The March of Kindness

1106-relax-and-succeed-the-march-of-kindnessIf you read yesterday’s blog you know that a few years ago I started doing the March of Kindness. Thanks to some teachers and schools from around the world this idea was actually practiced. It not not only put a lot of positive action into our world, it also reduced ego by focusing us on the needs of others.

March includes twenty-three weekdays. That’s twenty-three days of action, and the only action you need to undertake today is to right-click on the photo, save it, print and sign it and then post this notice in a location where you are sure to see it during each of those twenty-three days.

The world is a big place, but it changes one individual at a time. By signing and committing to these principles, you are placing yourself among the important change-makers from around the world. This isn’t just for people like the prophets, or Gandhi, or Rumi, or Martin Luther King, it’s for you as well.

Let us join together and help make the world the incredibly creative, loving and supportive place it has always had the potential to be. Don’t forget to enjoy the process. Have a wonderful day everyone.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.

Sticks and Stones

1047-relax-and-succeed-stabbed-in-the-backIs it a parent? Another kid at school? And if it’s one at school it’s usually at least three. A young boy will punch you straight in the face and it hurts, but the girls will sneak around behind you and try and turn everyone against you, and that totally undermines your place in the world in this horrible way that you can’t do anything about.

A boy can get stronger, study a martial art, but there’s no way for a girl to improve herself out of being called names that have little to nothing to actually do with her. Opinions live inside other people’s minds and we hear them through their voices. Neither of these things are in our control so there is only one other answer.

If you surrender the idea of fighting against it that doesn’t mean that you’re accepting it. It means the exact opposite. Because you don’t stop fighting it because it’s beating you, because if it was beating you and it didn’t stop eventually you’d die, and no one’s ever died from people having an opinion about them.

1047-relax-and-succeed-do-not-make-your-enemys-thoughtsIf they lynch them that’s one thing and we all have to take action quickly, but if all they do is use their voices; trust me, those can’t hurt you at all unless you choose to believe them and think them too. Besides, there’s very few people who will be around your life permanently and they certainly won’t be that type. What they say will matter for a tiny period of your existence. Tiny.

How’s a voice hurt you? How’s someone telling a joke hurt you? How’s someone using a slur on you do damage to you? Even if fifty people listened and did nothing, that won’t mean they agree with what was shouted, that will only mean they’re too cowardly to do anything about it. The more you ignore it and the more dignified and unperturbed you behave, the less interesting it is to try to knock you off balance when you’re so obviously well-balanced, and the more impressive you look to all of the cowardly people. But you don’t do that by performing like it doesn’t matter; you do it by understanding that you literally cannot be hurt by words.

1047-relax-and-succeed-famous-failuresWe’re starting to live in a world where people cannot accept differing opinions. The truth is, everyone has there areas in life where they shine, and other areas where they are less capable. That is entirely normal, and just like you will have times where you have to move around the inabilities of others, they will have to do that with you sometimes too. But everyone has those so you get yours too. People can go ahead and not like it, but as they mature they’ll realise that people like you will still be a large percentage of the population so they will also realise their opinions are only in their head and no matter how loud they are they do not make things true.

People can say whatever they want, until you repeat it to yourself and actually ask yourself if it might be true, it is not true for you. Truth exists in people singularly. It isn’t a group concept. The closest thing we have to that is science and science has no opinion about your personality.

If you start thinking other’s thoughts then that’s the beginning of your thinking starting to make that idea true, because whether it’s true or not won’t impact whether or not you can believe it. There’s no difference between your beliefs and what you think is true. So do not make your enemy’s thoughts about you your thoughts about you.

1047-relax-and-succeed-find-a-group-of-peopleSomeone can turn the entire school against you and you can still have a fantastic life. The kid who thinks that controlling anything in childhood would ever actually matter is just lost in their own false belief of importance. They go to the bathroom too. Their relationships will end too. Life ebbs and flows throughout it’s length, so every human being spends times up and times down. Who goes first doesn’t mean a thing.

