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Serving Consciously

Connection and Communication Through the Fine Art of Storytelling

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An inspiring story can set us free, and a worn out tale can trap us. Storytelling is a powerful way to learn. Through story, we can also track our own personal growth and evolution. Who doesn’t love a good story?

I have learned over the years as a teacher that engagement in the learning process always skyrocketed if I started to tell a story. Well, at least most of the time! As human beings, we are intrigued by story and usually find this a more entertaining way to gather information and learn about something. It certainly beats being bombarded by technical information, data, and graphs.

There is something about Storytelling that helps us to make the information personally relevant and meaningful. As a means towards recognizing and embracing our personal growth and evolution, storytelling provides the opportunity for insight and revelation through the process of sharing our experience. That is, of course, as long as the story we are telling has us at the center of the action.

Gyda Chud

Have you ever had that experience of sitting with someone, sharing a story, when suddenly you are struck with a profound insight which is your version of a light bulb moment? Through talking it out and reviewing what happened, you were able to see something in a new light and embrace the emergence of a fresh perspective. Perhaps, you find yourself answering your own question.

The power of story has the potential to unite us, to help us find common ground with each other and make sense out of our experiences. Story takes information and makes it relatable. Story connects us.

Storytelling can also be used in a detrimental way when we find ourselves spinning the same old tale, yet again and forming an identity around what has already happened. This is where self-fulfilling prophecies are born and bred.

It is true that we all have a story. It is also true that we are the authors of that story. We have developed the plot, attracted the characters, and we have the opportunity to choose our own ending.

Storytelling in Service

For many of us in Vocations of Service, personal story is a central focus. We meet with people and learn about who they are and where they are at as they share their personal stories with us.

At times, the repetition of a story may be part of the process towards healing, releasing and integration. I think especially in terms of loss, trauma and tragedy. During times like these, telling the story can be a helpful way of working through grief and bewilderment. We need to hear ourselves speaking out loud about what actually happened so we can realize that it did. Being witnessed in that process can also help us to feel that we are honored in our experience and held in a safe place in which we can explore its meaning in our lives.

When the story stays stuck on a certain track and becomes a means of identifying ourselves, we have moved into a less helpful and potentially dangerous zone. It is in this place that people find themselves trapped inside a mental box, which may result in feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.

“Well, this is just how I am.”

“This is the way it always turns out.”

“This is the story of my life.”

And I could go on and on. These expressions are laden with giving up and giving in and repeating those stories that uphold these beliefs can be very detrimental.

Making the connections between what happened before and what is happening now is one of the first steps we can take in re-writing the story. This is the point where the new chapter begins.

So, what’s your story? Are you sticking to it? You are holding the writing instrument to the inside of your own heart. What’s the first word?

In your Service to others, consider how you might act as a muse to the creation of their new story.

Join Us

The next episode of Serving Consciously airs live at 12pm (PST) on Friday April 28, 2017 at www.ctrnetwork.com. Our theme that day will zero in on the fine art of Storytelling as a means for Self-Connection and the creation of Transformative Relationships. I am honored to introduce my guest for that episode, Gyda Chud.

Gyda Chud has near a 40 year commitment to the Early Childhood sector as former Co-coordinator of the ECE Program at Vancouver Community College and Dean of Continuing Studies. She also served as the chair of the Child Care Human Resource Sector Council

While partially retired, she remains as a faculty member with the Program and also as the chair of the ECE Faculty Forum, a pan- Canadian gathering of ECE Faculty.

Gyda is an author of several books on Diversity and Inclusion in Early Childhood and has also lead several BC Provincial Ministry guided Curriculum Development Initiatives.

And she is a Master Story Teller! Please plan to tune in.

