Monday, February 25, 2013

Try This: Step Up, Step Back

Fun 2006 dance movie, lots of sequels,
no relationship to communication,  but I couldn't resist!
I am fascinated by "group work." Amazing things come out of group projects, group discussion, group social gatherings, support groups, book groups, the list goes on. There is something really special that happens when we put our heads together. Hellen Keller said "Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much."

I am especially interested in the patterns of communication that happen in a group. No matter the topic or setting, there are two main types of group participants. There always seem to be participants who are the first to speak and to take up the most time and space with their opinions. And there are others who remain quiet, either speaking last, speaking briefly and quietly, or not at all. Then there are others who rest comfortably in the middle but usually tend to one side of this spectrum. The larger the group, the more unique individuals there are to navigate and the more polarized the extremes become. In life there are introverts and there are extroverts. There are linguistic thinkers and there are visuospatial or analytical thinkers. There are outgoing people and there are shy people. But when we are committed to a group's collective consciousness, every voice is important. 

I recently found myself getting acquainted with a new (and super amazing) group of individuals as I embarked on my latest journey: Yoga Teacher Training Program at Inner Strength Studios. I am thrilled that these people are on the path with me. They are loving seekers and I can already tell I will learn so much from this community. But we each come to the table with old habits and patterns, some that serve us, some that don't, and some that served us in one moment but are no longer aligned with our highest purpose. Like any group, we have some who are outspoken and some who are more hesitant to speak.

People who know me are often surprised to learn that I tend toward the quiet, speak last side of the participant spectrum! But this absolutely showed up in my first group discussion experiences with my new community. Sitting on my yoga mat in a big circle discussion, I was reminded of a valuable tool taught in many Unitarian Universalist communities. "Step Up, Step Back." This is a guideline for group discussions that encourages individuals to be aware of their own tendencies and consciously do the opposite. Those who find it easy to speak might wait to make space for those for whom it is more difficult. And us quieter folks might go out on a limb and speak up.

At first I was irritated by all the vocal, confident speakers not making space for people like me to use their voices. But then, lightbulb moment, I remembered the other half of the tool: "step up." It is MY responsibility to use my voice even though it sometimes feels scary or vulnerable. As the weekend went on I got more practice with stepping up, and I worked on trusting that my insights and ideas were valuable to the group. Speaking up, and stepping up became a little easier. Although I am fine to know that this is a growing edge for me and I am not done yet.

Every voice counts. Every person arrives with their own unique set of experiences, strengths, and thoughts. Every opinion can inform the collective consciousness. When we allow for all voices to be heard, whether that is by stepping back to make space for them, or by stepping up to offer our own, the group wins.

What type of group participant are you? Where can you "step up" or "step back" in your life for the greatest good of your community and of yourself?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Candied Citrus Peels

  • Yes, there is sugar in this recipe. Actually there is a lot of sugar in this recipe. But it is homemade, and made from seasonal ingredients, and it's delicious. So I feel okay overlooking the sugar part. Especially because many of us have a little sweet tooth after all. And at least this recipe contains no Red Dye #40 or other weirdness!

  • Ingredients
  • Peels of 2 grapefruits, 3 oranges, and 4 lemons. Oranges make the sweetest candies. Lemons have a sour patch kids kind of flavor, grapefruits are quite bitter, but still yummy.
  • 4 cups sugar, plus more for rolling
  • 4 cups water

  1. Carefully "zip" the peels of a bunch of citrus fruit (make about 6 slits from top to bottom so the peels are easy to pull apart from the fruit). Save the fruit for other uses like seasoning fish with the lemons or just munching the oranges. Slice each piece of peel lengthwise into 1/4-inch-wide strips. The more even your slices the prettier the candies will look when you are finished. Use a knife to slice away as much of the white pith as possible.
  2. Place strips in a large saucepan, and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then drain. Repeat twice.
  3. Bring sugar and water to a boil, stirring occasionally until sugar dissolves and forms a thickish syrup. Add strips to boiling syrup, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer gently until strips are translucent (about 30 minutes).
  4. Scoop strips from the syrup and lay onto a wire rack. Wipe off excess syrup with paper towels, then roll strips in sugar. Arrange in a single layer on a wire rack, and let dry for a long time (mine took 1-2 days to be fully dry).
    Gift. Share. Enjoy!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Responses to Previous Post on Treatment of Social Skills for Children with Autism

