Browsing the archives for the Everyday Goodness & Kindness category

5 Tools for raising compassionate, empathetic kids

how to raise caring children

Robert V. Taylor

This piece first appeared on the parenting website sheknows.com August 5, 2013

Are youth today heartless? A University of Michigan survey says today’s college students are 40 percent less empathetic than the same age group in 1980.

While that is an alarming statistic, my personal experience and field research with parents suggests another story. It has to do with the role we play in the lives of young people in our orbit.

Raising kids to be compassionate and to have empathy is possible.

The good news is that multiple studies say children as young as toddlers have innate feelings of compassion and empathy. Empathy is defined as the ability to imagine walking in the shoes of another. And compassion is the emotional response generated by the suffering of others and then wanting to act on it by helping.

Research also says the empathy, compassion and the resulting kindness they instill are key ingredients to a life of happiness. What we do as adults matters in raising children to further develop those innate responses. Here are five tools that we can each incorporate into our lives.

1. Choices

The choices we make as adults are like tweets. They are powerful shorthand communications to the young people around us. One mother told me about taking her young child to the shelter for homeless women that she volunteered at once a month.

The women of the shelter gravitated to her daughter. “Tell us about your school. Do you have a home to live in? Do you have friends?” they wanted to know. As mother and daughter left the shelter the young girl said, “It’s really cold out, Mom — do all women have a place to sleep?” Her mom believes in truthful answers and so she said, “No, but these women do. That’s why we need places like this to provide a bed until they can get a home.”

Years later this same child orchestrated efforts in a local community to raise money to feed the hungry. A value had been tweeted to her daughter. A child had created a human connection with people she would not ordinarily meet. She was cultivating empathy.

2. Giving

The unique interests of young people invite giving. A father and son have bonded in their mutual love of baseball. Baseball is the passion in this young man’s life and has become an opportunity to give. The son spent a summer volunteering in a baseball camp in the Dominican Republic. Giving of himself, he got to know people he would not ordinarily meet. He could walk in their shoes.

There is no hierarchy in giving. One parent offered this wisdom. “Let your children’s passions drive their giving.” Adults can add context. Holiday celebrations — from Chanukah to Ramadan, to the Festival of Lights and Christmas — invite conversation about what they mean for the happiness that comes from giving. Secular holidays like Labor Day and Martin Luther King Day invite stories about giving of ourselves to something larger than our self-interest.

3. Service

Service is the conduit through which a child’s empathy leads to acts of compassion. One parent told me that the most important service projects have come from her children’s seemingly “silly” ideas. “Follow the lead of your kids,” she urged.

Her 6-year-old was determined to make peanut butter and honey sandwiches for people living in a homeless tent encampment. Knowing that these particular sandwiches might not be ideal, the mom didn’t say that it was a “silly” idea. Instead, they agreed to take food to the camp on a pre-determined future day. In the build-up to it, mom and daughter went shopping for food items that could be used in the camp. On the scheduled delivery day they took the bags of food along with a small platter of peanut butter and honey sandwiches.

A parent listened to the lead and intuition of her child. It became an opportunity to talk about the food that might be most needed but also honored the heartfelt idea behind the sandwiches. Adult awareness and listening to the desire to serve is as illuminating as the orchestrated service projects of a school, faith or community group.

4. Stories

Adults who take time to share their stories can leave a powerful impact on a child’s imagination. A young person’s experience can be an equally powerful story. A mom accompanied her nine-year-old daughter on a choir trip to Nicaragua. Arriving a few days before the rest of the group, they were given a tour of a garbage dump where children lived and scavenged for food.

The guide offered this advice about a potentially harrowing experience, “Look for one child in the dump. Concentrate only on that one child. Look into his or her face.” A young boy was among the first to climb onto a newly arrived garbage truck hoping for the first choice of trash from which to eat. As the young girl focused on him he tried to stare her down and finally broke out in a broad smile, waved and ran off.

That night the daughter did not want to write in her Nicaragua journal about the experience but asked her mom to. “Only if you let me read back to you what I’ve heard you say to make sure I’ve it right,” said the mom. Now in college, this young woman never forgets the story of the young boy foraging for food in a garbage dump. It is part of her story about compassion, empathy and kindness.

5. Glean

No matter your own tradition, gleaning from the wisdom of spiritual traditions is a way to invite reflection on choices, service, giving and stories. How does the Buddhist concept of happiness for all relate to the experiences of young people? Is there a meeting point between this and Christian notions of love and compassion, Jewish ideas of repairing the world and Muslim injunctions to give to good works?

Gleaning from the treasure trove of wisdom becomes an opportunity to talk with young people about commonality with people of many traditions. Gleaning invites imagining the life of a child who is Buddhist in Bhutan, Christian in Ethiopia, Jewish in Argentina, Muslim in Indonesia, Sikh in India or a Hindu in London — or those in their school or community.

