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Teaching Feelings of Safety and Security

“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.

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.”

 

-John McGee

Our Approach is Based on Moral Development

“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’

Mentoring a Spirit of Gentleness

“Mentoring is a way to help teach others about gentle care giving, to enter into terrifying spaces and teach others to feel safe and loved.” Mentoring is an approach to do this. It is a way to share with others a spirit of gentleness and justice.

A mentors role is to define the empty and sometimes violent spaces that exist between caregivers and marginalized individuals in institutions, shelters, homes, prisons, nursing homes, schools and wherever we happen to serve. These places have to be filled up with the caregivers’ laces of affection–their loving touch, warm words, and kind gazes. Caregivers need to stop and reflect on the formation of companionship and community and the role of helping individuals feel safe, engaged, loved and loving. From this foundation, caregivers can then create communities of caring. Mentoring is a process for teaching caregivers to establish companionship and community.

Mentoring is a way to teach others

Mentoring is an ever-deepening task that calls for the development of trust among caregivers and the formation of a sense of companionship and community. This trust starts by the Mentor entering into the caregivers’ space with a deep sense of humility and justice and helping each caregiver feel safe and respected. It is the informal coming together of the Mentor and caregiver around the kitchen table and the sharing of the meaning of companionship and community. It is working together and finding ways to teach marginalized people these feelings.”

-John McGee

Reverse Effects

“We keep trying to establish feelings of companionship and forming community among those who are marginalized. Yet, we struggle to create a sense of connectedness in a culture that demands independence and self-reliance. We listen to newscasts that announce this. We hear newscasts tell us the strong must control the weak. We read newspaper stories that trumpet the glory of the self. These cultural attitudes become part of our care giving. We have been trained to seek compliance and control. We demand that those whom we serve choose what is right and good when they do not trust us, in fact, often fear us. We live in a world that places the individual above the community.

As care givers, we have to reverse this trend and begin to question what the other needs — to feel safe with us and loved by us. A psychology of interdependence assumes that we find ourselves in others and in the strength of our connectedness to others. It is the foundation of who we are and what we are becoming. It leads us to develop a sense of companionship with those who distance themselves from us. We have to move from a culture of self-reliance to one of human connectedness and from a culture of self to one of otherness. As we do this, we are slowly moving toward the formation of community where we will feel collectively safe, loved, loving and engaged.

Interdependence is based on our shared values — the wholeness and inherent goodness of each person in spite of violent behavior and the thirst that we all have for a feeling of being one-with-one-another in spite of paradoxical behaviors that push others away. These values are difficult to maintain, but are necessary if we are to help those who cling onto the slippery edge of family and community life.”

John McGee,
Mending Broken Hearts: Companionship and Community

I absolutely love the people I support at COR

“First, I must say that I absolutely love the people at COR. There is never a day that I dread–and I believe that is a bold statement; especially when rough days arise. I really do care about the well-being of these individuals and I believe the strong relationships I have built reflect this. Secondly, I feel that my honesty and enthusiasm makes others feel safe and loved; and others are able to open up to me. I want to treat everyone the same and not talk down to anyone. I consciously practice what I preach and always strive to be fair in both decision making and everyday conversations.”

Whitney, COR Support

It’s Time To BULK-UP Your Shoulders

I am a firm believer that exercise is a necessary evil.

If I could get away with never working out I would be an incredibly happy man! However, there is something strange that began happening to me once I graduated high school; my ‘average size’ frame began morphing into something that resembled the shape of a Teletubby. What was described to me as the ‘freshmen fifteen’, in reality became the freshman thirty-five: I had lost control!

Instead of crossing my fingers and wishing for the weight to miraculously dissolve, I made the hard choice to eat better and begin working out. At first going to the gym was incredibly intimidating; but with every time I kept my commitment, it became easier and more comfortable. Once again I began noticing changes. I felt healthier, stronger and my shoulders became more defined.

Shoulder’s aren’t typically something that you wake up thinking about: unless you are an Olympic body-builder and yet my post today focuses our attention on this idea: Do not be dismayed, this is a challenge that runs significantly deeper than the physical. I believe that we as living and breathing people need to continually ask ourselves, ‘what am I able to bear and what is my breaking point?’ This question comes to mind after weeks and months of dwelling on the question “whose responsibility is it?” Particularly thinking about the disability sector and the desire on COR’s behalf to be leaders within our community by embracing Gentle Teaching—and challenging the status-quo.

Whose responsibility is it when the police are called to a house because of a yelling match between roommates? Whose responsibility is it when a customer in line at the grocery store glares cruelly at the person we support, and utters comments under their breath? Whose responsibility is it to put the house together after an escalation that resulted in property damage? I’ll stop here, but please don’t think that this is a compulsive list—No! It can entail anything and everything that falls within a grey area, including care for those that we support as well as those that we support with.

bulk-up-your-shoulders

On going relationships should motivate us to dig into unconditional love and share the load of others burdens. Giving the emotional encouragement and mental strength, so that the love of friendship spurs on that individual to continue. We have often said that we desire to work in a community of like-minded people: in order to do this we need to learn to carry the burdens and stress of others. Assist where needed and when available in order to bulk up our shoulders.

