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Environment, Guest Posts, Society

Why We All Need To Stop Worrying About Climate Change (And What To Do Instead)

I’m writing this from my little desk in my children’s ‘reading room’ (where we also keep the Xbox). I’m surrounded by their books, piled up on shelves, scattered on the floor. ‘Brave Bitsy and the Bear’ gawps at me as I tap at the keyboard and, if I glance out of the window, I can see a picture perfect view of spring in rural Cornwall.

And this morning I read about the collapse of the insect population, decimation of soil productivity and saw — for the fifth (or is it sixth?) time — someone share that post by academic Marc Doll about how woefully positive the narrative on climate change is that we’ve been given by the IPCC.

And in the room next door, my four-year-old (who wants to be a dog) and seven-year-old (who wants to be a marine biologist or live in Minecraft, I can’t be sure which) are fast asleep.


Personally speaking, it’s hard not to feel worried and stressed about climate change.

For most of the summer last year I carried round this edgy feeling, a sense I was already living in a dystopian nightmare.

Somewhere inside me I think I’d already given up. Resigned myself to the collapse of civil society and eradication of so much of life on earth.

Along with this, a sense that I’d been deeply irresponsible bringing my children into such a world.

Given that you’ve chosen to read this, I wouldn’t be surprised you have experienced or are going through something similar.

The reason I’m writing is that I feel that I’ve come to a different place with it all, and I want people to know that the narratives we’re sharing and behaviours we’re encouraging in each other are potentially working against us.

What I want to tell you might be difficult to read. It might be triggering. And if it is, that’s probably a good thing.

What I want to tell you is that the anxiety we’re producing for ourselves — while it feels very much justified — could be a symptom of everything we’ve been doing ‘wrong’ and is making things worse.

And the alternative isn’t inaction but instead wiser action.

Hear me out.

Stressing ourselves into consumption

Like me today, many of us are being constantly bombarded by facts, figures and narratives that tell us our days on earth are numbered, that it’s our fault and that it’s also largely out of our control.

This is impossible for any human being to process and still remain calm. Things that present a threat trigger us into a stressed state. When we feel helpless in the face of that threat, everything gets much worse for us.

In this stressed state we change physiologically — we become more problem-focused and look for other people or things to blame.

This is a function of our evolutionary development. In more precarious times it’s been critical in keeping us alive but in this instance it’s not helping.

When we enter this state we are incapable of thinking creatively or compassionately. We look for quick fixes, easy solutions and bad guys.

We also want to consume more. We crave salt, sugar, fat, simple carbs. We’re not hungry it’s just that our bodies are gearing up for the fight or the flight.

And as a result of these changes, in this state none of us are fit to act wisely. We haven’t got a hope of addressing complex problems or creating a future fit for everyone.

The difficulty is that in this state we feel utterly compelled to act. The function of the state is to deal with the perceived problem — to flood our bodies with stress hormones so that we can do whatever it takes to make it go away.

The sneaky thing is that we might not even realise that this is going on, because we’ve got so used to it.

It’s not just the obvious, adrenaline-infused headspins I’m talking about, triggered by a stranger shouting abuse or being chased by a dog.

What I’m seeing all around me is people operating at a low level of stress and anxiety, triggered by perpetual busyness and information overload.

It’s almost like our lives are being engineered this way. Cuts to benefits, dismantling of free healthcare, Government openly allowing the majority of wealth to be passed on to those who are already most wealthy.

And we seem to be ‘happily’ participating in making life more stressful — busying ourselves into the ground, glorying in our busyness and our achievements from it. Actively choosing to consume news that makes us angry and fearful.

This news now includes a constant feed of existential threats, taking many of us to an extreme level of baseline stress.

Given the challenge we’re facing — one that’s complex, systemic and long-term, if we carry on acting from this place we’re going to really screw it up.

Not because we’re stupid or bad, we’re just on the wrong setting.

How we got here in the first place

Climate change and the destruction of our ecosystems seem to be the result of persistent, rampant over-consumption.

