Through my 3 and a half years of experience with COR and the philosophy of Gentle Teaching, I have attained a wealth of knowledge and an everlasting impact on my life. When I first started with COR, just like most people, I was a bit skeptical of the whole ideology of unconditional love. In latent terms, I perceived it as ‘give them whatever they want’ or ‘they can do whatever they want without consequences’. At the time, I failed to realize it was so much more than that. The whole basis of Gentle Teaching isn’t trying to change the individual’s behaviour, but rather changing our approach on how we serve the individuals.
My ability to use Gentle Teaching had never really been challenged until I began supporting at a new home and more specifically supporting one individual at that home. When I began, to be 100 percent honest, I was quite nervous. I had heard all the stories that this was the hardest team to support on. To my surprise, it really wasn’t! I got off to a good start with two of the guys. The only one I hadn’t connected with was one of the guys. Every time I would enter his space or try to interact with him, he would completely shut me down. This really bugged me personally. I am the type of person who really likes to get along with everybody, and at times, will over step boundaries to be liked by that person. This happened one day when I was supporting him. I came in that day with what I thought was a solid game plan. I was going to force myself to stay with him, we were really going to joke around and have an awesome time together. I also had the idea to take him to a Rider practice that day thinking it was going to be an amazing experience. I was completely wrong. Sure, he enjoyed the idea of going to Rider practice and seeing all his favourite players, but he still didn’t feel safe around me. I struggled to interpret what he was saying numerous times throughout the day and it led to numerous negative moments, the worst being at the Rider practice where he hit me. After that day, I came to realize that by forcing myself to be in his space, I had removed one of the most fundamental and most important pillars of Gentle Teaching; feeling safe.
In order to fix this, I needed to change how I provided care, while also trying to encompass the tools of Gentle Teaching to build the four pillars. For the next couple of months, I took a step back and really focused on observing, rather than forcing myself into situations for my own personal reasons. I was selective and patient in choosing the times that were appropriate to help strengthen his sense of feeling safe around me. Most of these interactions were focused around watching sports games or going out to grab a drink from 7/11. I tried keeping the interactions short and consistent allowing him to become comfortable around me. As time passed, I was able to get him to feel safe by changing how I provided for him. Once I had the sense of feeling safe around me, the other three pillars (feeling loved, feel loving towards others, and feeling engaged) came much more naturally.
Through my experience with all the individuals I support, they have had an everlasting impact on my life. They have taught me if I adjust how I provide care and unconditionally love them, rather than force them to be who they are not, that they will reciprocate it back in their way.
Brydon, COR Family Member
I am so thankful for the training and knowledge I have received from COR. At the time I was hired I was simply looking for employment that was person centred in which I would be able to work closely with people. When I think about other agencies I could have worked for, I am truly happy I chose the path that I did. I understand that social work can be a very difficult job in which I may be required to follow strict policies which do not appear to better the individuals I am serving. At COR, I always feel that I am doing right by the individuals I work with and value the strong relationships I have been able to develop in such a short period of time. I owe this to the gentle teaching training I have received.
I believe we should be viewed as equal to those we support at COR; this is why I love the terminology of “support person” or even better a “friend”. I enter someone’s life and learn so much about them- their fears, their dreams, their hobbies, their family, their past and so on. I partly create my culture of gentleness by allowing them glimpses into my own life to be viewed as an equal. Having them over for lunch, allowing them to meet my family, and opening up about myself. I believe this allows people to feel more comfortable with you and that they will then feel safe opening up to you. Additionally, I always ensure I do not pass judgement. If someone opens up and tells me something about themselves or confesses something that has been bothering them, I ensure to be conscious of my facial expression, body language and tone when I respond. This allows for an open conversation in which they will come to me in the future and feel that they can talk and open up without judgement. COR has taught me about the power of my tools- my hands, my eyes, my tone… these can all have such a huge effect on your ability to make someone feel safe with you.
In my eyes, a culture of gentleness can be broken down to simply mean what do we all deem to be valuable and important in our lives?
We are all individuals and yet, at a basic level, we all want the same things. To feel safe, to love, and to be loved. I have had the privilege of feeling safe in my life and it requires empathy to understand even the tiniest glimpse of what some of the individual’s supported at COR have gone through and what can change in your life when you no longer have to fight for basic needs. I have witnessed firsthand how much it means to someone to be able to give- to show love. For those I support to be able to teach me about something, to make me lunch or buy me a coffee; this means that they view me as a friend and care about me just as I care about them. I am proud to be a member of COR and proud of the strong relationships and friendships I have developed.
