Saturday, May 19, 2018

Gretchen Steidle on Leading from Within & Conscious Social Change and Mindfulness for Social Innovation

In this interview, Gretchen Steidle talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by about her book, Leading From Within: Conscious Social Change and Mindfulness for Social Innovation.

“The most important thing you can do before you decide to establish your own work in the world is to listen deeply to those who are affected by the issue.” ~Gretchen Steidle

Gretchen has been working in the international non-profit sector as a social entrepreneur as well as in the mindfulness sector for the past fifteen years. Even when she started out, it was obvious to Gretchen that investing in one’s well-being and personal wellness were important to do the work necessary to create sustainable, positive change. She realizes that, in the present environment of division and burned out activists, mindfulness is a tool not only for oneself but also influences how relationships are built and problems solved - which is vital for leaders.

Gretchen had started working on different components of Leading From Within for around three years before she was asked if she wanted to write a book, and her answer was “yes,” which has resulted in the book being so published.

Gretchen believes that those organizations and individuals which seek to advance the world in some way use methods to influence or force others to effect the change desired. She notes that we, as individuals, look to someone outside of ourselves to make changes, and when that other person doesn’t change permanently, we get frustrated and fall into the blame game, which runs counter to our need to understand each other at a deep, human level. Gretchen remarks that knowing what drives change, what it is within us that resists it, and the dynamics at the root level of an issue are necessary, and using mindfulness enables one to become an expert in both internal and external change and, thus, lasting, long-term transformation.

Gretchen gives, as an example, the tax on smoking, which is intended to limit the number of people who smoke. She points out that this only affects those who aren’t serious smokers, and if the tax is removed, those non-serious smokers will be more likely to take up smoking again. Serious smokers won’t stop smoking, even if the tax were levied, because of the addiction underlying their smoking habit. Gretchen’s method would take into account how smoking begins, how to treat addiction, and the challenges facing people who are in this situation.

Mindfulness is at the basis of Gretchen’s methodology and philosophy, and her definition is that stated by John Kabat-Zinn: “Paying attention on purpose in this present moment.” This means being aware, in the present moment, of all that is happening within and around oneself, such as one’s mood, mental activity and physical state as well as what is ongoing around oneself. She also notes that mindfulness is “practiced with a quality of curiosity and non-judgement,” which means that we notice all this without judging oneself or the world around.

Gretchen notes that there are many different ways to cultivate mindfulness, which she notes is a form of training one’s brain, as one exercises one’s brain by being mindful. She also notes that science is presently showing that the structure and function of one’s brain changes when one does so, and that, while meditation can be used to become mindful, one can also use cues throughout the day to become mindful.

There are five aspects to Gretchen’s movement of Conscious Social Change, and these are:
  1. Cultivating presence, which is about practicing to become more mindful. This enables one to figure out how to change, as well as how difficult change actually is.
  2. Becoming whole, which is when one begins to change the way one interacts with the world. This is critical to allowing one to deal with others as allies, rather than as opponents.
  3. Ensuring balance, which is when one becomes aware when one needs to restore oneself, which is necessary to not being burned out.
  4. Engaging mindfully, which is when one uses the skills one has developed and apply these to dealing with others. This enables one to put aside one’s ego and bias to understand others and the common ground between oneself and others, which creates a deeper understanding of issues and collaborative solutions which create long-term transformation.
  5. Leading from within, which is when one is driven by one’s own passions rather than personal gain and when one is oriented to benefiting others as well as inspiring others to meaningfully function in deference to a common cause.
Where results are concerned, the biggest example of a success that Gretchen spoke of was when, some ten years back, Global Grassroots dealt with a village that wanted clean, drinking water. A normal non-profit would have just dug a well and turned it over to the village, but Gretchen and her people spoke to the women in the village to get the context of the situation, as the women had more information than they had. The present situation was that women needed to travel several miles and up and down a steep slope to get water from a questionable source, and that, along the way, they were vulnerable, while carrying such heavy water, to being physically and sexually attacked. Some of the village girls could help out with this, but because the trip took literally hours the girls would come to school late, fall behind in their lessons and eventually drop out. This also led to a practice within the village of women, particularly the disabled, exchanging sexual favors with men so that the latter would be the ones to draw water; and this was the main issue that the women wanted to work on.

The solution Gretchen’s group provided gave the village a good source of clean water, and the village could sell the water to those who could afford it and give it to the sexually exploited women for free. This led to a shift in the relationships between the men and the women in the village, particularly when the men saw how valuable the project was, with the men volunteering to take shifts with elderly women so that the latter’s water wouldn’t be stolen. With the money they got from selling the water, they were able to buy women’s health insurance and pay for orphans’ school fees, as well as provide loans to start small businesses.

