The barriers to transformative youth engagement in juvenile justice occur in three ways: Individual barriers, Cultural barriers, and Structural barriers.
The individual barriers are shown by youth and adults, and may include attitudes, perspectives and mindsets related to youth engagement.
Cultural barriers can include the shared beliefs, common values and group think apparent throughout and around the juvenile justice system.
The structural barriers to transformative youth engagement include the policies and procedures, the decision-making processes, and the control and authority throughout the entire juvenile justice system.
Following are some details on the individual barriers to transformative youth engagement.
Overcoming Individual Barriers
There are several ways that youth and adults can behave like barriers to transformative youth engagement. They include Forcefulness, Silencing, Whitewashing, Showboating, Pedestaling, Heroism, Lowballing, and Sockpuppeting. Here’s what those can look like:
Forcefulness: Individuals—including youth and adults—can be barriers when they try to force youth to be engaged, undermining the best intentions.
Silencing: One of the most insidious ways that people can undermine transformative youth engagement can be very overt and/or very subversive, sometimes at the same times. Silencing happens when the voices of youth are intentionally shut down, denied, neglected or repressed.
Whitewashing: This happens when people pretend that all voices are represented by one voice, particularly if that voice does not and cannot effectively represent their peers. Its the enemy of diversity, pluralism and uniqueness.
Showboating: When individuals are allowed to continuously, selfishly and egotistically highlight their own skills, talents, or abilities, they are showboating. All voices should honor the contributions and abilities of all people everywhere all the time.
Pedestaling: Romanticizing youth voice or making someone always right is putting them on a pedestal and pretending they’re infallible. Transformative youth engagement has disagreement and mistakes, and models consensus and collaboration.
Heroism: In a room with too few representatives, a particularly loud voice standing above all others can sound brave and unique, especially when they represent an under-acknowledged majority. However, just because a young person talks to adults in a way that makes adults listen to them does not make them heroic or a superhero. It makes them well-versed. We have to make room for young people who do not please or appeal to adults so easily.
Lowballing: Some institutions, organizations and individuals are calling for youth to be informants to adult decision-making in juvenile justice. They want youth voice to be heard and a seat at the table for youth. However, there’s a lot more at stake for youth than simply being able to talk or be represented somewhere. In reality, youth are the reason for juvenile justice, and they can be fully integrated into the operations of every single decision affecting them.
Sockpuppeting: Some adults give youth words and ideas and issues, and expect youth to share them accordingly. That’s suckpuppeting. Transformative youth engagement requires safe and supportive environments for authentic youth voice to be engaged.
Once we begin acknowledging how we act as barriers to transformative youth engagement, we can begin addressing these behaviors throughout the juvenile justice system.
Youth voice can address a lot of issues throughout the juvenile justice system using a variety of approaches. Some of the juvenile justice system components that transformative youth engagement is happening through include policy, programming, multi-systems approaches and legal defense. The issues youth voice is addressing include mental health; treatment; education; re-entry issues.
In many places nationwide, this work is neither brand-new or a silver bullet. However, it is essential and the future. The following examples show how transformative youth engagement is happening right now in juvenile justice settings where I live.
“Our youth are not failing the system; the system is failing our youth. Ironically, the very youth who are being treated the worst are the young people who are going to lead us out of this nightmare.” – Rachel Jackson
FEDERAL WAY: In Federal Way, Washington, there has been a growing amount of violence in the city, including more gun deaths, beatings, and domestic violence. Many youth being implicated in these crimes are brown and black, low-income and frequently, under-educated. A program from the Federal Way Youth Action Team is called Helping Youth Perform Excellence, or HYPE. Believing that community members can make a positive difference in the lives of local youth, HYPE empowers local community members to take action to create a safe and healthy community with young people who are involved. Learning diverse adult living skills, establishing authentic mentorships with local adult allies, and building support for each other within the program and beyond, HYPE is challenging the status quo and working to end youth violence in their city. This program is transforming juvenile justice by making discussions personal, promoting strong community connections, and building a sustainable infrastructure for changing Federal Way today and in the future.
SEATTLE: A program led by the Seattle-based Vera Institute for Justice works in three cities nationwide to build educational success and workforce training for youth who are at risk of juvenile justice system involvement or who are already in the system. Vera’s Center on Youth Justice, or CYJ, has a program called Youth Futures that aims to help build youth stability through employment. Building the skills and support youth need to achieve long-term success, the program focuses on youth living in or returning to high-crime, high-poverty communities in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New Orleans. Through comprehensive, individualized services linked to workforce development, education, and training programs, the lives of youth are transformed from the beginning of young peoples’ involvement in juvenile justice. Assigned and volunteering to participate in Youth Futures, the lives of these youth are changed forever through their involvement.
