compassion, empathy, family, kindness, Love, RECK, respect

Stuck at Home with Family? Practice RECK!

These are unusual times. The novel Coronavirus has more and more states telling people to stay at home and requiring Physical Distancing if we must go out. This puts many of us in a situation where we are “Safer at Home” with the people we love… and getting on each other’s nerves!

Never fear! RECK is here! To save you having to click over to another page to discover what the heck RECK is, I’ll take a moment to explain it here. RECK is an acronym that stands for respect, empathy, compassion, and kindness. It is meant as a simple guide to help us treat others in the best way possible. And don’t we want to treat the people we love most in the whole world in the best way possible? Of course we do.

Think of it this way: all people need respect, empathy, compassion, and kindness in order to stay emotionally healthy. When you think about harm that has been done to people, in every instance, one or more of these four principles has been violated. In family situations, most typically the principle we forget to adhere to is to be kind to one another.

Here’s how to utilize RECK at home during this unusual time:

First, do your best to remain respectful towards your family members at all times. This can be a tough one, especially when we are feeling irritable. Disrespectful words are usually those words that we end up regretting later. When it comes to trying to create a harmonious home atmosphere, being disrespectful is a line we simply should not cross. Being respectful towards your family all the time will help you maintain a healthy self-respect. When you are respectful to others, you feel good about yourself.

Next, make an effort to be empathetic towards the feelings of others. This one can be especially challenging with young children. They tend to feel things strongly and are often unable to completely articulate or even understand their feelings. As adults, we have an important role to play in helping them identify their emotions and learn to understand and control them. Remember, empathy is deeper than sympathy. Sympathy is to feel for someone, while empathy requires us to go even further and feel with them. A good way to understand empathy is to remember the adage of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.

Then, strive to always keep your compassion switch in the “on” position. This is a tall order. Compassion calls us to feel another person’s suffering with them and then work to relieve it. Compassion, however, is a game-changer for children. Kids feel so often misunderstood and like their suffering is ignored. As adults, we can sometimes wish children would simply “get over it.” But we need to remember that their feelings are very real to them and when we take them seriously and respond to them, children feel heard. Although perhaps more pronounced in children, this is true for all people. And during these stressful times, lots of people might be feeling strong emotions. We all would be well served to hear one another out, take each other’s feelings to heart, and make an effort to provide comfort whenever possible.

Finally, in all situations and at all times: Be kind. If you think this one is easy or trivial, then think back to the last time that you know you hurt someone else’s feelings whether they said so or not. You might not have to think back very far! Kindness is the grease that oils the gears of healthy family dynamics. Being unkind is like throwing a wrench in the works. How often has everything been going just fine at home and then someone did or said something unkind and all heck broke loose? Kindness is the key to unlocking family harmony.

If your family is struggling to get along right now, then make a big sign that says “RECK: Respect, Empathy, Compassion and Kindness” and put it up someplace everyone can see it. Then, make sure everyone knows what all of those words mean and make a promise to treat each other with RECK. You’ll be amazed by how much better everyone gets along.

All the best,

Matthew Vasko,

Founder, Century of Compassion

connection, empathy

Not Social Distancing: Physical Distancing

Image: David Ramos/Getty Images


 

Dear world, can we please stop calling it “Social Distancing?” As human beings, we all need social contact to maintain emotional health. This Coronavirus pandemic sucks and using the term Social Distancing repeatedly isn’t helping things any. In our house, we’ve taken to using the term “Physical Distancing” to both better describe what it is we are doing and to remind ourselves that even while physically apart from our friends and extended family we can remain socially close.

Personally, I am making an effort to reach out to all sorts of people in my social sphere to see how people are doing and provide emotional support where I can. I imagine that most people are doing something similar, as we should be. And as the weeks grind on and we spend more time isolated from many of the people with whom we usually spend time, I sure we’ll continue to think of creative ways to connect.

Already this week I’ve Skyped, FaceTimed, Zoomed, texted, messaged, and phoned all sorts of people from coworkers to family members to friends with whom I’d fallen out of touch. And I plan to keep it up. I’m also making an effort to set up Skype sessions between my kids and their friends as sort-of virtual play dates. All of this is important. Each interaction helps. And it’s all social.

