Indian designer sees the dreamer in everyone

As we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this week and people across the U.S. come together to help each other and work toward solving our common problems, we’d like to pose the question: what exactly is social good?

Sonia Manchanda and the DREAM:IN project started with a simple idea: instead of asking people about their needs, find out their dreams.

As a co-founder of Idiom Design and Consulting in Bangalore, Sonia thought the design thinking approach, where solutions arise from human needs, was too simplistic and too top-down to create new value and meaning, especially in emerging nations.

People are more complicated than a list of needs, after all. And for the complex nation that is India, with its great divides between rich and poor, marginalized voices often go unheard. Empowering people to dream reveals what is truly meaningful in their lives.

“If you can hold a mirror up to people and ask them about their tomorrow and understand the future they’re imagining, then you’re actually doing a good job already,” Sonia says.

In 2011, in collaboration with Carlos Teixeira of Parsons The New School for Design in New York City, the team trained 101 youth from all over India to go to its smallest towns and ask people what they want for themselves, for their communities, for the world.

They traveled 15,000 miles by road and rail and filmed thousands of conversations with people from all walks of life. The DREAM:IN “imagination network” was thus born.

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Sonia holding “dreamcatching” conversation cards
(photo via yourstory.com)

The “dreamcatching” methodology seamlessly combines ethnography, design research, and filmmaking. It goes like this: a facilitator holds up a series of conversation cards that feature images from advertisements: a date with a Bollywood starlet, driving a fancy car, etc.

Once people can laugh about the things society wants them to dream about, they’re encouraged to let their imaginations loose and get to the heart of what they really want. The ultimate goal is to move past the fears that so often freeze us.

“A lot of people may think, ‘I may hate this job that I am doing, but if I don’t go outside and carry bricks on my head and help build this house and get my daily amount, then I’m not going to survive. I don’t have the time or the right to dream. I shouldn’t be dreaming,’ ” Sonia says. “So there are all these fears and anxieties, and there’s nothing worse than the death of dreams.”

DREAM:IN shows that dreams are alive and already inside of people—you just have to want to discover them. What the group has found is a beautiful array of humanity at its most hopeful, with dreams ranging from opening a museum to creating a newspaper for rural communities to seeing a tobacco-free India—and much more.

And the team doesn’t hit the snooze button there. Once dreams are collected, they share the data with design scholars, business leaders, change agents, thought leaders, bureaucrats, venture capitalists, and others to inform future development in the country.

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Dreamcatching boards. To date, 1901 dreams have been captured.
(photo via DREAM:IN on Flickr)

Since its founding, DREAM:IN has morphed from a project on the fringes of Idiom into an independent venture centered around open innovation. The ultimate goal? A dynamic database of dreams and a global network to help bring those dreams to life.

One of the ways DREAM:IN is getting there is by putting select dreamers and seasoned entrepreneurs in the same room for a series of Dream Camps—where things like start-up advice, ideas for funding, encouragement, and connections are shared—to help transform dreams into reality.

“Start early, prototype fast” is the guiding principle. Young entrepreneurs are trained in Dreamscaping, a scenario methodology, and the Dreamplan, a business plan tool.

“It’s good to have your head in the clouds and be imaginative, but also have your feet planted firmly and moving steadily on the ground,” Sonia says.

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Dream Camp 3 held last April to help people “dream, believe, and realise.”
(photo via DREAM:IN Facebook page)

Despite societal challenges—older generations conditioned to rigid ideas regarding jobs and social mobility, for example—many dreams have already taken flight thanks to DREAM:IN. Youth, especially, are inspired to see local problems as opportunities.

One young boy invented a machine to incinerate sanitary napkins that often get clogged in toilets, which is starting to be installed in colleges. A law student who had long dreamed of becoming a small business owner changed his professional course and opened a canteen. Another duo created a reusable water bottle for attendees of rock shows.

DREAM:IN has already been replicated in six universities in Brazil and three in China. And this year, they’re launching a product brand with farmers in Tumkur and creating a groundswell of entrepreneurship across South India with over 100 academic institutions. They also plan to create tools and educational materials based on their methodology for people to copy and encourage more dreamers in communities around the world.