This is because our modern society is a consumer society. It’s based on one simple idea: that consuming will meet your needs.

We’re educated to work, so we can earn money, so we can pay for things things so that we create jobs, so people can work… and so on.

To keep this going we’re told that if we don’t consume the products and services offered to us then life will be more uncertain and we’ll be less than we need to be — loveable, sexy, successful.

Once upon a time religion and spirituality would have played a more active role in our lives and, at its best it would have reassured us that ‘you are enough, you are loved, have faith’.

Conveniently religion has been made the enemy of rationality and the domain of nutjobs, so consumerism has helpfully stepped in to take its place and shore us all up against our insecurities.

Its message is instead: you are not enough, you are not loved, there is no reason to have faith but — lucky for you —here are some things you can buy to make you feel better.

Some of them we know are bad for us: smoking, alcohol, fatty, processed foods.

Others we think are harmless but still serve to numb us: Netflix boxsets, gym subscriptions, smartphones.

And some masquerade as the answer but are really just part of the same system — insurance policies, private healthcare and the multi-billion dollar ‘wellness’ industry.

None of these things can or will ever meet our unmet needs for love, connection or trust in the world so we continue consuming, throwing more things into the bottomless pit inside.

We try and do it consciously. New industries pop up to give us what we want without the guilt — sustainably sourced, vegan, fairtrade — but even aside from the minefield that is working out whether it’s really ‘sustainable’, it’s still built on the same system.

A system built on a disconnection from your needs, that can never leave you satisfied with who you are and the world around you.

The future is not a zero sum game

We’re being led to believe that the society we’ve built has to ‘collapse’ if we’re to save the world.

The message is that all the things you rely on to keep you safe: jobs, booze, Netflix, specialty coffee, vegan sausage rolls (etc) are no longer part of a viable future fit for everyone.

The sense is that when these things disappear, life will be unbearable. That we’re going to turn on each other.

We’re presented with a binary choice — save the planet and live a miserable existence, or accept that some populations (plant, animal, human) will have to act as collateral damage to ensure a quality of life that vaguely resembles our current one.

I believed this until a good friend of mine, Charles Davies, said:

And I thought: Dammit, he’s right.

We’re being fed — and feeding each other— a lie.

The lie is not that we won’t have to radically change the way we live, or that many people (some of the most vulnerable) will experience severe economic hardship and loss.

The lie is that the future *has* to be worse than the present from the perspective of human experience.

The lie is that letting go of our current way of living is a bad thing.

How about we dismantle that lie?

In my experience we seem to be more unhappy than ever before. More physically and mentally ill. More divided than ever. More stressed about our impact on the world.

And yet we are told that taking apart the trappings of the world that create these outcomes is a bad thing.

We tell each other almost gleefully: you need to be scared! This way of life we have can’t go on!

Be scared? Who on earth wants this way of life to go on??

Our current model of relating and cooperating is built on a model of disconnection.

Educated and co-erced into disconnecting from our needs in order to be good participants in a consumer society.

And (as I was reminded in a conversation Brendan Montague, Editor of the Ecologist website) that it’s this disconnection from ourselves that leads to the disconnection from each other that in turn leads to disconnection from our environment — which is the only thing that has enabled us to create the extractive, destructive system we have in place.

Disconnected from your needs. Seeing others as threats or problems to be dealt with. Walking around with a tightness in your chest because you feel the world our kids are growing up in is being trashed.

Numbing ourselves with dopamine hits from glass screens between consuming things we don’t need to make ourselves feel semi-satisfied for five minutes.

No. What meets our needs is connection.

Connection to ourselves, to others and the world around us.

Feeling at home in our own skin, having meaningful relationships and being friendly with our neighbours. Creating things that feel like they matter, with like-minded people. Being in natural environments, caring for living things.

These are what help us sleep at night, that make us feel whole.

They are also the enemy of consumer society, which is why it’s evolved to reduce their prevalence in our lives.

When we get these needs met we stop throwing endless consumer products, services and experiences into the void that can’t be filled.

And when we stop doing that, we start creating a different kind of world together.