Each day, my family is getting out for a morning walk and waving at neighbors and exchanging pleasantries from a safe distance. Again, physically we are separated, but socially we are close.

If anything, it feels like the whole world is drawn closer by our common shared experience with this pandemic. We see videos on social media of Italians singing from their balconies and medical professionals dancing in full protective gear. Commonality builds empathy, and before this is over, every single one of the nearly eight billion people on planet Earth will be able to empathize with what it was like to have battled this novel Coronavirus.

So, let’s all make an effort to remain socially close while we practice Physical Distancing. And – as has become my catch phrase: Stay safe. Stay healthy.

With Love,

Matt Vasko

Founder, Century of Compassion

(Postscript: My heart goes out to each and every person who has, is, or will suffer from COVID-19. Please know that you are in my thoughts. Much love to anyone the world over who has lost someone to this terrible disease.)

family

Tips for Families During Social Distancing

These are unusual times. Even us parents have probably never experienced anything quite like this before. So, it seems perfectly normal and understandable if our children are anxious. Personally, I have 9-year-old twins at home and they are experiencing a variety of emotions from anxiety to boredom.

My goal with the materials included below is to provide parents with tools to help their families “weather the storm.” I hope you find both spiritual and practical resources here to help you and your children cope. My best wishes to everyone during this time.

With love,

Matt Vasko

Founder, Century of Compassion

 

SPIRITUALITY & PRAYER:

This can be a time for families to deepen their home spiritual practices. Here are some resources to help you in that meaningful work:

1. The Unitarian Universalist Association (a big tent of belief) has an entire guide devoted to family spiritual practices; everything from ritual to crafts to alter building. Click here to view their guide.

2. Foothills Unitarian offers this nice page on prayer complete with a prayer bead necklace activity and a UU Family Prayer Sampler.

3. Beacon Unitarian Universalist Congregation has this page devoted to prayer before meals.

4. My family has a daily gratitude practice that we say before dinner. It goes like this: “We are grateful for everything and everyone we have in our lives and we promise to take care of all of it and all of them.” Then, we go around the table and say at least one thing (but usually 2 or 3 things) each of us is grateful for that day. It can be anything from the nice weather, to a kind word from a friend, to each other. If you start a practice like this now, I assure you that you will find that hard times are the times when gratitude for the good things and people we have in our lives really helps strengthen our spirits.

 

TEACHING TOLERANCE AND SOCIAL JUSTICE (From Momtivist)

1. Check out these amazing lesson plans on Tolerance.org. You can filter them by grade level – they’re designed for kindergarten through High School. Lots of great ideas that were designed for the classroom but can easily be scaled to work at home.

2. Find books that promote tolerance, spotlight underrepresented groups, counter racism, explore gender identity, etc., and read them with your kids! Consider creative activities around anything you read, like writing stories or puppet shows using the books as inspiration. This is a great resource for age appropriate books on all of these topics.

3. Play games learning about important women in history! We love the Little Feminists Memory Game.

4. Try out games, recipes and activities from around the world! Great way to learn about other cultures while having fun. This $10 deck is chock full of great ideas.

 

NETWORKING:

Social distancing does not have to mean social isolation!!

Face Time: Do you Facetime? Or Skype? Or Zoom? I believe that as cabin fever sets in children are going to be jonesing for connection with their friends and other caring adults in their lives. A 10-minute Facetime session with someone outside the home could really help brighten your child’s day.

Virtual Pen Pals: You can let your child draw a picture or write a note to someone and then text or email a photo of it to them. They can come up with creative ways to reply.

Virtual Story Time: This is a spin on face time. Have grandma, grandpa, an aunt, or uncle do a Skype session with your child and have them read your child a picture book they have around their house. Chances are that they own some different books than you do, and your child will get to hear and see a new book. My kids’ Uncle Jim used to do this with my twins from across the country when they were little, and they LOVED it.