These five tools are your navigation kit. How we as adults engage with the youth in our orbit matters greatly. It is the difference between standing by helplessly as heartless youth grow up without encouragement to be empathetic and compassionate, or being active participants who help children develop their innate capacity for being empathetic, kind and compassionate people. The studies reveal that our kids will have the added benefit of knowing greater happiness in their lives.

We’re all in this together.

About the author:

Robert V. Taylor is a speaker, commentator and author of A New Way to Be Human: 7 Spiritual Pathways to Becoming Fully Alive. He is President of the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation, which works to inspire young people to create a world of peace within, among and between people. He lives in Seattle and on a farm in rural Eastern Washington. Find him online at robertvtaylor.com.

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Nelson Mandela’s Leadership Legacy to Us

Nelson Mandela

This piece first appeared in Huffington Post, July 3, 2013

We have much to learn from Nelson Mandela’s leadership grounded in generosity of spirit, authenticity and moral authority that transcends human divisiveness. Two things stand out about his leadership legacy — his open mindset and the choice to make human calculations rather than political ones.

South Africans adulate his unique transformational leadership of their country. The human family celebrates that, in the particularities of the South African experience, Mandela offered courage and hope to a world too often accustomed to revenge, retaliation, partisan politics, personal gain and lack of vision. It is a vibrant enduring legacy.

During his 27 years of imprisonment for leading the anti-apartheid movement Nelson Mandela was vilified by the South African government as the embodiment of evil. In spite of the prison conditions of Robben Island, designed to crush his spirit, he continued to nurture and expand the vision of the Freedom Charter of the African National Congress which sought a country in which all races would live together in a democratic society.

The attempt to silence and diminish Mandela was an unmitigated failure — a truth acknowledged by F.W. De Klerk, the South African President, whose negotiations with Mandela led to his release from prison in 1990. De Klerk spoke of the moral failure of apartheid’s unjust and cruel divisions.

When Mandela reappeared on the world stage on February 11, 1990 he told the world, “Our long march to freedom is irreversible.” In that moment it was clear he had never left the world stage; he was re-entering it with even greater moral gravitas.

While Mandela’s leadership was marked by a lack of rancor, bitterness or revenge it is useful to think of two constant themes that guided him.

Open mindset leadership. A friend of mine had a private meeting with Mandela several years ago. He confessed his nervousness to me about what to ask Mandela that would not seem insignificant before settling on inquiring about what he had learned about leadership. He was surprised by the response.

Mandela said the most important thing he’d learned is that you have to have an open mindset. As my friend looked quizzical Mandela explained that most leaders rise up through the ranks of an organization and come to office with others expecting that they are owed something by the leader. This, he said, usually creates a closed mindset that leaves little room for progressive or transformational leadership.

In his first year as the democratically elected president of South Africa Mandela provided a clue as to how his open mindset approach would inform his actions. South Africa was scheduled to host the 1995 Rugby World Cup and the odds were that their own team stood little chance of winning. Citing the pressing problems facing the country, many of his top advisers tried to dissuade him from engaging the predominantly white home team. They were constrained by the closed mindset of the sports paradigm of apartheid in which soccer fans were primarily black while rugby fans were predominantly white.

Mandela chose to engage the rugby team by actively encouraging them to win the World Cup, which they did. His open mindset reinforced his transformational leadership, not by talking about systemic changes or poring over political strategies, but by engaging an entire nation. The entire country was mesmerized by his level of interest in the home team.

Mandela took the race based assumptions and divisions and used them to re-frame a vision of how things might be. He was not willing to be imprisoned in a stultified past. He refused to be confined and defined by the expectations of those who, under his presidency, were part of the new power structure. Courage and generosity of spirit joined together with his open thinking reminding the world of the possibilities of transformative leading.

Making Human Calculations. In the Clint Eastwood movie Invictus, which tells the story of Mandela’s role in inspiring the rugby team, there is a telling moment when one of his advisers warns him to make political calculations about the cost of supporting the team. He challenges that assumption by saying, “It is a human calculation.”

Unlike the dull and politically calculated leadership we have come to expect as the norm from so many leaders, Mandela’s human calculation inspired people to see beyond narrow confines and create a more expansive view of themselves and others.

The human calculation reflects more than just Mandela’s generous spirit; it serves to remind people of the oneness that his friend Desmond Tutu speaks of. It is leadership that refuses to cede decisions to fear and divisiveness, choosing instead to believe in the human goodness discovered in our commonality.

Nelson Mandela is honored to the degree that we embrace the transformative leadership marked by his open mindset and human calculations. Then we participate in the courageous and generous authentic leadership that is his vigorous legacy.

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Dad, Welcome As You Are!

Robert V. Taylor with his brother Paul and their Dad, Donald

This first appeared in TheAdvocate.com June 14, 2013

I was shocked when my Dad reached over to cradle my head and kiss me. It was a rare moment of emotional intimacy from a man who was not raised to express his emotions. His tender action followed by the words “I love you” was a gift that I still treasure three decades later.  Even though he is not alive, I listen to the stories I tell of my father and the new appreciation those stories reveal with the passage of time.

