We need to rethink how we define “community”. People will say things like, “lets go out into the community”, when in fact we’re already IN community. We all make up the community; just being you makes you a part of it! Embrace what’s around you!
“Our experiences with Gentle Teaching have taught us that change needs to start with us–our warmth, tolerance and the translation of values into relationships based on companionship. Our interactions need to reflect warm caring and a spirit of oneness in spite of even intense rejection or rebellion. They need to begin to signal feelings of empathy and the understanding that the relationship will evolve into an authentic friendship even though initially it is quite lop-sided.
Our interactions need to centre themselves on love the person with unconditional respect during the best moments and the most difficult ones. We have to care about the other and express the feeling that we are with and for the person. Spit can be running down our face or slaps stinging on our arms, but we need to unconditionally value the other. We are asked to transmit this feeling through dialogue and sharing our life experiences with the other. Our task is to initiate this process in a spirit of human solidarity.
Warmth can be felt in the tone of our voice, the sincerity of our gaze, and the serenity of our movements.
Tolerance is conveyed through patience in the face of aggression, respect in the face of rejection, and perseverance in the face of entrenched rebellion. Our values are the impetus within this process, and they need to be constantly questioned and deepened. It is this spirit that we have learned in our gentle teaching experiences–to break away from emotional homelessness, to rupture the cold grip of loneliness, and to center ourselves on unconditional love.
The challenge is not to find non-aversive behavioural techniques, but to formulate and put into practise a psychology of interdependence that goes against the grain of modifying the other and asks for mutual change. This presents a major challenge to parents, professionals, and advocates. It requires an awakening of our values and putting them into practice in the most difficult situations.”
“We teach “safe” by placing almost no demands on the person except for being with the person with a sense of just “being.” It is a tremendously important for one human being to teach another it is good to be near you. Nothing more, nothing less. This act of recognizing the brokenhearted person’s existence and goodness is a most powerful teaching-learning experience. At the same time, we need to engage in nurturing and finding relevant ways to express unconditional love without pressuring the person at all. This might seem weird, but the person will learn to feel safe if we lower our demands while increasing our goodness, kindness, and expression of love. We need to avoid putting the horse before the cart. Doing things is not the primary purpose of care giving; being with one another is.
A dimension that is often hard to understand and deal with involves the emergence of self-centeredness, becoming spoiled, after a time of intense nurturing. It is natural to become self-centered as a result of constant nurturing. This creates another important care giving role. We need to slowly begin to focus on stretching the person away from self-centeredness and toward other-centeredness. This stretching process involves reminding the person that he/she is safe and loved while asking a slight degree more—waiting a moment, taking turns, sharing, and other virtues involving others and our relationships. This process is very delicate so we need to keep reminding the person of how safe and loved he/she is.
The developmental model outlined below is a good guide for us to use to understand the various dimensions of new memories that have to be taught:
• From brokenhearted and lonely, to safe and loved;
• From self-centeredness, to reaching out to others and loving expressing love to them; and,
• From dependence on us, to engagement with us and others.
Our pedagogical process starts with us encountering a brokenhearted person and bringing two simple gifts that we have repeatedly mentioned—the feeling of being safe and loved. We have nothing else to give. These are not a program, a clinical approach, or focused on outcomes. They can, if necessary, be translated into mundane outcomes, but, for the caregiver, they are gifts and these now established feelings need to begin to include being safe with a growing circle of others and becoming a meaningful part of increasing engagement.
This stretching process is a part of normal development. These include learning other moral milestones such as learning to share, a giving up, momentarily, of what is theirs; learning to wait and to take turns; wanting others to feel proud; and, learning when enough is enough—self-control. We all have to learn these milestones. Each requires a grounded stance that assumes that the brokenhearted person has learned to feel safe and loved and is ready for participation in a broader community. After these have been formed in the person’s moral memory, we can then begin focusing on strengthening self-esteem, learning that “I am good!” and self-control, learning when enough is enough!” The person’s world and responsibilities begin to expand.
After an intense dimension involved almost solely with unconditional love, it is natural to enter a phase of self-centeredness. It is then that our role evolves into carefully and delicately stretching the still fragile brokenhearted person from a state of self-centeredness to one of other-centeredness. It is a process in which the person learns that it is good to be with a small circle of others, then it is good to do things with this group, and eventually it is good to do things with a wider circle of friends, and finally it is good to do things for others. This last encompasses a high form of moral maturity.
