Decision-Making Made Easy

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I was stuck.  I didn’t know what I should do.  On one hand, there seemed a clear course of action that I should take.  I have always considered myself an advocate, and there was certainly an issue on the table that was worth fighting for.  Yet, on the other hand, there was something that didn’t feel right about this.  I had this nagging feeling that I might be doing more harm than good, and that perhaps there was another way of tackling this problem that might yield more effective results.

Or was that a cop-out?  Was I just rationalizing so that I could avoid a struggle?  After all, how many worthwhile causes were won without some personal sacrifice on the part of those fighting for the cause?  Was I just being a wimp?

But at the same time, I’ve seen people completely ignored and written off as crazy when they take on a battle only to have someone else come along and attack the same problem with a grace and skill that wins people over and achieves the desired outcome.

What to do?

I’m fortunate to have a very smart friend with whom I was sharing my woes who, instead of telling me what to do, asked me a question.

“What would a leader do in this situation?”

I didn’t even have to pause to answer this question.  My choice became crystal-clear.  And I haven’t had a moment of doubt since.

The problem was, I’d become hung up on a label that limited me.  Now, it’s not that being an advocate is a bad thing.  In fact, it’s still something I strive hard to be.  But when I got stuck, it was like being hit by a lightning bolt to try on another label that describes another characteristic that is part of the person I want to be.

This experience has made me think about how I might be able to support others in finding the answers to their own struggles by connecting them with the kind of person they want to be.

When someone is fighting because he wants to be strong, what would happen if I asked them what a kind person would do in this situation?

When someone is reacting because they want to be heard, what would happen if I asked them how a thoughtful person might respond?

What labels have you seen drive the behaviour of others that, while on one hand are very valid, on the other, are restricting their possibilities?

What labels may be doing this to you?

The Power of the Picture

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I fell in love with Wab Kinew after I had the chance to hear him speak.  He was smart, funny, and was able to challenge the audience’s thinking and assumptions about First Nations people in a spirit of true reconciliation.  I first remember him from his days working as a reporter for the CBC, and became a fan after watching the 8th Fire series.  So when his book, “The Reason You Walk”, was released, it became number one on my “must read” list.

His journey from a reserve in Northwestern Ontario to Member of the Legislative Assembly in Manitoba has been an interesting one, and the path has not always been easy.  One of the things that intrigues me is how someone can live through so many challenges and traumas to become such a strong and centered advocate, educator and leader.  So many people are not able to see themselves through the suffering they have faced.  I was curious to see if there was a hint in his memoir that could explain how he became the person that he is today.

I know that there is never one simple reason to explain how a person becomes who they are.  It’s a blend of experiences, opportunities, genetics, luck…. A million different factors influence our personal development.  However, there was one part of Wab’s story that fascinated me.

From the very beginning, he was told that he would grow up to lead his people.

I can’t help but think that the fact that he heard this throughout his life didn’t shape him.

It makes me think about some of the messages our kids hear.  From simple statements like “You just aren’t a math person” to more cutting remarks like “You’ll never amount to anything”, I do believe that the pathway someone takes in their life is greatly influenced by the messages that they hear that help to form the picture of what they see as possible.

Wab talks at the end of the book about how important it is to him that his own children have a picture of what it is to be a strong, proud indigenous person because this will help carry them through the difficult times in life.

Do your words and actions paint an image of strength and hope for the children in your life, or do they limit their possibilities?

Being Grateful for the Garbage

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With the end of the school year quickly approaching, I was reflecting with one of my students about all that she has gone through this year. It hasn’t been an easy road for her. There are many things she had to tackle that I wish had never happened. She’s had pain that no person should have to deal with. It would have been easy for her to become bitter, angry, and throw in the towel in the face of such adversity. It would actually be quite understandable.

If either of us had the power to change what happened, we certainly would. But as we talked, I realized there was another side to her experience. She didn’t give up; in fact, she has grown a lot this year, and not just academically. She’s learned a lot about relationships, coping strategies, leadership, and the skills and strength that she possesses. I do feel some sense of comfort as she leaves the walls of our little school and heads out into the big scary world that she is leaving with the knowledge that she has the ability to handle whatever the world throws at her.

I think about how often I get angry at the situations in my own life that I think are unfair. The difficult people that I have to deal with that frustrate me. The obstacles that get in my way. I don’t feel grateful for these experiences…. but maybe I should. I’m far from perfect, but navigating through these circumstances has taught me to be more patient, kind, and understanding. I’ve learned to be a better listener, and to be more collaborative in my work. I do think I’m a better person because of the tough times.

I’m not sure I’ll be able to muster gratitude the next time life kicks me in the teeth. It’s tough to see the positive when the negative is so overwhelming.

But I hope I can. I think I could find a little more peace in my corner of the world if I could remember that my life might be richer because it doesn’t always go the way I want.

What Is Success?

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I love hearing stories about how problems were solved and relationships were restored because someone learned how to use Restitution.  But the part that we don’t so often like to mention is that sometimes, it doesn’t quite work out like that.

I learned this first-hand after having a disagreement with a co-worker.  I had been really upset, and went home that night and evaluated how I’d handled myself.  I recognized what my need was, and what hers was, and realized that she wasn’t the unreasonable, irrational person that I’d made her out to be in my mind.  I felt confident that I could use the skills I’ve learned in Restitution to go back and work this out.

That’s now how it went down.  She wanted no part of it.

I’ve seen this happen with kids I’ve worked with too.  After counselling a student who has engaged in bullying, they want to make it right, but the child they’ve hurt doesn’t want to have anything to do with them.