Last month, I blogged about my controversial opinion on treatment of social skills for children with autism. Here are some of the amazingly thoughtful and insightful responses from the facebook community. These individuals are parents, speech pathologists, educators, and/or spiritual teachers. All have an interesting take on this clearly complex topic.

    • Ken: Faith leads us to accept each person as they are, and encourage you say... to be themselves. It takes some people many years to learn this wisdom. Blessed Be

    • Janie: with autism, we can't just 'let them be themselves' when they CAN'T tap into their own underlying potential without professional help.

      Unable to speak, 14-year-old Carly finds refuge from disorder by typing.

    • Sue: Ahh - teaching the niceties. You have brought up an excellent question - should we teach children (autistic or not) how to say things that aren't true for them? Should we monitor other's feelings and then adapt our conversations to fit THEIR needs? Tough questions.

    • April: I love this Brenda! Especially since I was just worrying to myself about not teaching these skills to my ADD son who has social anxiety. It makes me feel good to be reminded of these things at times like this.

    • Heather: I think this is definitely something SLPs struggle with in terms of how and what we teach students with autism about social skills and relationship building. There is something very off-putting about changing a person to fit our neurotypical view of the world. However, we all know that people without these skills cannot easily find success in terms of a job and income. I have heard people take this further and suggest that these kids won't find happiness or loving relationships, but I don't really think we know that. We don't understand how they experience the world. As you said, I think it is critical to teach them the rules of the game while at the same time supporting their individuality, creativity, and uniqueness. Does forcing them to be different foster a belief in themselves or pride in who they are? I believe in teaching them about what "unexpected" behaviors look like and sound like, but I never teach that these behaviors are wrong. I want my kids to recognize these behaviors and decide for themselves if they want to suppress them in the moment. I don't think they should lose any part of themselves just because it seems different to me. To quote Paul Collins, author of "Not Even Wrong", "Autists are the ultimate square pegs, and the problem with pounding a square peg into a round hole is not that the hammering is hard work. It's that you're destroying the peg."

    • Kim: That is a wonderful perspective! I think parents of children with high functioning autism would take comfort in this. I certainly know people who are obsessed with what others think of them and would probably be much happier without so much social anxiety. 
      I don’t specialize in autism either, but while I was reading this, I was thinking about a 5th grader, whom I officially see to fix his ch sound, but end up working mostly on social skills with. I’ve realized that the deficits in theory of mind that come with high functioning autism are a 2 sided coin – yes, you aren’t ruled by social anxiety, but you aren’t ruled by empathy either. The combination of the 2 has made this child a pill to be around. The rest of the speech group (myself included) is always relieved when he is absent, because his attitude is so unpleasant. What I want to help him with more than anything is how to be likeable. I believe his life would be richer if his peers and teachers enjoyed his company, because only then could he begin to make friends.

    • Gael Chiarella Alba: Hi Brenda!  How bold you are to be so honest! How wonderfully important to recognize the mandate to speak truth - no matter the topic. You address the enforcement of "the parasite" on our children (I love the direct naming of social conditioning for the sake of acceptance as spiritual teacher Don Miguel Ruiz calls it) which we are each called to claw and climb our way out of as we reach for authentic self-realization - while rising to the challenge of healthy interpersonal community, which requires serving each other well. As you keep your eye on the prize I surmise the journey will continue to clear as you help to build a new world for all of us one word - one glance - one truthful step at a time. Namaste. (