Everyone Can Be a Hero

clip_image004[3]_thumbWe often focus so much on what kids do not do well that we do not give them any chance to excel, to shine and to be heroes. This is the story of how a class of special education “troublemakers” proved that everyone can be a hero.

Last month, I traveled to North QLD to work with over 1,000 students on a special project I run here in Australia, called Together for Humanity. I was running all the workshops with my colleague, Imam Ahmad Abu Ghazaleh. We worked 14 hours each day and saw many different groups of high school students and teachers, but I want to share with you my experience with one class in particular.

It was the middle of the day and we were getting ready to run our “Community Building”, in which “Making a Difference” is a key message. A group of 28 Grade-8 students arrived with 5 teachers (two men) and their head-of-department herself.

At first, we did not know why so many teachers were needed and why they looked so worried while the students were settling down, until one teacher approached us and said, “This is the worst class in the school”.

Ahmad and I smiled. The head-of-department, who had organized those two full days of workshops and seemed an amazingly relaxed person, told us, “I’ve brought all the teachers to help you out. This is our special education class. They are challenging”.

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What Happens When You Fight

Couple arguingHave you ever wondered what happens to your kids when you fight with your partner? Have you ever asked them?

Well, I did today and I was surprised and it got me thinking.

My 15-year-old son Tsoof is now on holidays, so he and I go for a walk around the neighborhood together in the morning. He sometimes brings his guitar and we sing, much to the enjoyment of passersby, but other times, we talk. Today, he brought his guitar, but we talked anyway…

At first, I asked Tsoof, “When you and your friends talk about how annoying your parents are, what do you say?”

“Nothing”, he said, “I don’t think you’re annoying”.

“Isn’t there anything we do that bugs you in some way? After all, we’re not perfect”, I asked.

“Well, I really feel bad when you fight”, he admitted, “It makes me want to disappear”.

OK, OK, so the big secret is out. Life coaches or not, Ronit and I are sometimes under pressure too and when that happens, we argue, as we did recently, with our unfortunate kids being present. Being from a culture in which expressing how you feel might involve raising your voice and making theatrical gestures (to help emphasize your point), we dominated the family scene, which apparently troubled our kids.

Read more about how to avoid/end arguments

Beautiful Kids vs. Brutal Honesty

Smart little kidLast week, I ran 3 parenting workshops and there was one topic that came up over and over again – the truth about your kids. While I was describing research, education methods, philosophy and personal development techniques to raise happy and successful kids, some people were very concerned about telling kids the truth.

I find the concept of “the truth” very problematic and the seed of many difficulties in life. Every small problem in life just makes this seed grow poisonous roots of inadequacy, self-doubt and fear.

At the workshop, I talked about the importance of raising kids to think they are capable, talented, smart, friendly, flexible, courageous, wise, trustworthy, etc (the list can be adapted to each parent’s needs) so they will have good beliefs about themselves, their skills and their abilities. I always say that overcoming kids’ learning difficulties is easier than overcoming their belief that something is wrong with them and that therefore, it is parents’ job to make sure their kids have positive, empowered beliefs about themselves.

The parents and I examined beliefs that are very good for kids to have. Let me ask you, if your son thinks he is smart, is that good for him or not? If your daughter thinks she is friendly, is it good for her or not? If your kids think they are good siblings, is it good for them or not?

Is it good for the parents too?

Well, apparently, for some people it is not good. To them, the truth is more important.

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Kids in Power Prison (2): The great debate

clip_image002[4]This is part 2, where you will find out what happened at the camp when I gave the group of student leaders power over their friends.

Boys vs. girls, late group vs. those who came on time, punishment vs. forgiveness. The hot debate lasted for a whole hour, but in the end, did the children pass the power test?

It was scary for me to see how easy it was to fire them up, divide them and move them towards forgetting where they were, who they were and what was important for them. Many of them just surrendered to the feeling of power and control, but not all.

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Kids in Power Prison (1): The prison experiment

clip_image002[3]Two months ago, I took a group of kids to a leadership camp for two days. During these two days, we wanted to teach kids to recognize their abilities and take the role of leadership with responsibility.

The kids were awesome, chosen student leaders in Grade 7, which is the last year of primary school here in Queensland, Australia. They came from 5 schools and had been school captains for more than 7 months. As part of their role, they needed to set an example to other kids and help solve relationship problems among the students at their school. They were chosen because they were smart kids, sensitive and with a high sense of justice. According to their principal and teachers, most of them had passed many tests to become leaders, but they were not ready for the test I had for them – The Power Test.

Before I tell you what happened at the camp, I want to tell you about a famous experiment in psychology, the Prison Experiment, which was the inspiration for my character test. I learned a lot from this experiment and even more from running it myself with a group of young kids. I hope you will feel the same.

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Give and take

BubbleSometimes, I want to achieve something and I think I know how to achieve it, but when I ask someone else for their opinion or help, they just say, “You can’t do that”. I find this very frustrating.

Let me explain.

When I see a goal and a way to get it, my mind has something to hold on to. I can look at my vision from different angles, improve it and work with it, but it is there.