Elizabeth Bishop is the creator of the Conscious Service Approach designed to support helping professionals to reconnect with and fulfill their desire to make a difference in the lives of those they support. Following the completion of a diploma in Developmental Services and a degree in Psychology and Religious Studies, she completed a Masters in Adult Education through St. Francis Xavier University, providing the opportunity to test and refine the elements of the Conscious Service Approach. Elizabeth is the host of Serving Consciously, a new show on Contact Talk Radio.

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Mental Health

Eight Characteristics of the Effective Person

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With increasing numbers of people being glued to their electronic devices, it is more important than ever that individuals focus on their interpersonal skills so that they can effectively interact with others when they do have a “real” encounter.

The importance of effective communication has been shown to be critical and has been researched over the years, with some qualities being shown to be particularly important. Based on a wealth of research, the following offers eight qualities which seem to be particularly important in developing successful relationships.

Empathy.

The ability to “get into the shoes” of another is probably the most important quality for building and maintaining healthy relationships. This selfless process builds trust by showing others that one is willing to place oneself second to the concerns of another and allows the listener to understand why others act the way they do. Those who are empathic are able to build strong, authentic, and lasting relationships.

Although all of us have the ability to be empathic, those who were brought up in nurturing relationships which fostered an understanding of others will have an easier time putting aside their agendas and be able to hear others. However, with effort, all of us can become better listeners.

Realness.

Although we often don’t like to admit it, we almost always can tell when people are not being real with us. It’s demonstrated by the way they look at us, talk to us, and behave with us. And, when a person is not real with another, the relationship cannot grow and deepen. Only genuine, transparent relationships can have the depth and breathe that develop mutual sharing at deep levels. Realness takes intentionality—a concerted effort at being genuine with the other person. Such conversations are often not easy, but they bring an intensity and honesty to relationships that are a cornerstone of positive mental health.

Acceptance.

Humans develop intricate webs of reality that make sense to them, but not always to others who observe their behaviors. Acceptance is acknowledging the fact that one may not understand the thoughts and behaviors of another, yet knowing that within the other person’s world, his or her thoughts and actions make sense. This knowledge allows one to be empathic and nonjudgmental, despite sometimes disagreeing with what others have done. Such acceptance builds strong, lasting relationships that can develop into mutually empathic and real relationships.

Cross-Cultural Sensitivity.

When individuals have regard for others and are empathic with others, they are naturally cross-culturally sensitive. But cross-cultural sensitivity goes beyond empathy and acceptance, as it also means actively wanting to know about the culture of others. The gaining of such knowledge, whether by asking others about their cultures or discovering about others’ cultures through various resources, allows one to understand individuals more fully. This deeper understanding of another acknowledges an individual’s unique way of living in the world and how that way is associated with the individual’s unique and vibrant culture.

Competence.

Being good at something, whatever it is, helps us feel good about ourselves and builds our self-esteem. Whether it’s academics, sports, cooking, or an obscure hobby, feeling competent helps us believe in ourselves and generally results in a constructive attitude toward life and others. Each of us has unique abilities and qualities, and understanding how those can be used to build self-efficacy is critical if we are going to feel good about ourselves and positively impact others.

Embracing Our Spirituality or Meaningfulness.

Why are we here? What is the meaning of our existence? Why do we do what we do in the world? If we live without a sense of our spirituality or meaningfulness, we will haphazardly live in the world as we have no reason or philosophy that drives us. Lack of a core meaning-making system results in narcissistic and selfish recklessness as individuals make decisions without reflecting on their core philosophical assumptions. Beliefs that drive a positive personal meaning making system, whether religiously-based or founded on some well-thought out philosophy, are always rooted in the Golden Rule—Do unto others as you might want others to do unto you.

Knowing Our “It Factor”—Being Ourselves.

Each of us has a unique way of thinking, acting, and being in the world, but not all of us readily embrace our individuality. Being ourselves means that we are willing to take risks with others—say what we really think, act like we really want to act, and be who we really are. Of course, in a civilized world we cannot do everything we think, feel, and want to do, but we can acknowledge to ourselves all aspects of self, and, in healthy ways, strive to fully be ourselves.