My Dad would be 84 if he was alive today, yet he continues to live in my heart and consciousness. He grew up in an era in which being a man meant that expressions of emotion were a “girl thing.” That was the work of tender, nurturing and gentle women.  Or so the theory went.

His mother, whom I adored, was a model of emotional frigidity married to a man who was more adept at expression emotions. It was an odd paradigm handed down to my dad on how to be a man. Adding to these murky waters was the rigid and oppressive climate of South Africa. Growing up in that country I assumed that manhood came with those proscribing conditions even though I yearned for something more.

After moving to New York in 1980 as a young adult I was stunned on my first Christmas to see my host kissing his sons and them responding with kisses in return. I’d never seen such a display before and felt at once uncomfortable and curious. This state of unsettlement kept occurring as I watched fathers and sons acting as if such displays of affection were normal. I wanted to be that kind of a man. I assumed that I could be, but not with my dad. At least not until the day of the kiss.

Two years after arriving in New York my parents came to visit me knowing that I could not return home because of my refusal to serve in the South African military. On the day of his return home my Dad stood awkwardly at the gate at JFK waiting to board his flight. In a surprising move he leaned in very close to me and said, “I don’t know when we’ll be together again.” There were tears in our eyes. And then he kissed me and cradled my head as he said, “I love you.” I assured him of the same.

It was a defining moment.  Perhaps the “girl thing” assumption about how my dad had been raised was not entirely true? Or was it an oppressive façade he had learned to live with for so many decades? And then the repeated boarding calls meant it was time for him to go. In my state of stunned shock and delight I felt the tears rolling down my face as he turned to wave.

Perhaps my Dad and I could forge some of that intimacy that I had discovered among American sons and fathers? But there was the physical barrier of being on two different continents. In the decade that followed, we only saw each other on two other visits he made to America. In the era before email, texting or social media my Dad was not much of a letter-writer preferring to leave that to my mother.

I was in a time of my life discovering that our individual stories are more than just a series of funny, embarrassing, cute or unexpected events.  I was learning that our individual stories reveal truth and wisdom in their familiarity.  Well, perhaps not as much wisdom in my twenties or thirties as I thought!  Beneath the familiar plot line of a particular story, the story points to the arc about our place in life that is larger than our own self.

So I turned to the stories of my life with my Dad in South Africa. I found willing listeners in some of my new American friends who like me were physically separated from their fathers because of their job or studies. I was beginning to discover that I can tell the same story line in different decades of my life but by paying attention to the story it presents new insights in each new season of my life.

When I was a young kid my Dad and I would take the train to the end of the line in Cape Town to a place called Simon’s Town. We’d carry our packed lunches and fishing gear and go clambering over rocks to find just the right spot to fish. At the end of these outings I’d express my exuberance about the day spent fishing with Dad. I was bragging about it!

In my teenager years I’d still go fishing with my Dad, although less often. I’d tell the same basic story line albeit with a much “cooler” adolescent level of enthusiasm. In those telling’s of the story I was much more aware of my refusal to ever kill a fish. And so my Dad would help me return the fish to the ocean or he would kill it while I looked away.

In telling the same story in my twenties, I would be aware that more than just being with my dad, the story revealed a kindness and non-judgmental love. He never demeaned or ridiculed me about my aversion to the kill. There was no name calling me as the dreaded “sissy” I thought I must have been.

In my late thirties and forties the story line offered new insight into my dad and our relationship. I understood that our fishing excursions were his way of expressing that he wanted to be present to and with me. He was doing what we all do, working with the tools he had available to him. And he did a great job at it.

In my fifties I tell that story and wonder what it must have felt like for my Dad to live with the assumed normalcy that expressing emotion and affection were not the way to be. I wonder what conversation we would have about that if he were alive to do so. I suspect he’d engage willingly.

The year that Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990 was the year I was able to go back to visit South Africa and my family. They quickly became yearly visits in which I noticed a new tenderness about him reminding me of that unexpected kiss at JFK.

On each visit each he enveloped me with a bear hug and kiss. This was not the way the Dad of my childhood had behaved! He was not to be pigeon-holed. As my partner and I visited we did what we often do – we held hands in the living room at my parents’ home.  On one visit my Mom pulled me aside and in a very hushed tone announced, “It really upsets your Dad to see the two of you holding hands.” Funny, but I had not noticed any lack of comfort on my Dad’s part.

A few days later Dad and I were on a walk to feed the ducks at a nearby pond and I said, “Dad, I’m sorry you’re uncomfortable with us holding hands.” Without missing a beat he said, “I’m not uncomfortable. I’m just happy for you and your love.”  There it was again, this generous, heartfelt and kind spirit.

In succeeding years I noticed a new level of emotional intimacy in my Dad’s close bond with a male friend that I could not have imagined in the previous decades of his life.  It was wonderful to watch. I felt glad and proud for him.