Phone Calls: Make a list of people who haven’t heard from your children in a while and have your kids give them a call! The other person will probably delight at the surprise and your kids will learn proper phone etiquette. Seriously, do kids even know how to use phones anymore?

 

GAMES!

The number of family games available on Amazon.com are astounding. Not to be a commercial for Amazon, but with Prime shipping your family could be playing a new game every two days. Here are some of my family’s favorites:

Uno: This classic card game still keeps kids entertained for hours. And now there are even some wild variations on the game available like Uno Flip and Uno Attack.

Ticket to Ride: We started playing this exciting board game with our kids when they were in first grade and the whole family loves it. Essentially, you use train cards to build routes across the country. It’s great.

Catan: Children probably need to be in about second or third grade to really get this game, but it’s a lot of fun for children and adults alike. You collect cards to build and settle an island. It’s a bit hard to learn, but hours and hours of engaging fun. Watch out for the robber though… he’s the worst.

Xtronaut: Do you have an engineering-minded child? If so, then they’ll really enjoy this game that requires them to collect cards to “build” a rocket and launch it into space. It’s suitable for children in who are in second grade and up.

 

EDUCATION:

For virtual learning resources, I really only need to direct you to one resource. Someone has put together a vast spreadsheet of all of the virtual resources that are being offered free-of-charge during the this time.

 

YOUTUBE:

Your children might be watching more television than normal during this time. Well, I have good news. If you have a ROKU or similar device there are lots of educational channels on YouTube.

Here is a list of some of my kids’ favorites: It’s Okay to be Smart, Vsauce, ASAPScience, Crashcourse, SciShow, SciShowKids, SciShowSpace, MinutePhysics, MinuteEarth, MrDemaio, SesemeStreet, WorldWorldPBS, SmartGirls, HoustonZoo, TheBrainScoop and NASA

And here is a link to even more.

 

OUTSIDE!

Fortunately, one thing you can do while practicing social distancing is to get out into the great outdoors!

Gardening: My family is using this time to really get this year’s garden going. If you have space for a garden – or even a container garden – now could be a good time to get that garden going.

Painting Rocks: I borrowed this one from Momtivist – Decorate rocks (we recommend paint or glitter glue) with positive messages and/or drawings and leave them where other people will see them. Brainstorm with your child about what kind of images and messages might make people happy.

Explore Nature: If you have a magnifying glass, you can turn a young child loose in nature for seemingly forever and that magnifying glass will open up a whole new world of nature to them. Binoculars can have a similar effect, but they might need more help using them.

Go for a Hike! Or even just a walk around the block. Even though my family is staying home we still plan to get out for a walk each morning. Metro and regional parks can be a great place to really get out and stretch your legs, and they’re usually not too far from home.

 

HOW ABOUT YOU?

That’s my list. How about you? Do you have any recommendations to help families during this time? If so, please share them in the comments.

connection

We’re All Connected

The English Channel from space (Image: YouTube)


 

By Rochelle Leon

My friend Les is one of the most spiritual people I know. He often says the phrase, “We are all one,” or “We’re all connected.” I think it’s even part of the permanent signature line at the bottom of his emails. Before, when I heard this axiom, whether from Les or anyone else, I’d think, “Sure, okay, we’re all connected, makes sense.”

My thoughts on the subject were sincere, but not exactly deep. I took it more at face value, like a universal, spiritual truth, but I never really knew what it meant. I hadn’t actually thought about the how or the why. The sheer vastness of it seemed too complex and I wasn’t able to actually process the logistics of these “connections.” Perhaps I just wasn’t Zen enough to get it?

Then, recently, I had a realization about how often we’re touched by events that have nothing to do with us personally, yet still affect us as if they did. It was in this moment that I started to understand this principle. I stopped looking at it as a theory and started feeling it as a belief. And I have to tell you, I really haven’t been the same since.

Now, I’m no expert (if you’d like one, I can refer you to Les), but I thought this new way of looking at this concept “we are all one” was worth sharing.

