On Connecting To Strangers
The Sidewalk Talk Blog
Last month, I was sitting on a sidewalk in Heidelberg, Germany. A man had been watching us for thirty minutes so a volunteer walked over and invited him to sit and talk.
I was privileged with getting to listen to him. Neither German, nor English, were his first language. And yet, we found our way together, cobbling together a mix of German and English.
Last month I also got to hear the leadership stories of Dr. Narendra Thagunna in Nepal and Patricia Maria Martins, in São Paulo, Brazil. We did not share a common language. Being a foreigner, learning a language, gave me a special kind of reverence for their courage to speak in their non-native language for our interview series and podcast.
Not judging non-native speakers is a shift inside me. As a teen, I had assumptions I made about people who did not speak the same language as me. "They are hard of hearing" or "they are not as smart." One of the great joys of aging and practicing listening at Sidewalk Talk is how my brain has changed and it quite naturally no longer makes that assumption or at least I notice assumptions I make about people really quickly, now.
How do we listen, if we do not share the same language?
I quite literally deploy all the ingredients of HEAR, our new organizational training protocol, here at Sidewalk Talk. H is for Honor. E is for Embody. A is for Accept we Assume and Assumptions Check, and R is for respond.
I come with a deep intention to HONOR this person as whole and deserving of love and respect just because they are human. This intention shapes my wonder and curiosity, my respect, and my ability to stay silently reverent. Part of showing honor to someone who speaks a different language is to invite a person to teach me the exact correct pronunciation of their name. To share with me some of the favorite words from their language or if they are struggling with a word in my native language, can they teach me that word in their language, and I practice saying it with them, as a show of honor and respect for their native tongue and as a way to be in resonance with them.
I stay inside my own skin and stay as present as possible, but I also pay attention to their body language so we can share an EMBODIED experience. Getting too analytic, intellectually can make a person feel like they are in a petri dish. Instead, I am a big ball of ME and they get to be a big ball of THEM and I notice them as a total self and they notice me as a total self.
3. Assumptions check
I have become deeply curious about my assumption making brain. I make assumptions about others, about myself, about the world, and it is now a natural habit to question virtually every assumption I make. ASSUMPTIONS CHECK and ACCEPTANCE that all brains make assumptions helps me not make that fateful assumption that a different language spoken means hard of hearing, not intelligent, or any other assumptions a person can make.
My RESPONSES incorporate Honor, Embodiment, and Assumptions Checking. I am not merely repeating what I have heard but responding to "who this person is". In the simplest of terms, I let my heart speak.
Back to my exchange with the man in Heidelberg. As the man sat, he began to shiver. I noticed his jacket was not warm. I found a blanket and covered him with it. He smiled. He shared the essence of what was true for him. In some moments I could not understand the message exactly, but I could see and feel in my body the general music and I stayed with him and leaned forward and shared what I was hearing in word and energy. He smiled again. Then he said, I was feeling alone before I sat down. Now I am not. And in a way, I heard him better than I could, if our conversation had been filled with words.
Today is International Volunteers Day and we have 7000 of those here at Sidewalk Talk.
Volunteers are a lively bunch because they are CHOOSING to turn up rather than beholden to turn up because of a wage.
The volunteers here at Sidewalk Talk are some of my favorite people, and many have become my closest friends. It is not uncommon for me to tear up talking to other volunteers about their experiences at Sidewalk Talk.
Here are my favorite things about Sidewalk Talk volunteers…
Whoa...these are really good people.
In a society that increasingly does not engage with a church or organized religion, my hope is Sidewalk Talk continues to grow in our community with each other and we have some hopes for more of that in 2020.
And, it turns out, volunteering is good for us. Check this research out from the Encyclopedia on Aging and Public Health.