We also begin to focus on the person’s self-esteem. This milestone emerges when others keep reminding the person, “You are so good!” This begins to occur from the very start when we are teaching that it is good to be together. What happens in this process is that the person begins to feel safe and loved from within. As this occurs, the person begins to see him/herself in a different light and forms a moral memory that says, “I am somebody because my caregivers tell me I am.” As the circle of friends grows, the person’s sense of self-worth also expands and becomes stronger.”
– John J. McGee, PhD
“In the beginning we must always be in the moment with two bits of knowledge focused on giving a feeling of being safe and loved. We should avoid lengthy case histories and cleanly typed plans. If need be, do these requirements. However, our task is to be in the moment; it is not to change anyone’s behavior, but to teach the person to feel safe with us and loved by us.
The present is a series of moments that tumble into the future. Yet, we should not worry about the future, only the present moment. The here-and-now becomes the future with each ticking second. Our encounters transpire in the moment and then transform the next moment.
Whether a mother, father, grandparent, or a person whom we are supporting, the most important variable is the moment, not the future, not a projected plan with outcomes, not behavioral change. No, it is our being present in this very moment and all the person sees, hears, touches, and feels in this mutual coming together. It is the tiniest amount of time, perhaps two or three seconds. Then, these moments are linked together with other moments and it is these moments that become new moments; it is the evolving chain of moments that creates our moral memory in us as well as a memory in the other person.
Caregiving’s simplification involves teaching caregivers to be in the moment:
- In bad moments this equates with forgiveness rather than control;
- In all the good moments this involves a series of accidental and intentional encounters throughout the day focused on safe and loved;
- The accidental encounters are merely brief moments of passing by and encompass a wave, a wink, a smile, a name, a thumbs up, maybe a hug if there is time, a whispering of “You are so good.”
- The intentional encounters are a bit more planned and involve a chunk of caregiving time—from a minute or two or a half hour or more. The time depends. It should be structured in the day with the only purpose being to give a memory that the person is safe when with us.
- The key is to stay in the moment. Joy is found in the moment.
Our task is simple, just being in the moment with the gift of helping the person to feel safe and loved:
- Not a moment before,
- Not a moment after,
- Just in the now.”
-John J. McGee, PhD
Kansas City, USA welcomes the Gentle Teaching community! On September 9-11, 2015, Kansas City will play host to the 2015 international conference. More information can be found at www.gti2015.com.
If you want more information about the 2015 Gentle Teaching International Conference find our events page on Facebook by clicking here.
Over a year ago I started a personal blog where I would share my thoughts and insights on the world around me. It was my desire to write a post once a day for a year. I desperately wanted to keep it up, and did well for a time: but the personal pressure that I placed on myself became too much. The blog focused on one specific thing: the daily heroes that I would run into at work, at the grocery store, on the street and in the least unexpected places. My goal was to expose the beauty of the world around me and publicly thank the ‘daily heroes’ to my handful of faithful readers. Although I haven’t logged a blog for some time, this thought of thankfulness has been constantly on my heart and mind. And dare I say, I think we are in a ‘thanklessness epidemic’. Don’t get me wrong, we can hear people say thank-you around us all the time, but is it anything more than a simple pleasantry or a moralistic mandate? We need to foster thankfulness and find moments where our deep appreciation is expressed in ways that it will be heard clearly and intentionally for what it truly is.
On the other hand, thanklessness is deeply tethered and connected to the inability to be content. When you are thankless, not only do you rob the other person of the glory that belongs to them, you convince yourself you could have gotten on fine without them. Author JD Greer says, ” Think of it (thanklessness) like plagiarism. Plagiarism is harmful on two levels: the first level is you rob someone else of the credit of their words. Secondly you delude others and yourself in thinking that you can come up with that level of idea all the time.” When we choose to be thankless, we turn our focus inwards and disregard others around us. We become so focused on “I”, “ME”, and “MY” that we forget that is so often “OTHERS” that shape our life and it’s events. Although some people may like to live in a cavernous hermitage, most people need and want others around: let’s not forget our thankfulness often draws us into a greater sense on community.
In the Gentle Teaching community we talk about the four pillars (can anyone name them?): to be SAFE, to be LOVED, to become more LOVING AND to become more ENGAGED. Each one of these pillars are critical in building, establishing ans sustaining a relationship: with people we serve or otherwise. How do you help raise these pillars? One of the ways that I suggest is to increase the genuineness of our thankfulness. By becoming more thankful, and expressing our adoration and appreciation through words and actions we are directly able to help people feel safe and loved.
