Category Archives: Personal Growth

Paying It Backward, part two

divine-light-1296309_1280

“Let your hopes, not your hurts, shape your future.”   (Robert Schuller)

When I wrote Paying It Backward , I’m not sure I really expected some of the results I’ve experienced. Of course my hope was two-fold. First, I hoped that some descendants of a man who greatly impacted my life would know about it. Second, I wished that the story might inspire readers to consider how small actions can have big impacts.

I’m happy to report that I’ve heard from my bus driver friend’s son and some grandchildren and great-grandchildren! I’ve learned that Otis was born in 1899 in New Hampshire and moved to Pittsfield, Massachusetts in 1924. He operated trolley cars long before driving busses. It has been great fun to compare impressions and memories of him. The word “kindly” seems to be used often.

It seemed a bit odd to learn that Otis’s son is now 84 years old! Time does march on, I guess. And even stranger to realize that if he was still alive, Otis would now be 117.

One result of  writing about the experience I didn’t expect is that the “Otis story” would become the apex of a presentation I would develop entitled, “Finding Dead Rainbows–where you stand makes a difference.” Initially, I was thinking that finding hope is often a matter of perspective–where we stand can make a difference in what we see. It was later that I realized Otis not only rescued me by letting me stand in front of the line; he also gave me hope.

Offering hope need not be complicated. I recently taught a class of adults and discovered one student who was my rainbow. Every time I looked her way, she was looking at me with a slight smile, clearly engaged and enjoying the learning experience. Anyone who has taught or spoke to groups knows how easy it is to focus on the person who has dozed off or is clearly not paying attention. But who can resist a rainbow?

After once telling the Otis story in a presentation, one listener approached me, admitting he almost cried. “Do you realize how different your life might have been if it were not for Otis?” he asked. I thought I did until he speculated, “You might have become a very different person… or in jail or maybe even dead.” My first reaction was that he was being a bit dramatic, but later I thought perhaps not.

A bully hurts. A bus driver helps. A smile makes a difference. We can decide what shapes our future. We can also help shape the future of others.

Thanks again, Otis.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Bullying, Causes and Friends, Mental Health, Mental Hygiene, Personal Growth

A Few Course Updates…

board-928390_1280

Spring’s just started, but the learning opportunities continue!

I’ve conducted my newest course offering on Suicide Awareness and Prevention twice and the results have been rewarding and exciting! Not only have educational professionals attended, but students have included church employees, agency employees, and several who simply wanted the information for their own use—one attendee came all the way from Hermon!

My ego enjoys the ratings of the instructor and positive comments, but there are a couple of observations that are far more important. As a result of attending these two classes:

  • 85% of participants either agreed or strongly agreed they feel more comfortable talking about suicide.
  • 93% of participants either agreed or strongly agreed they feel more confident in their ability to recognize suicide warning signs and risk factors.
  • 85% of participants feel better equipped to help someone who might seem suicidal.

Currently, there are two more classes scheduled:

  1. Tuesday, March 29, 2016 at the Penquis Higher Education Center in Dover Foxcroft, sponsored by PVAEC, 6:30 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. Call 564-6525 for information and to register.
  2. Thursday, April 14, 2016 at Nokomis Regional High School in Newport, sponsored by RSU 19 Adult Education, 3:30 p.m. until 5:30 p.m. Call 368-3290 for information and to register.

As promised in the classes already taught, I’ve started a website page of resources for developing good mental health and preventing suicide.

April is a busy month with Real Estate Classes–both licensing and continuing education. You can find a complete calendar on my real estate blog.

Due to increasing requests for learning opportunities, RSU 19 Adult Education is adding a second wave of classes in late spring and this summer this year. By request, I’ll be developing and offering an overview course, The Why’s and Where’s of Blogging The course is scheduled for Thursday, May 19 at Nokomis High school in Newport. We’ll also be offering the Substitute Teacher Course late in the summer.

The best way to avoid missing an opportunity is to sign up for the Learning Opportunities Newsletter. Since I know how annoying a flood of email can be, you’ll only hear from me about once a month at the most!

If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you. If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you.