“There are five reasons for benefits to [volunteering]: enhanced social integration; distraction from the agent's own problems; enhanced meaningfulness; increased perception of self‐efficacy and competence; and improved mood or more physically active lifestyle. Adult altruism (i.e., voluntary behavior that is “motivated by concern for the welfare of the other, rather than by anticipation of rewards”) has been associated with improved morale, self‐esteem, positive affect, and well‐being. The links between altruism and mental and physical health have been studied.” (Encyclopedia of Aging and Public Health)
Post S.G. (2008) Altruism and Volunteerism. In: Loue S.J., Sajatovic M. (eds) Encyclopedia of Aging and Public Health. Springer, Boston, MA
I sat curled up in bed this morning. I had a post on loneliness I was going to share on the blog but reading Spring Washam’s book, A Fierce Heart, in preparation for our podcast interview later today, I was moved by her storytelling and how important it is to listen to stories of calling. I welcome you to these intimate stories of others here at Sidewalk Talk and hope you feel their calling and let their stories inspire us all over the holidays. These leaders are all over the globe bringing love and connection to the street. Let their love shine bright in you and perhaps share the story of Sidewalk Talk listening with your family to ignite a new kind of conversation.
In absurd times, we need absurd amounts of love, - Brad Montague.
If you want to hear each of these leaders tell their stories, in their own words, head over to the #GivingTuesday page and scroll to the bottom for the audio and video clips of these leaders here and hear Heather, Esther, and Dr. Thangunna on the podcast. If this movement calls to you, invest your time, your heart, and consider helping us locate 100 monthly financial investors /donors to reach our #GivingTuesday goal on December 3. $20 per month will help us keep all 92 of our chapters and 7000 listeners creating the kinds of wellness for people, our politics, and our planet.
I volunteer for a global movement called Sidewalk Talk. We set up chairs in the streets and offer to listen to passers by. We don’t solve problems. We don’t give advice. We simply offer non-judgemental, empathic listening; the opportunity to sit with a stranger and be heard.
Newcastle is at 55°N latitude. We had one warm, sunny outing about 18 months ago but most of the time it’s freezing. We often take our chairs to a city centre square where the folk who have nowhere else to go hang out on park benches. There was a fatal stabbing in the same spot a couple of months ago.
Not exactly cosy. So why do I go back time and time again?
The answer, it seems, is not what I thought when I embarked on this…..
The Power of Listening in Coaching
I originally trained in a client-centred coaching approach, based on Carl Rogers’ principle that if we hold our clients in ‘Unconditional Positive Regard’ they can largely solve their own problems. Later, I was deeply inspired by Nancy Kline’s Thinking Environment and her concept of ‘generative attention.’ Personal experience with countless clients testified to these approaches; there is a profoundly simple power in listening to bring about change.
For several years, though, I had a growing sense that my work wasn’t REALLY making a difference in the world. It started as a mild sense of unease, maybe even distaste at the ‘privilege’ of the sphere I was working in. Every client that actually makes it to coaching (or indeed any listening service) has overcome huge social, psychological and financial barriers. How many thousands or even millions were there for whom these barriers were simply insurmountable?
Then one day in 2017 Sidewalk Talk appeared in my social media feed. I watched a TED-style talk by the amazing founder, Traci Ruble. I was gripped. Maybe Sidewalk Talk was the thing I was looking for – a chance to give something back.
Observing reactions to global events added to my restlessness. I often found myself thinking about the universal human pain that lies behind every act of greed, blame, hatred and violence. Whether in our homes, workplaces, political systems or street gangs are we not all just hurting human beings trying to protect ourselves? Even our economy, based on growth, fuels a striving for more. We fill the gaping holes in our hearts with perceived success, wealth, and more stuff. What would it be like to live in a world where we were OK as we were? Maybe if there was more listening without judgement we could lessen some of the pain? Maybe I could contribute to positive change in the world by bringing Sidewalk Talk to Newcastle….
So, I threw myself into it with altruistic intent. I would ‘do good’ in the world.
What I wasn’t anticipating, though, was the ‘good’ the world would do in me…
Getting BackHaving done about 25 of these outings now, I’ve come to recognise a repeating pattern in the effect they have on me. In the hours leading up to an event I feel a mounting sense of apprehension. I’ve created stories to explain this away – mostly about how many pulls there are on my time and if I was being kind to myself I’d stop taking things like this on. Then, as I’m arriving and we’re setting up our chairs, the stories morph into fears of judgement and rejection – the other volunteers probably think I’m a flaky event organiser; nobody is going to want to sit down with me; what we’re doing is crazy.