This openness, Sonia believes, is ultimately at the heart of good, lasting, and scalable innovation.

“At the same time you have a dream, it’s already somewhere out there in the universe,” says Sonia. “It’s a shared thought. So it’s better you go do it, do it openly, and include all the others who may think similarly to what you’re thinking and make it a big shared dream.”

We hear you, Sonia! On March 11, Idealist will be launching a new network that will help dreamers worldwide take their next steps. To learn more and get in on our launch event, sign up here.

Share your own dream and help others by joining DREAM:IN. What are you waiting for?

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New card game brings death to the table

This week’s spotlight: all things death.

 

Can’t make it to a Death Cafe? Try talking about end-of-life issues in the comfort of your home with My Gift of Grace.

“We spend most of our lives avoiding thoughts of mortality, which means that when we have to talk about illness and death, we’re unprepared,” say the folks at The Action Mill, a design firm who recently produced a conversation game that encourages people to talk about end-of-life issues. Called My Gift of Grace, it’s part of the firm’s “contribution to the growing movement to unhide death.”

So how does this game ‘unhide’ death and how could doing that benefit us?

My Gift of Grace is a set of cards that come in three categories: Questions (“If you could plan three things about your own funeral, what would they be?”), Statements (“The worst part about being at the end of my life would be…”), and Activities (“Visit your local cemetery. If you see an employee, ask them what it’s like to work there.”).

Players use the cards to start short discussions with others in the group and to keep notes on; when the game is over, participants are encouraged to keep the cards handy as reminders of the conversations they had.

As for the benefits, the designers cite encouraging giving, better focus on the present, and increasing understanding, for starters:

Anyone can get the game and play it, but we’re designing My Gift of Grace to be given as a gift. Giving is good for us. Generosity makes us happier and healthier and creates social connections.

The game itself is just one part of the social support network we’re designing to help people get unstuck and have important conversations that can help us get perspective and focus on the things that are most important to us in the here and now.

Sharing how you think about the end of your life is also one of the most important gifts you can give to the people who are close to you. Letting them know how you feel about end-of-life issues can save them from a lot of guilt, trauma, and expense down the road in the event they need to make decisions for you.

Read more about the purposes behind and development of My Gift of Grace on The Action Mill’s Kickstarter page. For info about ordering the game when it becomes commercially available (hopefully this month), see MyGiftOfGrace.com.

Have you opened conversations about end-of-life issues with your community? Did the experience help get you unstuck?

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Try this! Devour your fear of dying at a Death Cafe

This week’s spotlight: all things death.

Death Cafe is not the title of a new heavy metal LP, nor is it the name of a restaurant where skeletons are served. (Well, maybe it is, but that’s not what we’re writing about today!)

Death Cafe is an idea, a movement, and a series of meetings where, according to its hub website, “people—often strangers—drink tea, eat cake, and discuss death. Our aim is to increase awareness of death to help people make the most of their (finite) lives.”

Jon Underwood of London got the idea when he read a 2010 newspaper article that mentioned Swiss sociologist and anthropologist Bernard Crettaz, who started hosting the first “cafe mortals” in Switzerland in 2004.

He’d already been at work on a series of projects about death, and decided to try organizing his own “death cafe” with the help of his mother, Sue Barsky Reid. It was a great success. The mother-and-son team began hosting more events and in 2012 published the guide “Holding Your Own Death Cafe“, which quickly spread around the world.

To date, over 3,000 participants have discussed end-of-life issues at 396 Death Cafes in Europe, North America, and Australasia.

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Death Cafes help participants explore all the faces of this universal event.
(photo courtesy Shutterstock)

How it works

The meetings are run on a purely voluntary basis, with each led by different facilitators and attended by groups of different sizes. Most meetings begin with a facilitator sharing what led them to the group and asking others to share their reasons.

The group might then split into smaller chunks to answer more conversation-starting questions like: What do you want your funeral to be like? Is there such a thing as living too long? What do you most want to accomplish before you die?

And there are a few ground rules that hold the concept together:

  • No one should try to lead participants to any particular conclusion, product, or course of action.
  • Death Cafe should not be treated as a bereavement support or grief counseling setting.
  • The meetings should happen “alongside refreshing drinks and nourishing food—and cake!”