Okay, yes, we’re all connected! Another less spiritual, though still universal truth is that people LOVE sports analogies (and even though I know very little about sports) I’m going to attempt to use one now! Here goes…

When you tune in to watch a big game – lets say basketball for example – most people focus on the players, the score, perhaps the coaches or the crowd. Do you ever think about the fact that literally hundreds if not thousands of people all have had a hand in your experience? In enjoying this one, single game? Think about all the people involved… those who sold the tickets, built the stadium, literally stitched together the player’s sneakers… the sports agents who negotiated the athlete’s contracts, the factory workers who made the basketballs, the parents who encouraged their sons to work hard and play their best… the cameramen who film the game, the people who wash the uniforms… and on and on and on!

You wouldn’t think that any of these people are connected to you, right? But they are! The experience you’re having right at that moment is because of them, it’s a collective one not just a personal one! And that goes for EVERY experience you have ever had or will ever have, in your entire life! Whatever you do, wherever you go, whatever you have; the food you eat, the music you hear, the car you drive, the water you drink – it all connects you to countless other people. Some whom you know incredibly well, some just indirectly, and most whom you have never met at all!

Think about your favorite movie and then actually watch the credits all the way through and read the list of hundreds of people who all worked tirelessly together to create it. Now think about all the other people in the world who love that film just as much as you do, who know all the lines word for word, just as you do. Think about your most beloved author or sports hero or musician whom you’ve never met, yet who has inspired you, influenced you, shaped your life in some way, all from a distance, without any knowledge at all of doing so.

Abraham Lincoln wisely said, “Writing, the art of communicating thoughts to the mind through the eye, is the great invention of the world… enabling us to converse with the dead, the absent, and the unborn, at all distances of time and space.” Imagine what he would think of our world today and how we can communicate with one another through television, film, the Internet, social media, cell phones, etc. The ways we can reach each other – it’s amazing!

Now take this line of thinking from this grander scale to a smaller, more personal one. For me, it makes me think about the person or people who sewed my wedding dress. The most beautiful, most meaningful garment I have ever worn and until this very moment, I have never paid any mind to the people who actually made it for me. I don’t even know who they are or even where they are. Not to mention the designer or the buyer for the store and on and on, all of who made my dream wedding dress a reality for me.

I also think about all the people who worked at the hospital on the days I gave birth to my children. I only remember the name of my obstetrician, not the names or faces of the nurses or the hospital staff, yet they were all integral in two of the most important experiences of my life.

When I went into labor with my first child, my water broke in the lobby of the hospital. Somebody cleaned that up!!! Did I even think about who that person was or to say thank you to them? Hopefully, I said thank you to all of the other people that I interacted with that day. So many people helped me to safely give birth to my two beautiful, healthy children and I am so humbled by that gift, and by all the people – most of whom are complete strangers to me – who helped give that to me.

It’s almost staggering when we start looking at life this way. When we start realizing that we are all part of each other’s experiences, that all of our lives are interwoven together in countless ways we can’t even begin to fathom. The gratitude and the sense of responsibility become overwhelming. And that awe grows even further when we think of how many of these people we never actually meet or see or even know who they are or even what their exact contribution is, but it exists and is powerful just the same!

Now, on top of all of that, think about the ways we connect that we don’t even fully understand. The invisible, unseen, eerie connections, the kind that give us all goose bumps and freak-you-out more than just a little bit when they catch you by surprise. Like, when you think of someone you haven’t seen in years and then out-of-the-blue you run into them the next day at the market. When you think to yourself that you’ve got to call your sister and then the phone rings at that exact moment and it’s her! When you meet someone for the first time and you feel a remarkable and inexplicable bond with them, like you’ve known them for years when you’ve only just met! These kinds of connections are real and powerful, even if completely illogical, which is why they send chills throughout our whole bodies when we feel them.

Our planet is billions of years old and yet we are all here at the same time, together, inexorably linked. That has got to mean something inherently meaningful! It makes you realize we’ve all got to be so much more aware, deliberate, and purposeful in our actions, reactions and interactions because everything we do and say has profound, far-reaching, rippling effects, casting far out into the Universe! As President Lincoln put it, throughout “time and space.”