I’m not saying that we don’t also need to make clear and difficult choices about the lives we live.

Personally I turned down two jobs last year because they were with companies that were involved in promoting consumerism in an active way.

I’m self-employed and so is my partner. I earn nearly half of what I did a few years ago working in take-every-job-that-comes-along-regardless-of-what-they-do-because-I-am-a-freelancer mode.

We don’t always meet our overheads. It can seem pretty precarious (financially speaking) at times.

But two things make this a choice that I can stand firm with.

Firstly, this way of life has put me firmly back in the role of active parent and community member. I’m more available for my kids, I’m more involved in their lives. I volunteer at the local school and I help to run wilderness sessions for Dads and kids some weekends.

Nothing money could buy will give me what this gives me.

Secondly, I have found that in order to do anything different requires me to disconnect from my needs again. It takes a kind of energy that I’m no longer willing to spend. My kids and my neighbours can have that instead.

I’m not for a second judging anyone else’s choices. We’re all doing the best we can to get our needs met. There are reasons I’m able to do this and others might not, and there are many (many) things about my life which I know are very unsound, ecologically speaking.

Away from stress, towards connection

Given all this, ‘conscious consumerism’ and ‘green new deals’ will never offer the solution we need if they are built on the fundamental idea of citizen is as consumer, working to earn, earning to spend, spending to consume etc.

I think the fundamental answer lies instead in rebuilding our lives around connection.

And this has to start with coming down from our persistent, stressed state.

If we are facing complex, systemic challenges we need to be able to bring our full capacity and creativity.

We need to be able to see and hold multiple perspectives, cross divides and have healthy conflict.

None of this is possible if we continue to stoke the fires of stress and anxiety in ourselves and each other.

My invitation is to recognise that any time you’re looking for quick solutions, or people to blame that you’ve lost your way.

To see that looking after your mental health, staying calm, being open-hearted is the most subversive act of our time.

Recognise that if you would love other people to live in a certain way or see the world from a different perspective, this is only going to happen if they sense you’re not judging them to be wrong.

Know that the thing that’s most firmly under your control is how you show up for your children, your neighbours and your wider community.

This rules nothing out — from this place we can still protest, dismantle, subvert.

You might still feel this is far too measured: “There’s a fight on our hands — a fight for our children’s future! How can you be so irresponsible?”

As a martial artist, ex-doorman and someone who’s been in a few violent confrontations I can tell you with certainty that if there is a fight, it’s not the angry, anxious person who wins.

It’s the person who is very, very calm. Who is totally present and has no sense of wanting to hurt you. They are very comfortable using whatever means necessary but without malice or pleasure, simply because it gets everyone to a better place.

It’s already happening

I can already see a growing recognition that connection, inclusion, creativity and celebration are the keys to a genuinely better future.

You can see it in the best of the climate protests — garden bridges, calm nonviolent protest , dancing police officers.

And in the growing popularity of secular spiritualism and spaces for new ways of relating (like circling and real relating).

People are slowly but steadily finding that their real needs are met more consistently in self-awareness and relationship than they are in quick fix consumption.

We can’t all join a five-day protest and we’re not all ready to sit in a circle and talk about our feelings but that’s not what’s being asked of us.

The invitation is to start building the new society from inside each of us.

Resisting the urge of distraction and consumption, rejecting the voices (inside and out) calling for us to divide ourselves, not taking in any more information that will stress us out.

Instead showing up to each conversation with family, neighbours and community with genuine willingness to engage in something different, knowing that it’s one of the most likely paths to a better future.

To be a calm, loving human, raising calm, loving kids (if you have them) and fostering a calm, loving society.

Even if that means dismantling a load of stuff in the process.


My name is 
Max. I show people how to listen to their needs, realise their ideas and deal with all the conflict that shows up in their lives with skill and ease. I do this from my smallholding in the rural Southwest of the UK.

About Max St John:

Showing people the way home by connecting to what’s there and working with what is. Get clear, fight well, move naturally. www.maxstjohn.com


This article was originally posted here

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Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Society

Believe Me: Our Parenting Will Bring The Change!

