The Power of the Picture


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?


Our Amazing Brains


I LOVE this time of year. There is nothing I find more inspiring than an early morning bike ride. The world is still asleep, everything is calm, the air is fresh, and the view amazing as the sun creeps over the horizon in a million shades of colour. I feel strong and healthy with the physical exertion.

And then suddenly – WHAM! My front bike tire kicked up a huge stone, which hit me directly in the eye! I didn’t even see it coming! End to that peaceful, picture-perfect scene.

After the initial shock and realizing I was fine, I started thinking about what an amazing thing the human brain is. Because even though I had no conscious awareness of this thing flying towards my face, somehow my body knew enough to blink. Imagine how ugly this could have been if that stone had hit me in the eyeball!

It’s so cool that our brains have developed this ability to protect ourselves. We don’t have to stop to process and think about what to do. Our reflexes just kick in and defend us from harm.

The thing is, sometimes this wonderfully adaptive feature backfires on us. I think about the many students I’ve worked with over the years who lived in situations of constant fear. Their brains were always on high alert. And their reflexes were firing like crazy to try to shield them from danger.

These kids were in constant “fight or flight” mode. They would either shut down completely or strike out. And often they were labelled with such terms as uncooperative, non-compliant, bully, or violent. The adult response to these labels? Frustration, anger, punishment.

While I am a huge believer that the one thing that we truly control is how we choose to behave in any given situation, I do believe that there are some behaviours that are not chosen. I didn’t choose to blink – my brain kicked into auto-pilot to protect me.

And sometimes I believe that students’ behaviours are no more chosen than my blinking. They are the body’s response to danger.

And instead of creating safety for that child so that they can begin to relax and get in conscious control of themselves again, the labels we attach to them often serve to make them feel even more threatened.

What can you do today to help create the safety that your most at-risk students so desperately need?

Does Money Make The World Go Round?

I had the great pleasure of hearing Chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos Indian Band and the Osoyoos Indian Band Development Corporation at a conference this week on the topic of Aboriginal education and business.  He passionately shared his experiences of the changes in his community that he has been a part of during the ten terms he has served as Chief.  His story is truly inspiring – the band proudly operates a vineyard, a winery, a golf course, a conference centre, among other things.  He has been central in creating economic prosperity that has benefited the community in many, many ways.

One of the statements he made was that when people talk about emotional, spiritual and physical health, that he thinks at the centre of that all should be a dollar sign.

At first, this statement shocked me a bit.  But then I realized, he wasn’t really saying money was all that was needed.  In fact, he argued that welfare is one of the worst things that ever happened to his people.  What he was talking about was the ways that economic prosperity can impact people.  He talked about the pride that he sees on the teenager’s faces when they earn their first paycheck.  He described the sense of purpose that the community has in creating something amazing that draws the world to it’s doorstep.  He talked about the ways these initiatives have brought people together.  He talked about the feeling of pride in being independent and self-sufficient.  In creating your own future and destiny.

He was talking about belonging.




He was talking about how emotional, spiritual and physical health comes from people meeting their basic needs.

It made me reflect on the neediest students I have worked with.  Have I at times contributed to their feelings of inadequacy by doing too much for them in the name of “helping”?  Are there ways that I could instead have created opportunities for them to take control of their own lives, and feel pride in their achievements?  To feel that they are a part of a group that is doing something important together?   To become strong and independent people?

How can we do a better job of this with our students?

Why Are We So Cruel?

A couple of events that hit the news recently left me incredibly sad at the cruelty that we humans can heap upon one another.  One was the tragic death of a young toddler in Austin, Manitoba who wandered off from his home and was found in a nearby stream.  And this week, the same thing happened when Fort McMurray, Alberta went up in flames.  In the midst of the most horrific experiences of their lives, other people pointed the finger and blamed the people involved for bringing these events upon themselves.

That mother should have been supervising her child more closely.

Its karma that the environment took down a city built upon the oil industry.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be in your darkest hour, and to see such hurtful comments being thrown around social media.  Does any mother want to do anything to cause the death of her child?  Does any person really want to endanger the survival of our planet?