Social Sense.

Because our existence relies on living with civility in what can sometimes be a pretty chaotic world, it is important that each of us understand, be aware, and act in ways that are sensitive to others and the communities in which we live. This manner of co-existence allows us to live with a sense of safety and love as we strive to be ourselves while simultaneously acknowledging and monitoring how we impact others. Like the ripples in a lake that follow after a stone is thrown into it, a social sense means that we have a keen awareness that each action we take affects all others.

These eight characteristics seem to be critical in developing strong, effective relationships—whether it be with a friend, significant other, or colleague. However, one should keep in mind that relationships take work and knowing these qualities will do little if one does not practice them.

Most importantly, each of us should be intentionally empathic, real, accepting, cross-culturally sensitive, competent, have a sense of meaning, embrace our “it factor, and have a social sense if we are to get along with others and have a more peaceful and loving world.

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Global

Getting Stuff Done

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I used to manage a wonderful multidisciplinary team in East London, who prided themselves on going the extra mile for families on their teamwork and joined-up support. I remember an imposing senior manager visiting, and the staff sharing with her descriptions of their casework.

As she listened intently and I idly read the screen-saver on the computer behind where she was seated, I realised with dawning horror that it was repeatedly scrolling across the monitor “The East Welford Team* gets S*!%T done!!” It didn’t take long for me to find an excuse to show her another part of the office, making dagger-eyes at my team to get them to change the message to something more positively corporate-sounding pronto!

But I was very proud of that team, and I was reminded of them last week when I walked into the Project Room at work to offer to make a round of tea. I found Marianne (one of our team co-ordinators) talking excitedly with Emma and Theresa (two of our Family Workers).

The subject of the discussion was the intensive afternoon-into-early evening they had had the day before, “holed” up in an office at a GP surgery with a parent, supporting her and making phone call after phone call to get the various agencies to respond to the crisis she and her children were dealing with. The excitement didn’t arise from anger or triumphalism related to the battle with other services; it certainly wasn’t taking satisfaction in or credit from someone else’s misfortunes.

But what those team members were remembering and celebrating was a job well done and achieved through team work and partnership. Just for those 15 minutes, Emma and Theresa deserved their place under the spotlight, although to be honest most of their weeks are filled with unheralded skill and hard work to help parents, children and even other professionals achieve their potential. Marianne said that from this point on she would call them Starsky and Hutch because of their partnership, dynamism and commitment to getting the job done – even under intense pressure.

That made me smile, but also reflect on at what point we in the voluntary sector stopped talking about the “work”? And by the ‘work’ I mean the hands on engagement with and support given to our service users and beneficiaries. Don’t get me wrong – I know there are lots of people involved with charities whose work is little acknowledged and often not recognised.

A voluntary sector bulletin recently dropped into my inbox from a major national newspaper, and to judge from its contents, charities like mine are increasingly effective in our campaigning about we do, striving to identify outcomes for what we do, tweeting and blogging about it, and of course fundraising for what we do. All the people who undertake those tasks and who support the aims and values of their charities deserve to be appreciated and applauded. But lately, it doesn’t seem (purely a hunch – no hard research was undertaken) that we explain what it is we do exactly “to help”. Or that we celebrate that work.

Yes, we do talk about outcomes – but rarely about how those outcomes were achieved, even if it was only by simple but vital acts such as providing a space to talk, enabling respite for carers by finding children a holiday scheme, or setting up an awards ceremony and disco for young disabled volunteers so they can party and have fun like many of their non-disabled peers.

Under the stress and pressure, our wonderful staff carry on talking the talk and walking the walk. Sometimes in the face of hostility, but also receiving more gratitude and thanks from our service users than people would ever expect was expressed. Last month I conducted the final observation of our social work student on a visit to a parent and family she had supported during her placement.