Is this a failure of Restitution?

Not at all.

Restitution is about being the best person you can be.  It’s about taking responsibility when you make mistakes, learning from them, and growing stronger because of the experience.

It surprised me after my colleague rejected my attempts to resolve the problem between us that I actually didn’t feel terrible.  I didn’t at all feel like I’d failed.  I actually felt kind of proud of myself.  It’s not easy to take responsibility.  I felt like I’d done the right thing.

Of course, it would be ideal if we could always fix the mistakes we’ve made.  But we can’t control other people, and sometimes, it’s just not possible.

Think about that the next time you are solving a problem.  If you are being the person you want to be in that situation, you have been successful!

Why Negative Labels Don’t Motivate

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Have you ever done something to lose someone’s trust, and worked really hard to regain it? You want so much to have them see you in a positive way again, and so you have to prove yourself. It’s not enough just to be trustworthy, you have to really go out of your way to demonstrate that you are truly a person who can be counted on.

Have you ever got to the point where you realize that it’s a lost cause? That no matter what you do, that mistake that you made is always going to be there between you. No matter how much you wish you could change that person’s view of you, you can’t. They will just always see you as someone who cannot be trusted.

It’s deflating. Why even bother trying. If they are going to always see you as a bad person, you may as well stop working so hard. If that’s who they think you are anyways, then you may as well be that person they already believe you are.

I’ve heard this a million times. She thinks I’m a cheater, so I may as well cheat. He thinks I’m lazy, so what’s the point of putting in a ton of effort? They don’t think I’m capable of being successful, so I’m going to give up trying.

It’s funny how we sometimes fool ourselves that if we confront a person on their behaviour by naming it with a negative, that this will somehow motivate them. We tell that child who took another child’s toy that they are a thief. We tell that teen that snuck out of the house to see their boyfriend that she is irresponsible.

But those labels can actually do the opposite. If you believe I’m a bad person, what’s the point in trying?

It was an Education Assistant who taught me this. She was working with a student that had been labelled as violent. Her job was to supervise his every move to ensure everyone’s safety. He also had some learning challenges, so they often did some life skills programming outside of the regular classroom.

It was a classmate’s birthday, and the two of them were in charge of baking a cake for him. As the class sang Happy Birthday, the student brought in the cake, while the EA juggled plates and cutlery. When he set down the cake, she handed him a knife to start cutting it up.

He looked at her in wonder, and said, “You are giving me a knife?”

He knew the label that was attached to him. And he was shocked that she had slipped up in this way. Nobody ever trusted him with knives.

But it wasn’t a slip up. I think she was actually quite brilliant. She calmly looked at him and said, “Is there any reason I would need to be concerned about giving you a knife?”

He considered. He said “No”, and proceeded to cut the cake.

It was only a couple of seconds of an exchange, but I think this moment was incredibly important.

For once, there was hope.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we go around giving knives to dangerous kids. But this EA and student had worked together a long time, and built a solid relationship. She knew him well. And she felt confident that there was nothing to be worried about in this situation.

And the gift she gave him that day was the knowledge that someone saw good in him. And because of that, there was a reason to keep trying.

The Oak Tree

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A dear friend of mine shared this poem with me, and I think it captures perfectly what Restitution means to me.  It’s a great reminder that strength doesn’t come from having a perfect life, or being protected from painful things.  True resilience comes from learning that you possess all that you need inside of you.

The Oak Tree

By Johnny Ray Ryder Jr.

A mighty wind

blew night and day.

It stole the oak tree’s leaves away,

Then snapped its boughs

and pulled its bark

Until the oak was tired and stark.

But still the oak tree held its ground

While other trees fell all around.

The weary wind gave up and spoke.

How can you still be standing Oak?

The oak tree said, I know that you

Can break each branch of mine in two

Carry every leaf away,

Shake my limbs, and make me sway.

But I have roots stretched in the earth

Growing stronger since my birth.

You’ll never touch them, for you see

They are the deepest part of me.

Until today, I wasn’t sure

Of just how much I could endure.

But now I’ve found, with thanks to you,

I’m stronger than I ever knew.

The Roots of Motivation

Everything we do, we do for a reason.  All behaviour can be traced back to the desire to meet our basic needs.  Belonging, Freedom, Power, Fun and Survival – it’s the roots of all motivation!

Yet, even though I know this theory like I know the back of my hand, when applying it to our day to day lives, I still am pleasantly surprised at times with how universally these ideas resonate.

A young man approached me after a presentation I’d given on Restitution, with a perspective I hadn’t considered before.  He is a composer, and writes music for movies.  He said that as we’d been talking about the needs he’d been thinking about how this applies to his music.  He explained that he is often told that he needs to write music that is going to grab people’s emotions.  What he’d realized during our discussions was that he could reach people at a deep level by writing music focused on one of the basic needs.

How cool is that!  Restitution for Musicians!

He’s so right, though.  Think of how often in your day to day life you are trying to influence someone.  Instead of trying to control another person, when we think of how to meet people’s needs instead, it’s amazing how much more effective we can be together.  When I realized that I could meet my kid’s needs for fun and belonging by turning clean-up time into a game, the power struggle disappeared.  When I want to engage a group of people in a project at work, the level of involvement is so much greater when everyone feels they have an important part to play, which meets all our needs for power.  And it’s even better when we all have the freedom to do our part in our own way and on our own timeline.  The more that these basic desires are addressed, the more motivation increases.

Have you noticed other ways that meeting people’s basic needs can change things for the better?