As for what the experience is like, a few Death Cafe leaders and participants sound off:

  • “There was a sense of something profound being shared. A woman living with a life limiting illness who was quite ill but looked very well said, quite firmly and calmly, in response to one comment: ‘I am not JUST going to die! I am going to DIE!’ For her, dying was not a far off theory. It was much closer to home.”  —Josefine, London, UK
  • “Our last Death Cafe was wonderful. We even had a couple who didn’t plan to attend but joined us anyway. The man remained standing the whole time because he ‘wasn’t really interested in the topic’ but he ended up talking the most!”  —Merilynne, Ann Arbor, MI
  • “We often end up with a group interested in discussing more practical things like funeral planning or completing advance directive forms, while other table participants might be dialoguing about the spiritual aspects of death. Every month brings new people and new topics of conversation. There are small cards scattered about on tables and face down just in case the attendees need a question to boost their conversation. Did I mention we had not one, but two cakes?”  —Jo, Austin, TX

Is this piquing your interest? Look for an upcoming cafe taking place near you.

Also, it doesn’t take much to try hosting your own event. DeathCafe.com offers information, instructions, and support for new facilitators, and hosts a a “Death Conversation” section where participants can share experiences and info.

Sue and Jon claim “organising a Death Cafe is enjoyable, easy and life-enhancing.” Who knew death could have such an upside?

Have you hosted or attended a Death Cafe? Did the experience help you deal with your fears?

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Goblins, ghouls, and mission drift: What’s scary about haunted house fundraisers?

Stuck? Feeling hopeless? Unsure of your next step? For the almost two decades Idealist has been around, we’ve been asking you—our community—to tell us about the obstacles you face when trying to turn your good intentions into action. We’ve compiled a short list of the top-reported obstacles, and now we’re blogging about them one by one.

This Halloween week, we present: fear.

To make their “extreme haunt” trail extra creepy, Acres of Darkness plays up local legends and natural spooks like wolves, Bigfoot, and scary old men with chainsaws. (photo courtesy Kyle Simpson)

Your pulse is racing. Your palms are sweating. You’re paralyzed with metallic fear.

You totally went over-budget on fake blood. Welcome to the charitable haunt director’s worst nightmare.

Actually, if you’re one of the many directors or volunteer leaders who run haunted events for charity this time of year, you’re probably too preoccupied on Halloween to be spooked by much.

And you’re certainly not alone on your busy day: The Haunted House Association (yes, that’s a real thing) estimates that 80% of haunted houses in the U.S. are run by or for mission-driven organizations.

Despite the ubiquity of the “scare because we care” fundraising model, haunts are a huge challenge to plan, staff, and execute.

The money and volunteer hours it takes to set up a haunted site—not to mention moving potentially thousands of guests through the site or grounds—is enough to strike terror in the heart of even the most experienced project manager.

We asked two nonprofit leaders who rely on haunts as an important source of revenue to tell us what freaks them out about haunts and how they deal with their concerns.

Kyle Simpson is the sanctuary manager of the Chattanooga Audubon Society, Tennessee’s oldest wildlife preserve. Since 2010, they’ve been putting on a spooky fundraiser called Acres of Darkness, which sends people out into the dark woods to be chased by chainsaw-wielding forest monsters.

Sean Kelley is Director of Public Programming at Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site (ESPHS) outside of Philadelphia, which hosts Terror Behind the Walls. The event is one of the largest haunts in the country and features night tours through the abandoned prison, complete with creepy zombie inmates.

Terror Behind the Walls in the historic Eastern State Penitentiary lives up to its namesake.

Terror Behind the Walls in the historic Eastern State Penitentiary lives up to its name.
(photo by Andrew Garn)

Fear #1: Staying on mission

Since so much energy goes into preparing and executing this one event, both Kyle and Sean have concerns about spending a ton of time on something that isn’t necessarily a perfect fit with their mission.

“Sure we’re getting kids out in nature, but that’s kind of a stretch. We want to encourage people to be out in nature, not make them terrified of it,” says Kyle.

At the Eastern Penitentiary Historic Site, Sean and the staff work hard to differentiate the content and focus of the historical tours from the haunted tours to make sure their visitors don’t get the wrong idea.