So then, we are all in a constant state of either doing good or causing damage. Our consciousness of it makes no difference, it’s happening either way. It’s happening right now. Thus, we are all tasked with a huge responsibility, not only to ourselves, but to everyone and everything on this planet, including those who came before us and those who will be here long after us. If we can do this, if we can recognize this connection… well, just imagine the results! What a better place the world would be! And why not make the world a better place, since we’re all in it, together.

Rochelle Leon


Rochelle Leon is a writer, wife and mom. She formerly owned a greeting card company and is currently working on a novel. Rochelle has a passion for compassion and believes in a brighter future where everyone is a little kinder to one another. She lives in Southern California with her family.

compassion, kindness, Love

Kobe Bryant: 8/24

Image: A mural depicting deceased NBA star Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna is displayed on a building in Los Angeles. Mario Tama, Getty Images


 

By Rochelle Leon

If you had asked me a few weeks ago what I knew about Kobe Bryant, I would have told you he was a famous basketball player. That’s pretty much all I knew. I wasn’t a basketball fan, I had never watched a Lakers game and I don’t think I’d ever even seen Kobe Bryant play, except perhaps catching a highlight reel while waiting for the sportscaster to throw it back to the anchors. And yet, on Sunday January 26th 2020, I found myself glued to the TV, heartsick and weeping as I heard about his death and the 8 other souls, Gianna Bryant, John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, Sarah Chester, Payton Chester, Christina Mauser and Ara Zobayan, who perished in the helicopter crash earlier that morning.

Tragedies happen all too often and you would think as a culture we might start to become immune, but thankfully, we have not. And on this terrible day, when a helicopter fell out of the sky with 9 people on board, WE collectively mourned, all of us, the whole world, together. You could feel the universal swell of empathy and compassion and it felt like a spotlight on the best of humanity.

That night I had a dream about Kobe Bryant. I dreamt that he and I were having a conversation and he talked to me about success, faith and love. When I woke, I was a little rattled, because it was one of those dreams that seemed so real and so clear. Don’t worry, I didn’t think it meant that Kobe Bryant had just spoken to me from the great beyond, but it did make me realize that I had been genuinely affected by what happened and that I couldn’t just dismiss that.

It seemed wrong that I knew infinitely more about Kobe Bryant’s death, than I did his life, and all the other lives lost that day, so he next morning I turned on the TV to learn more about them. The first news story I saw was of course about Kobe. The reporter was interviewing someone who worked at the church he had attended. He spoke of the fact that Kobe Bryant was a devout Catholic. He went on to say Kobe had attended church by himself the very morning of his death, as he would often do, as to worship without being a distraction to the other parishioners during Sunday services. Hearing this did send a shiver down my spine. I just had a dream where Kobe Bryant talked to me about God! But until this moment, I had no idea he was a man of faith and honestly, I would not have assumed that. Which made me think, why wouldn’t I have assumed that?

Another news story I heard later that day focused on exactly that type of unfair assumption. The kind we all unfortunately have a tendency to make, shifting that spotlight now from the best of humanity, to the worst of it.

The story was about a video that had been recorded by one of the students at a local high school, taken the Monday morning after the helicopter crash. It was of a teacher speaking to a sea of Lakers jerseys and sad faces, and he was shockingly going on an angry and judgmental tirade about Kobe Bryant. He referenced the controversies and scandal surrounding his life and career and his words were the polar opposite of what you would imagine grieving, emotional students needed to hear. It was appalling, insensitive and insultingly ill timed! How dare he??? I was incensed! My first thought was, this sorry excuse for a teacher is an uninformed, judgmental, small-minded imbecile who should be fired and never teach again!!!

…But then, wasn’t I doing to him, the same thing he had done to Kobe Bryant? The same exact thing I had been so incensed about?

What if this rant was this teacher’s most shameful, most regrettable moment of his career? Perhaps his greatest mistake? We all make them. He is a teacher after all, is it possible that he has nurtured, supported, and encouraged hundreds of students for years and that this was just one isolated incident? On an ordinary day he could have been caught imparting wisdom, inspiring his students, and teaching invaluable lessons? Should I be assuming whom he is from this one news clip, judging him without having all the facts, projecting my own anger and preconceived notions upon him? Should this 10 second video be what defines this man? I didn’t even know what he said 5 minutes before the video or 5 minutes after!