Leave a comment

Filed under Classes and Courses, Learning, Mental Health, Mental Hygiene, Personal Growth, Suicide Prevention

Dead Rainbows?

RainbowsI’m honored to have been invited to speak at two Kiwanis Club Meetings in February: Orno on the sixteenth and Dover Foxcroft on the twenty-third. Since both invitations offered a fair amount of latitude regarding my topic, I decided to come up with something new!

Finding Dead Rainbows – where you stand makes a difference will be both thought-provoking and fun. Rainbows are about hope and promise. Where we find rainbows has a lot to do with where we look. And where we look has a lot to do with where we stand.

“The work will wait while you show the child the rainbow, but the rainbow won’t wait while you do the work.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Mental Health, Personal Growth, Small People

Paying It Backward

back-to-school-183533_1280

The idea of “paying it forward” of course has much merit. It means, simply, that the response to a kindness is not so much to pay it back, but to pay it forward by being kind to someone else. It’s a feel-good concept, certainly. But I remember a kindness done to me that I have felt for some years deserves to be paid back.

In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s I lived in Pittsfield Massachusetts. As a country boy suddenly relocated to city life, they were some difficult years. Odd as it may seem, some of my loneliest years as a child were the years I lived in the city. I was truly overwhelmed by the numbers and differences. I really didn’t fit. I knew it and it was obvious to others. The term “bullying” hadn’t been invented yet; there were just some really mean kids—gangs, actually—who were about power and control. Those of us who didn’t fit learned how to appear invisible and avoid confrontation, but success was only relative. We learned, for example, to take different routes while walking to school, sometimes sneaking through backyards to avoid meeting certain schoolmates along the way.

When I started what was then called junior high school, it became necessary to ride the bus every day. There were actually very few yellow school busses. Mostly we received tokens that allowed us to ride on Berkshire Street Railway buses that were blue and white. They were tired old buses, with that token collection machine next to the driver and big yellow line on the floor with a sign that read, “Standing passengers must remain behind the yellow line.”

As the bus filled up it became increasingly difficult to stay behind the yellow line—we were jammed in like sardines. More importantly, it became increasingly difficult to avoid bumping others as the bus jostled along its route. One particular gang of girls resolved this problem by sharpening their fingernails to points that could stab and scratch anyone within reach.  It was not unusual to arrive at school or home bloodied. We didn’t report it, perhaps out of a strange sense of shame or a fear of even greater retaliation. There are times when I convince myself this was just one of those nightmares; it didn’t really happen. But if it had only been a nightmare, I would not have met nor would I remember the bus driver who made a difference.

I suppose bus drivers back then can be forgiven for not taking action—they were outnumbered forty or fifty to one. We weren’t really students. We were a commodity that needed moving through the city. This was public transportation. Most drivers kept their eyes glued forward, concentrating on the driving, occasionally glancing in the side mirrors and making sure the masses stayed behind the yellow line. As if it were yesterday, I remember the day I boarded the bus and the driver reached out with his hand and stopped me as I deposited my token. While it was clanging through the machine, he said, “I need you to stay up here with me by the token machine. Hold on to it while we’re moving, then step aside and make sure everyone puts a token in it when they get on.” It seemed a little strange at first that he needed my help.

But what mattered was where I stood. Standing in front of that line was an unusual privilege.  At first, it seemed very secondary that I was also safe from sharp fingernails, punches, and kicks while standing there—that was a bonus, really. Monitoring the token machine became my regular job, although I don’t ever recall needing to remind anyone to deposit a token. Of course, we’d talk some—mostly about me, my schoolwork, etc.  I noticed that he always wore a gold tie clip with the letters “OP” on it. I learned those initials stood for Otis Phillips—he loved to make sure I’d remember it by saying, “Think elevators.” Sure, I took some teasing from the girls with the pointy fingernails, but they seemed somehow less powerful and less aggressive. They’d stick out their tongues as they’d pass me to get behind the yellow line, but that didn’t hurt very much.

Otis became a friend, really. He never let me feel like a victim who needed rescuing. Instead, he made it seem that I was needed in front of the line and that I was somehow a pretty important passenger on his bus. But it wasn’t limited to being on the bus. Sometimes after school a friend and I would go on long bike rides around the city, sightseeing, and exploring. We’d always jump a little when a big blue and white bus would pull up beside us, the door would creak open, and a smiling face would call to us, “What are you guys up to? Everything okay?”

