says, “The self is seen not so much as independent or self-determining, but as connected with others who help the person feel worthy because he/she is safe and loved.” The choice is yours– but I would challenge you to build.
Ben, Director of Culture and Mentorship
Spreading John’s wisdom… We cannot know who the “other” is unless we have some insight into who we are.
Gentle Teaching is grounded in the whole person and who the person is. A key assumption, especially when supporting those who are extremely violent toward others or harmful to themselves, is the understanding that behaviors have their origin in moral development—how human beings throughout their lives are in the process of learning how to interact with others and how each of us sees ourself and others. This moral development is inside of us and encompasses the memories that have been formed from the first moments of life to the present moment.
Moral memories are how we spiritually interact with the world. When these memories are sad and disorienting, they reside like haunting ghosts in the hidden corners of our being and, in a sense, whisper to us what clinicians will later call behaviors. Behaviors are the visible part of toxic weeds; memories are the roots. They are deep, often not known, and not intellectual, but moral memories. The use of behavioral techniques is like pulling out the surface of weeds but leaving the roots intact. Gentle Teaching goes for the creation of new moral memories that eventually lead the person to feel safe and loved and then “behaviors” begin to fade away.
John J. McGee
In Gentle Teaching caregivers become aware of how their interactions decrease the probability of violence by focusing on:
• The need to teach a culture of trust, companionship, and community through the creation of new memories based on feelings of being safe and loved.
• Initially lowering expectations and increasing hope. Although caregivers often have seemingly reasonable expectations, the brokenhearted are not ready to do what is expected because they do not feel safe and loved within the caring community. There is little reason to trust a caregiver without these new feelings. Without a strong foundation based on trust, high expectations shatter. The first dimension of caregiving is to establish trust and this arises out of feelings of being safe and loved. If caregivers are too pushy, this could easily spark violence.
• Within this construct, the caring community has to slow down and understand that “The slower we go, the faster we will get there.”
• The avoidance of any compliance attitudes that push brokenhearted individuals into a corner and provoke violence.
• The use of our very presence, words, gazes, and touch in a manner that uplifts each person along with a tender and genuine tone turning each syllable, touch, or gaze into the moral equivalent of an embrace.
• The avoidance of attitudes such as so-and-so knows better, just wants attention, or is manipulative. These can be true but are irrelevant in Gentle Teaching; the focus has to be on feelings and teaching each person to acquire a sense of feeling safe and loved. The healing must be found in the heart, not the head.
• The avoidance or prevention of caregiver violence in common practices such as the use of isolation, time out, token economies, verbal reprimands, grabbing and shoving, physical management, mechanical restraint, cattle prods, chemical restraint, the ease of psychiatric hospitalization as a holding tank, and even phone calls to the police to “manage” someone through the use of stun guns and other methods of control.
• Practice, practice, practice. The best way to prevent harm is through a sharp focus on the tools that have been bestowed upon us. First, our intention has to be to bring and share the gifts of creating a sense of security and a feeling of being loved. Then, within these parameters, caregivers have to become intuitively practiced and skilled at teaching these good memories. This approach is in and of itself the most encompassing way to prevent violence.
John J. McGee, 2012
The culture of gentleness that I have been able to create started in 2013 with lessons taught from COR’s mentors, Deirdre and Tim. From the little things like looking past the negatives and to discuss the positives everyday, coupled with a common saying, “lets turn the day around!” are – to me – exemplary of what Gentle Teaching is.
The individual I serve has become very comfortable with me and he is now more willing to engage in new activities together with me. I achieved this comfortability by methods as simple as telling him “I love him”, “I am proud of him” and by holding his hand. Situations can be difficult, but through the COR teachings of gentleness and kindness, and respect, the individual I serve has grown to feel safe and loved by myself – which means that he is loving and willing to be engaged in return.
Greg, COR Support