COR’s approach is to teach caregivers that they themselves are instruments of peace, bringing messages of non-violence, forgiveness, empathy and total acceptance. Our central purpose is to teach the value of companionship and to develop a sense of community with those we support. We do not aim to to teach others skills, such as house cleaning or hygiene; or to stop hurting themselves or others. Although these are important skills to learn, they are not our central purpose.
Before any learning is possible, we must first teach that it is safe to be with us, that the other person is good, and that we value them, regardless of what they do, or do not do. The caregiver must develop a sense of inner peace, bringing warmth and love during good moments and bad.
Gentle Teaching is concerned with the meaning of the caregiver’s presence in each moment, in messages the caregiver sends during bad moments, and in what the caregiver teaches during happy and stressful times. ‘Behavioural change’ is only a secondary purpose; authentic care giving consists of finding ways to express love in the moment. Caregivers become aware that their mere presence communicates a thousand words. In the beginning, caregivers need to become almost invisible, to avoid placing extra demands on the individual.
The most crucial tool in a culture of gentleness is each caregiver’s words. Our words are not just our words. They are the softness in our face, the tone and rhythm of our voice, the twinkle in our eyes, the reaching out of our arms, and the way we look at those around us. Our words must be uplifting and wrapped in warmth. Each syllable that we emit should be loaded with honor, nobility and love. Our words are our most widely used tool. We have to understand the power of our words, their sounds, and their rhythm.
In the COR culture, words are not used to put down, reprimand, blame or sermonize. They are used to honor, console and uplift. The caregiving tool that is used (or misused) all too often is our words. Caregivers often mistakenly think that their primary role is to convince each person to behave by repeating threats and reiterating blame, and insisting, (“You know better!”) Too often caregivers speak of boring behavioural talk about “good job,” and toss out verbal reprimands (“Hey, stop that!”). These admonitions are not beneficial for self-esteem or creating a caring relationship.
Rather, caregiver’s words should signal feelings of being safe and loved. Marginalized individuals already know when they do ‘wrong.’ What they do not know is that it is good to be with caring people and experience unconditional love. Words are of little use when the person does not know the most basic spiritual lesson in life: to feel safe and loved. No amount of screaming will convince anyone of this important lesson.
Words are a key instrument for peacemaking. Caregivers need to know that all of their interactions with an individual constitute a whole that becomes part of a dialog. A large part of this dialog is simply listening, reading between the lines, understanding each person’s life story and interpreting feelings that underlie actions.
Caregivers need to realize that their gaze is a strong tool that allows them to look into murky and shattered hearts and bring warmth, consolation and healing. Eye contact can be like tender hands or pounding fists. Caregivers must be deeply present in the care giving moment and understand that even their gaze sends a message.
Touch is another caregiving instrument that involves carefully offered embraces, pats on the back, or arms around the shoulder. Not all people want to be touched. Sometimes it may be too traumatizing and can produce fearful flashbacks for those survivors of torture or sexual abuse.
The practice of touch varies from culture to culture. In cultures that focus on the individual, touch is often regarded as inappropriate and unprofessional; in other cultures, it is considered normal or routine, and is a strong expression of human connectedness and solidarity. Even in individualistic cultures, touch is still considered to be a positive expression of love toward children and the elderly.
Many professionals and administrators are afraid of any touch in caregiving settings unless it involves physical management. They express deep concerns, such as: “How will an individual learn boundaries when he/she has been sexually traumatized over the years?” Gentle Teaching’s use of touch, such as a hug, is clearly not sexual. That said, caregivers need to proceed with great care in the use of touch, and make sure that these acts are seen as symbols of companionship and community, due to the fact that many individuals in COR have a history filled with abuse and violent physical attacks.
Many people think that Gentle Teaching is all about hugs. Physical contact is a vital aspect of the approach used because it can be a very concrete expression of the feeling “I am safe with you.” Just as importantly, it is employed as a ritual in a culture of gentleness; it becomes a sign and symbol of what COR is all about, namely companionship and community.
In the use of loving physical contact, such as a hug, care must be taken. For example, caregivers can model asking for a hug, by saying “I can sure use a hug!” or “Could you give me a hug?” The use of loving touch gradually takes a new meaning of gentleness, companionship and community. The caregiver’s hands can be concrete expressions of generating a feeling of being safe and loved.
The use of any of the above tools can be challenging, because in many instances caregivers are discouraged from having personal relationships with those whom they serve and support; they are expected to remain objective, professional and emotionally distant from the person in need. COR’s culture of gentleness takes a different path, whereby the key to care giving rests in the depth and warmth of the newly forming relationship.