Some people turn to me and say with a serious face that times are dark and quite hopeless. Wherever you look on our globe, you see aggressive people ruling countries, old conflicts breaking out again, mass-shootings in schools and churches, men in politics, media, clerical institutions and – well basically everywhere – found guilty of sexual harassment and abuse. Being harsh, loud and careless is seen as a sign for self-confidence and prerequisites for economic success and peer recognition. The white man over 50 is still in power and barks his orders and commands via 280 characters into the world. 280 characters don’t allow much space for deep conversations, emotions or reflections. Whoever doesn’t fit this old-new picture is marginalised: gay, black, a cry-baby, a softy. Man-up. Don’t be such a girl. Yesterday’s old fashion is the new.

I don’t buy it.

“How much evil throughout history could have been avoided had people exercised their moral acuity with convictional courage and said to the powers that be ‘No, I will not. This is wrong, and I don’t care if you fire me, shoot me, pass me over for promotion, or call my mother, I will not participate in this unsavory activity.’ Wouldn’t world history be rewritten if just a few people had actually acted like individual free agents rather than mindless lemmings?”

Joel Salatin, an American farmer, lecturer and author, said this, not me.

I don’t expect you to get shot, to kill No. 45 or to start a world revolution. And, yes, we all need jobs to pay our bills. But, hey, you can choose your place of work and not sell yourself to evil Nestlé. And there are many other choices YOU can make: voting, telling the world what you think, buying/not buying, doing your own research, questioning authorities… the list could go on. You’re much bigger and more important than you think. Use this power.

The world seems darker than… well, since when actually? Are we really facing a new dark age or is it just Rupert Murdoch and his golfer friends who vomit their manufactured realities into our faces – 24/7 and worldwide?

I don’t think we’re doomed. Yes, there are countless challenges waiting for us to be solved through amazing solutions. I don’t have all the answers right now but there is plenty of hope that humankind will find its balance with nature and Mother Earth. I believe in a future of peace, equality and solidarity. We’re the generation of transition. Transition from the old world, the world of war, aggression and ego, into a new world of empathy, kindness and care.

You and I were probably not parented in the most peaceful way. That’s how it was. I imagine our parents tried their best, but they came from a generation with even more violence, bribes and punishments. And they had far less research and help available than nowadays. No blaming, no shaming from me – just reflecting and thinking how we can improve.

We – our generation – have the ultimate chance to get it right. We can change current moods  around, we can help our children to find the answers and solutions, to equip them with skills in becoming humans in the full meaning of that word . Yes, we have to work damn hard to get there, set-backs and disappointments included. Good parenting, I believe, is here and now the most important job to set a strong foundation for tomorrow’s life.

Gentle, peaceful parenting is the way: respecting our offspring from the moment they enter life. Whatever your children do, stay connected. Be the best role model you can possibly be – the way YOU treat your kids, your partner, friends, neighbours and other people will have a great impact on how your children will see their world and learn life and social skills. Speak with respect, listen without judging, see the possibilities and support their dreams – regardless of gender or age. Help, show kindness and care wherever you can. Switch off violent and negative news (or at least reduce your intake on news). Be authentic, be human. Apologise and hug. Love and cry. Plant trees, run through the woods, paint rainbows, buy some organic veggies from your local shop and dance salsa – do whatever brings happiness to you and your children. Open your heart and mind.

We have choices. We have skills. We have voices. We are not alone. Let’s start. Let’s unlock the chains. We hold the keys in our hands.

Parenting and Empathic Fathers

My Fighting Boys Needed This Help To Reconnect

Over the last few days my two sons, 9 and 6 years old, were fighting with each other – and I don’t mean the kind of normal arguments between siblings. Shouting, screaming, banging doors, accusing, teasing and also physical aggression between them became their way of communicating. My wife and I tried a lot: we spent more time than usual with them individually. We talked, negotiated, guided, listened and supported whenever possible. Nothing seemed to work. The fighting got worse – to the point that they would really physically hurt each other. You know how painful it is to watch that?