“We have a strict ‘no discussion of real or implied history’ at the haunted house. This forces the content to be a lot of startles, large props, special effects, and actors dressed as zombie guards and inmates with vague and ambiguous lines,” he says. “We never imply that a visit to our haunted house is either educational or an accurate depiction of this or any other prison. It’s a distraction from the mission, no question.”

Fear #2: Safety

When the point of your event is to scare your audience, it’s really important to make certain that nothing bad actually happens to them. Sean stresses safety above everything.

“Startling people in the dark, many of whom have been drinking, is more risky than walking them through during the day,” he says.

To stay safe, Terror Behind the Walls has security and an EMT on site at all hours. They also do extensive emergency training with every employee.

Fear #3: Keeping volunteers happy

The spookiness of Chattanooga’s haunted woods comes mostly from the efforts of the Audubon society’s many dedicated volunteers. For Kyle, making sure his volunteers are having fun is just as important as getting people out to the event.

Last year, Kyle says, one of his volunteer actors had an issue with some older kids who were walking through the haunt and wanted to cause trouble. They laughed and made fun of him for not being scary.

“He wasn’t even really supposed to be scary. He was dressed as a gatekeeper and it was his job to direct people down the path,” he says. “They were really mean to him.”

The volunteer got his feelings hurt and ended up working in the coat trailer for the rest of the season.

“That’s really disheartening to see. Here we have folks coming out to volunteer with us and they’re doing it for the right reasons. We just want them to feel appreciated and have a good time.”

To keep everybody energized and happy, Kyle says he matches his volunteers with the jobs that excite them the most. He also makes sure they feel really appreciated by providing a warm dinner for his actors each night and hosting a volunteer appreciation event later in December.

A pretty good trick for getting treats

Though it can be scary to put on a capital-intense fundraiser, the payoff is good for most organizations. In its third year, Kyle says Acres of Darkness already brings in more than 10% of the Chattanooga Audubon Society’s annual operating revenue. For Sean and the more established haunt at ESPHS, it’s 60%.

It also brings in new audiences and donors by inviting people who might not otherwise know much about the site to come for a fun, seasonal event.

Sean likes to think of the haunted tours as a kind of spooky disguise for the organization as a whole.

“The Penitentiary puts on a costume, throws a big party, and we get a chance to meet broad new audiences.”

Have you hosted or attended a haunt for charity this year? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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Poets in Unexpected Places: What art in public spaces can teach us about being fearless

Samantha Thornhill reciting a poem on the Brooklyn-bound Q train. (Photo by Syreeta McFadden)

Samantha Thornhill reciting a poem on a Brooklyn-bound Q train.
(photo courtesy Syreeta McFadden)

Samantha Thornhill and Jon Sands make art out of what many people fear more than death: public speaking.

Poets in Unexpected Places (or PUP, “Pop-up Poets”) is a New York City-based poetry performance group that creates large-scale poetry installations in public spaces like subway cars, ferries, classrooms, and parks.

Here’s how it works: one of the five PUP poets (called “Curators”) stands up and reads either their own or someone else’s poem. Then it’s another poet’s turn. And so on.

After the third or fourth poet shares something, people start to see that this isn’t a random act of art. They begin taking their ear buds out, or looking up to chuckle with the person sitting next to them. This moment of connection is what the PUP Curators are trying to create.

“You see people sharing an experience. People who were disconnected before, staring at their iPods, are now connecting. They’re part of a story where everyone has a role to play,” Samantha says. “And that’s revolutionary.”

They’ve had audiences react with indifference and (rarely) with hostility, but the overall response since PUP’s start in 2008 has been really positive. Audience members have even joined in and shared their own work—poems, raps, dances, even a monologue from Romeo and Juliet. When this happens, the brave civilians are called “Pop-up Passengers.”

 

Transforming fear

Even for experienced teachers and performers like the PUP Curators, sharing something as personal as a poem (especially an unsolicited poem) in a public space is definitely a risk. Each Curator has their own strategy for dealing with the fear and making something positive from it.

Samantha says she takes power from the surprise of not knowing what’s going to happen.

“I harness that energy of uncertainty and nerves, and I let it bring me to a positive space. Then it’s not fear anymore,” she says.

