Where You Fly Makes a Difference

One of my more fun presentations is a series of stories beginning with one young fellow who spots a dead rainbow. Rainbows are, of course about hope and so are most of the stories. Some of the stories are sad, some are funny, but each leads to the inescapable conclusion that where we stand makes a difference. Sometimes it’s a difference to ourselves. Sometimes it’s a difference to someone else.

Two of the stories are about bullying. One is about a little guy named Rudolph who is a victim of some typical bullying. The story shows that, when it comes to bullying, where you stand (or in this case fly) can make all the difference.

The story is told in a simple song published by Montgomery Ward in 1939. While it may not have been originally intended as such, it really is a song about over-coming bullying. We didn’t call it bullying back then, but today we probably would. Fortunately, I don’t sing the song, I merely recite it as poetry with some editorial comment.

“You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen,
You know Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen,
But do you recall
The most famous reindeer of all?

Here’s a little experiment for you. Close your eyes and, without singing the song or reciting the line from “Twas the Night Before Christmas” try to list Santa’s Reindeer. You’ll probably find the song irresistible, but I’m betting the eight regular sleigh-pullers aren’t all that memorable. You don’t readily recall them, but you do recall the most famous reindeer of all. That’s significant. You recall him because…

rudolphRudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Had a very shiny nose
And if you ever saw it
You would even say it glows.

Rudolph stood out in a crowd because he didn’t exactly fit in with the crowd. He wasn’t like the other reindeer. While we don’t know how old he was, he’s often pictured with very small horns suggesting he’s an adolescent. We know that “fitting in” is very important during adolescence, so there’s little doubt Rudolph was not a very happy reindeer. He probably hated his nose. And it didn’t help that the other reindeer were bullies who made fun of him.

All of the other reindeer
Used to laugh and call him names
They never let poor Rudolph
Join in any reindeer games.

Reindeer can be mean, can’t they!? And so can kids. It’s a complicated social dynamic, but a kid who is different—maybe wears a different style clothing or has a different physical characteristic (a red nose?)—gets ostracized and maybe worse. Simply being ignored by others can be painful. Being the last one standing when teams are selected is bad enough. But when they start to laugh and call names, the hurt and pain can seem unbearable.

I think it’s interesting that Santa apparently doesn’t take action. He could have started an anti-bullying program. Maybe created a stop bullying policy and hung up some kindness posters in the barn. In fairness to Santa, we’re not sure if he knew what the other reindeer were doing to Rudolph. He was probably busy keeping an eye on the elves and all the kids. How else could he know if they’ve been bad or good? He clearly had plenty on his plate besides the milk and cookies kids often leave him. So we can perhaps forgive him for not knowing that his reindeer were being mean to Rudolph.

We might also wonder why the SPCA didn’t respond and try to protect Rudolph, although it’s not clear whether cruelty among or between animals is covered by their mission statements. They seem a bit more focused on human cruelty against and neglect of animals.  Rudolph simply did not have much of a support system.

Let’s look at what did happen.

Then one foggy Christmas Eve,
Santa came to say,
“Rudolph, with your nose so bright,
Won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?”

The song doesn’t record Rudolph’s answer. I suppose he could have said, “The heck with you—why should I help after what I’ve been put through by those other reindeer!?” We only know that Rudolph was finally recognized as having something to contribute. Ironically, the very thing that had separated him from the herd became the very thing that gave him status. Instead of cowering in the corner of the barn, Rudolph became the leader of the herd. And the results of that change were significant.

 Then how the reindeer loved him,
As they shouted out with glee,
“Rudolph the red-nose Reindeer
You’ll go down in history!”

Consider what didn’t change. Rudolph didn’t get nose surgery and his nose didn’t dim. The eight other reindeer didn’t attend some anti-bullying intervention and suddenly become more loving and accepting.

Circumstances changed. It became foggy. (We could rightfully wonder how all of Santa’s previous trips were on clear nights, but that would spoil the song and story.)

What ultimately happened is, I think, most important. Santa does play an important role in the outcome of the story. He’s obviously more troubled over the foggy night than he had been regarding Rudolph’s status with the herd. That reality might put a little smudge on Santa’s image, but let’s be honest. He needed a solution to the foggy night problem.

And there was Rudolph with his nose all aglow—a solution to a problem. Santa saw him differently for the first time—not as a misfit reindeer with a defective nose. So, perhaps grudgingly, Rudolph steps to the front.  He had to raise his head so the glow would light the way. And in that moment—as is so often the case with childrens’ stories—all is well! Everybody’s happy! Santa can make his deliveries. The eight bully reindeer no longer have to worry about running into things in the fog. They are shouting with glee!  In all of the picture books I’ve seen, Rudolph is smiling and his head is held high, not just to light the way but because he feels valued.

The song doesn’t record whether or not the “other” reindeer change permanently. Sure, they were shouting out with glee but that was because they were able to complete their rounds without hazard. The question that remains unanswered is whether or not they became any kinder and accepting as a result of the experience. If another reindeer came to the barn with, say, a deformed antler, would they laugh and call him names? Would they let poor Bent Antler join in any reindeer games?

