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Parenting for Non-Violence

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We certainly struggle as parents when we hear about school violence. As we read the news feed and try to understand the family dynamics of the young men who engage in school shootings, we often ask: where were the parents? how did this happen? Clearly mental health issues can be a cause for such behavior - I am not solely blaming the parents here - yet we as parents can choose to be actors in our children's lives in ways that can hopefully help to prevent such tragedies.

I believe we can actually parent for non-violence. Most of our children have a natural tendency to do "the next right thing" - what Quakers call "growing into goodness." Our parenting style can support this process if we have a belief in the innate goodness of each individual. We can also undermine the confidence of our children if we believe that our role is "spare the rod and spoil the child" when disciplining them. Discipline - which comes from the Latin word "discere" (which means "to follow" as in a "disciple") - can certainly happen without violence. Discipline based upon natural consequences allows our children to face the results of their actions, be responsible, and still maintain their dignity.

So if we ask ourselves, "what is violence?" - what comes up for us? If we were to brainstorm a list of behaviors that are "violent" we might begin with the more physical examples (hitting, spanking, fighting) but soon we must move to more emotional examples (shaming, verbal abuse, gossip, neglect, withdrawal) as well as cultural forms of violence (sexism, racism, elitism, ageism, ableism). Do we really want to be "violent" with our children?

If we ask ourselves, "what is non-violence?" - a different set of behaviors and values emerge: love, respect, inclusion, community, peace, service to others, and others. So how can our parenting embrace these values?

There is a good formula for addressing issues: it is "non-violent communication" as defined by a psychologist named Marshall Rosenberg. It goes like this:

·        Observe without judgment: instead of saying "you are such a slob - just look at this room!" you can say "I see a room with dirty dishes, clothes all over the floor, and an unmade bed."

·        State your feelings: begin with "I" and take ownership for what you feel. "I feel sad and discouraged when I see this room."

·        State your needs: "I need a home where I can feel comfortable to walk into any room." Kids need to know that parents have needs, too.

·        Make a request: "I want this situation taken care of as soon as possible. If not there will need to be consequences."

Think about what this means: a child can correct her behavior without feeling attacked. That is parenting for non-violence.

All of us do better when we have the opportunity to make adjustments and maintain our dignity. Let's reduce violence in the world by beginning with our own families.

What are Quakers "for"?

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Edward Burrough, an early convert to Quakerism, described what Quakers are "for" in 1672, writing that:

"We [Quakers] are not for names, nor men, nor titles of Government, nor are we for this party nor against the other but we are for justice and mercy and truth and peace and true freedom, that these may be exalted in our nation, and that goodness, righteousness, meekness, temperance, peace and unity with God, and with one another, that these things may abound."
These words seem especially relevant today as we seek to educate our community to be informed skeptics of arbitrary power and discerning judges of character and intention.

Who are the people in our schools that we send out into the world on graduation day as they "commence" the next stage of their lives? Do we produce graduates who will only be successful in conventional ways (money, achievement, power) or do we produce individuals who will be beacons in troubled times, helping those around them to find comfort in truthfulness and courage in doing "the next right thing" in their lives.

Once you have joined a Quaker community, you will see that there is much to be celebrated and many good people whose good works have been of value to all. Yet we must remain vigilant in our application of the testimonies to our everyday lives:

·         Do I value the simplicity of straightforward speech and uncluttered perception so that I can focus on what is really important?

·         Do I seek true peace in my life, not just the absence of war but the presence of compassion and non-violence?

·         Do I maintain my integrity in all I say and do?

·         Do I create community, even with those of different faiths or political views?

·         Do I practice equality in my acceptance of others, providing not just the same gifts to each person but instead the specific gifts each person needs to have equal access to the "good life"?

·         Do I give back in service through an acknowledgement of my own privileged position in the world, recognizing how my path has been made easier from day one by the gifts of others?

·         Do I practice stewardship in my care for others and for the planet, realizing that "best practices" are not dictated by government regulations but instead by individual choices of conscience?

In the words of George Fox, a founding member of the Religious Society of Friends:

"Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone; whereby in them you may be a blessing, and make the witness of God in them to bless you."

Kids in tow, new to the area, and not quite sure if this is what they are looking for. What do we hope they find?

·        A parking lot full of cars with those bumper stickers we all love (you know what I mean!) as well as car seats, bike racks hanging off the back, kayaks on the roof, and windows showing the messy paraphernalia of childhood. Lots of bikes - parked in a sturdy bike rack - and evidence of families who are active and joyful in their lifestyles.