Yesterday morning I called for a family meeting to tackle the issues. We all sat down in a circle. I guess my boys expected from their parents a lecture about their behaviour. So they sat with little interest and the typical let’s-finish-this-quickly-facial-expression in front of us. But I didn’t meet their expectations.

Instead I started our meeting with opening my heart and saying words of appreciation to them: “I feel a lot of happiness when I see you caring for your brother and sister. There are so many beautiful things you did to help them!” – And to my other son: “You are always so happy and bring laughter and joy to our family. You show so much kindness and care when you see someone being sad or lonely. Thank you!”

After our words-of-appreciation warm-up we talked long and intensely about the events of the last days. We reflected, listened and connected. We brought some issues to the light, but it wasn’t easy at all and in between I felt that we’re not getting close to a solution. Well, not yet.

Before we finished the meeting I asked both my boys if they could think of three actions they would do in favour for their brother. Three kind actions a day, at least. It could be anything: kind words, an invitation to a game, reading a story to the other one… something to bring joy. My suggestion didn’t go down that easily, unfortunately. I didn’t want it to be a burden for them either. So, I left the topic unfinished. With a more or less heavy heart we carried on with our daily routine.

But what I noticed shortly after the meeting was a change. My sons spent their day together with a lot of playing, supporting each other (like in the old days) and laughing. Whenever I could I joined their fun and listened to their adventures. In the evening, on the sofa, I talked to my eldest again. He was asking about my suggestion from the morning. At first he seemed skeptical and discouraged. Why should he do three (!!!) things for his brother? That annoying, irritating brother! Hey, boy, your brother is awesome. You feel irritated or annoyed? Those are YOUR feelings, your thoughts and it got nothing to do with him. He tries his very best as you do. As we all do. “Really??” – can I read in his face. Really!

After a long talk about kindness, brotherhood and love, he turned to me and said: “Papa, tomorrow I’ll try that. I’ll see whether I can do one thing, or even more, for my brother!” What a great and warm promise. Even if you don’t get there my son, you are willing to try.

And you know what? Today I didn’t say anything. I just watched. I just listened. I was present. And they both took care of each other, and their little sister, that my heart melted. I saw kindness, I felt the bonding and I could hear the fire of excitement. So much love. So much connection. Thank you boys!

Guest Posts, Society

An Open Letter to My Daughter Gracelyn in the Era of Donald Trump

Dear Gracelyn,

Today I write this letter to you so that you might better understand the tumultuous transformation that’s currently underway in our nation. For while your mother Shonnie and I are doing our best during your childhood to shelter you from adult concerns, I’m guessing that you sense a disturbance in the Force.

As you know, we have elected Donald Trump as our president. I believe Trump is unworthy of the office. He behaves like a spoiled schoolyard bully; he puts himself and his needs before all others; he refuses responsibility for his actions; he says hurtful things about women, people of color, those with disabilities, people from other countries, and anyone who disagrees with him. He even said it’s OK for someone to objectify his own daughter and speak about her in a disrespectful and demeaning manner.

In response to the mean-spirited actions of our president and some of our other so-called leaders, millions of Americans, including your mom Shonnie and me, are taking action—calling and writing our elected representatives, attending mass marches, organizing to elect worthy candidates, and more—to help create a more loving, fair, and eco-friendly society. And we are doing our best to discern how to be with you and how best to prepare you for life in times such as these.

First of all, we will strive to demonstrate love, partnership, sharing, and being good community members by how your mother and I live our lives. We’ll also do our best to get out of your way so that Gracelyn can be Gracelyn, so that you can dive headlong into life and live it exactly as you see fit. We will make it clear that you have our blessing whatever passion you follow—art, ballet, Wild Kratts, rock hound, yoga, the Moana movie, or music—and whatever work you later choose—brain surgeon, teacher, artist, corporate CEO, dancer, parent, accountant, writer, surfer, or any other. Whatever your choices, we will support you and give you our steadfast love.