It’s helped her become a braver person overall. “I was able to tell myself that if I can stand up on a train and do a poem, then I can dismantle other fears that are holding me back.”

Jon says the whole idea for PUP was pretty much a dare. He was riding a late night L train with his friend Adam, another co-founder of PUP, who told him he’d give him $2 if he did a poem—right then and there.

“Of course we were afraid—but when you’re afraid of something, that’s usually a good sign that you should try it,” he says.

Acting on good intentions

Knowing what they want to do—and why they’re passionate about it—helps the Curators stay focused and committed to the act of storytelling and transforming public spaces.

“I believe in doing something with intention—to really dissect what you’re doing and why you’re doing it—otherwise it might seem like a frivolous action. It’s okay to be afraid, as long as it’s not paralyzing or destabilizing, but the intention and the passion have to be there,” Samantha says.

If you’re trying to get to the root of your intentions, Jon thinks there’s something to be said for just going with your feelings and opening up to the unknown.

“There’s really a value in saying ‘yes’ and seeing what happens.”

When have you channeled fear into a positive emotion? How did you do it?

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Are you afraid of failure…or success?

Stuck? Feeling hopeless? Unsure of your next step? For the almost two decades Idealist has been around, we’ve been asking you—our community—to tell us about the obstacles you face when trying to turn your good intentions into action. We’ve compiled a short list of the top-reported obstacles, and now we’re blogging about them one by one. This Halloween week, we present: fear.

The following is a translated excerpt from Elena Martín’s original post on Idealist’s Spanish language site, Idealistas.

When we talk about the obstacles that prevent people from moving from intention to action, we often cite the fear of failure. But the other side of the coin is not so commonly discussed: fear of success.

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Are you afraid you might see failure… or success?
(photo courtesy Shutterstock)

Fear of failure can come into play when we think our image is on the line (“People will think this idea is absurd,” “If I try this and it doesn’t work, they’ll think I’m a failure,” etc.), and also when we treat failures purely as setbacks, instead of as opportunities to learn and make changes.

Fear of success, however, comes from different ideas and habits—often ones related to responsibility and commitment.

When thinking about an idea you want to make happen, have you ever had the following thoughts?

  • “If this goes well, am I willing to take on the extra responsibility it will mean?”
  • “What if I start to develop this, and it works, but then I realize it’s not really what I want?”
  • “My life is pretty good as it is. Why introduce this risk and complication to it?”

If so, you might be suffering from a fear of success! As you can see, the way we frame our thoughts and feelings about fear determines in large part what we dare to do (or not do).

So we invite you to try asking yourself what stops you from taking action. What’s the cost of not trying? Would it be better to try than to keep imagining what would happen if you did? What would make a better addition to your life than realizing your idea?

Your answers might give you a clue that you’re afraid of succeeding. If that’s the case, don’t fret: you can turn it around.

If we change our thoughts—if we can behold failure as a learning experience, responsibility as an honor, and commitment as an adventurous challenge—we can change the world.

Have you experienced fear of failure, or of success? Have you been able to turn good intentions into action by reshaping your thoughts and feelings about fear? Please share in the comments.

Idealist contributor Kimberly Maul also delves into the fear of success, with a focus on career goals, in this Idealist Careers post.

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3 resources to help you talk to strangers

Stuck? Feeling hopeless? Unsure of your next step? For the almost two decades Idealist has been around, we’ve been asking you—our community—to tell us about the obstacles you face when trying to turn your good intentions into action. We’ve compiled a short list of the top-reported obstacles, and now we’re blogging about them one by one. This week, we present: people issues.

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“Ummm, what’s your name again?”

We’re told as kids not to talk to strangers, but as adults, an inability to do so can become problematic. It’s important to make connections with new people in all parts of our lives, whether we’re participating in community events, building our professional networks, pioneering new friendships, or trying to get a new project off the ground.

But not everyone can summon their inner social butterfly at the drop of a hat. There are a lot of ways to go about talking with strangers, and depending on your goal, awkwardness could well be seen as endearing! But if you think your game could use a little polish, consider these resources about three common social challenges:

1. Making small talk.

When it comes to making connections with new people, small talk is huge. In this The Wall Street Journal article on how to become a better conversationalist, columnist Elizabeth Bernstein explores how we can improve what experts call “conversational intelligence.”