·        Welcoming signs - not just for adults - that express both the seriousness of our Quaker faith and the playfulness of the Divine in our lives. The quiet dignity of a beautiful Meeting House surrounded by the latest kids' garden projects and some leftover ornaments hanging on the trees.

·        A Friendly greeter (who is also kid-friendly) at the door who has the time (and social skills) to help these folks feel welcome - each and all of them. Name tags for all and clear signs as to where to go...

·        A First Day School room that is bright, cheerful, and age-appropriate in different ways, with other kids already there who have been taught through specific lessons and examples how to help new Friends feel welcomed and comfortable. The "curriculum" is easily accessible and the "circle of Friends" is easily widened. Adults in the room have had some training in working with children - if only a mini-workshop by a Meeting member who works with children - and the lessons are engaging and child-centered.

·        A library with resources for all - books for all ages, information for new seekers, research books for in-depth study, a clear system of organization, and a simple check-out policy.

·        Ah yes - Meeting for Worship! What to do with the kids? A loving acceptance of the distractions of childhood before they go to First Day School (or when they return from First Day School - did we explain this to our new family?) A reminder of the "spiritual equality" of all ministry in the Meeting - is it clear that we are a beloved community"? A seasoned and gathered Meeting that embraces al - and parents can sigh (their kids are safe and cared for) and settle into worship surrounded by loving acceptance.

·        A slow and gentle process of invitation to join - committees, potlucks, Bible study, or madrigal singing - with the suggestion of a "host family" to keep in touch with the new Friends.

·        A smattering of the kinds of workshops "we Quakers" do so well - AVP, Quakerism 101, Quaker Parenting, Quaker service - to let our new Friends know that we do good works that go beyond our Meeting.

·        A sense of overall well-being - we Quakers grow our meetings by attraction rather than promotion much of the time.


In Meeting for Worship this past Sunday (First Day, in Quaker parlance) at  Purchase Monthly Meeting there were several messages concerning George Fox's simple prescription for life:

"Walk cheerfully over the earth, speaking to that of God in every person"

While most of the time I emphasize the latter portion of this sentence - honoring the Divine in each of us, so aptly summed up in the Hindu phrase Namaste ("the godliness in me honors the godliness in you")  -  several speakers focused instead on the cheerfulness Fox implores us to embrace. Having just had a cranky morning at home, I am in awe of this challenge: you want me to be a cheerful part of this planet? What about those times when I am just too negative to be around?

In the Christian tradition there is even a more challenging request. Jesus said you should "love your enemies; do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you; and pray for those who treat you badly." (Luke 6:27-29) A tall order, no?

Well, in these tumultuous times (presidential election politics, economic uncertainty, strife and torment in many parts of the globe) here are two ideas that might bear some fruit. Can we be cheerful and loving with one another?   And can we pray for those who do harm, not to enable their wrongheaded actions but instead to invoke their own godliness within?

Seeking progress and not perfection, I propose that we go forward on this path to implement what the Dalai Lama calls simple "loving kindness." May we increasingly find ways to support one other in our communities.


Namaste - Teacher John


 Here is the handout from a talk I am giving tomorrow on the challenges for parents when we watch our children struggle with developmental issues:

1.     Welcome: it's good to talk about our roles as parents

2.   Quaker beliefs: growing into goodness/minding the Light in each of us/ integrity in word and deed/experience life on life's terms

3.   Freud - a healthy adult is able "to love and to work"

4.   Developmental tasks to be accomplished:

·        experience my gender and my sexuality...

·        learn the difference between being assertive and aggressive...

·        learn to be more independent...

·        figure out the person I want to be using the traits of the person I am...

·        learn to live in the middle and not be too big or too small...

·        learn to be a critical thinker...

·        establish and maintain healthy friendships with peers...

·        come to terms with my changing body..

5.    Good parenting versus overindulgence: what does overindulgence look like?

·        No firm limits and expectations

·        More concern about child's feelings than family needs

·        Parents emotionally overattentive

·        Too much authority too soon

·        Children expect to have things done for them

·        There is too much emphasis on perfection

6.   Research on overindulgence in children:

·        Poor development of conscience

·        More aggression and non-compliance

·        Lack of assertion skills

·        Lack of self-confidence

·        Less concern for others

·        A sense of entitlement

·        Overly dependent on parents

·        Feel "too big"

7.    Good parenting versus overindulgence in the face of challenges:

·        Separate your pain from your child's pain.

·        Avoid "interviewing for pain" (Thompson).