WASHINGTON STATE: Reflecting a commitment to address the entire system of youth engagement, officials in the State of Washington’s Department of Social and Human Services have adopted a statewide cultural competence plan that positions youth voice as vital to youth at the family, neighborhood, local, regional, and state levels. Within a standard focused on embedding diversity practices, they seek to expand youth voice in order to, “Infuse culturally and linguistically appropriate goals, policies, and management accountability throughout the organization’s planning and operations.”
The Washington State Juvenile Rehabilitation United Youth Council program, or UYC, is a new youth voice mechanism for youth to share their knowledge, ideas, concerns and opinions of youth specifically in regards to improving the juvenile justice system. There is a UYC at the three main juvenile justice facilities in Washington State. Youth who have successfully completed the application process join the UYC at their facility; then, a few of the local UYC participants make up a statewide youth committee to inform state-level decision-making. The UYCs focus on what’s working and what’s not working regarding their juvenile justice experience. They also share input on treatment processes and outcomes from rehabilitation; current and future policies; and process re-design.
SEATTLE: More than a decade ago, the ROYAL (Raising Our Youth As Leaders” Project began fighting to reduce disproportionate minority confinement and recidivism in King County by fostering radically powerful youth/adult partnerships. They hire adults to serve in the traditional role of mentors, youth participants wanted more than friends. The original participants sought critical feedback, substantive insight and meaningful opportunities to connect with adults from the communities they lived in. The Royal Project wanted to fill that desire by positioning adults as life coaches who would instruct youth about life, teach them business principles, and help them set and work toward goals. Ultimately, the positions are powerful youth-adult partnerships that significantly change the lives of many participants.
Many programs fostering transformative youth engagement are explicitly antiracist, and/or led by people of color. They provide community alternatives to juvenile incarceration, often giving Black people, Asian, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian, and Pacific Islanders direct control over the structures created to address youth misbehavior. Community-led, community-owned responsibility for their own children matters.
KING COUNTY: Other approaches insist on addressing juvenile justice as a public health issue. In King County, Washington, that means that officials are embracing strategies such as rather than spending time incarcerated while awaiting trial, youth can:
Work with counselors to deal with trauma in their lives
Attend workshops with parents to learn new skills
Other paths to avoid ending up in the adult justice system in the future.
It means that officials will look at the entire ecology of a young person when considering their offenses and the results, and because of that they work with the goal of zero detention for youth, also called “Deinstitutionalization of Status Offenders” or DSO. This movement to end youth incarceration is inherently anti-adultist because it places youth wellbeing in tandem with adult intentions.
As the stories above show, action for transformative youth engagement should focus on fostering youth/adult partnerships. Focused on engaging young people with their communities, these are intentional relationships emphasizing equity between youth and adults, and building social justice throughout the lives of young people. It should focus on supporting youth voice, which is any expression of any youth anywhere, at any time, for any reason. Creating safe, supportive environments for youth voice within the juvenile justice system is important, as well as fostering the adult support needed to sustain and expand youth voice in appropriate, relevant and meaningful ways. Finally, transformative youth engagement should expand, deepen, criticize and necessitate youth empowerment throughout the system. Youth empowerment “is not a process, a product, or an outcome. Instead, youth empowerment comes from the individual attitudes, shared cultures, and everyday structures that children and youth share with adults throughout society.” Instead, it happens when the capacities of youth are enhanced, including their inner-strength, self-respect, motivation, future-thinking, and abilities to connect with people outside of themselves.
Unfortunately, all of this doesn’t just organically happen or authentically sustain itself. There are real roadblocks standing in the way, and they must be addressed.
Rachel Jackson is a youth advocate in California who once talked about the juvenile justice system, saying, “Our youth are not failing the system; the system is failing our youth. Ironically, the very youth who are being treated the worst are the young people who are going to lead us out of this nightmare.”