You are perfect exactly as you are. And, you possess all the inherent qualities you need to live a full and fulfilling life—authenticity, personal power, creativity, curiosity, courage, compassion, persistence, resilience, and a spirited sense of humor. Regardless of what’s going on around you, never doubt that you can create exactly the life you desire.

A new day is coming, sweet girl. As the author and activist Arundhati Roy once said, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” And you can help bring this day into being, by the way you are—with yourself, with others, with every living thing.

I deeply respect who you are and what you’re about in the world, Gracelyn. Your innate wisdom, kindness, and sense of justice help sustain my hope for the future. One final pledge: Please know deep in your heart that your mother and I will always love you, all ways, no matter what!

Your dad,

Bruce

The letter was originally published in the June 2017 issue of WNC Woman and here.

Bruce Mulkey is an essayist and author from Asheville, North Carolina. He has previously contributed to WNC Woman’s Y-chromosome issue and is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post, Elephant Journal, and The Good Men Project. He currently spends much of his time writing his memoir (A Tale of Two Fathers: The Memoir of One Man and His Two Daughters Born 42 Years Apart), playing handball, trail running with his wife Shonnie, and doing his best to keep up with a high-spirited six-year-old on the meandering footpaths of the Appalachians. Learn more at brucemulkey.com

 

 

Guest Posts, Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Society

4 Things Dads Should Teach Their Daughters About Balancing Health & Beauty

4-things-dads-should-teach-their-daughters-about-balancing-health-beauty
A Guest Post by Tyler Jacobson

I was going through Pinterest one day, and I noticed something. The website, which is traditionally most popular with women, was full of photos depicting other women who fit the average supermodel physique. Glancing down at the titles of the pin boards they were placed in, I saw titles like ‘Thinspiration’, ‘Fitspo’, and ‘Goals <3<3’.

What first hit me hard was thinking of my wife. I wondered if on her Pinterest account, or perhaps any other, she might have similar boards. If she filled galleries with photomanipulated images of alleged perfection, pitting her own image against those of what we have been pushed to believe is the ideal. The very idea that she may have fallen victim to such thoughts, this beautiful, perfect woman I loved, broke my heart.

But then, a much darker thought occurred to me: little girls are seeing these same messages. Looking at a couple of the boards confirmed that at least some of them were no more than teenagers. And in the descriptions of each image were phrases like, “How I want to look by next summer”, or “I need to stop being so fat.”

What are we teaching our young girls? How many of our daughters are suffering under the same negative sense of self, and how many will grow up to be women facing the same self-hatred?

Being Proactive: Teaching Our Daughter’s Balance

The solution, I truly believe, begins at home. It is too easy as a father to take a backseat with daughters, leaving the majority of lessons to come from their mother. While not a conscious decision for many of us, it just feels more natural to split the parenting between genders. Who would know better what a young girl goes through than their mother?

But this is a view to be overcome. Fathers have just as much responsibility as mothers to help teach their children (all of their children) to love and respect themselves. On the topic of finding balance between health and beauty, that effort is all the more crucial.

Our girls are living in a time where everything from their phones to their computer screens are bombarding them with messages about what is normal, beautiful, and a goal to achieve. We have to be there to teach them the reality, and to foster a sense of acceptance and self-love based around who they are.

These are four lessons that I feel are our responsibility as fathers to help teach our daughters about health and beauty.

Lesson #1: The Media Lies

Looking through those images on Pinterest, it is plain to see that they are unrealistic. It isn’t a problem isolated to social media, either. Just typing ‘Photoshop in magazines’ into Google will show you the ridiculous ways the media will manipulate photos into fitting an ideal that no one is capable of reaching in real life.

That picture of Taylor Swift that your daughter is staring at, wishing she matched up? Everything from the clearness to her skin to the size of her thighs have been altered with software. And that is after all of the makeup, corsets, careful posing, and lights have been added to hide “imperfections” spotted by the photographer.

Lessons #2: There Is No One-Size-Fits-All Body Type

There is no “right size” for a human being. Some women are tall or short, heavy or slender, stocky or petite. The world is full of all types, and all types are beautiful in their own right. What it doesn’t show is what is inside that person, the things they are capable of doing, the strength or limits of their bodies.