According to Dr. Bernardo J. Carducci, director of the Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University Southeast, there are five stages of a successful conversation practiced by those with the “gift of gab.” These stages include getting started, personal introduction, pre-topical exploration, post-topical elaboration, and wrap-up.

Throughout these stages, it’s important to focus most of your attention on the other person.

“Ask a lot of questions. People love to talk about themselves and often will think you are a great conversationalist if you talk about them and not yourself. Don’t let the conversation stall after the person has answered—be ready with follow-up questions or build on the topic.”

2. Reaching out to people you find online.

Just because you’re connected to someone online doesn’t mean you’re close IRL. But what’s the best way to reach out to someone if you’ve never actually met them in person?

In this article recently published on Forbes, leadership and career success coach Kathy Caprino offers tips for reaching out to online contacts and making those connections in person. She reminds us that whether on the web or face to face, the same rules apply:

“Be considerate of their time, and understand that building relationships online is exactly like building them in person. You wouldn’t come up to a stranger at a cocktail party and grill them with questions,” she says. “You’d ease into the situation, listen deeply first, and learn about who they are and what they care about. Then, and only then, would you respectfully pose a question or offer a comment that you know is a good fit with their passions, skills, and interests.”

3. Interacting with people in their homes.

Going door-to-door is an advanced form of talking with strangers. Although it makes some people nervous, making personal contact is one of the best ways to unite a community around an issue or campaign.

This online toolkit from Compass Point Nonprofit Services is a series of tutorials and interactive video games designed to introduce people with the basics of starting conversations when approaching a stranger in their home. It’s safe, low-risk, and available to play online for free in both English and Spanish.

Lessons include recognizing when it’s a good time to talk, breaking the ice, sharing details about yourself, listening, and following up. While of course the simulated games can’t prepare you for everything you’ll see in the real world, the toolkit offers a great (i.e. not scary) way to practice conversation before you get out there and pound the pavement.

What other tips do you have when it comes to talking with strangers? Share with us in the comments.

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Conflict averse? Expert tips to help you (tactfully) speak up

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It’s perfectly normal to come up blank when faced with an uncomfortable situation. (Photo via tanatat on Shutterstock.)

We recently received this question from an Idealist member:

I volunteer with children through a youth organization. I occasionally see kids teasing each other, sometimes even to a point I would call bullying. We don’t have a clear anti-bullying policy, so I feel I should address this with the parents of the children directly. My problem is that I tend to avoid conflict—arguing has always made me very uncomfortable. Also, when I have tried to talk to parents, I’ve found that they don’t take these issues as seriously as I do. So, I end up not confronting them. What can I do to get over my fear of conflict?

To help, we consulted with three experts in relevant fields. Read on to see what they had to say about overcoming fears of conflict.

The Child Expert
Tom Brunzell, Senior Advisor, Teaching and Learning for Berry Street Victoria, Australia

Tom argues that it’s sometimes hard to differentiate the roles within bullying (the “bully” often has their own complaints, for example) and that bystanders are just as guilty. From his own experience, he’s learned that to engage everyone involved, having a public conversation is the way to go:

Often, when we take it to the class (in a supportive protocol like a classroom resolution meeting) solutions were brainstormed: NOT by the “bully” or “victim” but by the rest of the class or the third party students—however you set it up. A solution is given to BOTH “bully” and “victim” sometimes it’s as simple as “stay away from each other and use peers to help you do that.”

The actual solution doesn’t become the critical element here—rather the fact that all parties know there’s a greater accountability than they previously thought—the entire community. And in the process, hopefully, you can raise the expectations and consciousness of the community at the same time.

The Coach
Cathy Wasserman, LMSW, Self-Leadership Strategies

Cathy is of the opinion the fear of conflict is very common, and that the first step is to commit to confronting your fear. It’s not a bad thing to be afraid, she says, as it’s a sign that there’s something important at stake. This makes it all the more urgent for you to say something:

Before speaking up, role-play and get support from friends and mentors. Clarify your goal: I’d focus on sharing your perspective, NOT convincing the parents of anything. Whether they’re open to your view or not, your job is to be specific about what you’ve observed, convey your concern for all of the kids, and contribute and elicit solutions.