Believe in your strengths, spend time with those who see and appreciate them. The others have opinions about you just as you have yours about them. Since those never last, they just don’t matter anyway. Develop your strengths. Start now. Because while other kids are bullying you and making their future more difficult by quietly turning others against them, you can take that time to ensure that you’re becoming more capable, thereby setting up a confident, successful future for yourself.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.

Rocking the Boat

1025-relax-and-succeed-its-okay-if-people-dont-like-youOur ability to remember things only starts a little before most people start going to school, so our idea of how the larger world works will often come from that experience and not our home one. If we’re Korean and our family and friends are Korean then being Korean is fine, but if the kids in the school have never seen a Korean face or heard a Korean name, they can think the new kid is strange and someone to be avoided. This can cause insecurities that can last a lifetime even though there’s nothing wrong with the kid.

Eventually in school everyone does make at least a few friends. Interestingly, the kids with the fewest friends are generally outcasts who are already functioning in some way that causes society to pass some judgment on them. Nerds are cool now, but it wasn’t that long ago that being good in school and knowing about things like Dungeons and Dragons or comic books meant you’d be ostracised or even beat up.

The strange upside to being ostracised is that it’s actually much more accurate to adult life. So you can go through school as the most popular person but that still won’t save you from all of the judgments others will make about you. Some of those judgments will be true, others will be entirely false, but you’ll lose just as many friends over the lies as the truth–likely even more.

1025-relax-and-succeed-do-what-you-feel-is-rightMeanwhile, the teased kid eventually gives up and just starts being themselves as they get used to the teasing. This, it turns out, is one of the most important lessons a person can learn. That kid becomes impervious to the opinions of others. Without any airs that kid can meet their friends as themselves and that is a profoundly underrated thing.

One of the best advantages to being yourself is that it helps your real friends find you in a crowd. Often people will connect with the wrong people because they think someone’s this or that way when really they’ve just been performing to maintain their status with others. And the egos do this even though the actual person will eventually have to show up and disappoint everyone who thought they were someone else.

Genuinely enjoying the act of making someone happy is one thing, but it’s not a healthy or enlightened thing to make people happy if you’re spending that time performing actions or saying words that feel unnatural to you. Eventually you’ll get hangry or be short on sleep or you’ll have had a stressful time and you’ll show your true self and then just watch a bunch of people desert you for nothing more than a few low days.

Frankly, if you look back at your life you can probably easily find people you’ve never spoken to again and yet all they would have done is offend you with an opinion or approach that wasn’t one you’d use. Look at how remarkably conditional our affections are; we see it so often it becomes normal, so we get to the point where we actually expect people to perform for us. They’re not supposed to be themselves, they’re supposed to be who we expect them to be.

So how’s the outcast in school end up better off? It hurts them more at the time because they found out before anyone how incredibly silly people can be with their opinions, but in getting used to it they’re getting used to the adult world where people’s expectations just increase more and more and more over time. Eventually you can get to the point where an entire 20 year friendship can end over just one series of misunderstood text messages, as though those messages somehow unlock some secret identity they’ve been hiding for two decades.

Half the time people show me one of those and say, can you believe they said that? and I won’t even be able to find the offence they’re talking about without all of the history they’re loading the text with. Even the word ok gets seen as some sign of hostility. If people are going to be that finicky then the problem isn’t you, it’s their ridiculous standards. People aren’t here for you and you aren’t here for them. We’re all in this together and we either act like that or we pretend we can somehow survive without people that disagree with us.

By fifty most people have realised that their giant collection of school friends was really just a bunch of other insecure kids who were taught all kinds of unrealistic expectations. Those same expectations will cause people to desert or blame others and before they know it everyone’s left with just their true friends; the people who will accept them warts and all. And the outcast had that already in school. It was the rest of us living in a fantasy, not the kid playing D&D.