I don’t know.

One thing I am fairly certain of, though. I think Rudolph began to think differently of himself. While I am sorry for his pain, I’m also glad that no one stepped in and deprived him of the opportunity to do just that—to learn and discover who he was—uniquely and individually.

What we think of ourselves goes much farther in defining who we are than what others think. A change of circumstances may trigger it, but the real change lies within ourselves. Our own self-value beats a red nose or bent antler any day. Where we stand makes a difference

Great idea, but…

In Brief... a short thought, idea, or story!
In Brief… a short thought, idea, or story featured as a brain leak or musing!

The phone rang yesterday and a number I didn’t recognize appeared on the screen. Usually, that means “junk,” but I answered anyway.

The caller began talking rapidly and it became clear we were going to suffer a language barrier, but since she used the word “suicide” I knew it wasn’t a junk call.

Slowing the conversation and lots of repeating revealed that the caller was associated with a school and her question was, “I know you do suicide training for teachers, but would you do it for parents?”

I of course answered, “Yes!” My mind racing ahead to consider the idea of a school sponsoring a program for parents. I’m often approached by parents who are concerned about their kids but this was truly a first. Hmmm…

As we explored the idea, it occurred to me to ask where she was from. She replied, “Brooklyn, NY.” It didn’t occur to me to ask how and why she’d decided to call me in Central Maine. I was just glad she called.

I was able to refer her to some more localized resources using my NAMI connection and encouraged her to call again if I could help further. I hope she has success putting something together. I confess I felt a bit smug that I got the call–even though I don’t know how she found me. But I felt even smugger that the conversation around suicide prevention is becoming increasing normalized and easy to have.

Look for more on this topic…

Bite Your Tongue, Teacher!

Many people mistakenly think learning group advisers need to be the extreme experts in their field. The truth is that the ideal adviser often is one or two steps above the learner. Too much cognitive distance between the learners and advisers creates an environment where the extreme expert focuses on “telling” the learners what they need to know, rather than creating an environment that is open to exploring the topic, solutions and / or ideas.

Excerpted from Expert Advice by Randy Emelo

Shhh... I got this, Mr. Boomsma.
“Shhh… I’ve got this, Mr. Boomsma.” (This is a stock photo compliments of Pixabay.  It is not the young lady described in the article.)

I “borrowed” this quote from the November Issue of Training Doctor News because it’s a common mistake trainers and teachers make with students, particularly when we see ourselves as an SME (subject matter expert). Our real value might be as facilitators of learning, not simply dispensers of knowledge.

Just recently I had the opportunity to spend some time with two young ladies. When I say “young” that means one was a sixth grader, the other a fourth grader. Even though this was not school-related, I tend to believe we who are adults should always be “teaching” children, if only through good role modeling. So I stay alert for opportunities.

They were having a conversation in the back seat that began with an announcement that an adult friend of theirs was pregnant. For reasons I certainly do not understand, the younger asked no one in particular, “When the Mom is pregnant, can the Dad drink wine?”

I tried to look smaller and hoped that I would not be drawn into the conversation in spite of the fact that I certainly qualify as an SME (Subject Matter Expert) on this topic in a relative sense when compared to a twelve-year-old. I was reasonably sure a simple “yes” answer was not going to be the end of the conversation.

Worry wasn’t necessary, the sixth grader accepted the challenge, explaining that while the Mom shouldn’t drink, it would be okay for the Dad. The fourth grader accepted this, explaining that she understood the Mom shouldn’t drink since the baby was in her stomach.

The sixth grader gently corrected this, noting that she’d learned in health class that “the baby is actually in the nest mothers have in their bodies.”

I drove on, both relieved and feeling a bit smarter having learned a new vocabulary term associated with reproduction. I now have a better explanation of the process and successfully escaped from dealing with the topic.

That sixth grader was, in the truest sense, the “ideal adviser” because she was “one or two steps above the learner.” The conversation between the girls continued briefly as they were “creating an environment that is open to exploring the topic, solutions, and /or ideas.”

In fairy tale terms, we all “lived happily every after.”

It reminded me of being in a store once and hearing a youngster ask his Mom a question about something in the store. The mom replied in a genuinely interested way, “What do you think?” It wouldn’t have been appropriate for me to follow them and eavesdrop, but I’ll bet it was an interesting conversation.

Teachers and learners take note. Sometimes knowing the answer just isn’t that important–or necessary! There are times when we need to bite our tongues and sit on our hands so it’s truly about learning and not just about teaching.

In the Air There’s a Spirit of… Panic?

I have to tell a little story on myself if only because it is, in retrospect, a bit funny. The experience also serves as evidence of the mind’s ability to process information quickly. Quickly is not the same as accurately.

I was shopping in Staples. Office supply stores are a personal weakness and I often allow myself some wandering time by rationalizing that there’s probably something I need that I’m going to forget. I was near the front of the store, noting there was already some Christmas spirit in the air.