That was more than a decade ago, and since then her words have infiltrated the corridors of power. After successfully showing lawmakers, judges and other that…
The average daily cost of incarcerating a young person ($241) compared to that of an effective, community-based alternative-to-incarceration program ($75);
That Black youth are incarcerated in state-run youth prisons at five times the rate white youth are, and;
How 60,000 young people under 18 are incarcerated in juvenile facilities on any given day,
…organizations including the ACLU and others have declared that the juvenile justice system is beginning to change. There are other reasons, too, including corruption, violence and youth voice.
In my research, I’ve found that the juvenile justice system has began moving toward holistic, positive and transformative youth engagement. This is happening through the laws, legal bodies, and processes that are used to prosecute, convict, punish and rehabilitate young people who commit criminal offenses. Ultimately, transformation focuses on building the capacity of people, policies and programs throughout the juvenile justice system to engage young people in positive, purposeful and powerful ways.
Transforming systems is different from reforming or simply changing the courts, police, detention facilities or voters minds. Traditionally, youth/law interactions have been transactional in nature: You do something wrong, you get punished. Throughout time, these punishments have been largely arbitrary, demonstrating the racist, sexist, classist and adultist biases of legal systems across the country.
I propose moving away from transactional youth justice, and toward transformative youth engagement. That requires seeing the entire legal apparatus as a system, and working to radically reposition the culture, structure and individual attitudes within that system in order to foster meaningful youth engagement within and outside of juvenile justice. I’ve been studying work already underway, and from what I’ve learned about the place where I’m living, I believe change is coming across the entire country.
Theft, vandalism, violence and other crimes plague communities across the United States today. Low-income neighborhoods, communities of color, rural towns and other areas around the nation are disproportionately affected by these realities. The young people who are needed to restore, replenish, reinvigorate and reimagine these places are sometimes the perpetrators. Without educational, social, cultural and empowering activities in their lives, they are driven to crime for entertainment, money, opportunity and a sense of progress in life. Once they’re in the juvenile justice system, these same youth experience oblique outcomes, hurtful punishments, and life-defining stereotyping that is punitive, predictable and prejudice.
In the last several years, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed with this. Through a series of rulings, courts across the country have been compelled to foster more nuanced approach to juvenile justice.
In 2001, I began consulting youth-serving organizations, including K-12 schools, nonprofits and government agencies, specifically on youth engagement. In 2018, I’m expanding my scope to include the field of juvenile justice, especially in regard to the work already underway.
In the next few days, I’m posting a series of blogs that are an exploration of what I’ve found so far in the “new” juvenile justice, which I call transformative youth engagement.
Project Based Learning has become an essential arrow in the quiver of youth development and education. But are we doing it right?
Today, I’m in Columbus, Ohio at the Prevention Action Alliance 2017 Adult Allies Summit. I’m excited to present here, among so many people who see themselves and their work as essential to the lives of youth, because they’re taking the right tact.
As I present on youth engagement through Project Based Learning, I’m reminded of research I’ve done on youth-driven programming across the country. So often, when they’re leading projects youth choose to take action and make a difference in the world around them. They want the vibrance and vitality of leading change, creating difference and fostering transformation in their own lives and the lives of their families, communities and the world.
That’s a tremendous opportunity! Think of the differences we could make as adult allies if we simply made space for young people to lead the projects they learn from, allowing them to create positive, powerful change in the world around us! Wow! Exclamation points!
My research through The Freechild Project has shown me that Project Based Learning should have seven main components:
POWERFUL Youth Engagement—At the core of all Project Based Learning should be youth themselves. Planning, researching, teaching, evaluating, decision-making and advocacy provide potential learning opportunities throughout Project Based Learning as youth are scaffolded for action and supported in transformation.
REAL Learning—Project Based Learning should have meaningful, substantive learning in its core. Learning shouldn’t be fake, pretend, meaningless or inconsequential.
PRACTICAL Problems—Focused on actual challenges and meeting real needs, Project Based Learning should lift the lives of youth and their communities by facing practical problems head-on.
LASTING Efforts—Sustained impact should be a goal of Project Based Learning at every turn. Focused on creating real change, young people and their lives should be transformed.
OUTWARD Outcomes—Looking towards the world around us, Project Based Learning should be conducted toward and presented to people who aren’t involved, including adults, youth and families.
CRITICAL Thinking and Action—Project Based Learning should center on social justice through positive, powerful action. Youth should consider the roles of oppression and empowerment, and the genuine possibilities for them to change the world.
AUTHENTIC Action—Keeping it real is at the center of Project Based Learning when youth focus on what actually needs changed, what problems and challenges they actually face and are trying to solve, and what difference they make.