In today’s world, some might suspect his relationship with me was inappropriate. And It saddens me to think that today Otis would likely be disciplined for letting me stand in front of the line. (Truth be told I also got a few free rides when he’d spot me walking somewhere on the weekends.)

But it makes me happy to remember him, his kindness, and I now appreciate his simple solution to a problem—standing in front of that line made a huge difference. I don’t know why he chose me for that honor and today, over fifty years later, I wonder if he knew what an impact he made in my life. As is often the case, a simple act of kindness was not so simple. From his kindness I learned that where one stands can make a huge difference. And he’d probably like the fact that I often think of him when I get on an elevator.

For some years now, I’ve felt the need to “pay it back,” to acknowledge his kindness not just in deed but in word. I really never learned many details about Otis. I know he was married, but he never mentioned children. He seemed a bit grandfatherly to me at the time, so perhaps they were grown. I’ll tell you what I’m hoping. I hope through the magic of social media and blogging I can let it be known that there was an incredible bus driver working for Berkshire Street Railway around 1960 whose name was Otis Phillips. Perhaps this story will find its way to a descendant or others who knew him. It just feels like the world should know, Otis was a hero.

2 Comments

Filed under Causes and Friends, Personal Growth, Teaching

Season’s Greetings… the best is yet to come!

AVP Small


 

Dear clients and friends…

Another year has passed and with it arises the opportunity to reconnect! As most of you know, I try hard not to write the typical Christmas letter—just to share some updates and accomplishments over the past year.

The first thing most will notice is this comes to you on a new letterhead! You’ll recall last year I announced that while I’m still a licensed broker with Mallet Real Estate, I was no longer actively seeking clients. That is all still true, but I’ve also become a bit more focused. My former high school teacher and now good friend Tony has been asking me for years, “When are you going to listen to your calling?” While I’m not sure it’s a calling, I have determined it is time to admit that I am first and foremost an educator and author.

My time spent with the kids at school continues to be enlightening and entertaining! This past spring, I volunteered to use the resources of Abbot Village Press to publish our Elementary School Yearbook. We created a yearbook team of students to assist and ended up producing a quality product at an affordable price. No, I do not plan to become a yearbook publisher, although it looks like we’ll be doing this year’s as well.

I’ve believed for some time that there are some additional writing and publishing projects in my future. Unfortunately, some major course development work this year continues to keep several writing projects sidelined. Course development includes not only major revisions to several real estate courses but also some new courses both real-estate related and adult not.

One goal I achieved this year was completing my training with the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI). I’m now fully gatekeeper trained and a Certified Mental Health First Aid Specialist for both youth and adults. This also means I am qualified to teach the Suicide Awareness and Prevention Training required by Maine Law (LD 609) of all school employees. What is most important to me personally is that I now have information and resources to offer kids and adults who find themselves in a difficult place.

One of the adult education programs I teach for frequently has asked for an “adult educator enrichment program.” The course will likely include some things about the way adults learn along with checklists to improve delivery of material in an adult setting. The program will probably use some material from the Substitute Teacher Course I teach (kids aren’t really that much different!) and my “Public Speaking for the Nervous and Frightened.”

But my best days are still the ones when the phone rings early in the morning and I’m needed at school. The kids haven’t run out of things to teach me. They may be small people, but they really do have big brains and it’s fun to look ahead and imagine a world run by these future leaders.

I’ll never forget the day “Johnny”—a fourth grader with a fifty-year-old outlook—stopped by my classroom after most of the kids had left. It seems he wanted to have a “mature” conversation on a wide variety of topics. At one point he informed me, “Pre-k and kindergarten were the best years of my life.” When I asked for further explanation, he added, “Because I really didn’t have to do much.” I decided not to suggest that the best years of his life might be yet to come but they probably wouldn’t be about “not doing much.”

Have a meaningful holiday and a new year filled with health, happiness, and prosperity. It’s a busy time of the year and you probably have a lot to do, but you can still make these the best years of your life!