Noticing things is important. I’ve always prided myself on being “situationally aware” — a skill that’s helped me avoid trouble on more than one occasion. In addition to the Christmas spirit, I noticed another shopper  standing about six feet away. She seemed distracted and was gazing about the area.

Suddenly a dot of light appeared in the center of her chest. Just as quickly it disappeared. But in what must have been a second or two I saw it re-appear, moving from the left back to the center of her chest. It was like a scene in a movie.

For a split second I considered yelling, “Gun!” and tackling her to the floor.

Except there was no gun.

A quick look around yielded no shooter but did reveal more dots, some on me. And they weren’t just red. Some were green!

So it turns out there was actually a laser light attached to the ceiling of the store. Similar to the disco balls that were popular a few years ago, it was rotating and sending random dots of red and green light throughout the front of the store’s featured gift area. The intent was, of course, to contribute to the holiday spirit and not to create momentary panic for those familiar with laser gun sights.silhouette-114436_1280

Since I try to find lessons in life events, I’ve replayed this several times in my mind. But instead of finding a moral in the story I tend to get chuckling over the prospect of how it might have turned out if I had reacted by leaping forward and tackling my fellow shopper. I’m sure it would have frightened her at first. So one version of the story has us both getting back up laughing.  But another considers the panic that could have resulted, not to mention someone deciding I needed a psychological evaluation.

We think of  “situational awareness” as being attuned to our environment–sensitive to what is taking place around us. But it also includes a need to be aware of how we are responding to the events and conditions going on around us. Overreacting may be as dangerous as not noticing.

 

Say Something! -- preventing violence before it happens:

This article is reprinted from the “Say Something” website… while I haven’t fully “vetted” this program, if your school or organization is interested, I will be happy to assist you… I also have the material and can teach the Eddie Eagle Program — a gun safety program designed for pre-k through fourth grade.


Did you know that when it comes to violence, suicide and threats, most are known by at least shp_2016_say_something_week_logoone other individual before the incident occurs. In fact, in 4 out of 5 school shootings, the attacker told people of his/her plans ahead of time. Additionally, 70% of people who commit suicide told someone of their plans or gave some type of warning or indication. Imagine how much tragedy could be averted if these individuals said something?

Say Something teaches students, grades 6 -12, how to look for warning signs, signals and threats, especially in social media, from individuals who may want to hurt themselves or others and to Say Something to a trusted adult to get them help. The program is based on research conducted by Dr. Dewey Cornell and Dr. Reid Meloy, two leading national experts in threat assessment and intervention.

National Say Something Week is organized by Sandy Hook Promise (http://www.sandyhookpromise.org) and will take place October 24 – 28, 2016. Hundreds of schools and youth organizations across the United States will be participating in Say Something Week. Will you join them?

Say Something Week raises awareness and educates students and the community through training, media events, advertising, public proclamations, contests and school awards. Say Something Week reinforces the power young people have to prevent tragedies and Say Something to a trusted adult to protect a friend from hurting them self or others!

Say Something is a no-cost and easy to implement program that is available to all middle schools, high schools and youth organizations serving youth grades 6 – 12. In addition to young people, Say Something will benefit educators, administrators, community-based organization leaders and parents. By building a culture of looking out for one another and reporting possible threats of violence when someone sees, reads or hears something, entire communities will become safer and lives will be saved.

Schools and youth organizations participating in Say Something Week agree to host a no cost, easy to implement, flexible Say Something training that can take place within the classroom, an assembly, or be led by student ambassadors. The training can be accomplished in 50 minutes or less and activities (which SHP provides or schools and organizations can create) can take place on one day or spread throughout the week. In addition to the initial training, the Say Something program offers a wide range of post training activities that can be done throughout the year and serve as reminders. Schools and youth organizations have the option of choosing the day, time and format they would like to deliver the Say Something training during the week of October 24 – 28.

Please help us empower our young people to prevent violence before it takes place. Please sign up to participate in Say Something week today at: http://www.sandyhookpromise.org/saysomethingweek.

Who is Sandy Hook Promise?
Sandy Hook Promise (SHP) is a national, nonprofit organization based in Newtown, Connecticut. We are led by several family members whose loved ones were killed in the tragic mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012 that claimed the lives of 20 first-graders and 6 educators.


Sandy Hook Promise is focused on preventing gun violence (and all violence) before it happens. SHP does this by educating and mobilizing parents, schools and communities on mental health and wellness programs that identify, intervene and help at-risk individuals.

SHP is a moderate, above-the-politics organization. Our intent is to honor all victims of gun violence by turning our tragedy into a moment of transformation. For more information on Sandy Hook Promise, please visit:www.sandyhookpromise.org.


Read a chapter from my book regarding the Sandy Hook tragedy.

Walter Boomsma (“Mr. Boomsma”) writes on a wide array of topics including personal development, teaching and learning. Course information is also available here!