These components can allow the adult allies of youth—including youth workers, counselors, teachers and others—to enact meaningful, positive and powerful transformation in the lives of their participants. I’ve also learned that only then can we see the all of the positive outcomes that Project Based Learning fosters, including skills focused on Project Management; Time Management; Organization; Teamwork; Research; Procurement, and; Problem-Solving. Other outcomes include knowledge about Social Change; Community Building; Project Design and Implementation; Leadership; Social Justice; Courage in Action; and Creating the Future.
If there are higher goals for youth engagement, I still haven’t seen them!
If you want, I hope you’ll share your knowledge and ideas about Project Based Learning in the comments section below.
Let me start by saying that I don’t know what humility is. For more than a dozen years I’ve consciously struggled with the word and the concept of humility, and I’m still not sure. I do know this: If you want to change the world, humility is definitely a requirement.
The dictionary says humility is simply defined as the quality of being humble. It also says that to be humble is to lower something in importance.
This means developing and maintaining a modest view of our own importance in public and personal regards to who we are and what we do. Sometimes, we are given struggles that humiliate us, cause us to get humble and send us down the road with compromise in our hearts. That is the core of humility: Accepting that everyone, everywhere screws up and is screwed up.
That doesn’t mean we can’t make a difference in the world, and that doesn’t lessen our responsibility to make a difference in the world. It does mean that while we’re working for social change, we shouldn’t be arrogant. Being proud and selfish can mean not seeing our faults and hoarding our accomplishments without sharing props with the people we worked with. That selfishness is typical in a lot of activist campaigns, where peoples’ egos and conceits become obvious. Its selfish to think the world owes you anything; to think the good guy always wins; to think the world works in a balance that will benefit you particularly.
Being right is the enemy of understanding. There’s a difference between knowing what you know and knowing what you don’t know; one suffocates curiosity while the other leaves the door open to possibilities. In the same way that being perfect is the enemy of being good, so it holds true that being right is the enemy of being humble. Screwing up and being wrong, as well as tripping and falling, are all pathways to humility. They won’t automatically make you humble, but they can help you get there quickly.
Despite all the things we may have accomplished in the past, there will always be opportunities ahead. Our ideas, activities, outcomes and struggles do not make us better than anyone else, more correct than anyone else, or less faulty than anyone else. Being humble means acknowledging our mistakes, accepting responsibility for our inabilities, and working in earnest to make progress within ourselves as well as throughout the world around us.
Its a leap for some people to understand, but just to check whether you’re paying attention, I’ll say the reality for me: True humility means accepting our equality with everything else on Earth, including past and present, old and young, rich and poor, human and animal and insect and plant and dirt. All of it.
No matter what happens, in trying to change the world we should always really, really try to be respectful towards everyone, all the time. Humility is an absolute requirement for changing the world. Look at yourself honestly, strip yourself of your pride, puffed up chest and closed eyes. Look at yourself and what you’re trying to do and allow yourself to develop a humble attitude. Then, correct your defects, ask others for help and keep taking action to make the world a better place.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate our successes, but it does mean that we shouldn’t be arrogant or boastful. Don’t brag. Feel quiet confidence, because in the long run your character will speak for itself. C.S. Lewis once wrote “If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.” Understanding that is a pathway towards being humble.
6 Ways to Be Humble
Learn to be humble and always strive to become a better person.
Find your moral compass and strive for constant conscious contact with what matters most to you.
Stay humble while you’re trying to change the world.
Stop being selfish and start being selfless.
If you want to change the world, be humble.
Oh, and if you think you are humble, you’re not. If someone else tells you you’re humble, you lose it. If you are striving for humility everyday in every way in everything you’re doing, you cannot become humble.
Its cliche to say we live in trying times. But suffering is never cliche, and social justice isn’t a fad.
More than ever, people need to connect and make meaning of their own life. If we were merely passive recipients of a pre-made society, we wouldn’t need connections beyond those that are obviously beneficial to us, and any meaning in our lives could be dictated to us from a form.
We’re not just consumers though. Despite what some schools, business leaders and elected officials tell us, our society is not a product for anyone to consume. Instead, we are all actively making our lives right now – no matter what the rat race looks like for any of us.
Unfortunately, that idea of people-as-consumers may be winning right now. We eat food that’s pre-made; memorize lessons from curriculum that’s mass manufactured; follow regulations intended to standardize our everyday lives; and buy things that weren’t made for individuals, but for consumers.