·        Praise appropriately.

·        Set limits and stick to them.

·        Realize that you are the parent (not their friend).

8.   Respect your child's ability to handle the situation:

·        Empathy: "That must be very hard..."

·        Pause - allow them to experience your kind attention.

·        Turn it over: "What are you going to do about it?"

·        Affirmation: "You are a smart/brave/honest/caring individual. I am sure you can handle this."

·        Keep the door open: "Let me know how this goes."

9.   Raising our children to be adults we'd like to have as friends: what are the qualities of my friends that I admire...

It is my privilege to work with you and your families.

"Let your life speak" gets at the heart of Quakerism as an experiential faith: we strive to live what we believe and do as we say. Each one of us may be challenged by a particular testimony - simplicity comes to mind for me - yet we move forward, without judgment of one another's sincere efforts, to embrace the belief that our relationship with the Spirit is immediate and immanent in our daily lives.

So what does each of us do to embrace a "call to action"? It can be as simple as this: change one thing in your life:

·         Pick one area you would like to improve and brainstorm ideas for change.

·         Be humble and simple in your choices: small steps can lead to big results.

·         Pick something you will do ("purchase more Fair Trade items") rather than something you will stop doing ("stop eating sweets").

·         Make a simple plan to remind yourself of this new endeavor (a note on the fridge, a daily message on your phone, a gentle nudge from a family member).

·         Go "public" with your plan: we do better when others know of our efforts to make changes in our lives.

·         Bounce back from slips and have a sense of humor about yourself and how hard it is to create change in our lives!

John Dewey said that the goal of education is "to build a world." We can strive every day to create the tools that will enable each of us to become architects of a world that embraces all beings with love and compassion. Blessings on your efforts!


Teacher John Scardina

Quakers have long believed that human nature contains the capacity for living with others in peace. Our evolution as a species, however, has been fraught with instances of war and violence. Are we doomed by our biology - survival of the fittest amidst "nature red in tooth and claw" - or is there hope for future harmony on a greater scale?

Steven Pinker, an evolutionary psychologist at Harvard, has long been a student of human development. I have read one of his books - How The Mind Works - and found it to be an exhaustive and informative study of human cognition and brain functioning (basically we process information really well....).  Now, Pinker has published a new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature (reviewed in the New York Times on 11/29/11), which provides concrete evidence that violence has declined significantly over thousands of years. A reasonable extrapolation then becomes this statement: if incidents of violence decrease, the possibilities for peaceful resolution of conflict increase. Hope springs eternal!

For me, this is a statistical affirmation of a basic Quaker tenet: that given the proper nurture and a reliance upon the Spirit of Truth for guidance, children "grow into goodness" and continue to develop into moral adults.

 The idea of an evolution of consciousness is not new: it was articulated by Teilhard de Chardin in his book The Phenomenon of Man  and elsewhere. And, indeed, as we all "grow into goodness," would violence necessarily fall away from our lives?

In this winter celebration of the Light amidst the Darkness may our faith and our science lead us to believe that the ongoing story of humankind - our own continuing revelation - is toward peace on earth and good will to all.

With blessings,

Teacher John

What's Your Mindset?

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In her book MINDSET: THE NEW PSYCHOLOGY OF SUCCESS, Carol Dworkin talks about fundamental differences in the way we approach the world - through school, work, and relationships - to either maximize our development as people or remain stuck in our present life situation. She presents two worldviews - the "fixed mindset" and the "growth mindset" - that represent these approaches to life:  

                        Fixed Mindset:                                 Growth Mindset:    

                        Intelligence is static...                     Intelligence can be developed...   

                        Look smart at all costs...                 Remain curious and humble...

                        Avoid challenges...                           Embrace challenges...

                        Give up on obstacles...                    Persist in the face of obstacles...

                        Effort is fruitless...                           Effort is the key...

                        Ignore negative feedback...            Learn from negative feedback...

                        Feel threatened by the                   Find inspiration in the

                              success of others...                          success of others...       

                        Lose interest if things are hard...  Get motivated if things are hard...

Parents can be examples of either mindset for their children, as can teachers for the students in their classrooms. Wouldn't we want those we serve and love to see life as an unfolding adventure rather than a process of protecting themselves from the trials and tribulations of the world? And how can you build resilience if you always give up too easily (i.e., "That's not for me"...."I just don't have the talent"..."I'm too (old/tired/busy) for that")?

Quaker schools embody the growth mindset. Human development is seen as the :"continuing revelation" of our gifts as we "grow into goodness" and build fulfilling lives, day by day.