Shandrea, COR Support
“Well I like COR cause people get along. They don’t fight, they don’t hit, and they don’t hurt kids. I feel safe. I know everything isn’t cheap, but I work hard for my money. I work 2 jobs. My life was not going very good before. My life was going down instead of going up. Now my life is going up. I don’t have to put up with people that try to hurt me because I know no one is going to hurt me. If I have a problem with people I can talk to them and they listen. I’m glad my friend helped me when my back got sore. If someone was afraid or something, COR would say “I’m not gonna hurt you, you can trust us”. I trust people at COR. I was scared at first. Oh yeah, it was scary. It was really new. That was a long time ago. I was scared of my new boss and my new job for a while too. I got used to them. I have to get used to my job’s new building now.”
I was living in an approved home before COR. I had a friend that lived in COR and I started hanging out with him more and more. I stayed for sleepovers and his friends got to know me a little bit. He wanted me to move to COR… I guess he suggested it to somebody!
We had some meetings and then Andrew and Jim showed up one day with a U-Haul truck. All my stuff was in boxes and bags. It felt good to load it in. It felt like freedom. I threw everything in there. I came to the house, unpacked the U-Haul and there were lots of people helping me out. I didn’t sleep that night. It was a new environment for me and it took me a while to fall asleep the first couple of nights. Once I felt more comfortable it started to feel like home. I had things given to me for my apartment. On my birthday I was given things that I basically wanted. It was sort of weird at first. I had birthday parties before, but I never got things that I needed. My friends all bought me a Keurig for Christmas this year!
I’m going to a class that helps me deal with my anger, my anxiety, stuff like that. Some days I don’t really feel the greatest… and some days it could be like… I don’t know its kind of an up & down thing for me. Some days are tougher than others. That’s why I’m going to a class. I know that people in COR aren’t judging me or anything and that they are there to listen not scold you. They are there to help, they don’t say “wow that’s a dumb question to ask”, they just listen and try to help. When I moved in I needed somebody to talk to and I had a friend who would sit and listen, help me out and talk with me. It made me feel more comfortable because I know there is always someone to talk to if I need to. I get to go places like the bar, camping trips, hanging out with my friends. There’s not really a curfew. Your friends treat you like an adult, and if there’s a problem we sort of talk it out and work through it.
My friends helped me find a job. I work at Sasktel right on 1st Avenue and Broad Street, not too far from the COR office. I do lots of different things. I sometimes work in the warehouse, I clean 2701’s and 3801’s, just different modems. I sometimes clean ONT’s. It feels good to have a job. I’m not isolating myself because now I actually have a job where I’m responsible for getting up and getting to work on time. I was sort of nervous when I started. I was nervous to ask questions on my first day, but when I got more comfortable I sort of came out of my shell. When I’m on my own I have a thing called Facetime. My friends Facebook, Facetime, text me to make sure I’m okay and stuff like that.
I really like hanging out with people from COR. Going to BBQ’s, hanging out, playing football, just hanging out. There’s one thing that I have learned from that. I don’t look at their disabilities, I look at them as a person. I go to the dances and I have a friend that has MS, but I don’t look at her as MS. I just look at her as just one of my friends I can hang out with and laugh, do stuff with.
[What is COR all about?]
People caring about other people, people who are willing to listen, talk to you and make sure you’re alright. They are basically there for caring. COR has a website with lots of videos. Everyone is welcome here and everyone is equal. You should check it out. COR is an awesome place to live.
“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.”
“Empathy is not pity.”
“It is a feeling of being-one-with-the-other. It is trying to understand and sense why a child or adult is acting in a particular way and reflecting on the cumulative impact of each persons life history–years of segregation, submission, and isolation that gnaw away at the spirit. It is a spirit of sharing our common humanity, and the belief that no one exists as a mere individual but that we all exist interdependently…Empathy does not mean over-protection. It comes from our knowledge of the other and ourselves, our reality, our vulnerabilities, and our strengths and weaknesses. It is caring about the others anger, frustrations and rejection instead of whether the other is obeying or producing.
We need to represent kindness, serenity and peace. It involves recognition of the personal and social dimensions of what it means to be handicapped, mentally ill, poor or abandoned. It remains steadfast during the good times and bad, at the depths of fury and the heights of joy. Nobody is only a student, a client, a resident, homeless, poor, or powerless. Empathy drives us to uncover the human condition and reveal its fullness, our fragility in the face of life’s vicissitudes, or vulnerability to emotional disruption, and our need for being-with others. We need to consider that we are but one short from homelessness ourselves.”
-John J. McGee
“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
“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’