You may also want to let them know that many kids dip into aggressive tactics when building social skills and the situation presents a fertile and very manageable teachable moment. If you’re not trained in anti-bullying work, I’d consult resources to build your confidence. Whatever you decide to do, try to see your fear as a catalyst for your own teachable moment!

The Conflict Resolution Expert
Cliff Jones, Senior Consultant, Nonprofit Association of Oregon

Cliff believes reflecting on our own behavioral styles of conflict is fundamental, as is acknowledging that conflict often arises from miscommunication. Changing how we perceive the conflict can also help:

One of the keys to engaging in and resolving conflict is moving the focus from positions – what we want others to do; to our interest – what is important to us and others. For example – instead of “I want kids who tease other kids to be given an immediate time out” – a position. We might focus on “it is important to me for my child at all times to be in a safe environment at school” – an interest.

When we focus on positions, we often end up arguing. When we focus on interest we can often see that our interest are not in conflict with others (while our positions may be) and then we can look for solutions that meet our common interest. It takes time and skill to have conversations in which this communication and mutual problem solving can happen.

Often there are not quick ways to change behaviors that we have learned over time. To deal with immediate challenges it can be helpful to seek assistance from mediators, counselors and organizations that can help to facilitate the resolution of conflict.

We can become more comfortable in dealing with conflict by taking time to learn about our conflict styles and constructive ways of dealing with conflict. Bookstores and the world wide web are full of many resources and approaches for dealing with conflict.

If this an important issue – take some time to get an overview of the resources and pick one that resonates for study. Incorporate new ideas and behaviors into your relationships, practice and gain experience over time. It can be a great joy to learn that conflict can be an interesting exploration of different needs, expectations and priorities and not necessarily a scary, challenging encounter.

Do you have your own tips for handling conflict? Let us know in the comments below!

In the Portland, OR area? Cliff is leading an all-day workshop on Leadership Skills for Effectively Engaging Workplace & Organizational Conflict on December 4th.

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Want to make a difference but feel overwhelmed? 5 tips to help you get started

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Sometimes following through on your vision can be hard. Don’t despair. (Photo via Thinglass on Shutterstock.)

You know the kind of difference you want to make in the world. But like many, you may find yourself stuck, asking yourself, “Where do I start?”

Too many people have wonderful ideas that they never put into action because they get overwhelmed at the beginning. Largely this happens because they let fear guide them instead of their inspiration.

The bad news: as human beings we give our fears life, and treat them as though they are real. This happens quite automatically. Fear is a survival mechanism that was created in the pre-historic age when human beings were at constant risk of being in fatal danger.

The good news: courage is not the absence of fear. It is looking it straight in the eye and acting anyway. Will you fail? Maybe. But it isn’t certain. How will you know if you don’t try?

So where do you start? Anywhere. Here are some recommendations to help you begin your journey:

1. Know your vision.

It is difficult to know how to get there if you don’t know where you are going. Create a vision and do it in a way that your brain will process it most powerfully: through pictures. Go through some magazines (or the Internet) and choose images that represent the vision: the people working with you, the community you will impact, the future for yourself. Hang your vision where you will see it every day. There will be days when you will want to give up and having this permanent reminder of your ‘why’ is crucial.

2. Tell people about it. 

Share your vision with anyone who will listen. Sharing your idea will keep you motivated as you get reconnected to your goals with each conversation. More importantly, you will be amazed by how much others want to support you in your endeavors and are willing to connect you to the right people.

3. Don’t do it alone.

The number one cause of  feeling overwhelmed is trying to do it all alone, and being overwhelmed creates fear. Hire a coach or join a meet-up for support. Ask people for help, seek out partnership, and build a team.

4. Fail.

Waiting for the ‘right time’ keeps you in perpetual procrastination. You will make mistakes. But this forces us to be creative, often landing us in better places. Welcome failure as an opportunity for growth.

5. Have fun.

When we are enjoying ourselves and have opportunities to play, we activate the parts in our brain that are the most creative and productive. So don’t forget to have a life that brings you joy.

Remember, fear is a natural part of our humanity. But in the end, YOU you have complete control over whether it stops you. The only way you truly fail, is if you quit.