SO - Try new experiences (the opera, NASCAR, a yoga class)...learn a new skill or hobby (the violin, welding, sailing) about people who can be role models (Michael Jordan, Mother Teresa, the Quakers)...ask yourself "what would (my role model) do in this situation?" and see if you can act in a positive way, too...learn to give and receive feedback with compassion and acceptance.

People who live long and productive lives never stop learning from their mistakes and continually work on themselves and their skills. How about trying on a "growth mindset"?                         

Keeping Life in Perspective

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How do we keep ourselves "right-sized" as we go through our daily routines? What allows us to keep things in proper perspective, seeking to find a balance in our approach to the world?


My wife and I recently joined two other couples on a trip to South America. After some sightseeing in Peru, we crossed over into Bolivia, where we met with the staff from the Quaker Bolivia Link (QBL), an international organization dedicated to the reduction of poverty amongst the indigenous peoples who live around La Paz. Projects are developed with eligible communities, with each family making a contribution to the effort and each community taking on the responsibility for future monitoring and maintenance of the projects. Travelling to a different village and a different project each day - projects such as community water systems, solar greenhouses, llama herd management, and trout farming - we came to meet many people from remote villages, living above 12,000 feet on the altiplano with few personal possessions and the barest of living accommodations. Delighted by our presence, and thankful for the organization's support, these men, women, and children were uniformly friendly and smiling, sharing with us their food and music and dancing in ways that were heartwarming and remarkable. It was a brilliant reminder that simplicity need not be onerous but can also embrace joyfulness. It also became clear that individual needs that are met through community efforts are further enriched by the sharing of hard work and dedication amongst neighbors and friends.


This has become my favorite way to travel - to experience the world's wonders and also meet the world's people in meaningful ways. Given our relative affluence, might we look to "service travel" more often for ourselves and our families?


My hope is that we might keep ourselves "right-sized" in our desires and hopes, being mindful of the level of need around the world and the limited resources available on our planet. Simplicity and community - two of our Quaker testimonies - are useful guidelines for keeping "right-sized" as we move forward in our lives.


Wishing one and all a blessed and healthy spring...     


In peace,

Teacher John Scardina  

I recently spent time in El Salvador, building a house in the village of San Jose Villanueva. Six colleagues from Friends Academy (a Quaker school on Long Island) and I worked through the Epilogos Foundation in providing a liveable space for a family whose only source of income is selling tamales and cheese to neighbors. It was a life-changing experience, but more importantly brought home several lessons about service to others:

·        We are always better off than someone else: even when our condition in life seems to be at the bottom, there are others in greater need. Perspective is a valuable gift that can keep us from feeling "too big" or "too small" - what one psychiatrist calls the "grandiosity versus despair" continuum.

·        Giving of time and work is valuable in a different way from giving money : The opportunity to experience with body, mind, and spirit the actual living environment of those we serve is what makes actual service in person a deeper experience. We were lucky enough to be working side by side with the family who would live in the house, and the bonds that formed between us and that family are quite remarkable.

·        Service is the best antidote to depression: Carl Roger, a pioneer in client-centered psychology, was once asked what to do when one felt profoundly depressed. His answer was quite telling: pack a bag, leave your home, find someone worse off than you are, and be of service. While in El Salvador, we met with Sister Peggy O'Neill, who runs the Centro Art para la Paz (Art Center for Peace) in the town of Suchitoto and who has been in El Salvador since 1986, which was the middle of the twelve year war that ravaged the people of that country. Her commitment to service and healing through art that was forged in the midst of the horrors of war shines on her face, even as she speaks of unspeakable atrocities she witnessed.  Sister Peggy exemplifies what William James called "the religion of healthy mindedness" - the choice to be positive and life-affirming in one's actions and thoughts - and her commitment to others is a valuable model for overcoming our often self-indulgent mindset.

·        Service benefits the giver as much as the receiver: To quote Mario, the Salvadoran brother-in-law of one of my colleagues: "Thank you for coming to El Salvador and helping those who really need it. I'm sure you've changed some lives, as well as your own." This certainly changed my life.

 Doing service as a family is a valuable way to exemplify the values we wish to embody as parents and wish to see in our children: love towards others, gratitude for what we have, and an unselfish willingness to make the world a better place. We can find opportunities for service everywhere, so don't be put off by lack of funds or time. Remember Kant's categorical imperative - "Act in every situation as you would wish every other person to act" - and go out and make a difference.


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