Then we start. And this amazing thing happens.
As I reach out to passing strangers; as I practice genuine acceptance when people give us a wide berth or turn our offer down; as I sit with someone who hasn’t washed for weeks and battle with a rising physical repulsion to the odour; as I listen with curiosity to someone who passionately shares opinions with which I strongly disagree, I start to soften towards myself. As I practice holding non-judgemental space and accepting the human being in front of me, they give the same back to me. In the act of listening I also feel heard. I am not judged. I am OK.
I return home exhilarated.
The magic of human-human connectionIt is a deeply humbling experience to connect with a stranger in this way. I am blown away by the beauty, pain, humour, vulnerability, creativity, wisdom and compassion in their stories. How easy it would be to despair if I only focused on the suffering they tell of. But there is hope in the magic of human-to-human connection.
They say that we teach what we need to learn. I am learning more about myself through Sidewalk Talk than I have through most of the professional CDP programmes that I have attended put together. Certainly I am discovering that I not the superhuman ‘empath’ that I aspired to be. It turns out I am just a hurting human being. And listening to another human being has incredible healing power. It also turns out, that heart-centred listening is not a capability. It is a practice. Likewise becoming human. So, it seems, it is not such an altruistic endeavour I’ve embarked on after all. Perhaps, in fact, there is a perfectly imperfect, human selfishness in it too.
And yes, sometimes there aren’t so many people who choose to sit down with us, but as one of our volunteers so beautifully put it: Our success is not how many people we listen to. Our success is that we are here.
Find out more about the global Sidewalk Talk movement and our HEAR programme for organisations on our website, or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Transforming business by developing exceptional leaders | Executive Coach | Leadership Consultant | Speaker
I volunteer for a street listening project Sidewalk Talk. Little did I know what gifts 'giving back' would bring to me when I embarked on this journey. With deep gratitude to founder Traci Ruble and my lovely volunteers Geof Ellingham, Christina Gates, Katie Demain, Laura Cook, Alan Ross, Rob Baker, Cath Brown, Ann Hall, Karen Wilson, Tara Case, Megan Hall, Angie Main, Sally Norris. #listening #connection #community.
The Heidelberg Sidewalk Talk listeners pulled up chairs in the freezing cold Monday night on an empty stretch of sidewalk and made it warm with connection. What if our communities were places of belonging? What problems could we solve in the world if this was our reality? Pictured are people from all over the world in this very diverse city speaking many different languages.
Are you responsible for Sidewalk Talk’s movement to create culture change one heart-centered conversation at a time?
You probably are and don’t even know it.
You are a Sidewalk Talk creator if you;
What do you feel inside when you let yourself really register how Sidewalk Talk is because of you?
Let that wash over you for a second.
Every little thing you choose to do to keep this Sidewalk Talk bus driving along the highway, banners out the windows, gas in the bus, is you raising your hand and saying “Look I see all the problems in the world and I know we can solve them if we can first connect."
"Everything I want to change in this world is possible from the starting point of heart-centered dialogue.”
If you have not yet become a part of the Sidewalk Talk awakening rippling across the world to wake up hearts to make us healthier, happier, and wiser, what would be different about your daily well being if you were fully on board?
How would it feel to say out loud to people you know “Yeah human connection is the thing that is going to save us. We cannot be healthy people, with a healthy planet, with healthy equality, and healthy politics unless we prioritize connection to each other no matter how different we are.”
Sidewalk Talk has very concrete impacts on the world.
Sidewalk Talk is in 92 locations across 15 countries - we have doubled in size since last year.
Our goal is to create more ease and joy for chapter leaders, a clear link to their impact, and more frequently listening everywhere. The big goal is to listen to 11,000 people a month around the globe. Can you imagine the ripple effects of that?
Here is what Sidewalk Talk does with money we earn:
1. First, all money goes to Social Good who are our bosses so they have to approve what we do with our money.
2. Money is making our impact 3x more efficient. In the old days we didn’t even have a website! Here is our stance on money.