From my meager perspective, the greatest way to do this is to question your intent in everything. Are you noticing the down-trodden parent, the intimidated support worker or the overwhelmed team leader? Or, are you so caught up in the happenings of your own life that others are hidden in the background: with a painted banner over their heads that convinces you they are “happy”, “fine” or “will pull through with time”. I am convinced that we need to learn to become more intentional, bend down to help the helpless and bulk up our shoulders to carry the burden of others.

 

Ben, Director of Culture and Mentorship

 

It Is Important To Listen

“For creating and maintaining a culture of gentleness with the guys I support it is important to listen to what they have to say, help the guys to feel safe and loved; and to be engaged. The way I do this is that when they are talking I make sure I am looking at them and responding to them even if I already know or have heard what they are telling me. Also, when they are upset or angry, I attempt to give them their space until they are ready to talk about what was upsetting them. I never get mad or yell!

Some of the ways that I make the guys feel safe is by telling them that I am here for them and that I am not going to let anything happen to them. Some of the ways that I show the guys love is by taking them to a place they love or by watching a show or a movie over and over just because it makes them happy. Another way I show that they are important and loved is that even when I am not supporting I will still come to hangout, answer calls or texts and play games. The main way that I help the guys feel loved is by telling them that they are smart, good and that I love them: I will also give hugs freely.

The way I get the guys feeling engaged is by taking them to my house and meeting my family; by engaging them to help me personally, or with tasks that need to be done around their houses. In creating and maintaining a culture of gentleness with supports, I try to be as helpful as I can by being flexible with open support times. Also instead of getting upset or questioning an issue, I either ask questions or talk to someone, like my team leader.”

Jenna, COR Support

Feeling Fearful…Feeling Safe

“In the list that follows, compare how a person whom you serve struggles with fear and is distanced from a feeling of being safe. Reflect on the subtle interactions that the person expresses that show “I am safe with you” but always remember that we are not blaming ourselves. Yet, we need to gain insight into the fear that envelops those we serve. Look at each factor in the list and check those that apply. If fearful outweighs safe, then we know how important it is to teach the person a feeling of, “With us, you are safe!” Decide what major areas indicate fear. But, beware! We are not interested in focusing on behavior. They are only signs of a deeper anguish that is driven by deep fear and meaninglessness. Our full focus will be on dealing with fear. For now, get a sense of the fear that pervades the people we serve.

Feels fearful . . .

• Runs away
• Cries a lot
• Expressionless
• Sad appearance
• Slovenly
• Hits self
• Hits others
• Sleeps poorly
• Complains
• Refuses to participate
• Eats poorly
• Self-stimulates
• Curses
• Hordes
• Flinches

Feels safe . . .

Stays with others
• Expresses joy
• Relaxed
• Contented appearance
• Well-cared for
• Respects body
• Respects others
• Sleeps well
• Expresses love
• Enjoys participating
• Eats well
• Enjoys hobbies
• Uplifts others
• Shares
• Appears content

This initial analysis is a critical step for us since we often think that we do nothing to produce fear. We feel that the person is really “pretty happy.” Indeed, this may generally be the case. Yet, we have to look more closely. We might think that we do not do anything directly to cause fear. We might see the person as simply manipulative or seeking attention. We have to probe more deeply.

Our purpose is different. We choose not to control people. We choose to help them liberate themselves from fear and meaninglessness. We are not satisfied with, “Leave well enough alone!” We have to concern ourselves with the community of people whom we serve and teach all to live together. At school, home, work, or play, our task is to teach marginalized children and adults to feel safe with us and loved by us.”

John McGee
“Mending Broken Hearts: Companionship and Community”

Empowering a Spirit of Gentleness

A Spirit of Gentleness is About…

Our nonviolence
• Our sense of social justice
• Our expression of unconditional love
• Our warmth toward those who are cold
• Our teaching others to feel safe, loved, loving, and engaged
• Our teaching a feeling of companionship with the most marginalized
• Our forming community
• Our sense of human interdependence and solidarity
• Our option to be side by side with the most devalued

A spirit of gentleness might seem easy; but, always remember, we do things that many can interpret as cold and controlling, often without even realizing it. The cold space that exists between us and the vulnerable person deepens and broadens without us even realizing it when we focus on control with a “Do this or else!” mentality or when we wallow in hopelessness with an attitude of “Well, that is just the way she is.”

Without even realizing it, our tone of voice, our posture, the way we look at someone, and the way we talk can tell the vulnerable person strong messages that say, “You are no good! Do what I tell you to do or else!” We do not do this intentionally. Yet, if we do not understand human vulnerability and fragility, our simplest actions can take on a horrendous meaning. Our priorities are often messed up if we focus on behaviors instead of feelings or independence instead of interdependence. We need to worry about helping each person begin to feel more safe and loved instead of getting rid of behaviors.

John McGee
“Mending Broken Hearts: Companionship and Companionship”