Transformation Is Required
More than ever, its become obvious that things have to change. We must engage or die. Over the last decade, I’ve researched engagement throughout our society to learn that the places with the most meaningful, most sustainable connections are the most engaged. I believe we must take action to engage as many people as possible everywhere we can, as often as we can, or we face individual, cultural, and ultimately, social death. The end of our society. The end of our communities. The end of our lives.
Our communities, classrooms, cultures and homes have to be places of active, meaningful and authentic engagement. Our souls must be lifted and our hearts connected through determination and intention, and our volitions need to be called to a higher place. Instead of working from a place of crass consumerism, we should acknowledge the place of movement calling our hands and feet beyond apathy and into action. All of this must be sustained throughout the future of our species.
If we don’t do something different, our hearts will rot on the vine, our muscles will wither from atrophy, and our minds will shrink from starvation. For some people that’s already happened; for others its happening right now. We have to intervene, prevent and empower people to do things differently right now.
There are countless areas where we must connect in our world. Neighborhoods require our attention; governments need us. Faith communities rely on engagement; social change is sacrosanct in my book.
Here are three crises in particular where we face the ultimatum to ENGAGE OR DIE.
Education: If we don’t activate everyone, everywhere as active learners right now, we face the whole system decimation of education throughout our society. While a lot of attention is given to public schools right now, the reality is that higher education, community centers and nonprofits are suffering right now, and things will only get worse. We must engage in education or we will die.
Family: Our families are suffering for many reasons. A lot of people are talking about the elimination of the middle class and the effects that’s having on families. However, we must also acknowledge the roles of the human family; our larger communities; and the need to acknowledge nontraditional families. We must engage with the notion of family or we will die.
Health: I don’t work out enough. Sure, I walk a lot and eat healthy, stay away from drinking and staying out too late. Our health is a lot more than any of that though: instead, its the ecology that surrounds each of us. Food, water, shelter, sleep and oxygen are essential. The rhythms, cultures, thoughts, emotions and abilities around us are part of our health, too. If we don’t engage in health, we will die.
If you’re interested in having a conversation about what we can do about this, get in touch with me. I would like to facilitate workshops with all kinds of nonprofits, give talks at a variety of conferences, and reach into the hearts and minds of people everywhere who want to engage or die.Contact me for more details.
“Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.”
While a lot of things in our world want us to watch shiny, flashy stuff going on around us, the practice of personal engagement encourages us to look inside. That doesn’t mean you have to sit uncomfortably and call out “Om” for answers, or spend hours journaling alone in your backroom.
When I look inside, I’m most often in a contemplative space.
When you take a look inside you might be sitting in traffic or getting dressed for work; walking your dog or grocery shopping. Of course, you can meditate, do yoga, journal or paint, or do anything that you know gets you inside of yourself, and away from the world.
Becoming personally engaged means we learn to do look inside on purpose, instead of by accident. Personal engagement is a choice we make in our every breath, whether consciously or unconsciously. Engaging in a practice of personal engagement means that you are choosing to become engaged on purpose.
Here are a few ways I looks inside myself.
Get alone. Whether I’m rushing through the airport or cooking dinner, when I want to look inside myself I have to get alone. That means turning inside myself and away from everything going on around me. When I do that, I can hear the small inner voice that animates my heart, and I can hear what it says. Sometimes I need to go away from everyone else, while other times I can be alone in the middle of a crowd. Either way, getting alone lets me look inside myself.
Still the racket. Good ol’ Carl Jung. “Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.” I have big eyes that like to see the world around me. I love traveling, exploring, being enticed by motion and getting absorbed in doing things. However, to look inside myself I have to still the racket. I have to acknowledge the things distracting me and then consciously, deliberately look away and turn them off.
Hear the small inner voice. In the middle of everyone is a small inner voice calming waiting to usher us through life. This voice is our connection with the middle of us. For me, it can come in the dark of night when I’m rolling around and unable to sleep; as I walk down the street and I’m approached by someone for a few dollars for a coffee; or when I’m rushing around and trying to do too many things at once. Its can be inconvenient! But its always true. Your small inner voice is waiting to talk with you.
Looking inside is an avenue towards personal engagement. In his classic work, Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse wrote,
“‘I shall no longer be instructed by the Yoga Veda or the Aharva Veda, or the ascetics, or any other doctrine whatsoever. I shall learn from myself, be a pupil of myself; I shall get to know myself, the mystery of Siddhartha.’ He looked around as if he were seeing the world for the first time.”