My parents were friendly with the couple who lived next door to them in their retirement community. Frank and my Dad began by looking out for another and performing simply niceties by delivering the mail or newspaper to one another.  As time progressed they would be found sitting on a porch together drinking beer and reminiscing about their lives or sharing their excitement for an upcoming rugby or cricket game on television.

On one visit my Dad expressed how glad he was for the choice he and my mother had made, albeit with obstinate resistance from him, to move into their retirement community. When I asked what made him happiest about the decision he said, “I wouldn’t have Frank as my friend if we weren’t here.”

Years later I sat in Frank’s living room with him and his wife drinking tea and discussing my Dad’s then recent death. Frank beamed as he said, “I miss your Dad every day. He was a true friend.” I was unprepared for the tenderness of what followed as Frank choked up with tears in his eyes and said, “You know Robert, I loved your Dad.” I received it as an elegant eulogy to my father and a blessing of the intimacy between Frank and Dad.

The quest for a more fulsome emotional relationship with Dad has come full circle. My yearning for a more authentic relationship with my father had led us to new ground.  But it wasn’t just about me. Dad had been a willing participant in his own story and search for what it meant to be a man.

I’m thankful for the journey we made together. We may not have fulfilled one another’s expectations to the fullest but we sure worked at it from a place of love, redefining our once limited perceptions of what it means to be a man. It would be nice to pull my dad in close, cradle his head, giving him a kiss and saying – “I’m not sure when we’ll see one another again. But I’m proud of you and love you Dad.”

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Cultivate Compassion Every Day!

Mesmerized by the audience at Stanford - Robert V. Taylro with James Doty of CCAREWe are hard wired for compassion.

Aware and awake to cultivating compassion in our daily lives is a choice.

The compassion choice shifts the energy of how we experience each day.

The Universe longs for our acts and words of compassion

Watch Robert on YouTube at Stanford University sharing his insights on expanding compassion every day – Conversations on Compassion with Robert V. Taylor

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What choices will you make?

What choices will you make to live your life fully?  How will your choices expand your heart of love and celebrate your voice?

How you choose will affect how you are a participant in your own life!

Listen to Robert talk about these questions at The Forum at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco – click here for the podcast

Robert V. Taylor, The Forum at grace cathedral April 28, 2013

Post your thoughts, questions and responses below!

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“Tell me who you are” – 3 reasons to share your story

Desmond Tutu and Robert V. Taylor

This article first appeared on the opinion page of FoxNews, April 14, 2013

It was a life-shifting question from South African social rights activist and Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu inviting me to tell him about my life – “Not what you’ve done, but who you are.”

No one had ever asked me such a question before.

Most of us expect the inevitable question of “What do you do?” from strangers. When you can respond to “Tell me who you are” a dramatic shift happens in your engagement with others and your experience of life.

It was 1980 and I was in my first one-on-one meeting with Tutu. I had decided that instead of serving in the South African military — which enforced apartheid — I would go to jail. I didn’t know if I could survive prison so I went seeking Tutu’s advice.

I was a 22-year-old privileged white kid in the presence of a 49-year-old internationally known human rights activist who was an iconic figure to me. I was honored to be in his presence and my nervousness quickly gave way to being floored by his unexpected question.

As I told him about the physical pain that had transformed my life during two spinal surgeries as a teenager I wondered why I was intuitively telling him these details. I spoke about the loneliness and fears while hospitalized for six weeks at a time.

I related how a book I read and re-read in the hospital by Trevor Huddleston had upended my life.

Huddleston described the vibrant multi-ethnic, multi-cultural community he had served outside of Johannesburg that had been bulldozed by the apartheid government because of those defining qualities.

I described Huddleston’s book as my first conscious awakening to the realities of my own country and an invitation to be involved in the anti-apartheid movement.

When I told Tutu that Huddleston had been like a visitor to me in the hospital he burst out laughing!

Desmond Tutu & Robert V. Taylor speaking at Los Angeles County Museum of Art

I wondered what I had said to evoke such a reaction.

After settling down Tutu told me of the loneliness and fears he had experienced as a teenager hospitalized with tuberculosis. Then he said, “Trevor Huddleston was my priest. He used to visit and read stories to me.”

In that moment I realized how profound Tutu’s simple question was. “Tell me who you are” is an invitation to discover who we are in oneness with others revealed through unexpected connecting stories. It is why the question matters for the sake of our well-being and that of the world.

On the surface anyone might have assumed that there not much of a common thread to our lives. Yet his question revealed shared transformation, decades apart.

On this new common ground he said that there would be a time for young men like me to go to jail for refusing to serve but that time was not now. He arranged for me to leave the country and within ten days I was on a flight to New York City.

So how do you respond to the question of “Tell me who you are” and what does it mean for your life?

Own the fullness of your story! When we are mindfully aware of the arc of our story it becomes an invitation to see the many threads woven together. Instead of banishing the painful or fearful experiences to a closet, choose a trusted guide or mentor to be authentic with.