As soon as the other person rejects my idea, it is as if a bubble popped in my mind and left nothing. I then have no way of getting what I wanted. The other person has taken my vision away.

And that stinks.

Here is an example.

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Acceptance (3)

Serenity prayer This is the second part of a series of posts about acceptance through the story of Mel, a fascinating client of mine. To know a bit about Mel and how this story started, read Monday’s post, Acceptance (1). For a description of Mel’s views on life that made her miserable, read Wednesday’s post, Acceptance (2).

Today, I would like to introduce a solution, a cure, a way out of this endless search for the right and only-sensible thing to do, to think or to be. If you are like Mel in some way, I hope this will help you find peace, just as she did. If you know others like Mel, I hope you will share this series of posts with them so they may find their own peace.

The first step toward change is awareness.
The second step is acceptance
– Nathaniel Branden

Every time Mel left, I wrote my reflections on the session, as I always do after a session. In the Strategies section, I wrote, “Teach acceptance”. For me, acceptance was a peaceful place, where I acknowledge things around me without resistance (every time I think of the word “resistance”, I remember The Borg from Star Trek saying, “Resistance is futile”. Sometimes it is useless and ends only in sorrow).

Mel thought acceptance was a form of giving up. “Do you accept wars?” she asked me (she knew how to press my buttons).

I said, “I do. I acknowledge the fact that there are wars. It does not mean I am happy about them, but they are part of life”.

Read more about acceptance

Acceptance (2)

image[3]This is the second part of a series of posts about acceptance through the story of Mel, a fascinating client of mine. To know a bit about Mel and how this story started, read Monday’s post, Acceptance (1).

Mel thought there was such a thing as Ultimate Justice that all people must follow. She had a very strict concept of Right and Wrong. Fairness was always examined from her point of view and her point of view was the center of the universe. Mel never thought fairness was relative and influenced by culture or upbringing.

When I described to her how the Thai people charged tourists and locals differently at temples or for food, she could not understand how that could be fair. When I gave her an example of a clash between different people’s definition of fairness, she had a “system failure” in her mind.

I remember myself writing protest poems at the age of 14. My notion of fairness was very clear and naïve then. When I was 27, my youngest sister came back from a trip to India and showed me her journal, where she had written, “Is it fair to make your child blind so he can be a better beggar and bring home more money to feed the whole family?” I experience that same “system failure” about fairness at the age of 27, when I tried to answer that question. My immediate reply was, “No, of course it’s not fair!”

But as I thought about it some more, I realized it is not that simple and there is no single right way of doing things. I was already a mother and I was pregnant, which made this realization more difficult, but I understood one big lesson about acceptance: what is fair for one is not necessary fair for another. There is no ultimate fairness. Fairness is totally subjective and we cannot judge others for having a different definition of fairness to ours.

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Acceptance (1)

All seasons are beautiful fo the person who carries happiness within I chose to tell you about Mel because she was generally miserable. On the surface, she ticked all the boxes of a wonderful life – she was a college profession, she had the cutest kids and she loved them very much, she was married and loved her husband deeply and she was financially secure. Yet, nothing made her happy – thoughts were her allies, but she found people most unreasonable. She was unhappy with the way they behaved and kept saying they did not make any sense.
Although I am not convinced there is a formula for being happy, I think there is formula for being miserable. Mel had that formula and lived by it every day of her life. Through clients like Mel, I have seen how the mind can create this suffering. As a very smart, curious person, Mel had some beliefs, thoughts and ideas that made her miserable and caused her to think she did not understand the world and could not make sense of it. What Mel missed was the understanding of acceptance. She confused acceptance with having low standards, with compromising on mediocrity and with giving up.

Mel was an amazingly smart woman, but she could not understand why others did not understand what she did. She did not understand why people did things that hurt others. She did not know how to relate to people without knowing their motives. She did not understand emotional (she called them “illogical”) decisions. When I told her that I never make logical decisions, because I am kinesthetic, she looked at me shocked. “What else is there?” she asked.

For me, 6 things summed up Mel’s thoughts and ideas and contributed to her self-torture.

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People Change

Happy coupleWhen you read the title “people change”, you might be thinking, “Well, of course they do”, but very often, when you are very close to another person for a long time, these changes are difficult to notice. On the other hand, sometimes it is not the other person who changes, but us, and that just changes the way we see them.

When we start a long-term relationship, we are so intent on making it work that we overlook things we would prefer to be different “as long as we’re happy together”, but the discomfort caused by those overlooked things grows over time to the point where we suddenly notice them. One day, we are surprised to discover for the first time something our partner has been doing or saying for years. All that time, we dismissed it in different ways (“bad mood”, “something at work”, “didn’t really understand”, “only joking”, etc), but now, we look at “this thing” head on and think our partner has changed.

In a strange sort of way, the things that attracted us to that special person in the first place can become annoying over time, until we determine that the person has changed. We also get used to good things (annoying, but natural), which makes us take the good side of any character trait or behavior for granted, while getting more and more upset with the bad side.

Read more about how to have a great relationship