A culture of gentleness is woven into all aspects of the organization – in the people it hires, how each person is mentored, and in the selection and support of individuals and families. This culture is about us as caregivers coming to the people we support in a non-violent way; non-violence is the understanding of what the other person perceives as violent – not what we perceive as violence. In a culture of gentleness, interactions are warm, welcoming and aimed at nurturing relationships based on equality and interdependence. Our focus is on building a sense of companionship and community with those we serve.
A critical part of this culture of gentleness involves shedding some common attitudes that lead to intolerance toward ‘troublesome’ people, such as seeing individuals solely as behavior problems, and being unwilling to express love toward them. A person’s value is not based on their behaviour – what they do, or do not do with us, or for us; it is inherent and unchanging. Once people learn that we value them, they can then learn to value others – that it is good to be with others and do things with others.
The first duty of a caregiver is to assure each person protection from any harm, primarily through a sharp eye on prevention, constant nurturing and loving interactions. The Gentle Teaching approach encompasses a transformation of both the marginalized person and the caregiver. It is not an approach that presents fixed and immutable answers that caregivers follow in a lock step manner. It is one that asks caregivers to interact within a broad framework based on the prevention of harm and the expression of unconditional love. Harm’s prevention often initially involves giving the person what he/she wants, as long as it is not harmful, so that the caregiver can enter the person’s space and begin to teach, “When you are with me, you are safe and loved.” Individuals learn to see their caregivers as authentic companions and to slowly learn to trust others in the broader community. It is not an approach that centers itself on behavioral change. It is an approach that beckons spiritual or internal change.
The use of traditional approaches and practices based on control and compliance emphasize the changing of the other person; Gentle Teaching challenges caregivers to change themselves and base their interventions and relationships on unconditional love. COR asks its caregivers to see themselves as companions to marginalized persons; for it is the responsibility of the caregiver to initiate and initially present and sustain this mutual transformation process.
Frequently Asked Questions
Answering some of the tough questions about Gentle Teaching.
Q: Gentle Teaching seems like it might work for some, but can it work for those that I serve?
Yes. Gentle Teaching is more than just a strategy we use on people. It is about how we view ourselves as care providers. It asks each of us to examine who we represent in the lives of those we serve. It asks us to create homes and workplaces where people feel deeply safe and loved by their caregivers. We must recognize that all of us want to feel safe, deeply loved and cared for and to have an opportunity to love others and to find enjoyment in life and feel connected to others. Once we see this as our primary role as caregivers, we begin to understand that these principles are for all those we serve as well as for ourselves.
Q: What about choice?
Choices are important when increasing a sense of control and empowerment. While choice is a valid concept, most of us make choices with a sense of connectedness to others. As caregivers, we must help others make choices that are appropriate for their current state of feeling safe and loved. We all learned how to make choices utilizing the love and support of our caregivers. Choice without a sense of safe and loved can increase stress, demand and confusion. It is best to start with small choices and then expand choices as the foundation of connectedness is deepened.
Q: Iʼm concerned about using touch. Wonʼt this be seen as inappropriate?
One of the tools used when teaching others a sense of “you are safe with me” is touch. It is a very concrete sign of caring, connectedness and community. There are many variables to consider when using touch; the personʼs life story, comfort level of the caregiver, culture, age, and religious beliefs. When using touch, do so softly, slowly, predictably, and be ready to back off at the slightest indication of fear. While using touch, explain why touch is good, such as, “This means we are friends, we are good people, and you are safe with me.” If you decide that touch would not be the best tool to use, understand that your other tools (eye, words, presence) will have to be that much more powerful.
Q: What about when someone “knows better”?
We all often do things that we know better than to do (speeding, smoking, spending too much money, drinking too much, etc.) Having others explain why we should know better rarely leads to us changing our behavior. We make positive changes in our lives when we have a foundation of love and support. The fact that they may or should know better may be true but is irrelevant. Continue to work on the strength of the relationships in the personʼs life.
We know that it is not an opportune time to teach when someone is experiencing a difficult time. Explaining to someone that they should know better will not lead to change, but may in fact push them farther away. We must go for the heart, not the head.
Q: Wonʼt giving value unconditionally teach people to manipulate us?
Many of us have been trained that we should only give positive/valuing interactions when someone is behaving appropriately. We know that in our own lives, what we need in our darkest hours is warmth, caring, a listening ear and reassurance that we will get through. We want to create opportunities where people are getting the attention and affection they need from us on a regular basis, not just when they have earned it. Having relationships where one feels physically/emotionally safe and deeply loved/valued is essential for any of us.
Using food, drinks or other objects the person finds deeply rewarding is often given unconditionally while we are building the foundation of a safe and loving relationship with caregivers. Understand that the strong desire for these things is often based on a history of contingent reward and a lack of meaningful relationships. We must give something to receive something. Not having to earn these items increases oneʼs sense of feeling safe. Once there is a foundation of meaningful relationships based on a deep sense of safe and love, we can teach that while these things are good, being with others is more rewarding.
Q: We work with people who can be very violent. How can we not use physical management?
We must see the violence as a symbol of a personʼs deep fear. Our first priority is to keep the person and the caregivers safe. Some caregivers do not honestly know any other option outside of force and control. This can come from the training theyʼve had, the culture of the organization, or simply not knowing what else to do.
We need to invest in training that gives caregivers more proactive tools and strategies. It is better to create peace rather than violence. Look at what contributes to the person feeling unsafe and unloved, examine ways to increase the sense of safety and valuing, work on developing a circle of relationships where the person feels safe and loved, and loosen the reigns of control that can sometimes lead to violence. If you feel safe and loved by me, you will be less likely to hurt yourself or others when in distress.
We recommend that organizations start with where they are and develop a plan to move away from physical management as their confidence, skill level and support grows. If one must use physical management, do so with kindness and concern.
the tools of gentle teaching
In our approach, caregivers use themselves as the tools to teach others to feel safe, loved, loving and engaged – their own presence, words, hands, and eyes.
mentoring a culture of gentleness
To be a Mentor of Gentle Teaching is to be reflective and thoughtful, driven by values of non-violence and justice. A Mentor teaches others how unconditional love triumphs over violence in all its forms.
gentle teaching resources
A collection of resources by Dr. John McGee and our colleagues within the Gentle Teaching International (GTI) community.