Tell your stories in a safe environment and listen to yourself with expectancy about what they reveal or point to. Your own courage will become a mirror to loving yourself.

The fear, loneliness and physical boundaries of the spinal surgeries could have handicapped my view of myself.  I could have chosen to live with anger, resentment or pity.

Instead it offered me the gift of compassion and empathy towards others. Instead of youthful invincibility my awareness of the frailty of human life became an invitation to live life fully in every moment.

Most of us prefer the joyous, happy and wonderful experiences of our journey. Yet it is usually the challenging parts of our story that shed new light on how we choose to live with gratitude and delight.

When you own the fullness of your story, the superficiality of “tell me what you do,” becomes a poor substitute for “tell me who you are” that reveals your richly textured life egging you on to live fully alive.

Listen with curiosity. Like the ever-expanding Universe, the arc of your story reveals new insights and wisdom in each new season of your life.

Instead of living with regret, shame or embarrassment about some part of your story those defining experiences invite you to develop new tenderness and compassion toward yourself.

That combination of attentiveness and self-love takes you beyond self-absorption to a life that is enlivened by curiosity. You intuitively become engaged with others because you want to know what their story reveals. Like the unexpected connecting story that Tutu and I shared, you discover surprising connection with others. Like mine, your life is changed by those encounters.

Cultivate Awe. Studies reveal that our capacity for awe expands our sense of fulfillment, meaning and satisfaction. When I experience awe in nature, music or a soaring architectural space I am awake to being part of the grandeur of life beyond any confines of my story.  Similarly, I am awed by the stories of those who know who they are.

Lives of courage and love filled with simple and seemingly small actions of hope leave me breathless!

If I’m tempted to view my life as a series of obligations or something whose course is set, the stories of those who know who they are pull me back from that life-draining path.

Instead my awe finds expression in gratitude for the abundant generosity their lives point to. Awe becomes a pathway of celebrating our oneness.

In owning the fullness of your story with the companions of curiosity and awe your life is seen through a new lense. Instead of what you do, the knowledge of who you are transforms what it means to be human and fully alive.

How will you choose?

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How to end relationship dysfunction

This excerpt for A New Way to Be Human was published on Beliefnet.com February 2013 with permission of the publisher New Page Books

Risky invitations interrupt the imagined or assumed course of your life, raising the stakes right where you struggle the most. Responding to these invitations takes you beyond your comfort zone, inviting transformation and an enlarged understanding of yourself, others and the Holy. The murder of Steve Biko in 1977 presented me with a risky invitation.

“Biko’s death cannot go unanswered,” I said. “None of us want to sit back and be passive do we?” asked Maureen as she looked around the room where seven of us sat cradling mugs of tea. We all shook our heads in silent agreement. I said, “It’s why we’re here. I feel helpless and I want to do something.” We were beginning to respond to a risky invitation. I had no idea that the journey we were about to embark on would reveal so much about being spiritually and physically present.

Steve Biko was a hero to many of us. In 1977, while being held in custody he was killed by the authorities. In an attempt to crush the reactions to his death all public gatherings of more than three people had been declared to be illegal.

In his death I realized that the government’s desire to control, to dehumanize and to deny happiness to others was like a voracious demon with an insatiable appetite. As we sat with Maureen’s question one person said, “We can begin by praying.” I suggested, “What if our prayers become part of an eight day fast leading up to Biko’s funeral?” The willingness to give something up in order to be awake to new possibilities stood in contrast to the lust to deny the humanity of others that would stop at nothing to achieve its goal.

As our small group of students and faculty planned a fast built around prayer, meditation and discussion our raw emotions ranged from anger and disbelief to mourning and lamentation. “What if we took some visible action?” I then quickly added, “As much as praying let’s engage people in thinking about what is happening in our country.”

“But what about the ban on public gatherings of more than three people?” someone asked. I felt fear at the mention of this ban because I knew that contravention of it would result in harsh actions from the authorities for whom human lives were dispensable. I said, “Let’s think about a procession of mourners in which you only see one mourner at a time.” The idea electrified the group. Quickly we decided that the university’s tradition of wearing black academic gowns in the dining halls at night could become the dress code of a planned procession whose route would be through the main street of the college town.  One person at a time would travel the route wearing a black gown, carrying a wreath in their hands. So our protest march of mourning and lamentation was born as a companion to the fast.

Two days later the phone rang in my dorm.  “Please withdraw from this fast and protest,” my parents demanded. They had seen the photograph of me in the protest march which had appeared in several South African newspapers. “We’re scared for your safety. You know what happens to people who speak up in this country.”

As they implored me to “be quiet” I said, “What if people had spoken out against the Nazis?  What if we worked for the humanity of every person instead of rejecting, excluding or killing?” Our conversation ended tersely.