3. Our mission of connection guides our growth. Intentional growth keeps us out of “harmful hustle” that leads to the disconnection problem in the first place. What is coming? A global and diverse advisory board is coming together to keep our heart focus and inclusion to all voices central and we are crafting a community voting system to influence direction. Everything we do with marketing messaging and partnering activities must have service rather than growth as its core ethic.
So if you are new to us, these are how we move through the world.
You are here because this is your mission. You have been called to it.
We invite you to stretch by asking others to join in.
For #GivingTuesday we need 100 monthly angel investors to get fully behind this mission with a monthly investment.
Maybe you are called to be that monthly angel investor. Or maybe you are called to go find those angels. You are making the world a better place.
Thank you for taking this stand to create connection, inclusion, belonging, and wellness in a divided and disconnected world.
A friend was telling me she was a big fan of a teacher who taught anger management. Then she began to volunteer for the organization and was surprised at how angry folks were inside the very organization hoping to dispel anger.
We chuckled together because we both knew that often we teach what we most need to learn. I started a listening project because I am a shitty listener and forget that I am a human being who needs other human beings. My nickname when I was in corporate life was “the machine” because I could get so much done in a day at great expense to my own well-being. So I bring a lot of humility to this work of listening and perhaps that willingness to be a beginner over and over makes me the best possible teacher. I know how hard it is to listen. As a result, I have reflected on what I have learned over the years and we have built a new organizational curriculum called HEAR.
Here is the rub...Sidewalk Talk is over 7000 volunteers and 92 chapter leaders and it is easy for my “people pleaser” “machine-like-self” to work around the clock to try to meet every person’s needs. I have certainly erred in that direction from time to time, that is for sure, but mostly I say no to a lot of pulls on my energy and time so I can stay a loving human. Some folks don't like boundaries - they feel mean but actually boundaries are a big part of connection. My heart’s desire is to walk the talk and all the volunteers who soar at Sidewalk Talk hold the same ethic to HEAR each other. Let me just say, some of the best humans I have ever met in my whole life, are inside this project.
Friday, in between psychotherapy sessions, I had an hour call booked with a volunteer who does design for us and our marketing person. I slowed down enough to say “Hey I am coming to this call with some high-intensity couples sessions so I am a little wobbly and feeling the pressure of our short time together to get a lot done. What are you bringing - good or bad?” Their answers about their lives, their kids, took all of four minutes but the remaining “worker-bee” conversation was filled with connection, joy, and creativity largely due to how we shared and listened at the start of our conversation. I still caught myself interrupting, feeling the crunch of time, and then I would come back, just like in any awareness practice, and remembered to HEAR these beautiful souls on this call with me.
Our successes and our failures to be big-hearted humans with each other led to the development of our new organizational training called HEAR that we bring to those of you who want to experience the magic of Sidewalk Talk. It is way more than training, it is a stance. When we all feel life-affirming connections at work we are more eager and engaged. Who doesn’t want that?
HEAR stands for Honor, Embody, Accept We Assume, and Respond.
Honor is a bow. We come to each conversation willing to see a person as having many parts. We bring reverence for their humanity in a very special, almost sacred way (certainly not a machine-like way). Everyone has great joys and great heartaches, no matter if they are a homeless vet or a wealthy CEO.
Embody is a word that was meaningless to me twenty years ago but is perhaps the MOST important part of my listening practice. I am not connecting with you with my judging brain but my whole being of feelings, sensations, and presence. When I am inside my own skin I also know when I need a break or need to set a limit.
Accept We Assume is a dozy for some. Here is the scoop...our brains are hard-wired to notice difference, have bias, and make assumptions. If we accept that our brains do this we can course correct. If we deny, we will continue to perpetuate disconnection and bias. “Oh look, I just assumed that person doesn’t speak English because of what they look like?” or “Oh look my boss just set a boundary with me which means they are a jerk?” Those are both assumptions. We have biases based on role, identity, religion, appearance, age, voice, and the list goes on. It is O.K. The thing to remember is don’t believe your assumptions. Open beyond them and the connection that awaits is magical.