Don’t perform for others and don’t ask others to perform for you. The problems aren’t out in the world they are within you. You have resistance to other people’s ways of being just like they have resistance to your way of being. How can it make sense for two people who believe in democracy to hate each other because one’s a Democrat and one’s a Republican when they can’t even have the democracy they value so much without each other? It’s crazy, and yet people do it every day.

There’s a lot of people sitting on the gunnels of your boat and almost nothing will knock them out. A lot of people never intended to stay so they have gotten on and off and various ports of call. Others really needed some serious storms to get knocked out, but a precious few clung to your boat extra hard during the storms and those are the people who are willing to tough out the hard parts of life with you. That’s your tribe and those are the most valuable people you’ll know. So don’t see yourself as losing friends as you age, see it as chiselling away acquaintances to reveal the solid foundation of your very best friendships.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.

The Bully-Proof Child

925 Relax and Succeed - Don't feel stupidI really enjoy working with tweens and teens who have to endure verbal bullying at school. It’s always a nice quick process getting them back to school and enjoying it, but that’s not the most important part for me. Getting beat up is scary and painful but when it’s over it’s over. Psychological abuse is that stuff that can linger in your mind for the rest of a person’s life. I know a lot of adults whose lives are still dictated by their need to prove that they aren’t the people their school yard taunts suggested they were and I love the idea of nipping that problem in the bud.

Of course most taunts are merely camouflaged demands to get in line, conform and surrender your individuality in order to be a part of the group. In general the groups making those taunts are just the people who’ve conformed the most. And since the taunts are just verbal activities in their brain, their thought-based nature means they are also ephemeral and temporary or, in other words, meaningless. Once a child is made to fully understand this they’re pretty much free.

The best part about this for me isn’t the relieving of the teasing. While I’m happy for these inevitably awesome kids I’m meeting, they’re amazing enough that they would have been okay in another way anyway. Hardships only build strength and resiliency so enduring those things would just create opportunities later. But this way they get to skip the suffering and then build the resiliency and enact their greatest self much sooner.

925 Relax and Succeed - What makes you differentThese are the kids that get to function with true humility. Rather than fear their weaknesses and waste their strengths they effectively manage what they can’t do and they boldly do what they can do. There’s no more being shy about mistakes or about skills. Pride and shame get replaced by focus and involvement. Rather than thinking about how others might be judging them, these kids are very healthy about not focusing on opinions. They focus on what they’re doing so what they’re doing is done better.

Of course almost universally I’m seeing kids because they are in some way special. And of course, being special is really at the heart of why humans have been so successful for a million years. That diversity is what’s allowed us to do some really amazing things. I mean, Mars was super close the other night and I was looking at it thinking–we’ve been there! And now we’re talking about staying there. We’re amazing. And the people that get us there are these impervious kids who don’t care about things that don’t matter and so they grow up to be adults who do fantastic things like go to Mars.

No one should be stopped from the joys and rewards of a school and its community by simple ideas. We as people are much bigger than that and our ability to impact our own lives is greater than that. I don’t so much teach people what to do as I remind them of how strong they truly are. From there they are wise and clever and content on their own.

925 Relax and Succeed - Star Trek was an attemptWe’ve built a world that is short on displaying empathy and long on displaying selfishness. Virtually every reality show hinges on selfishness over cooperation. Same with game shows, and most dramas are also dominance games. Winning is looking like an advertisement or in having what others can’t afford. And yet despite how hard these ideas are sold to us, we all prefer authenticity and humility and in the face of each other the real qualities always win.

It may seem strange to teach the bullied empathy for the bullying, but that’s what works because it really is the bully who has the problem in their life. Once a kid sees this in this particularly profound way, it’s not so much that they feel stronger–although they are–they just no longer understand why the other kid ever bothered them in the first place. And in leading them to learn how to manage their consciousness properly, the bully literally handed their victim a lifelong superpower.

