Sunday, April 22, 2012

Can Discovering Their Passions Save Men's Lives?

Quite some time ago now, I had two men friends commit suicide, each several years apart. I distinctly remember my friend Devon, once vibrant and upbeat at 19 saying at age 35 that he was all washed up. He’d tried and failed. I could not really understand why someone that age would be willing to throw in the towel. Later I discovered he’d been diagnosed and treated for a labeled psychiatric disorder, was on medication, then went off and disappeared into the wilds, his body washed up on the shores of the Pacific Ocean days later.
Another friend Brian was a very talented musician and our auto mechanic. We knew he was plagued by inner conflict about life and relationships and suffered from depression. He went on a fast in the wilderness and grew so weak he could not come back on his own. We searched for him to no avail. His body was later found at the bottom of a cliff.
Many have heard the stories of businessmen jumping out of windows during the Great Depression and more recently in front of trains.

Why would men do this?

Last year reports from the American Journal of Public Health quoting an 80-year study said that rates of suicide do rise during periods of economic hardship and decline during periods of prosperity, especially for adults between the ages of 25 and 54 years old.
Overall men have a higher rate of successful suicide than women, and for each age group of men there are different reasons attributed.
Younger men report various pressures that they feel unable to adapt to or cope with.
The 25-54 working age group is most susceptible to economic variations as responsibility for mortgage payments, health insurance, children’s educations and a variety of other expenses pile up. An economic downturn could be a precipitating factor.
In older men, suicide is most strongly associated with depression, physical pain and illness, living alone and feelings of hopelessness and guilt.
The AJPH report speaks to the need to help the working age group in this era of plant closings and economic set backs so they know “where to turn, who to turn to, and don’t feel like they are isolated and have no hope, nowhere to go,” according to Dr. Alexander E. Crosby, report co-author and medical epidemiologist at the Center for Disease Control’s Division of Violence Prevention.

I believe that kind of help would be good medicine for men in all age groups, both those most predisposed to suicide for any number of psychological reasons and those many who experience isolation, don’t attempt suicide but do lose track of what life may have to offer, a reason and sense of purpose for their lives.
When men at any age can be assisted to reconnect with a deeper sense of purpose and meaning, they become far less vulnerable to external forces and changes, can tap into resilience and inner resources they may not have recognized within themselves.
We in the Passion Test family have seen that happen before our very eyes in the local, regional and international workshops and programs where men can experience what it feels like to come out of isolation and into a field of new possibilities with the solid and ongoing support of others modeling and committed to living the most passionate life they can.

I know I have days in which meeting life challenges is the last thing I feel up for. It’s called “contraction” and just like the tides going in and out, the moon waxing and waning, it’s a natural cycle of contraction and expansion. When we repeatedly feel trapped or alone in the waning phase, it can be scary to say so and ask for acknowledgment or help. That's probably what Henry David Thoreau was talking about when he spoke of men "leading lives of quiet desperation."

It could be that one of the most potent preventative health measures a man can take to save his life is to clearly identify, then get support for living his passions and unique sense of purpose.
Check our Quantum Leap Coaching website, for upcoming workshops and trainings that can create that clarity, expansion and ongoing support for men and the women that love them.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Is bullying the real problem?

About the same time this blog began Lady Gaga was at Harvard talking about the impact of “bullying” and her efforts to make a difference in the lives of young people by partnering with her mother to launch The Born This Way Foundation.

I’d been thinking about a post on this very subject when a friend sent me a February 29th NY Times editorial featuring our Lady. Of all the ways to use one’s celebrity status, this has to be one of the best. And it resonates because I remember as a kid what kind of climate was created when intimidation happened over and over again. As with Gaga, it was a nightmare for me as a boy and worse for those kids constantly put at the bottom of the pecking order.

These days kids often leave school or drink and take drugs to cope, so while fresh cases of PTSD are in the making, our education system is unraveling and the learning process is often very compromised.

One source of the underlying problem as I see it was and is that most adults working in educational settings never recovered from their own direct experience or exposure to bullying, so are not always that effective in stopping it when they grow up and work in these settings. We just don’t think well in places where we’ve been hurt. That’s not to say many educators don’t make a real difference, they do.

It’s just not commonly understood that bullying is a cultural problem, not just a matter of picking out the “bad weeds,” among us, not time after time resorting to a punishment mentality that usually makes things worse and in some places is so extreme schools become more like high security prisons.

Fortunately, Lady Gaga is not the first to get that a “culture of kindness,” as sappy as it may sound to some, is exactly what’s needed. Making it cool for kids to respect and take care of each other and have fun learning is not new. What’s new is the growing awareness that adults in recovery from bullying need a fair amount of support to take action to change their school’s cultures. After all, who is really in charge of these schools?

My wife Dr. Karin Lubin was an elementary school teacher and then principal before we became life and organizational coaches and consultants together. In her schools she very intentionally fostered a culture of kindness and in one school even led a Kindness Club where kids got to think up the most fun, kind and creative things to do for people at their schools. Some of these kids were middle-school age kids headed in not so healthy directions.

One of the most successful programs we know of and used in the school districts where Karin worked was a program called Healthy Play, a program whose main tenets are that we play to have fun and the most important part of the game is “the people.” These two rules and the many dozens of games and activities on the playground and in the classroom have transformed schools around the country that have implemented the Healthy Play program school-wide. That translates to very few visits to the principal’s office, less absences and increased student engagement in the rest of their activities, creating a true culture of kindness.

Of course there are a number of character education programs vying for limited teacher time, attention and school resources, a patchwork that is far better than nothing. Could there be something even more fundamental to what kids and teens really need to thrive and get along, becoming tomorrow’s creative, prosperous and fulfilled adults?

Fairly new and not yet widely known is a process called The Passion Test for Kids and Teens, a simple, fun and easy way for kids to get clear about what they really love, what is most important to them.  Savvy educators know that the best way to get maximum engagement of children in learning is to first find what they are interested in and genuinely excited about. Everything needs to begin there as that is the way we accelerate growth and learning for young people—and build families and schools into a culture of support for expressing each other’s strong interests, dreams and desires.

If we made a full nation-wide commitment to fostering kid’s passions with The Passion Test for Kids embedded in a powerful and well established high achievement program like Bobbi DePorter’s Eight Keys of Excellence backed by a whole school changing program like Healthy Play, I predict bullying would wither as the symptom of frustrated and alienated kids that it has become. There would simply be no more room for those kinds of behaviors. Students and teachers everywhere would all be having the time of their lives. And the national passion statistics of only one out of five adults engaged with doing what they love could be turned upside down.

Eight Keys of Excellence