What are the ways you look inside you? I would love to hear your ideas – please share them in the comments section!
The sound of flip flops slapping across the old oak floor of the gym greeted me every hot summer night of 1995. That year, I was a determined youth worker in the neighborhood I grew up in. The news blared to the rest of the city that our hood was racked by gang violence, drug abuse and rampant vandalism and theft. I thought it was home.
I was a goofy 20-year-old white guy who moved from Canada as a kid to grow up in a hood I knew nothing about. I was jumped more times than I could count for ten years of my life. Crips and Bloods and Vice Lords roamed our blocks at all hours, with drivebys, drug deals and all kinds of crap happening all the time.
I could have been afraid of life then, and I wouldn’t have been wrong. But instead, I found inspiration in the strife and disruption; motivation from the pain and struggle. My parents struggled to teach me better, and their friends expected more from me. Adults who mentored me, including ministers, nonprofit workers and cultural teachers in the community, helped me decide early who I was and what I wanted to do in my life. My fears didn’t have a choice but to be allayed.
Eventually the sound of flip flops slapping went to the back of my mind, but the fear of living hung around somewhere in the back of my mind.
Growing Into My Future
A lot of life has conspired since I moved from my hood. I’ve made mistakes, learned lessons, built some things, destroyed others, made amends, held hands, grown vegetables, prayed, stolen, travelled, taught, broken stuff, and all the other sundry things some people do when they’re living. I’ve loved some people who’ve stayed on straighter and narrower paths than me, and envied others who veered so far astray that they never made it back.
It was when I was a youth that I found my trajectory in life. Growing up as a homeless child of a Vietnam veteran, border hopping ad naseum and unable to develop healthy attachments to the world around me, I struggled to make meaning in the world around me. However, as my life became more stable and I grew more adapt at learning (both through formal education and self-learning), I became more capable of finding meaning, constructing knowledge, critically evaluating, and sharing what I’d been through, as well as going into new experiences again and again. Transferring learning from one situation to the next, keeping an open mind in new situations, and critically thinking about what I’d experienced and learned let me become a knowledge creator, instead of simply collecting learning from other places.
All these experiences, from the “slap, slap” of flip flops to the challenges, rewards and realities of daily living have constantly startled me into living larger and more spectacularly than I ever expected to. The fear of living stayed in my imagination along the way though, as I moved from being a youth program worker to becoming a youth researcher and trainer, and then as I transitioned towards writing and speaking more. I’ve found that knowledge isn’t armor: As I’ve learned more, I’ve become more vulnerable and insecure. Where I stand, the world is becoming less and less firm under my feet, and I’m becoming more anxious to move. For a while now, I’ve been afraid of confronting the reality that I face today, rather than living in a projected fantasy that simply isn’t what’s happening.
This insecurity is the fear of living.
I am not a fearful person. I am generally not an immature person. However, just like everyone, I have my moments. Sometimes I am a chicken; sometimes I flinch; and sometimes I disappoint myself and others.
The days when I’m not busy ill-serving myself, I expect that I will grab a hold on my life, and do what Charles Fillmore affirmed to himself every morning at the age of 93:
“I fairly sizzle with zeal and enthusiasm and spring forth with a mighty faith to do the things that ought to be done by me.”
I want to live that! There’s the book I’m afraid to write, and the physical shape I’m afraid to get into. There’s the studying I’ve been neglecting, and the speeches I haven’t given. So many flights to be taken and world to experience, and the classes I want to teach. I want to love another person freely and endlessly, and raise more kids – I love kids! There are places I want to go with my family, including my awesome daughter, my wise mom, my spectacular sister and my best friends. I want to have great long conversations with old friends, and make new friends in places I want to be. There are so many things and places and people and opportunities and experiences I feel I’ve only been preparing for in all my life, and so much ahead of me that I look forward to.
Those aren’t the words of a fearful person. I hold onto life truly and honestly, and I hope for all that’s ahead of me to happen, good, bad, ugly and lovely, all of it. They didn’t come to me overnight.
Five Ways I Challenge the Fear of Living
In order to move ahead in my life, I have used a lot of different ways to embrace what I’m doing, why I’m doing it and when its getting done. Here are five ways I face the fear of living.