All the best,

WB Signature

Leave a comment

Filed under Big Brains, Big Hearts, Classes and Courses, Mental Health, Mental Hygiene, Personal Growth, Small People, Suicide Prevention

Happy World Teachers’ Day!

SeDo Dictionary_34SM

Third Graders learn the “Dictionary Race” during a Dictionary Day Presentation.

Bet you didn’t know today is World Teachers’ Day! Empowering teachers, building sustainable societies,” is the slogan for 2015.

By sheer coincidence, today I will be working with eighty third graders as part of the Valley Grange Words for Thirds Program. The program is designed to give third graders their own personal dictionary. I have the honor of facilitating the process and teaching the kids a little history and some basic dictionary skills.

Another coincidence was that one of the email newsletters I subscribe to included a very appropriate quote by thinker Friedrich Nietzsche (October 15, 1844–August 25, 1900).

Your true educators and cultivators will reveal to you the original sense and basic stuff of your being, something that is not ultimately amenable to education or cultivation by anyone else, but that is always difficult to access, something bound and immobilized; your educators cannot go beyond being your liberators. And that is the secret of all true culture: she does not present us with artificial limbs, wax-noses, bespectacled eyes – for such gifts leave us merely with a sham image of education. She is liberation instead, pulling weeds, removing rubble, chasing away the pests that would gnaw at the tender roots and shoots of the plant; she is an effusion of light and warmth, a tender trickle of nightly rain…

There may be other methods for finding oneself, for waking up to oneself out of the anesthesia in which we are commonly enshrouded as if in a gloomy cloud – but I know of none better than that of reflecting upon one’s educators and cultivators.

And therein lies a wonderful way to celebrate this relatively unknown day… thinking about those who have educated and “cultivated” us. We are all teachers and educators. We are all learners and students. I expect to learn something from these kids today. And I hope they learn something from me and the experience they have.

As I read Nietzche’s thoughts I was most struck by his suggestion that educators are liberators. Dictionary Day today will have, for me, a slightly different meaning today. I will be considering how today’s lesson and the book each child leaves with will be freeing and surely contribute to the person each becomes. As the kids would say, “Awesome!”

World Teacher Day

Leave a comment

Filed under Causes and Friends, Learning, Personal Growth, Teaching

Stress Relief in a Box?

custom_colored_crayons_box_17397Feeling stressed? Grab your crayons!

I’ve often used crayons… myself, with adults, and as a way to occupy children who are visiting. So I wasn’t surprised when I learned recently that the New Canaan, CT Library has colored pencils and coloring sheets for adults to “check out” and use to relieve stress and even help with writer’s block. What a great idea!

Of course it’s not just crayons and coloring. Art therapy is accepted method of reducing stress and increasing creativity. The experts tell us that activities like coloring help us by serving as a distraction–even if only for a few minutes. Even coloring a picture means thinking about color choice and concentrating on “staying inside the lines.” When we become completely engaged in an activity we achieve a state of “flow” that can be almost meditative. Consider the “runner’s high” as another form of this.

Personally, I think coloring is even more fun if you can do it with a kid. When my nieces and nephews were younger, holiday visits often meant finding a quiet corner and engaging in coloring marathons. At the time, I thought we were playing, In retrospect, we may have been practicing a little stress management. Holidays with the family aren’t always easy.

But coloring can be useful with adults. When I was doing lots of organization design and development programs, I would often have the conference room table set up with boxes of crayons and art paper. The president and vice president would arrive and, while waiting for our session to begin, many would open the crayons and smell them, smiling with evoked childhood memories. The activity itself might be “draw a picture of how you see this organization…” It always took a while to get them started–unfortunately our childhood art skills and courage get surpressed as we “grow up.” But there were always some great and often revealing results.

I was a little disappointed recently when a friend who is very artistically talented said that she’d never call herself an artist because that is not a career choice she’ll be making. We are all artists, really. Art is about many things such as creativity and expression. We can see and use art in different ways. We don’t have to make a living with art, but art can help us make a life.

So I salute the Canaan Library for the reminder. Drawing and coloring are good. In fact, I think I’ll start keeping a box of crayons on my desk.

Leave a comment

Filed under Just for Fun, Personal Growth