I woke up in the early hours of the morning thinking about the conversation with my parents. At seven o’clock I was in the chapel for our morning meditation time. I finally interrupted the silence and said, “Let’s attend Biko’s funeral.” No sooner had I uttered the word than I thought, “You must be crazy Robert!”

On the day of the funeral we left early on a bus that would drive us several hundred miles to the football stadium in which it would be held. Our small band of college students quickly noticed the helicopters flying overhead and the talk about police informers photographing those present. We entered a stadium filled with more than thirty thousand people.

At the end of the funeral a very short man appeared on the stadium field. He told the crowds, “God loves you. Please be God’s partners in love. If you take up violence you will become just like those who have killed Biko.” He begged the mourning crowd to find another way to end apartheid. “With violence you will lose your humanity” he said. This man of small stature with a towering message was Desmond Tutu. He had the crowd in the palm of his hand. Every person was straining forward so as not to miss a single word or inflection.

Back at the campus a South African curry with its intriguing blend of spices, vegetables and meat that had simmered for hours, seemed to be a fitting meal for the breaking of our fast. Over the meal we spoke about Tutu’s invitation that continued to reverberate in our conversation. One person said, “He treated everyone like an adult with a choice to make about where our hearts belong.”

In responding to being both physically and spiritually present in this time of turmoil I began to understand the pathway of responding to risky invitations.

When you clutch at the imagined certainties of your life you keep life at bay, and drain and distance yourself from your journey with the Holy. To turn back from the risky invitations of your journey is to trifle with life by willfully denying yourself the fullness of who you are meant to be.

The risky invitations are much more than a surprise disrupting your familiar patterns; they are a gift connecting you with others in new mindfulness about what it means to be fully human. Our lives are replete with refusals and acceptances. It is never too late on your journey to develop mindful openness to the risky invitations presented to you.

Read my in A New Way to Be Human available at Indie bookstores, B&N and Amazon

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Jilt Your Lover!

This blog was first published on Huffington Post, February 13, 2013

I remember the days of waiting for the Valentine card that never arrived. I had not learned the secret that loving myself unconditionally was the most attractive way to find a lover! If you live with conditional love of yourself do not obsess about waiting for a Valentine charm to arrive. Instead jilt that conditional lover who lives inside you.

My Buddhist friends remind me that the near enemy of love is conditional love.  That’s because conditional love is a transactional relationship – I will “love” you if you do what I want, demand or expect. Our lives are filled with transactional relationships that are necessary for navigating everyday work and life. Confusing these with love is toxic to your well-being and your health.

Many of us have learned to equate love with “making nice.”  So we make excuses by saying that a lover or friend “means well” or has your welfare at heart. It is a formula for frustration, anger, disappointment and becoming a bystander to your own life.

Conditional love should never be confused with the real thing. In the love compromises we make – consciously or not – it is all too easy to assume that conditional love is “normal.” You may choose to endure it but there is another choice. The lover inside of you who thinks this is normal must be jilted to make room for unconditional love.

My life coach once gave me a homework assignment that at first I thought was trite. I stood in front of a full size mirror every day and looked at myself while verbalizing out loud something magnificent, lovely, generous, kind, loving, lively, spirited or funny about myself.  At first I was terrified. It brought back memories of being teased as an adolescent for being chunky and my dislike of my self-image of being fat.

This simple exercise was far from trite! With each utterance I began to develop new empathy, compassion and love towards myself. Unless I knew what the mirror reflected back to me about the magnificent qualities of my own life I would always be looking into someone else’s mirror for love, approval and acceptance. I was moving from conditional to unconditional love.

Robert V. Taylor

As a result of this discovery I began to surround myself with those who love unconditionally. This is not the same as selecting people in our lives who will be uncritical.  Instead it is choosing a path on which the fullness of your magnificence and shadow side are acknowledged, creating new tenderness toward your own self.  When you do that you intuitively connect with those who have no desire to spend their lives living conditionally because they have also done the work that allows them to love others in their fullness.

In jilting the conditional lover inside I’ve discovered that the arc of our stories reveal wisdom and truth. The stories that shape and form us are a reminder that we are part of something much larger than ourselves. It is the consciousness that loving with abandonment is the marker of how fully alive you choose to be.

It starts within each of us. Your story and mine each contain elements of wonder, shame, regret, joy and more. Many of us have learned to compartmentalize these elements resulting in living with a half-script about ourselves. When you embrace the many elements of your story into one integrated narrative several things happen. You develop compassion toward yourself. You identify those in your story who have been wisdom, truth and love bearers. You develop gratitude for the love in which you hold your story. When you embrace your story, it complements what the mirror exercise reveals.

This is crucial to your ability to jilt the conditional lover who desperately tries to avoid eviction from your heart and head spaces. In owning and claiming your story you cease to search for the “dream lover” who will fulfill your needs. You are no longer a conditional person willing to accept the crumbs of conditional love as “normalcy.”  Your energy and being start to radiate the unconditional love that grounds who you are.