Now go forth and be awesome!

IMG_7589rvsmwebStephanie Staidle, founder of The Right Brain Entrepreneur, is a professional development consultant and creativity specialist. She works with new and seasoned entrepreneurs as well as companies that are, by definition, very successful, but feel they are stuck at their current levels of performance. By tapping into the resources that are underused in many people, namely, ‘right brain thinking,’ she helps improve creative problem solving, innovation, communication and team building resulting in higher levels of performance, employee satisfaction and competitive advantage. Stephanie offers online and local workshops, corporate training, and individual coaching. Learn more about her services and sign up for her free newsletter here

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Are you your biggest obstacle? How an Idealist got over her fear of blogging for social change

Guest blogger Stefanie Muldrow shares her journey of overcoming fear to begin blogging for social good.

“Just do it.”

I stared at my wedding photographer from across our sticky cafe table. She repeated herself: “Just–,” she paused, “do it.” A quick meeting to discuss contract details had become a heart-to-heart as Emily described using her savings after college graduation to pursue her dream and start a photography business.

I admired her for this boldness and confessed that since college I’d been dreaming of starting a blog that promotes social good and community engagement but I had never managed to begin. Her response of “Just do it” addressed the fears I’d been grappling with in three quick, convicted words. That evening, I signed up for a website and began—finally.

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Adapted from a photo by Flickr user Divine Harvester (Creative Commons).

I have always loved to volunteer but it was not until after a service trip to rural Honduras my senior year that I decided to make a bigger commitment to the greater good. Volunteering at a school and an orphanage there, I came face-to-face with poverty and tragedy. But I was also surrounded by hope from the community in spite of it all. Our final day as I departed down the dusty, dirt road to the airport I knew I wanted to be part of that hope somehow.

That feeling only intensified after I graduated a few months later. I searched for a way to use my skill—writing—to inspire hope. I settled on a blog as the medium for this. By writing I felt I could raise awareness about the causes I felt strongly about—education, poverty, and youth issues—and also give visibility to those who are doing things, big and small, to improve the world.

But as I developed the idea in my head, I began to doubt myself: When would I find time? Am I qualified? What if it’s terrible and I fail miserably? Would I even make a difference? It took three bold words from a near stranger two years after the trip to silence my fears. Now that my blog is up and running, I find it so fulfilling and I wish I’d began much earlier.

What I’ve learned along the way

1. The closest thing to the “perfect time” to start is now.
You will make time if it’s something you feel strongly about. One of my largest obstacles was waiting for the “right time” to begin. “Summer break” became “after I graduate from college” which became “when I find a job.” Soon I realized that if I wanted to start before I retired it was now or never. When I finally began blogging I could not wait to get home from work and start on material for the next post.

2. Passion will fill in gaps in expertise.
I wanted my blog to address a variety of issues but I was not an expert; all I had was volunteer experience and a fire for a number of causes. However, when research for a post would lead me to an interesting and unfamiliar concept or movement, I would fervently investigate it. I believe that my passion to make a difference was (and still is) the force behind my thirst for knowledge.

3. Take yourself seriously (and others will too).
The first few months of setting up my blog I kept it a secret. I worked hard on posts that no one even read. It took time for me to realize that if I wanted to make a difference I was the first one that needed to believe that my efforts to make a difference were worth supporting. I started letting my friends, family and coworkers know about what I was trying to achieve. Now they are my best scouts for new post ideas.

4. You are not alone.
After creating a Twitter account for my blog, I learned that there were many others like me who were using similar websites to make a difference. I have had more success networking on Twitter than I have had at all of my college’s career center networking events combined. As soon as you can, find and connect with people who share a common goal. Their support will help you remember that your efforts are part of something bigger and will give you vitality when the going gets tough.

So you have an idea? Great! Don’t let your fear control you for another second. Just do it.

stefanie bio pic resizedStefanie is a Washington, D.C. -based writer passionate about encouraging others to start making a difference. At her blog, The Silver Lining Chronicles, she writes about community engagement, social good and philanthropy. When she’s not writing, she enjoys volunteering, gardening, and photography. Follow Stefanie on Twitter @_BeyondtheCloud.

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