Mental suffering is the easiest suffering to manage. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Once a kid understands how their psychology really works and how they can affect it they don’t need much more. With the windshield uncovered they just drive around any challenges. And that’s important. Because they’ve got important places to go and important things to do. I wonder where your kid might take us?

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

The Constant Push

923 Relax and Succeed - Your child's mental healthKids today operate with adult pressures and they’re paying for it. With tight schedules, high demands for increased performance and near constant supervision, going to school is now like working in a really bad office where a second set of bosses is waiting for you when you get home too.

If most of us can’t stand living like that it’s because it doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t to kids either. With far more human priorities, they can clearly see that society isn’t a thing; it’s a set of rules we all agree to and they, quite understandably, wonder why we agree to such a tortuous set of rules for ourselves. Then again, there’s a lot of political upheaval around the world so maybe that’s a sign that the adults are waking up too.

Take just a second to imagine the life of a kid in say the late 60’s early 70’s. If they were 10 years old they had a lot of freedom both geographically and mentally. A weekday would have been going to school with more requests made for you to behave than to get fantastic grades. It was assumed you would do that as a basic a sign of your own character far more than for an external grade. So a very small percentage of kids had strong grade pressure on them and there was very little homework.

923 Relax and Succeed - Excellence is not being the bestEven if kids had grade pressure, extremely few were expected to be absolutely excellent in absolutely everything. It made sense to everyone that if a brain was good at Math and Science it might not be as developed at doing English or Social Studies. Today, if a kid’s parents want them to go to university then it’s now to the point where the minimum grade is 85–which previously would have been very good to excellent.

So what’s this mean? It means the same kid working just as hard as they did in 1970 would have gone from an acceptable Report Card to an entirely unacceptable one. So one kid goes home and gets questions about their life and friends and the later kid gets questions about grades and potentially dangerous classmates. This ultimately leads to an adult who has difficulty making decisions because they are overly concerned about making wrong ones.

A lot of parenting has slowly become about managing our fears rather than helping to cultivate the natural growth and abilities inherent in a child. We spend more time teaching them all of the systems that form the very society that isn’t working for most people; the one that leads to not only two parents needing to work but they need to work more hours or more jobs and far, far more stress. Why are we training them to be us when so few people feel that their lives are properly balanced between obligations and their natural interests as a human being?

923 Relax and Succeed - Bobby OrrA Saturday in 1970 in North America meant getting up, having breakfast and then heading out to the neighbourhood for the entire day. Often your parents wouldn’t see you until dinner in the evening. You were with all of the other kids developing not your intellect, but your social skills–including skills like relaxing, or finding ways to be comfortable with many different types of people. Those ravines and streets and alleys included some of the best lessons in life.

Today there’s little time for unorganized, unplanned life. From waking up to going to bed there is a demanding enough schedule and a big enough To-Do List to keep even tweens pretty pressured. It’s no wonder they’re always on their phones–how else would they develop those social skills if they rarely see each other unsupervised?

If you and your child are arguing over life, maybe they’re not crazy and maybe you’re not wrong. There’s a third player involved and that’s society. That’s things like our expectations. What we believe is necessary to have a good life. But if you look at who’s stressed and who’s relaxed, there’s no patterns relating to income or industry. 

923 Relax and Succeed - The way we talk to our childrenThe patterns relate to how much control people have over their own lives. A kid feels the same way about too much homework as their parents do about work invading their off-time. It’s the same problem but one group gets in trouble for griping from the other group that’s griping. That’s illogical. We’re all in this together. Kids aren’t crazy. Things are going too fast and the demands are too high and getting them to go even faster just isn’t the answer.

Look at the kids around you and ask how much of their life is about their happiness today and how much is about their happiness tomorrow. Because the one pattern I do so see is that most of the kids that end up in my care end up there by being pushed so hard toward tomorrow’s goals that they begin to rebel against today’s push toward them. I don’t fix their grades. I improve their relationship with their parents.