Finally, responding is way more than repeating back what you heard. Responding is a facial, tonal, verbal and full-hearted intentional communication that says “I see you and I am with you.” There is no agenda to change this person’s state. What our initial research has shown is listeners feel just as great as the talkers. We all feel less alone in a heart-centered dialogue.
I hope you might consider taking up the practice of HEAR wherever you go. Taking the time to honor each other, embody our whole self, accept that assumptions will crop up to be dealt with and responding with intention in our listening allows us to make our organizations life-affirming rather depleting and humanizing, rather than dehumanizing. We need more of that in this world, now more than ever. Join in. I can vouch that since I started applying HEAR my whole world has become brighter.
If you are in Atlanta, GA, San Francisco, CA, New Jersey, Greater Los Angeles, the UK, and Western Europe, we have spots for 2 pro bono HEAR training's for organizations interested in trying our model out in each area. Training always includes bringing your team out to listen on the sidewalk. Complete this application here.
I was getting my kids breakfast in our tiny apartment that was already 85 degrees at 9am in Barcelona Spain, still not quite recovered from packing our house the week before. I had not checked my phone in a week but happened to pick it up as I was waiting for the coffee to finish. To my surprise, I see a message from the Sidewalk Talk volunteer team that someone from Oprah Magazine had reached out to us.
Would Being in Oprah finally ignite city leaders who have not launched yet?
I grinned. Then I immediately went from joy to “Oh no, do we have good enough WiFi here to take a call?” and “This apartment gets to 95 degrees during the day, where am I going to take this call?” and “What is the time difference?” Once my brain sorts that the next place I go is to the excitement and vision for Sidewalk Talk that “Yes we can widen our impact”.
Then I get hopeful and have all kinds of fantasies about how this press will not only bring new energy to the project but invigorate city leaders who have signed up to lead a chapter but have not been out to listen yet. I am always thinking about these leaders. I lose sleep thinking about them. How can we help them go live? What is in the way of them getting out there and listening? Is there some operational piece that we could work on for them to make it easier without ‘overtaxing’ our people, our families, and our pocketbook? I go to sleep every night with these questions on my mind. (If you are a leader reading this, let us know. Email the city leader team.) But an Oprah Magazine article? Maybe this will be the thing to ignite those leaders to take a leap of heart.
Being Interviewed Brings New Clarity About What I Stand For As Person
My favorite thing about being interviewed is I get to know myself more. As I wandered around in my nightgown, talking to Zoe on the phone, I started getting shushed from my husband and kids in the other room because I started getting loud. The heart fire started to glow in me and come out in my words. Our sense of connection to each other is the lifeblood of everything we create, do, or want as humans. Connection is such a key ingredient to our health and survival that I want us to be provocative out there on the sidewalk….offering it right out there in public. Moreover, we aren’t suggesting that connection is only for those who are suffering - nor is it about helping. Nope. Connection is the magic vitamin of the heart and soul. We have an epidemic of loneliness because we have devalued connection.
Heart-Centered connection turns to love which then turns to high integrity action
If we are good at heart-centered connection, guess what happens? We are better at all the other stuff. We are better at conflict resolution because we love each other. We live equality because we love each other. We take responsibility for past injustices because we love each other. We are better at considering the wellness not just of our own community but of everyone else and the planet as a whole because we love each other. Like it or not, we are an interconnected global family. We have a lot of people on this spinning ball and only connection will allow us to thrive.
What is more, this is not the first time Oprah Magazine has covered loneliness. So why do the story a second time. First, there are so many cool connection type projects to cover. But second, there are cool projects cropping up, because loneliness is an issue.
It was funny, before sitting down to write this morning I had to nurse my cold and wait for my Dayquil to kick in. I was watching a show on tiny homes and how there are so many ways people are hungry to reclaim their time so they can spend their time doing what matters, connecting.
Do you know you are a good person?
Do you know you are valuable because of who you are, not what you do?
Do you have a regular practice of self-compassion when you forget?
What does any of this have to do with Sidewalk Talk?