We have to get away from this concept of an ideal. It is individuality that makes someone stand out, not conformity to a clothing size. If we teach our daughters that their worth isn’t related to their frame, and that they are worthy of respect no matter their type of build, we can steer the conversation to more productive avenues, such as their interests, talents, and achievements.

Lesson #3: Health Is a Holistic Process

Health isn’t all about weight. It isn’t even all about the body. Health is a holistic issue, which means it is the combination of all factors that make up a whole person.

You are truly healthy when your body is nourished and cared for, your mind is calm and strong, and your emotions and stable and happy. At least when they are those things most of the time…we all have bad days.

Lesson #4: Self Image Is The Most Important Image

It is impossible to ignore what people think of us all the time. But that doesn’t mean we can’t begin to show our girls that the real opinion that matters is their own. Sure, someone might say they are too fat, too skinny, not tall enough, not have clear enough skin. Who cares?

As long as they can look at themselves and see that they are healthy, happy people with their own skills, talents, personality and qualities (both good and bad), we have done well as parents. A measured and largely positive sense of self is one of the greatest gifts that they can carry with them throughout their lives.

Our Mission Is To Save Our Daughters

Girls face constant examination, ridicule, and an unfair standard that is hard to understand as men. We are rarely confronted with the same standards, and so it is easy to forget the stress being put on their self-esteem.

As fathers, it is our job to help put a buffer between our children and these false images of perfection. We have to teach them to be happy with themselves, and to see the beauty in their individuality. To show them that it is health that matters, not waist size, or how thick their eyelashes are.

If we can show our girls that they are smart, strong, fun, and healthy, we can change a culture that is designed to hurt them. That sees well worth the effort.

 

tyler-jacobson-large-squareTyler Jacobson is a father, husband, and freelancer, with experience in writing and outreach for organizations that help troubled teens and parents. Tyler has offered personal, humorous and research backed advice to readers on parenting tactics, problems in education, issues with social media, various disorders, addiction, and troublesome issues raising teenage boys.

Connect with Tyler on: Twitter | Linkedin
(Images provided by Shutterstock and Tyler Jacobson)

Creative Stuff, Guest Posts, Relationships

Oh Art! Creative Self-Directed Learning For Families

I love it when my children get creative using various media and stuff. An empty container turns into a house or rocket or market stall. Stones, pebbles and sticks make beautiful mandala pictures. And with clay they basically can build anything: castles, bowls, trains, hedgehogs…

Often I join my children’s creative play (well, sometimes it’s not about my choice, it works like this: ‘Papa, you have to come over here and see this!’ – and suddenly I hold the paintbrush or gluestick or whatever in my hands 😉 )

From working with families I oberserved many times the positive, healing and nurturing aspect of doing art together as a family. Sometimes we adults can get shy or feel embarrassed when it comes to creating stuff. For some of us it might bring back childhood memories when we actually loved being creative but were told that we aren’t good at it. For some parents/adults making art is like making peace with their inner child.  It’s is also a great tool when it comes to reflecting on your own parenting and on how we communicate.

OhArt! is a place based in South-London (and soon in Madrid too) for children and families to (re)connect with art. Kiki Atias and her team offer a space where children can enjoy self-directed learning through the exploration of Art & Design. In this post Kiki will tell you more about her great project and how you can get involved. Enjoy:
OH ART - Collaborative stamping

Oh Art! is born from the idea and conviction that we need a change, we need to make a profound social change. The more I spend time with children, the more I am drawn to believe  that childhood is about developing social and emotional skills, the most important thing in our lives.

Play provides it all for the child. It is their way to learn, their way to heal, their way of making connections with others and their way of understanding the world around them.

Art is simply self-expression and it is also a medium to connect with one-self, with others, a chance to share ideas, a chance to innovate, a platform to address important issues in our communities and our world.