I haven’t met one bad or troubled kid yet. I’ve only met ones that needed more balance in their lives. Talk to your kids. Listen their challenges and views seriously. In some cases they’ll likely know what to do better than you will. See them less as a fruit to be squeezed for juice and more a tree that, if properly looked after, will produce it’s own fruit for many years to come.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

Made to Order

Winner: 2016’s Blog of the Year #5

Despite how parts of it are sold, society is a cooperation not a competition. Traffic, infrastructure, schools, corporate structures, the internet; these are all things that were designed to help us cooperate.

903 Relax and Succeed -Calvin and Hobbes
The Story Behind This Cartoon

Our societal cooperation works best when each of us intentionally aligns our deepest self with the larger goal. So for some big startup company to succeed it needs someone who wants to lock themselves away alone to do some deep, complex thinking. But it also needs bold, talkative, likeable salespeople who’re good at managing grey areas, and those salespeople all have to be different to appeal to different clients. Then the organisation will also need accounting and legal staff that then turns grey areas into black and white. Etc. etc.

It is called an organisation because it is the coordination of all of these very disparate and even conflicting skill sets. So the saleswoman intentionally generates grey area to achieve a sale only for accounting to have to slice all the grey into neat little boxes. One person’s work literally creates the other person’s work. Nothing’s wrong there, it’s just the nature of an organisation.

The challenge occurs when a catch-all idea tries to encapsulate all of these complex relationships. We see this most often in schools, where it used to be presumed that some students were strong in some subjects and not in others. Now if you’re a good student you’re not allowed to be a human with natural skill set. Now a good student gets good grades in everything.

903 Relax and Succeed - Action without visionStudents are no longer their experiences, now they are just the memories in their brain. In turn their brain is seen as a computer to be programmed, and the notion is that the same process applies to programming math skills as reading skills when that is simply not the case.

Some kids look out their bedroom window and see the stars move each night and they wonder about those movements and they get good at math because they are innately interested in becoming a cosmologist. Some can’t sit still in class and they become world-renowned ballerina, Karen Kain. Some aren’t good at math but they’re good at understanding complex physical relationships, as was the case with the physicist, Albert Einstein.

Those are not people who succeeded because they got good grades and fit into the boxes at school really neatly. These are people who had just the right conditions to become fully themselves, even when that self conflicted with some pattern that society found convenient. Yes, we want to see ourselves as a part of larger society, but we don’t want salespeople to start acting like accountants any more than we want accountants to act like salespeople.

903 Relax and Succeed - Notable college dropouts

Real drive, real success and real happiness do not come from good grades, good pay and people approving of you. You’ll get all the approval you need from yourself if you’re realising your inner motivations and then working hard to achieve them. Because that doesn’t even feel like work–it just feels like the steps you need to take to get you where you’re going.

Yes, we all need to do reasonably well in school because those basic skills do end up way more important than any kid realises up until they’re about 25 years old. But we shouldn’t panic if someone struggles in a subject or their grades are average. College is no guarantee of a good life, but knowing how to realise yourself through diligent work is. If something matters enough to someone they’ll work incredibly hard at it whether that’s in a college or outside of it.

Do not treat kids like pegs to fit into holes. They are all individuals and as much as a hassle it might be for a parent or teacher to have Karen Kain and Steve Jobs in the same class, it’s important to remember that the school is a construct not a natural occurrence. Meaning we should be less invested in things like grades and more focused on seeing if the kids themselves feel like they are expanding.

Too many of our pressures on kids have to do with conforming and getting into line. Yes, teach kids to be good, solid cooperative citizens. But not at the price of choking off their spirit, because if that’s intact it will drive their intellect to create not only great things, but also a great life.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.

