Leading By Example

There’s a lot of weight to this statement, and it’s a concept I believe in deeply.

Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, but it would be wise to remember that – for all of us – those opinions are our own. Our views are colored by our own filters and experiences, and therefore highly personal perceptions, which leaves room for both accord and disagreement. It also means there is no right or wrong because our journey in life is entirely unique – what we “see” can never been seen by another in precisely the same way. 

We are also entitled to share our opinions – free speech, after all!  But (and this is very much my personal “opinion”) it is not by vehemently expressing our views, or opposing others outright, by which we can change the world. At the end of the day, our opinion isn’t what matters at all…it’s how we conduct ourselves.

Our behaviors, actions, reactions, responses, attitudes…they culminate as our “example.” We can change the world when we lead in this way, because our behaviors can – and do – affect those around us. Good, bad, and ugly! The difference in the impact an opinion will have is that a statement of what we believe is simply that… While words are powerful things, they can go in ears, and out them as quickly as they were uttered.

The other side of it is that many will nod as if to say they hear you, but move on without putting an ounce of effort in listening to anything you’ve said. Our behaviors, however, are more defined – they become concrete actions, which are (in a way) the proof in the pudding. We can say many things and behave in a way that is wholly contrary. OR, we can say many things and back that up by taking actions in alignment with those words.

A fine example can be found in observing children. We can say “you should never do X,” then do X ourselves, and watch the children following suit by taking action X. The actions are so much more meaningful than the words we use. While again I personally believe that words can be powerful things, it is important to note when a dissonance between the spoken word and the taken actions occurs, it will be the actions that are followed and believed.

For many reasons, beyond the ones I have mentioned, the quotation really hits home. We live in a world where opinions are forcibly thrust in our faces on a regular basis – it’s much harder today to escape someone’s political diatribe (even when tailoring your social media feed!), for example, than in the past. You see it almost whether you like it or not. 

As for me, though, I’m not really interested IN those opinions. I’m more concerned with attitudes, behaviors, and actions. I care more about how a person is conducting him or herself, and you better believe that it is based on those things that I will formulate my estimation of them. (I’d fully expect others to do the same and hold me to this standard.) 

The actions of others speak volumes (versus the pretty things one might say.) I know for myself that a person’s conduct (his or her “example”) will change my environment a great deal more than by what they have to say. Because again, it is the actions that are telling us all what they REALLY believe. Which of those two would you follow?

Bullying, Disabilities, and The Empathetic Heart

I don’t have children, but this would very much be top of mind if I did. To raise a child to be sensitive to others, to have compassion and empathetic view, is one of the most important traits they could have.

I’ve had the fortune to participate in a training on bullying and harassment recently (though this is a long-time hot topic for me, and one I regularly talk about with the kids in our Martial Arts classes. I myself was bullied and harassed growing up, and with the prevalence of cyber methods, it is even more insidious for children these days.) The training focused on bullying as it pertains to all children within a school setting (primarily public in this case), but also with some particular data regarding bullying and children with disabilities.

It might seem alarming to some of you that children with disabilities are bullied approximately 1.3 times more than their neurotypical (non-disabled) peers. (George G. Bear. et al. Differences in Bullying Victimization Between Students With and Without Disabilities, School Psychology Review. March 2015, Vol. 44, Issue 1 cited in Rose and Gage, Exploring the Involvement of Bullying Among Students.)

Bullying in and of itself is horrifying, but the prospect that it is happening even more to children with disabilities is difficult to grasp. My passion lies in not only empowering others by helping them to discover their own inner strengths, talents, and abilities, but to equip them with the tools necessary to manage challenging situations. Martial Arts is my current vehicle – as  one of the instructors under my Sensei, I am able to impart values and knowledge to the children during class. Naturally it isn’t always easy to keep the attention (by the way, not AGE-dependent so much as child-dependent…and time of day!) It is therefore crucial to be both consistent with messages, and to repeat them with frequency. It’s amazing to hear the kids respond to “what is our goal with a bully?” with “TO CONTROL AND NEGOTIATE!” (We encourage the idea that we aren’t learning Martial Arts to injure anyone else – the key purpose is to know how to protect ourselves and others, should we need to, but also to use our skills only as a last resort.)

For children with disabilities, the concept of bullying can be more difficult. Cognitive or physical limitations may result in the child not fully understanding that he or she is IN a bullying situation, let alone how to manage the situation if it is happening. I believe in teaching – I believe in helping individuals to understand how to recognize danger, violence, harassment, and bullying before it happens or, if that window is missed, when it is happening. It is only with the knowledge of what is taking place that we are able to do something about the situation.

I also believe it is vital that each of set the example – whether our own children, our nieces and nephews, kids we see in classes at school or in sports…we are always on the radar. Children are constantly watching and learning from our actions as much as our words (I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of a little one coming out with a mouthful of something hilarious after having picked it up from an adult – you never know what they’ll say next, only that they are ALWAYS absorbing.)

Children will pick up our mannerisms, our prejudices, our attitudes, and our approach to people / places / things. As such, we must keep in mind that what we say / do, and the methods by which we manage situations are likely to be adopted (depending on how much time we spend with them.) Takeaway —> Children are hugely impressionable.

EXAMPLES…

  1. In Martial Arts class, I ensure that I hold EVERYONE to the same standards (including myself)
  2. I am always impeccably dressed (gi, belt, tabi, hair tied up, no jewelry)
  3. I ALWAYS show a “Zanshin” or “ready stance” when I am demonstrating a technique with my Sensei…both before and after the technique, to show it is vital to always be ready for a potential threat (or a threat’s follow-up)
  4. When I see someone acting out or in a bullying manner, I very quickly address it and make sure involved parties understand what happened, and why their actions were not acceptable
  5. I treat everyone equally
  6. I speak in a firm but respectful tone
  7. I reward great behavior with positive, verbal affirmations
  8. Likewise, I don’t tolerate fooling around – a Martial Arts setting is not the place!

My behavior and approach will be modeled, so it is important that I lead by example. I do the same when volunteering – we have a few children with autism who like to get particularly rowdy. I make clear when something is not acceptable in explicit terms, and I encourage and reward positive behaviors.

In daily life I also do my best to lead with an empathetic heart. This doesn’t mean I am necessarily more vulnerable to or unaware of realistic dangers, only that I approach my assessments with some level of compassion. (I am not, let’s be clear, referring to a dangerous situation – during such times, we must act without hesitation. This is its own rabbit-hole conversation!) But. . .in regular, day-to-day activities, I do my best to treat others as I want to be treated, and to have compassion for those in need. I am not raising a child of my own, but that doesn’t mean I don’t impact those around me – I want those children to know the beauty of an empathetic heart, and that it is up to us to champion for those who may be unable to do so for themselves. 

There are many bullying situations in which a child may not fully grasp the danger he or she is in (as above.) While there are no definitive statistics, it is clear that many people stand around and do nothing. To me, that is simply unconscionable.

We encourage the children in our classes to – first and foremost – get an adult. That action is doing SOMEthing. If they are in the midst of it, we show them some of the ways they can be involved and stay as safe as possible. But we don’t say “just stand there and stare!” We want them to recognize danger when it occurs, and know that they have safe options to HELP. At the end of the day, those actions can literally save a life. 

Empathy and compassion matter.

Having tools to use in dangerous situations matters.

Let’s do our part to help children to understand what they can do, and to help them grow into compassionate adults – they need never, EVER be helpless.

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