Affirm what works in life. Whether or not your life is filled with suffering and pain or happiness and fulfillment, there are things that work in your life. When I’m feeling most fearful of living, I affirm what works for me by writing it down, drawing it, and otherwise naming it. Sometimes that kicks my butt back into seeing hopefully.
Listen to people who aren’t afraid of living. I talk with people about life a lot. In my workshops, I regularly lead participants through exercises that let them celebrate what they’ve done by sharing it with other people. If you can’t see fearless people in your own life, then listen to music, read poetry, watch movies and do what you can to listen to people who aren’t afraid of living.
Give thanks. When I’m afraid, I find that I’m refusing to face things in my life. Whether its a deadline, my bills, projects, my relationships, or any other situation that I don’t want to face at a particular moment, I have to face my fears. I start doing this by giving thanks for the things in my life that work, have worked, expect to work or simply want to work. Sometimes I give thanks for other things too.
Name what doesn’t work. When I’m struggling, I have to be honest about what doesn’t work in my life. Instead of spouting off random disappointments, I get deliberate and actually name what I’m struggling with. That can be a firm, strong and pointed way to face my fears and make a change. If I lied because I was afraid of living, I name that. If I ghosted people because I was afraid of living, I name that. If I screamed, cursed, cheated, stole, manipulated or otherwise didn’t something that didn’t work, I name that. There’s power in facing my fears head on.
Take action. I have to do something to make a difference. When I’m feeling afraid of life, I try to face it head on, and the best way for me is to do that is by taking action. That action can be as varied as the ways I show my fear of living. Facing my fears often starts with making honest amends to others. My apologies can be a simple “sorry”, or much more. I have to get vulnerable though, and be earnest with the people I’m apologizing to. Other times it means getting back on my bike after the crash and giving it another go around. I’m scared to do that, but I still will. It means actually talking with people who I avoid, even when I don’t want to talk to them. It can mean being candid, and sometimes it means being bold. I want that book published, and I’m going to tell the publisher that I’m a good risk just because of that determination. But in some way, I take action.
I might never overcome my fear of living, entirely. I might not feel like challenging it somedays. However, I can always face it, and the steps above are how I’ve learned to do that.
I may not know much about living or loving or being, but I know that when I follow my own intuition and do what’s right for me, my life feels more familiar to me, more knowable, and mine. That’s a good, firm and real goal for me, because when something is mine, I’m not afraid of it.
Working with the people in the places where I do, I am often forced to adopt a label. These last few years, I’ve taken to alternatively calling myself a speaker, facilitator, speaker, author and other things. While none of those are inaccurate, none really captures what I do.
What I really do is help people learn to engage more people, more effectively. Using a lot of different methods for doing this, I have spent my entire life doing this. While few of the titles I’ve ever had captured this, my livelihood remains the same.
Want to know how to engage anyone, anywhere? Here are three ways.
How To Engage Anyone, Anywhere
Learn What Engagement Is, and What It Isn’t. Many people want engagement to mean everything to them and their business, organization or life. They want to be engaged all the time in every way they can. In reality, engagement will not allow you to do that. The definition of engagement is “any sustained connection to anything within or around ourselves.” The key phrase there is sustained connection. From an ecological perspective, sustained doesn’t just mean long-lasting, but also includes healthy, welcomed, effective and meaningful. Learn the difference between what you’re trying to engage others in, and what engagement is not. Do you really want people to engage in your topic, activity, place, culture or otherwise?
Speak to the Heart, Touch the Mind. Don’t try to engage with the ways people think about things. Instead, engage with individual peoples’ Heartspace. Heartspace is the engine of personal engagement, and is entered through feelings, emotions and experiences as well as thoughts and ideas. Work with people, not at people; create opportunities for people to do for themselves without creating opportunities for you to do more for them. That’s speaking to the heart and entering personal engagement through Heartspace.
Stop Trying to Engage Other People. Basically, the challenge is for you to accept responsibility. If you’re concentrating on engaging other people, you aren’t focusing on engaging yourself. If you’re engaged in yourself, other people will want to become engaged in whatever you’re engaged in. Like attracts like. The converse is true too: If you’re disengaged, others will not engage in what you’re trying to engage in. That means that if people aren’t becoming engaged in what you’re trying to engage them in, its truly because you’re not engaged in it yourself. The principle behind this concept comes from the Mahatma’s charge that we, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Those three ways to engage anyone will work in schools, community programs, government agencies, businesses, at home and throughout society. What do you think? Share your thoughts, ideas and responses in the comment section below!