Sidewalk Talk is a PRACTICE....we exist to explore, learn, grow, and deepen our practice of heart-centered listening and connection.
It feels good to be out there on the sidewalk where there is a greater diversity of people who we might not run into otherwise. Our lives are enriched by others’ stories. That is our jam - to widen our embrace to more and more different kinds of people. To diversify our inner and outer ecosystem because diverse ecosystems are the most thriving and long-living ones.
Sometimes a person plops down in a chair and they confide some pain, or some heartache, or some really big need. And it feels really really good to be a benevolent human who can connect with someone in need. It feels good to help. For Sidewalk Talk listeners it also feels good to know others struggle with life, just like we do.
There is a temptation that we all slide into that I invite us to consider a bit together. (No finger wagging or shaming anyone here. Be curious and gentle with yourself ok?)
Sometimes, inside, we volunteer because we are trying to get away from some bad feelings we have about ourselves. Guilt. Shame. A feeling of unlovability. Not enoughness. You get my drift. It is shadow stuff. And every human has shadow stuff. It is normal. I have it too.
Our work is to learn about the less kind parts of ourselves and embrace them so we can listen from love rather than lack or “connection” rather than “separation”.
Want to know what Sidewalk Talk has taught me about these shadow parts? My feelings of lack can get in the way of connection. Sometimes they can be beautiful feul for shared vulnerability if I can connect with them but often, when volunteering, they can create a barrier with someone who is sitting down to talk.
When can our own ‘not good enough feeling’ block connection?
I may need to “help” or “advise” or “fix” so I can feel good enough. Or I may need to save or rescue so I can compensate and feel “better than”. Inadvertently and quite unintentionally, I am imposing on this person that I need them to be smaller than me so I can feel better about myself. We have had volunteers show up and tell me ‘I really want to advise this person on what to do with their life. It isn’t enough to just listen.’
If you listened to my interview with Julian Plumadore on the podcast this week about listening to homeless folks, we laughed that fixing is not actually helpful for it robs that person of the agency and dignity to know what is best for them. What they need most is humble listening and someone willing to sit in the muck and discomfort together and the strength that brings allows people to organically hear their own empowered wisdom.
One of our volunteers, Barbara Myers, is perhaps better at embodying this than anyone else inside the Sidewalk Talk organization. When she listens, week after week, on the streets of San Francisco in the roughest neighborhoods, there is a trust she has in folks who sit down to share. She believes in their dignity and their wisdom.
But Barbara, as I have talked more with her, is very serious about the things she does in her life to know her value from the inside out. She doesn’t over give. She exercises. She says no to things. She prays. Jen Singer interviewed Barbara last week.
If any of us need our “listening” or “volunteering” to make up for a sense of not feeling good enough inside, we may feel like we need to go out and save people in order to feel better.
We love our volunteers feel good and enlivened from widening their embrace. We also love that their practices of self-compassion and self-exploration allow them to be more fully present. Part of serving the communities we live in is to come from fullness, love, and equality. We are serious about practicing that here.
Four people turned up tonight - FOUR magical unicorns.
Within minutes I felt the same level of heart and openness and shared willingness to grow and learn that I have felt over the years in San Francisco at Sidewalk Talk. We each went around and talked about what drew us to sitting and listening and how our experiences in our lives shaped how we view people and how we wanted to serve as a listener.
I mean seriously...how often do you have a first meeting with strangers in a different country and get to come together and co create and be vulnerable all at the same time like this? I am still pinching myself. Real intimacy in a first meeting.
We already have date number two set up.
As we parted ways each member hugged me and said goodbye to me in German. I beamed as they did. All night we had been speaking in English. This felt like a grand gesture that they hugged me and said goodbye and safe travels in their native tongue. What I felt was “you are one of us now”. I told them so. They smiled. And we all left energized.
And so it is with this project - the often under-talked-about magic bond among chapter members where strangers come together to build something special. Some of my dearest friends and people I admire so much are the people I have met listening on sidewalks. We gather month after month to listen and then have dinner together. It is a family of kindness and belonging.