I believe we have more than enough evidence about why play matters and why creativity matters. There has been so many effective approaches to cultivating creativity in children, and it saddens me deeply, that none of these approaches are put into practise effectively in schools. The arts curriculum in the majority of mainstream schools is limited. On the other hand, I feel the majority of schooled children that come to Oh Art! develop a sense of belonging within the group and they feel amazed by the freedom they have to explore what they want to explore, in their terms and at their pace, giving them a sense of autonomy.

OH ART - A helping hand to finish the carThe way I provide this for the children is first working in smaller groups. This way I am able to model positive social behaviour, positive communication skills, nurture their own creativity, help them develop their own methodologies, help them understand their creative process and their needs, guide them how to work collaboratively in groups, meet all their emotional needs, encourage risk, facilitate critical thinking and problem-solving skills. All this side of the learning experience goes “under the radar” for them, as I focus on delivering all this through kindness, playfulness, empathy, compassion, active listening, asking them questions about their explorations and having fun with them.

Non-Violent Communication and my training as a Positive Discipline Parent Educator have given me the most effective practical tools to establish healthy relationships with all my children (I call them “my children”, even though they are not, but I believe that a horizontal relationship between teacher and student is very necessary for the learning to unfold both ways -I learn a great deal from them too). I am convinced, as Rita Pierson (bless her soul!), puts it:  “Kids won’t learn from people they don’t like”. They will learn when they feel loved, cared for, listened to and when they emotionally contained. The love I feel for these wonderful children, as well as my own child, fulfils my heart to many levels I can’t described. I feel like I’m part of their lives as well they are part of mine.

Another important point, apart from all I mentioned above,  is offering high quality materials to explore and access to useful resources such as books and the internet -we need to use all the tools we have! I want the children to learn how to pursue their dreams, feel proud of who they are and live a good and successful life (successful doesn’t mean earning tons money!, but being happy and content).

OH ART - Explornig Maths the Artsy WayIn the world we live in, I feel the responsibility for educating children for their future. We need more young people who can make a positive change in our society, contribute to their own lives as well as others, be satisfied with what they do, embrace their uniqueness, share that uniqueness with others, have the tools to make this world a better place. I feel very strongly that we need to invest in our children.

Parents are also part of this learning process. What I love most about this experience is the bridge we, both me and the parents, build together with a profound respect for each other’s role in their children’s lives and a profound trust that their children are in a safe, loving environment. We (parents and I) have an open communication channel. Parents feel free to talk to me about their concerns, specific issues, problems at home, problems at school, and I truly appreciate their honesty because it gives me a better sense on how to meet their emotional needs while in the sessions. If I sense something is “wrong” I also communicate with the parents, so we can find the best strategy to support the child. We are a team, working together to educate their children.

Parents also learn ways to nurture their children’s creativity, learn to support their interests, learn useful tools to communicate with them, learn how to encourage them and the most delightful thing I’ve witnessed is that they reconnect with their playful self. At the end, we are a bunch of “kids” having fun, learning from each other, laughing and celebrating each other’s achievements in the making. During the sessions, we are open to talk about feelings, about situations, about ideas, about problems. ALL OF US make the space a unique space for each other, a special place where we can play, express, share and love, without anyone judging and telling us what and how to do what we love to do.

This is for me the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had.

kikiKiki trained as a Graphic Designer in Florence, Italy before coming to England to study BA (Hons) Fine Arts at Byam Shaw Art School at Central St. Martins, London. She was a founding member of small democratic primary school in SE London. She has been featured as a homepreneur in Sainsbury’s Magazine March 2015 edition. She has contributed to a number of events and workshops such as STEAM Co/Curious Minds, West Dulwich Spring Fair, and EscueLab (Madrid). Teaching Art, Visual Design and Emotional Intelligence to kids is her passion. She’s been running successful workshops for children of all ages focusing on facilitating and mentoring her students. She has done a introductory course on Positive Psychology and has a foundation level in NVC (Non-Violent Communication).

Connect with OhArt!:

www.ohartproject.com
OhArt! on facebook

Kiki’s site Embracing Parenting

OH ART - Exploring movement and painting