Moving from Anti-Bullying to Positive Community Norms

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As I reflect on this past week, I am struck by a common theme that affirms community well-being.
One is from a fourth grader writing a letter to this newspaper with a message to end bullying;   “….Change bullying to be nice…People are different…it doesn’t matter.  It would be cool to love each other”, and the other was a workshop on Positive Community Norms.   One view from a young student is calling for an end to intimidation and bullying and the other viewpoint lives in the world as if community norms are already positive.

Today, we see anti-bully campaigns pervading our schools especially after so many shootings.  We know that bullying can escalate to gun toting kids who feel they are not seen or heard and worst of all they feel they are not loved and do not belong, in short, they are hurting.  What we have learned from the anti-bullying campaigns is that “hurt people, hurt people”…… And this is true for grown-ups too.  Bullies do not feel seen or heard and feel that they must attack others to assert their place in the world and prevent perceived attacks.   So what is needed to turn this around?  Love!

Yes, I said it; the “L” word; bullying is a call for love!   Perhaps you remember from Sunday School days when you learned that Jesus reminded us, “to love your enemies” and that forgiveness is the surest way to disarm bullies. The way I see it, to stop bullying one must do three things; 1) have self respect, draw personal boundaries and hold your ground ,  2) call it out; name it when you see it,  3) join with others who share values that affirm “being nice”.   It is not OK for someone to intimidate you and attempt to instill fear whether it is the school yard bully, a neighbor, a public figure or a partner.   It is time that we all start turning the tide from negative community norms to positive community norms.  And the good news…it is happening!

Just last week, the Commission on Children and Families Health and Human Services hosted a workshop conducted by Montana State University on creating positive norms.  We learned that the key is to shifting from negative community norms to positive community norms is to challenge assumptions.  Assumptions based on fear, (False Evidence Appearing Real) lead to attacks in all of its various forms ranging from verbal slights, written word or physical threats.  Our assumptions are based on our view of the world and according to Albert Einstein it all starts from one fundamental question, “Is the universe a friendly place?”  If you see it as unfriendly and fearful place, you are ready to attack it before it attacks you, if you see it as friendly place, you expect to see possibility even in the face of serious concerns.

Annamarie McMahill, the researcher from Montana State, made the distinction between having a “fear” and having a “concern” and that a shift occurs when we balance a concern with hope because hope pulls us into a positive future and creates new cultural norms.   When people are open to new possibilities, it means leaving a familiar  and perhaps fearful place (the “known”) and launching in a new direction where we see possibility and where we acknowledge each other’s personhood without diminishing , demeaning or bullying each other.  We all need to belong, to be seen and as Mark Nepo, a leading contemporary philosopher, reminds us;   “As far back as we can remember, people of the oldest tribes, unencumbered by civilization, have been rejoicing in being on this earth together.  Not only can we do this for each other, it is essential.  For as stars need open space to be seen, as waves need shore to crest, as dew needs grass to soak into, our vitality depends on how we exclaim and rejoice, “I See You!”, “I Am Here!”.

My hope is that we grown-ups can find a way to actualize a fourth-grader’s call to “be nice” and to “see each other” even if we have different views of the world.

Creating a Quality of Life that Goes Beyond Economics

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Dr. Stephen Bavolek, creator of a positive parenting curriculum subscribes to a world of possibility and has challenged our community leaders to make the social environment as beautiful as the natural environment. This challenge struck a chord and many people have engaged in conversations and ideas for about a year. All subscribe to the notion that Coos County has the capacity to see itself differently. For example, we could document the reduction in drug usage, the increase high school graduation, the health of families, and the value of volunteerism and continue to build on the things that are working within the context of our beautiful surroundings.
This challenge inspired new thinking about how we might reframe the questions and imagine new solutions instead of fixing old problems. What if we reinforced the positive? What if we acknowledged things that are going well and grew those? What if this fundamental shift launched a new way of seeing and being and a sense of positivity and possibility went “viral” throughout the community? Furthermore, what if we could document and measure our improvements? Most importantly what if the quality of life and the measure of success was not just based on economics?
On a personal level we often measure success by status and how much stuff you have and on a national level, we measure it by economic growth, as if that represented progress. The assumption has been that with more consuming and more spending we will have a higher quality of life. Now that view is being questioned by many individuals and public policy makers alike, who wonder if there might be another way to get a true sense of growth and improved quality of life.
The traditional measure of economic growth has been the GDP (gross domestic product) which only measures economic movement without revealing whether that activity hurts or benefits the environment and quality of life. Most importantly, GDP does not tell us who is benefiting from economic growth. However the GPI (Genuine Progress Indicator) includes environmental and social factors as well. You could think of GPI as the “net” revenue after subtracting the “costs” from the GDP. Simply put, net quality of life must take into account the cost of producing it, so there are three essential indicators; economic, environmental and social, This means that decisions cannot simply be based on how much money a project generates, if it the costs grossly impacts the environment and the social fabric of the community. These new indicators provide a framework for creating agreements upfront in a decision-making process and enabling all stakeholders the opportunity to agree on what success will look like before a project is completed.
I remember seeing a special about the country of Bhutan that weighs factors related to the environment and sustainability in addition to economic return. This has evolved into a very sophisticated set of metrics and is being looked at as a model all over the world. Not too long ago, Governor Kitzhaber participated in a trip to Bhutan to learn more about these factors in making public policy decisions. It turns out that Oregon, Maryland and Vermont are all taking a lead in crafting new metrics to measure progress. The Governor is committed to making GPI an effective driver for policy and budget decisions and as a first step these indicators are being tested in some pilots for the 2015-2017 budgets. The intent is use GPI to craft the state budget in all three capital accounts; physical capital, human capital and environmental capital. This means that the public sector is setting a tone that maintains a balance between the three indicators and perhaps this will set the tone for cooperative collaborative efforts between local governments and the business sector.
In addition, The 2013 Oregon Values and Belief Survey sponsored by the Oregon Health and Science University, The Oregon Community Foundation, Oregon Public Broadcasting and Oregon State University further confirms that Oregonians generally seek a balanced approach when it comes to weighing economic growth against protecting natural resources and promoting social wellbeing for the citizens.
Here in Coos County, we have an opportunity consider using new metrics for measuring local success in any number of developments and community-wide collaborations currently underway or planned. Since, Oregon is one of the states taking the lead in creating different indicators, we have an opportunity to extrapolate from the envisioned State GPI measures of success and use them locally as a model for others to follow, wouldn’t that be amazing!