Anyone who knows me well can attest to the fact that my hands are covered with scars from a never-ending series of kitchen knife mishaps.  Now, I know that knives are sharp.  I am more than aware of the consequences of not being careful while handling them.  But it still happens.  Why?  Because I believe that I can save the time of pulling out a cutting board and instead slice up an apple in my hand to calm a screaming toddler.  I think I can be safe and get things done quickly at the same time, and sometimes I make a mistake in judgement.  And I’m sure thankful when I need stitches that I’ve never had a doctor tell me that I deserve to be in pain.

People do the best that they can, and sometimes things just don’t go as planned.

But in both these recent tragedies, I don’t think this is even the issue.  It’s not that anyone made a mistake in judgement.  Bad things simply happen sometimes, no matter what you do.  Kids get away from their parents, no matter how watchful your eye.  Forest fires do not target anyone; they just burn.

So then why must people point fingers and blame instead of having compassion?  When I’m getting my fingers sewn up, the medical staff  are gentle with me and freeze my hand so I won’t feel anything as they make it all better.

I wonder if it has something to do with power.  We all need to feel a sense of control in our lives, and when we see these terrible things happen to others, it makes us afraid that perhaps we could be vulnerable too.  But if we can find some fault with the victims of tragedy and convince ourselves that they did something to deserve their pain, then it follows that as long as we make better choices, then we can make sure nothing like that ever happens to us.

Of course, it’s smart to be careful.  Don’t drive while drinking, be careful with electricity, ensure you have supplies in your home to manage a power outage.

But don’t for a second think that any of us our capable of controlling everything so perfectly that nothing bad can ever befall us.  Sometimes we misjudge.  And sometimes things happen to us that were beyond anyone’s control.

And when they do, wouldn’t the world be a better place if we could lift each other up when disaster strikes?



What Motivates the Other People….

Last week, I asked the question “Why do you work?”  I’d like to send out a big “Thank You!” to those of you who participated in my little survey to find out your thoughts.  And now for the results….

For the majority of respondents, they found doing something important/making a difference in the world motivated them the most.  Financial reward and enjoyment/fun were tied for the least motivating factors.

I heard about a research study (I’m so sorry – I’ve searched for the reference and can’t find it!  If anyone knows about this study, please let me know!!)  where they interviewed people to find out what they would choose to do if they had a choice between a career that paid very well but was pointless work or a career that was very meaningful but didn’t pay as well.  Not surprisingly, the results were the same – meaning is very important to us.

The part I found most interesting, though, was when they asked people what they thought the majority of people would choose.  Most thought that others would choose the well paying job.

In spite of the fact that there is a mountain of evidence that tells us that people want to engage in activities that make a difference, we often think that we need to provide treats, stickers, bonuses, etc. to increase productivity.

So – the question this week:  Whether you are managing a staff, trying to engage a classroom of students, or get your family to help with the household chores – are you focused on providing external motivation, or have you found ways to help people connect with the purpose behind their work?

What ways have you found to tap into people’s desire to do something important?  Please share your ideas!  (Trust me – taking a minute to share your stories can make a big difference in the life of someone who may be struggling right now!  Yes, YOU can make a difference!)

A winking, smiling emoticon


Why Do You Work?

work_experienceI was listening to an age-old debate about social assistance this week. It all sounds very logical: If you pay someone to sit around and do nothing, why would anyone have any motivation to work? As a society, we shouldn’t give people hand-outs because we need people to be contributing members of society and not just learn to take and take and never give.

It sounds logical… but my experience tells me it’s not quite this simple….

I work with a lot of folks who are on assistance, and many of them are overcoming significant odds every day to try to get their education. They have dreams of achieving a meaningful career, and are quite vocal about the fact that they don’t want to be on assistance for the rest of their lives. Why are they not satisfied with sitting back and collecting cheques?

I’ve also worked with a number of colleagues who were counting down the days until they were eligible to retire. And yet, when the day finally came, they didn’t. They had no financial reason to continue working, and yet, they just couldn’t go.