When I am genuinely thanked for something that I have done, I personally feel a deeper connection and appreciation for that person. Essentially I feel safe and more valued by that person, because they gave me both their time and words of affirmation. As we become more thankful around those that we serve we are teaching others to imitate what is good and right: we are teaching the foundation of healthy relationships. By modeling our genuine thankfulness before those we serve, we are teaching others to become more loving and engaged in their own lives. In essence we are saying, “Come, follow me…Do this..this is good and right.” Teaching thankfulness is not to be seen as forcing or indoctrinating someone, rather as a way to boldly show our appreciation to others and free those around us to accept, embrace and duplicate thankfulness in their own lives.
Got a story? I would love to hear about thankfulness in your life! Maybe it was someone that you noticed, or a story where you were edified because of someone’s courage to share their thankful appreciation with you. Send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org
Director of Culture and Mentorship
“If we want to teach feelings of safety and security, we need to question what we are doing and how we are doing it. The key is to look at ourselves and ask, ‘ What do we represent to the person–love or domination?’ If we see the person as our equal and if we define our relationship as one of brotherhood and sisterhood, then the answer becomes more obvious. We commit ourselves to making certain that our presence signifies feelings of safety and security. Yet, we need to deal with the irony of representing these feelings while face to face with rejection, disruption, or even violence.
Our interactions have to signal warmth, serenity and tolerance. From the first instance, we need to make sure that the person interprets our presence as representing nonviolence. Warmth emanates from a strong desire to be one-with-the other. We have to put in check many customary reactions–demands, harshness, and objectivity. Care giving is a very personal process that needs to summon forth feelings of friendship. At first, we should not expect acceptance since all of the person’s history says control is the rule. But, in time, the person will begin to see us as representing safety and security.”
“Our approach is based on moral development. This is not a church thing. It is an internal feeling that we develop over time about what is good, who we are, and why we are on this earth. It is an inner change, a change of the heart. It is what most children learn early in their life about feeling safe and loved. It is what many of us have to re-learn when we are crushed by life’s sorrows.
So, we have to develop an understanding of basic moral values and teach these in an authoritative manner, not coming down on the person, but patiently and repeatedly teaching them. Morality is the way we feel and view our role in life. It is made up of our basic beliefs that are learned through our own life-experiences and ongoing reflection on our place in the world. It is formed deep down in our memories over time and with many experiences. Morality is on the fringe of our consciousness. We often do not have to stop and think, “Should I do this or not do that?” Our life-decisions come out of deep, deep memories. A spirit of gentleness focuses on teaching deep moral memories to people whose hearts are broken. Our primary strategy is repeated acts of love.
The first moral rule is found in a feeling of companionship– safe, loved, loving, and engaged. We know, without even thinking about it, that we need to feel safe and loved on this earth. We gravitate toward those who fulfill this sense and move away from those who make us fearful. Yet, many people whom we support are filled with fear of themselves and of others. We look for meaning in our lives and find it in our relationships with others other family, our children, our friends. Many whom we serve do not have this type of meaning.
The second is found in community– the goodness of being with others, engagement with others, and reaching out to others, and a sense of connectedness with others. It is a feeling of being collectively safe, loved, loving, and engaged. It moves from a singular relationship with the caregiver to a collective relationship with a circle of friends.
Companionship and community occur in a spiral. The initial relationship is at the center, but slowly spins outward to others. Everyone needs the feeling of being safe and loved to also feel loving and engaged. This evolves with one person, then two, then many.”
-John McGee, ‘Mending Broken Hearts’
“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.”
“Regardless of the type of aggression, self-injury or withdrawal, we assume that a hunger for being-with-others rests in the human spirit, longs to be fulfilled, and , in many instances, needs to be uncovered. We struggle to uncover and fulfill this need in ourselves and others. We are often pushed by the fear of giving ourselves to others and pulled by the hope that such feeling give rise to. Our fear can lead us to lord over others in order to gain a false sense of power. But, the more we question our values, our hope can lead us to feelings of companionship. This pushing and pulling leaves us in a quandary–to reach out toward others or to preside over them. The desire to affirm the other is often buried in us by years of training that have taught us that independence is the central goal of life, and, for those who are on the fringes of community, compliance is the pathway to success.
Yet, self-reliance and blind obedience are lonely conditions that lock us and others out of the embrace of human warmth and affection. Those who are committed to care giving often do not recognize this struggle within themselves, let alone in the marginalized people whom they serve, So the first place to start in the psychology of interdependence is with ourselves, our values, and how we translate these into reality.”