Amongst lots of really concrete outcomes achieved by the student, including getting the children into an afterschool club and linking the family with advice around a child’s special educational needs, the parent told me that “you couldn’t wish for a better person to work with you”. When I passed it on I saw how my student positively glowed at that piece of feedback. And what could be a stronger endorsement than that someone is willing to open up some of the most private areas of their own or their family’s life to you?

If something is not talked about it is effectively unseen and unacknowledged. What we do – the day job – is a big part of our identity and people need to feel able to be proud of it. They may not look or act like Starsky and Hutch, but every day voluntary sector staff contribute to thousands of supportive conversations in bedsits, flats, living rooms, hostels, interview rooms and group work sessions to create the opportunity for positive changes in people’s lives. And we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about how they are getting sh…I mean STUFF! done.

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Mental Health

Self-Connection Through Daily Mindfulness

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If you are anything like me, you may have confused mindfulness with meditation; something requiring you to be in a certain space, a particular position and removed from distraction or other activity.

Well, I’ve come to learn that while mindfulness practice can be enhanced through meditation, they are not one in the same.

Mindfulness is about bringing conscious awareness and presence to what is right in front of us or perhaps, what is occurring within us as an emotional, physical, spiritual or intellectual sensation.

The Heart of the Matter

Before I had even heard the term mindfulness, I received a teaching that helped me to understand it more clearly today.

Many years ago, I attended a silent retreat centered in Buddhist meditation practice. We spent many hours in a seated position. Silent. During the course of the weekend, we were also introduced to chanting.

A space had been carved in the silence for a question and answer period on the last day of the retreat. Most of the questions focused on the accuracy of the chant; saying the right words, holding the right tone and doing it in the right order.

Our teacher for the weekend guided us to recognize that it was not about right or wrong, that the clarity of the words, the volume of the chant or the correct order or perfect pronunciation was not at the heart of the matter.

We were reminded that feeling into the practice was the most crucial element. The ability to hold a pure and objective intention to simply engage in the moment within our hearts would be more powerful than a day’s worth of disconnected chanting.

So, when mindfulness became a hot topic of conversation and sought after state of being, I was reminded of this learning as I struggled to understand what mindfulness would look like in my day to day life.

Some of the essential ingredients involved in mindfulness include acceptance, non-judgement, willingness to observe, openness to feeling, and release of resistance.

Mindfulness.  It’s a Gateway to Self-Connection

Here’s what I have noticed. Mindfulness leads to self-connection. Mindfulness is a pathway to self-connection. In self-connection, I have a front row seat to my own experience including the emotions, the feelings, the thoughts, the beliefs, the desires of my heart and I become intrigued and curious about this exploration.

Using mindfulness as a gateway to self-connection makes it easier to stay out of the stories that we often create in order to make sense of our circumstances in a logical and intellectual way. This can be helpful or harmful depending on the details of the storyline.

In a mindful place as you experience deeper levels of self-connection you can begin to cultivate a deeper capacity to witness yourself. You become the observer who is deeply present and engaged AND also open to whatever arises for you through your senses. And this is where self-compassion is born.

Self-compassion is the capacity to hold space for our own evolution and process without expecting it to be different in any way and to love ourselves through it all. There is no need to resist what we discover, no need to berate ourselves for anything and no need to fix. Self-compassion is the utter acceptance and unconditional love for you.

And guess what? This depth of self-connection and self-compassion expands your ability to offer connection and compassion to others. Real, genuine, authentic connection and compassion.

Is there anything more powerful than that within the context of transformative relationships?

It is a practice that deepens your experience of joy and softens your times of sorrow. It is a practice that provides a glimpse, moment by moment into your authentic nature. Your most powerful gifts of service to others is found right there.

With a mindful approach, you can move away from “right and wrong,”  step out of the contrast of “good and bad” and embrace what is in this moment. The only “right and wrong” that becomes important is what feels right or wrong to your own heart.

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