In this new consciousness of loving with abandonment you no longer hope for that Valentine card that never arrives. Instead Valentine’s Day is everyday – it is the energy that draws you to the lover who loves unconditionally as you do.  It is a way of being fully alive. A way of loving love!

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Loving Abandonment

Robert V. Taylor

This article first appeared in Watkins’ Body, Mind, Spirit (UK) Spring 2013 issue

If there is to be a day of reckoning the only question to be answered is, “Did you love with abandonment?” Living life awake to that question is where we discover a new way to be human.

The disengagement and helplessness that so many people choose makes them bystanders to their own lives and the world. It does not have to be so. Instead, it is possible to choose a new way to be and discover that the world desperately needs your voice, story, imagination and delight as much as you do. It is an invitation to a spirituality of being fully alive.

The Holy or sacred is infinitely more expansive and generous than the often narrow confines of any one religion. I admire those who are spiritual but not religious for engaging in life-changing practices of love and compassion that religion often only tips its hat to. I experience awe in observing the way in which the seven pathways of A New Way to Be Human find expression in those who mindfully live lives of generous compassion and profound inter-connection with others.

So what are some of the stepping stones to anchor your life in loving with abandonment?

In my first one-on-one meeting with Desmond Tutu in 1980 I asked for his advice on how to survive imprisonment for refusing to serve in the South African military that enforced apartheid. I was unprepared for his question, “Tell me about your life Robert – not what you’ve done, but who you are.” It transformed how I think about and experience life.

In the story I told Tutu we discovered an unexpected connection and through it a sacred meeting ground that revealed not our difference, but our shared transformation decades apart. With that he organized for me to leave South Africa immediately and head to New York City.

“Tell me who you are” is an invitation to know your story with all of its many elements – joy, shame, wonder and regret. Appreciating and integrating each of these elements we develop tenderness and compassion toward ourselves and therefore toward others. It opens up a life of curiosity, attentive listening and delight in the connecting stories that surprise and remind us of our oneness. In the arc of your story ancient wisdom and the Holy are revealed. If that is true for you, how can you resist discovering those truths in others?

All too often we live behind an enclosure in which we allow others – perhaps family, religion or culture – to squelch our voice and keep us from being participants in expanding divinity. Claiming and celebrating your voice often takes you to the edge of your life where you discover the center.

Claiming and celebrating your voice often takes you to the edge of your life where you discover the center.

Your journey to the edges is what disturbs others as they try to clutch on to life as they know it. Their bad advice is not offered because they are bad people but because your journey to a more generous, expansive life disturbs them. In suggesting “should, would and could’s” about your life they attempt to enclose you from the journey in which generous love, compassion and courage are revealed in claiming your voice.

This is important because grounded in your story and voice you enter into oneness between yourself, the Holy and the Universe. There you discover that you are made in the imagination of the ever-expanding, ever-creating Universe. Cultivating and celebrating imagination alive in you invites you to be an active participant in the enterprise of loving with abandonment.

A New Way to Be Human, Career Press

The Universe yearns for your imagination to be fully alive acknowledging the sacred within you and becoming a midwife to the expansion of divinity. The old way of being seduces you into believing that your voice, actions and imagination do not matter. The new way to be says that your every contribution is of inestimable worth to the ecosystem of life.

The criticism of spirituality is that it is often obsessive about self-realization with little accountability or connection to the human family or Creation. Self-worth is only as worthy as the ability to place extraordinary value on the lives and worth of all. The new way to be assumes that we do not and cannot live in isolation from the human family and Creation. It is in the very circumstances, cruelties and joys of daily life that we are invited to imagine the world not as it is, but as it might be.

When I seek my own well-being and happiness I intuitively want those same things for others. When that grounds my way of being every word, action and choice that I am awake to becomes part of polishing the world. Imagination, love, compassion and well-being are part of a circle that cannot exist without you, me or any other sentient being. In loving with abandonment the luminosity of our oneness is revealed.

On this journey the risky invitations that upset the imagined course of our lives or the hairpin curves which disturb our journey are invitations to go to the edge of our fears. The doubts that our fears reveal are grand birth-givers of new consciousness. The disillusionments we fear reveal unexpected blessings.

These pathways are not revealed or entered into in one moment of nirvana or in elegant order.  They’re experienced like the path to the center of a labyrinth whose surprising curves invite us to pay attention to where the center will be discovered. If that center is love, we are invited to know what grounds our heart. Your own story reveals the many places and people who illuminate your heart center. It offers a choice between detaching from the hubris and noise of life-draining energy and choosing the life-giving energy of those people and places that ground your heart and make it your home.

Your own story reveals the many places and people who illuminate your heart center. It offers a choice between detaching from the hubris and noise of life-draining energy and choosing the life-giving energy of those people and places that ground your heart and make it your home.

Each of these pathways is illuminated by cultivating a spirituality of delight, wonder and playfulness.  It is vital to your well-being and that of others. Lucy, my chocolate Labrador, is a constant companion reminding me to take time from my work to enter her exuberant joy in a walk or playing fetch.