Many people move to new cities and think it will be easy to make friends like university days. But without that vehicle of college, it is hard, really hard. I have done it...twice.
Tonight, I feel so much more hopeful and expansive.
40 seconds…every forty seconds someone dies by suicide around the world. They did not commit a crime. They were escaping what felt like inescapable pain. They were desperate for relief.
For this World Mental Health Day let’s do something together.
In a world where we increasingly value wealth accumulation, attention rather than connection, talking over listening, the need to be extraordinary over the beauty in our ordinariness we are creating the ingredients for mental illness. Add to this reality all the historical traumas, injustices, and degradation to our planet that live on in our world systems and in our hearts and minds the question we can ask is “What can I do today and every day to contribute to creating a mental health promoting community?”
Can we stop blaming people?
A few years ago, my youngest son was depressed. I didn’t know a second grader could talk about harming themselves. I approached the school counselor several times over the year about a bullying issue that terrified my kid. But he was a good looking, smart, privileged kid who liked to talk smack. Her exact words “Your son is fine.” Another mother implied he was struggling because my son was intense like me and I should ignore it. But he wasn’t fine. We intervened on our own and got the support we needed elsewhere. Meanwhile, my kid felt blamed, I felt blamed, I still blame the therapist (working on that one in my own heart still) but there wasn’t much investigation into the community causes of what was happening in our community.
Is mental illness someone’s fault? We don’t think so. We think we all have a part to play.
Since this incident, I have had parent after parent after parent share similar experiences they had in our school community but they left to find a better situation than try to change the system from the inside. But what if you don’t have the resources to get that support or change schools? Then what? We will have an upcoming podcast episode with a Middle School Teacher that is sure to have a lot of insights for us about kids and mental health and we welcome more experts to contact us. We want to hear you.
Connection creates mental health.
Sidewalk Talk is not a mental health project in the way some of our friends who do significant crisis intervention are doing. A deep bow for their work. But any project that creates more connection, be it a book club, a regular bowling night, or a hiking club is contributing to the kinds of mental health giving connections that we aim to provide at Sidewalk Talk.
Sidewalk Talk is hoping to create a global connection culture.
Sidewalk Talk is hoping to create a culture shift where we prioritize listening and connection and learn to develop brains that are more flexible to hear all different kinds of people and their feelings. By sitting on sidewalks we disrupt the busy, wealth-chasing, hyper-individualism that makes us sick and invite a wake up call that connection feels good and makes us healthy too.
What is even cooler, is that sidewalks are a place of equality so maybe, just maybe, we create spaces where power is removed from our connecting. Sidewalk Talk listeners don’t dictate what you share about or how you share. And all listeners come ready to do deep reflecting on the ways their bias might interrupt connection. Remember from my article last week I said we easily make assumptions about seniors? Those are biases in action and they get in the way of connection. We do this based on someone’s length of hair or what brand they are wearing, what they smell like, what color their skin is, or really anything.
What Freud had wrong.
In an upcoming podcast interview that will be released next week, I spoke with Drs. Harville Hendrix and Helen Hunt and they said something very interesting. They said “You know Freud had it wrong. He focused on analyzing what was happening inside his patients that caused their symptoms. We think that the problem of mental health is not an internal problem, it is a relational one. “
Harville went on to say “If we put relationships first in our lives we have the potential to create a mental health promoting culture. And that is what makes what you are doing at Sidewalk Talk so revolutionary.”
But guess what?
We aren’t putting relationships first.
Depression and anxiety for young people is on the rise. According to the World Happiness Report (read a synopsis here in UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science coverage), we are less happy and more angry than ever.
The definition of mental health and what we can do to create more of it.
The World Health Organization has my favorite definition of mental health because it takes into account the outside, not just the inside.
“Mental Health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” WHO Website
What can I do today, for Mental Health Awareness Day?
So today, October 10th, for World Mental Health Day, pick one of the above. Even a simple hello and a smile when you might otherwise walk past someone makes a difference in your mental health and the mental health of those around you. Consider joining Sidewalk Talk to develop your listening skills in community. Whatever you do, thank you. You matter. Your effort matters. We can change the mental health of our world together.