Parenting Adults

When someone had a baby I used to always write in the card, “congratulations on your future teenager!” It seemed so fitting to me. By my mid teens the studies that emerged from my accident lead me to the conclusion that our personalities were little more than thought patterns, and while they were changeable their direction was fundamentally established quite early in life.

769 Relax and Succeed - Hardship often preparesThis is not to say we can’t become so conscious that we can’t make course alterations but the paradox is this: once you’re that aware–that conscious–then you don’t want to be anyone else. You accept that enjoying the experience of this universe means you have to choose a point of view. You have to be someone. The trick is to be that person but not take that life’s challenges as failures. Those aren’t failures–they’re just the steps required to live that life.

No matter how you parent your children there will be a yin and yang to their experience. If you’re open-minded and teach them to be, then they’ll struggle more with close-minded people than people who grew up in more combative, competitive or contrary households. If you’re very successful and functioning well above average in many areas of life, then your child may be stressed by their very normal levels of performance. Rather than enjoy their life they may strive for one that appears more impressive. So there is no point in trying to parent the right way. Every way has consequences that go every possible direction.

The most useful thing a parent can do is remember that they only have one job: to teach a child all the things they will need to know to be able to live without the parent. So don’t think about behaviour as being good or bad. Ask yourself what wiring your child’s brain will need to deal with a situation. If every time they struggle you assist them, they will be very weak when they must face any of life’s normal struggles. If their complaints of boredom are always met with offers of distraction then they be distracted, poorly motivated adults.

769 Relax and Succeed - If you wish to moveI liked hanging around the teachers I’ve worked with who were self-aware, who truly cared about the kids and who were always so generous with their wisdom. I learned a lot from them. But everyone had the same sense. That we felt the recent groups of kids had the same potential to be brilliant, but that they were all stifled by a very noticeable discomfort with making their own decisions. They seemed to guess far more than use critical thinking to draw their own conclusions, and they seemed more interested in symbols than principle. So they were more focused on their grade than their own sense of whether or not they grew. This effect increased quite strongly year over year.

The reason for this is very simple. People want to sell you things like guns or alarms or locks or insurance, and the news needs you to stay for the ads, so they show you lots of scary stories, and it’s convinced you that our very safe world is somehow much more dangerous than it really is. This false belief then creates over-protection which leads to the underdevelopment of the fundamental skills of character. What’s missing is the parent’s understanding of how truly incredible their child is.

Parents have been taught by advertising culture to constantly look at their lives for what’s missing. Because of this they live within a zeitgeist of defeat. This transfers to their childrearing and the result is like taking the notion of original sin and putting it on steroids. People feel they’re fundamentally not enough and they worry or stress their lives apart by trying to be someone other than who they are. You don’t need to be anyone else. Just be yourself in a state of mind where you love the world. That’s all the development you need.

769 Relax and Succeed - Life is like a cameraWhen I heard the brilliant interview (below) I was thrilled. Julie Lythcott-Haims was Stanford University’s Dean of Freshman and she too noticed the trend I referred to above. Her new book How to Raise an Adult lead to a recent radio interview that is worth any parent’s time. Parents are stressing themselves too much when in fact what they should be doing is far less.

I really love the world. But if anyone asks me if there’s anything I would change it’s only that I wish a much larger percentage of people would own how incredibly capable and strong and creative and courageous the core of every human being is. We always save our best for when things are at their absolute worst. I would like to see us to look less at some of humanity’s mistakes–those are very well documented. I would like is all to remember the remarkable achievements of humans as individuals and as a species.

We have good reason to believe in ourselves. And we have good reason to believe in the young people of this world.  It’s time we unleashed that potential by trading our fearful thoughts of what might go wrong, for thrilling thoughts about what might go right.

Have a wonderful day.

Interview: How to Raise an Adult vs Helicopter Parenting

peace. s

Scott McPherson is a writer, mindfulness instructor, coach and communications facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations around the world.