Although I relish preparing meals for friends, strangers and family it is in the ordinariness of everyday encounters that I feast most often. Each day I invite myself to be present to the delight and wonder of a simple feast experienced in being present to another person over tea or coffee or in conversation with the salesperson in the grocery store.  In moments of feasting, playfulness or awe I am reminded that the holy surprises of delight are as much fuel for my journey as the more obvious transformative moments of my journey.

The new way to be human is a path of spiritual generosity and loving abandonment discovered by living in the now of each day, receiving it as a gift. My doubts and fears may still be real but they are companions of truth inviting me to stop clutching at life and enter into it. It is a journey in which being fully alive is embraced and welcomed with the abandonment of loving oneness.

Robert V. Taylor is a speaker, teacher and author. His book A New Way to Be Human: 7 Spiritual Pathways to Becoming Fully Alive has been endorsed by Deepak Chopra, Desmond Tutu and Bernie Siegel. He is Chair of the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation in New York City. Robert lives in Seattle and on a farm in rural Eastern Washington State.

 

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This blog first appeared in the Huffington Post, December 3, 2012

Imagine Rachel Crow’s Mean Girls meeting the political bullies of American politics. The corrosive polarization and resulting disengagement that exists in America begs for leadership that rebuilds a civil civic conversation. Mean Girls offers some pointers for a path through the existing morass of the bully culture.

Bullies employ a variety of techniques to achieve their objective of getting what they want with scant regard for others. Spreading rumors or innuendo, diminishing another person or excluding another person are as common techniques of bullies as the more publicized physical and cyber-attacks on another.

Many reality shows create a psycho-social context in which bullying thrives. These bully shows that are part of our cultural landscape elevate bullying to an acceptable norm of behavior. When political, religious or other leaders engage in bully tactics the expected outcry is muted because bullying has become, according to experts, the most common form of violence in the United States.

Rachel Crow’s video Mean Girls has gone viral with 5 million views on YouTube for a reason. The video names the bullying culture experienced and promoted by young girls and offers some advice to end it. Our political leaders might each watch it for inspiration. It offers the wisdom that any hope of ending the bully culture lies in our hands through the choices that we make.

These lyrics from “Mean Girls” are a basic primer for anyone who wants political discourse and decision making to be elevated to a state of higher regard than it is now.

Do you want to know what I think? Our political discourse has scant regard for differing perspectives other than trying to eviscerate them. The aggressive bullying behavior of achieving your own ends for short term gain might win pyrrhic victories but it is no way to sustain a civil society.

Dignifying difference and attentive listening are useful counterpoints. The unprecedented levels of polarization in American life will shift only to the degree that we embrace the reality that a policy position we disagree with is not heinous because it is at odds with our own. It is in the bazaar of ideas that robust, opinionated discussion improves your thinking and argument.

Curiosity — whether intellectual, emotional or spiritual — and the capacity to listen attentively convey something at odds with the bully’s scant regard of another person. It is the awareness that we need one another in order to be human. When we are genuinely curious to know what others think the capacity for civil engagement expands exponentially.

I can’t believe I let it go so far. The girls in Rachel Crow’s video have a moment of realization. Instead of remaining silent, averting their eyes, ignoring the bullying or being passive they have a choice. Not unlike those who have been in an abusive or co-dependent relationship they have a realization that bullying is not and never should be the acceptable norm.

They choose a different normal. Embracing a new normal dethrones the bully from her or his self-created seat of power. The bully culture in our politics survives because we have chosen to allow their idolatrous thrones of shimmering glass to delude us. We have the choice to admit that we have let the bullies go too far.

Robert V. Taylor and USF Tampa students

Be Kind. Pairing political discourse with kindness might be an oxymoron to many. In Mean Girls young women hold their palms up into the air with the words “Be Kind” written on them as if offering a prayerful intention.

While many yearn for the political culture of bullying to be replaced with constructive engagement and legislative policy achievements surely it is not unrealistic to expect that a civility of kindness or goodness permeate the work? Beyond the demonizing, most leaders in public service entered their work with a desire to do good. Creating such a norm of behavior would be an exercise in leadership.

“Mean Girls” you no longer run my world. It is a declaration of taking responsibility and not ceding power to the bullies. Those who make their living by fomenting a culture of bullying may not appreciate this claiming of personal power and expectations about our civic life. The girls in the video do not care about ruffling the feathers of bullies. They have imagined a new normal and chosen a different path. We could do much worse than try to emulate them.

Mean Girls has gone viral because it identifies and names the bullying that we have allowed to upend our discourse and view of one another as Americans. A different future is possible in which leaders lead and the common good is celebrated in the midst of vibrant, fulsome debate. Mean Girls offers some pointers. The choice is in our hands.

How do you respond to bullying? Post your thoughts, comments and ideas below or directly on the Huffington Post link to this blog!

 

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