And what about all the unpaid work that people do? I attended the YWCA Women of Distinction awards ceremony this year, and I was completely blown away listening to the stories of the amazing work that volunteers in our community are doing. I don’t know where these women could fit all their work into the day, but it exhausted me thinking about all the time, energy and commitment that these people demonstrate.

And even within paid employment, I see people every day who go beyond the call of duty in their work. They take on extra projects, work overtime, and really go the extra mile – knowing full well that their efforts will not garner any extra financial reward. Often times, their labours will not even be noticed. But they do it anyways.

So if it’s not just money that motivates us, what is it?

I think many of us have this fantasy that if we won the lottery, the first thing that we’d do would be to quit our jobs. But I wonder… would you really? If push really came to shove, would you simply walk away, or is there something else you get out of your work that you might not be willing to give up?

It’s obvious that our work provides us with something more than simply money.  So I thought it might be interesting to do a little research.  I’ve created a one question survey that will only take you 5 seconds to complete.

Click here to anonymously share what motivates you!

Let’s see what we might learn…

Thanks for helping!

Examining the Extremes: Punishment vs. Rehabilitation

Every once in a while I’m stumped with a decision to make that I could argue both ways.  And while this struggle can go on for quite some time while I sort it all though, often, it’s when I get back to examining my basic beliefs that everything becomes clear.

What often illuminates the belief I’m seeking is when I consider the extremes.  When there’s so much more at stake, I can feel in my gut what is right and what is wrong.  Which has led me to spend some time looking at the criminal justice system.  After all, when it comes to figuring out how to change behaviour, there’s no more high stakes than that.

I certainly understand the desire to inflict pain on someone who has done wrong.  Many of the people in our jails have caused irreparable damage to the lives of innocent people.  The idea that someone can destroy another life and then go on to live a happy and fulfilled life of their own seems pretty unfair.

But if that’s the belief that is behind our criminal justice system, then we should never release anyone from prison.  We should either be locking criminals up for life, or be investing heavily in the idea of capital punishment.

But that’s not what we say we want.  We say we want people to learn from their mistakes.  We want them to be released after their sentence as law-abiding citizens ready to rejoin society.

So what would the ideal person look like upon release from jail?

In my mind, they would need to believe in the value of all people.  They would need to respect others, but also see that they, too, are worthwhile.  They would need to have connections with people and know that their life makes a difference to others.  They would need to know that they have something to important that they can contribute:  that their life matters.

So how does the system help create this reality?

Here’s been my experience…

Ever tried visiting someone in jail?  It’s a mountain of paperwork and a long process so that you can be approved to come only at very specific times.  I tried to send family pictures to an inmate one Christmas, only to have them returned because they weren’t allowed.  Phone calls can only be made by calling collect.  Part of their punishment is being separated from the people they love.

I’m not going to pretend to understand what it’s like to live in a jail, but what I’ve seen when visiting them is not the “cushy free ride” that people like to complain that our prisoners get.  Sure, there are some opportunties.  People can sometimes access education or treatment programs.  But it seems to me that there is a pretty clear message given:  you are a loser who cannot be trusted.  You don’t deserve anything good because you are not a good person.

And when you are released, you are on your own:  a few dollars and the clothes on your back.  Job prospects are minimal.  Finding someone who will rent you a place to live is challenging, and even if you could find that, where would you get first and last months rent?

Does this sound like a recipe for returning to society ready to turn over a new leaf?  Is it any wonder that many people find themselves back in jail again?

Then I came across this article about a different kind of prison.  Inmates can call their loved ones whenever they want.  In fact, connections are encouraged.  Bridges are built with the community so that upon release, people have jobs to go to.  Prisoners earn money so that when they are released they have some financial resources to get them started.

If you can overcome those feelings of wanting revenge upon someone who has caused harm to another person, there seems to be some logic that this is perhaps a better way to truly rehabilitate someone – to help them to become contributing members of society, as we claim we want them to do.

And if this kind of support helps change behaviour in the most hardened of criminals – why do we still hang on to the belief that inflicting pain, fear, and isolation will help change the behaviour of a child?

Here are the articles I came across about this new kind of prison:

What do you think?