This realization prompted me to re-watch the video. To my surprise, I wasn’t re-watching it at all, I actually watching it for the first time. You see, the section I had seen on the news was all of about 10 seconds and the video clip in its entirety was 4 minutes and 20 seconds. So in fact, I could hear what he said minutes before and after. I was very glad I listened.

He did in fact say some very harsh, very controversial and completely speculative things about Kobe Bryant. Things I definitely did not agree with or approve of him saying to High School students, especially in their raw emotional state. However, if you listen closely (and I can promise you I did), you’ll see he was also using this tragedy as a teachable moment. He was extending warnings to his students about carefully choosing your heroes and openly speaking your mind, even if your views may be unpopular. He cautioned that if any one of them in that very room were to be accused of the things Kobe had been accused of, they would probably go to jail and that money and power can get influential people out of a lot of precarious situations that ordinary people cannot get out of. He informed his class of the dangers of traveling by helicopter, explaining that they are one of the most dangerous types of transportation. He talked about how just because you have the money and means to do something, doesn’t always mean you should do it. And he warned that making selfish decisions could hurt those you love and those who love you. I didn’t agree with the way he was doing it, but I could clearly see his intentions were good and that his advice was honest and sound and valuable.

From everything I could tell, he was genuinely trying to reach these kids and help them to prevent making mistakes by idolizing someone who, though a beloved sports figure was, like all of us, in no way perfect.

Ummm… who was the uninformed, judgmental, small-minded imbecile now? Spoiler alert – it was me! I normally consider myself to be an open-minded, accepting, respectful, fair and kind person, so what in the world was I thinking? I wasn’t thinking – I was assuming! I judged him rashly and without all the facts. Who am I to decide who he (or anyone else) is, based on hearsay or sound bites? And yet, that’s exactly what I did… and that’s exactly what he did! And sadly, it’s what we ALL do, so much of the time!

Think about it, when you see a car swerving all over the place on the freeway, what is your knee-jerk reaction? “That idiot” (because they’re always an idiot! or moron! or maniac!)… “That idiot is texting! Or drunk! Or both!” How many times has your first thought been, “Gosh, I hope he’s alright! Maybe he’s having a heart attack or there’s something wrong with his car?” For whatever reason, it’s human nature to automatically assume the worst. And the saddest part is, it’s so ingrained in us, that most of the time we don’t even know we’re doing it! We go through our whole lives this way. But if we could only wake up to this backward way of thinking and focus on it just long enough to reverse our natural response into one of compassion and of giving the benefit of the doubt, it could literally, make all the difference in the world!

Simply put, what we do matters. Who we are matters. Whether you are an NBA super-star, a 13 year old girl, a mom, a dad, a coach, a pilot – all of us – we all matter. And how we treat each other, matters.

I’ve learned a lot about Kobe Bryant over the last week, but the thing that strikes me the most, even more than what an exceptional athlete he was – one the greats of all time or how he has inspired millions of people, was simply that he was just a man, a man who was deeply, deeply loved. Deeply loved by his family, friends, teammates, fans and the world. To fill the world with that much love in a lifetime seems like the best way I can think of to spend it.

Now, when I see the numbers 8/24, they hold a new and deeper meaning for me. They represent that extraordinary, sweeping kind of love – to give it, show it, receive it, enjoy it, and be grateful for it. And further, those numbers will always be a reminder to be kinder, more aware and more accepting… to be the very best we can be, separately and together as a team.

A few weeks ago, I hardly knew anything about Kobe Bryant other than that he was a famous basketball player. I know so much more now.

Rochelle Leon


Rochelle Leon is a writer, wife and mom. She formerly owned a greeting card company and is currently working on a novel. Rochelle has a passion for compassion and believes in a brighter future where everyone is a little kinder to one another. She lives in Southern California with her family.