It didn’t stop there, for the villagers shared their solution with other villages, and other villages adopted their model. The village started off by serving a hundred households and, ten years later, some 9,000 people have benefited from the solution Gretchen’s group provided - a solution which was borne by the collaborative, mindful and patient methods Gretchen espouses.

Purchase from Amazon: Leading From Within: Conscious Social Change and Mindfulness for Social Innovation by Gretchen Steidle

Friday, May 11, 2018

Eliza Factor on Caring for a Child with Periventricular Leukomalacia (PVL)

In this interview, Eliza Factor talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by about her book, Strange Beauty: A Portrait of My Son.

“We work better by working with other people and helping other people.” ~Eliza Factor

Although Eliza didn’t have a typical middle class life until she settled down with her husband, she describes herself as a “typical person” leading a normal life before her son, Felix, entered her life. She contracted chickenpox while she was pregnant with Felix, and this impacted Felix. He was born early and his being “floppy” after he was born was initially racked up to his being a premature baby. Eliza and her husband then began going to doctors and getting Felix tested before he was finally diagnosed with having periventricular leukomalacia, which is essentially when the brain’s white matter is damaged during fetal development. This has led to Felix’s combination of cerebral palsy and autism as the two major conditions which he has to this day.

At the time that he was diagnosed, at the age of one, nobody could tell Eliza if Felix would even walk or talk, and it was then that Eliza realized that her son wouldn’t grow up the way other children did. Eliza notes that diagnoses are the labels presently used today to access the services one needs, as even a diagnosis like “autism” is a basket terms to describe various conditions. She remarks that Felix’s conditions mean that he can’t do things for himself, although he can do such things as standing up, if he is helped. Eliza also notes that, despite the violent behavior that Felix exhibited, and despite having some limitations with communicating, such as describing things in the past tense, he is very communicative, with an ability to strongly connect with others and share with them an “infectious” sense of humor. Despite this, Felix apparently has a far more tenuous connection with his body than others, with Eliza hazarding that Felix can most likely feel pain but doesn’t know where exactly it comes from.

Felix lived at home until the age of ten, and Eliza describes life with him as “rich, full and exhausting,” as it was also during that time when Felix displayed cyclical, violent behavior, during which times he would hit himself for periods of up to three days straight. She wrote Strange Beauty after placing Felix in a residential school, where he could live in an environment where his needs could be met, and with her home now feeling empty, she had the time to reflect on her experiences with Felix. Eliza attempts to explain the process of her journey within its pages, to the point of embracing and accepting the disabilities within Felix and recognizing the disabilities in herself and in others, which was liberating for her. She also wants to use the book as a way to open up conversations about what it’s like to live with a disabled child, particularly those who can become as violent as Felix could, and points out that what is needed is more specialized education programs in public schools as well as training amongst public servants on how violence can escalate and how to de-escalate it.

Eliza also learned how to read other people’s body language after years of observing Felix. She also realized that she needed help from others, not only when dealing with Felix’s outbursts but also with other aspects of her life. She notes that public support for parents and families with children who have conditions similar to Felix’s is lacking at present. Eliza remarks that there are people who may look and act normal but who have conditions similar to Felix’s (which cause outbursts of violence and behavior) who are punished, rather than helped.

Eliza notes that there were people out in the street who would walk up to her and Felix and interact with them, with some offering to help and most just saying “hi,” which were positive experiences for her. She started a community center for families with children who had disabilities, an art and play center which runs on a volunteer basis (and which is intended to be an indoor place which was open to everyone), as well as to use disability as a way to bring people together. Eliza notes that meeting within the confines of the community center, is energizing and fun for members of families whose common thread is having a disabled child, as it brings out the best in her as well as with everyone else involved.

Eliza also notes that Felix’s younger sisters had a good relationship with him when they were younger, but were jealous of such things as needing to be able to put on their clothes by themselves while Felix was given help. Their view of disability is different from most people, which is highlighted by the story that Eliza gave - about telling her daughter about a game she played as a child, when she and other kids would ask each other about what disability they would rather have. Eliza’s daughter was confused by the story, as her daughter had never considered blindness or deafness as being a disability.

To those who would find themselves in a position similar to Eliza’s, her advice is to love the child as they are, to seek help when needed, and to follow the child’s lead, as the child will give clues to how they want to be handled, as such children shouldn’t be forced to be something they aren’t. She also believes that all of us are disabled in some way, and that there is a lot of fear about this, but that that is the way humans are and that is okay, which opens up freedom for oneself and others.

Purchase from Amazon: Strange Beauty: A Portrait of My Son by Eliza Factor