By Marcus Lorenzo Penn
On November 7, 2018 at the San Francisco Tides Converge Atlantic Room, we held our most recent PWF Lunch Conversation. This conversation was under the facilitation of one of our 2018 grantees from “Friends of the Urban Forest”, Education Manager Alex Javier. Also in supportive attendance were representatives from No Bully, Outward Bound, The California Consortium for Urban Indian Health as well as our PWF Board President, Dave Whitridge and Director, Heidi Majano. Guiding our afternoon group conversation was the theme “Traditions, Transitions and Teen Spirit”.
With youth as a large focus of our current grantees’ work and many youth taking the lead on a number of social issues around our country these days, our lunch conversation was ripe with much to share. Thankfully our guest facilitator brought an outline to keep us on track with an overall goal and suggested guiding questions. He started off inviting us to reflect on our own childhoods and “Name one tradition you have kept since childhood and one tradition you have ‘unlearned/abandoned’ since then.” A contemplative silence befell the room after we were posed the first question. Many attendees leaned back in their chairs, gazed staring off through the windows or up to the ceiling with furrowed brows and rubbed their chins and faces in deep reflection.
The first share was from a young gentleman who remembered how his family would come together and watch the movie ‘Hocus Pocus’ as a holiday tradition. However, veiled within this tradition of his Latino family, he noted, were some things he had to unlearn such as culturally accepted yet limiting roles for specific family members. A woman representing a First Nation’s organization chimed in recalling traditions of the elders passing wisdom down to the youth and those youth were to ‘be quiet and listen’. She observed how that tradition has now evolved where youth are now recognized to share too, as elders are starting to listen to youth more.
Our director, Heidi, added that in raising a teenager one has to sometimes discern who the teenager reaches out to for wisdom and guidance. Alex, our facilitator, added that he grew up in the suburbs isolated from much cultural exposure. Now he sees the importance of ‘it takes a village’ and is now at odds with the concept of ‘single family home’ versus a collective teaching and learning environment. He had us all laughing with a funny quote aimed for youth, “You can’t know your parents are crazy, if you don’t talk to other adults.”
Our Board President, Dave, added that he grew up with divorce being a “bad” thing. Interestingly he shared how his daughter just got married and his new son-in-law included his previous divorced family as part of their wedding experience with everyone being ok. Someone also noted in family relations that in Texas they used to give “tall tale” stories and hold the belief that women stayed at home while men left out to support the family. Nowadays there are more examples of women being top earners in households while men stay at home caring for the children, breaking with long held tradition.
Old traditions were definitely being reexamined as we all reminisced on what we held as true when we were younger. I recalled days of being invited to play outside, whether for football, kickball, tag or hide and seek. Contrasting that with the dawn of paying video games, later in life I saw the need to maintain a natural connection to life and the earth versus connecting to a digital representation of it.
Another participant remembered as a child how there were so many punitive ‘solutions’ to bullying. Now through organizations like No Bully, he sees much more non-punitive methods of addressing bullying behavior. Piggybacking on that line of thought, someone spoke to how important it is for youth to be included in the ‘solutions’ process to bullying which is unfortunately reaching alarming new heights these days. This inclusion brings ownership and pride to bringing about change as well as validates the ‘youth voice’ in areas that count.
One such solution being employed for youth bullying, as was explained, is bringing victim, peers and bully(s) to converse together as an opportunity to lead, heal and then bring an improvement in relations and understanding. While leaving it ‘in the hands of students’, it also ensures the ‘value of being heard’. The old recommendation to simply ‘ignore’ bullies is now evolving to where we are invited to ‘no longer ignore’ bullies and we are called to address the behavior from new vantage points.
Our conversation had moved from “Traditions” to “Transitions.” It was highlighted how society is starting to shift from old punitive practices of isolation to more ‘restorative justice’ practices of ‘hearing how others are affected’, ‘intentional work to heal and restore relations’, and ‘reincorporation back into the community.’ Moreover, one participant spoke to the transition from the old coaching model of ‘pointing out what was wrong’ to ‘asking more questions as a disarming method.’ Someone had also shared about a course offered by the Dalai Lama on Empathy that focused on ‘seeing the other person’s perspective’, ‘not taking another’s behavior as personal’, and seeing any disagreement ‘like a knot to untie.’
One of our lunch attendees really opened up about her challenges raising a 14 year old boy, while having a family history of a father beating her brother in front of his sisters while growing up. She shared with our group the questions she was wrestling with for her son: How to I love him from where he is at?” “How can I make opportunities for him to explore life?” She realized how she could disarm much of the pain and hurt from her past by embracing curiosity in her son’s life here and now.
Themes of acceptance, patience and compassion as methods of disarming were further shed light upon by one of our grantee participants from Outward Bound. What the person shared was their observation of teenagers in their camping program being frustrated and behaving ‘out of their element’ to their recognition of the change the teenagers were engaging in while in the camping experience. All of these examples pointed to the notion of supporting teenagers with an environment that allows them to be exactly where they are and grow into what they need to be.
A bittersweet highlight of the afternoon reflecting ‘Transitions’ had us taking a moment to recognize the departure of one of Outward Bound’s long time employees to a position with another organization. When asked what were her best lessons learned while in her ‘fundraiser role’, she simply said, “Love.” Love for compassion, love for community and love for service. Her job move sparked the next phase of the conversation as it invited us all to think about, “How do we deal with major life transitions?”
The first responses we heard from someone emphasized a more spiritual approach to major life transitions. “Give it to the universe” was introduced to the conversation as well as, “Pray, meditate, intuition, and faith.” Working within the nonprofit world, as they shared, demands the qualities of dedication, commitment and love. Thus a time of major transition begs the question, “What does dedication look like?”.
Time and time again, they returned to, “Follow your heart while weighing what is healthy for your mind, body and spirit.” I chimed in at this point reiterating listening to the wisdom of my body and how it feels to indicate what direction to go during major transitions in my life. At the same time, leaving from one major phase of life to another on a ‘high note’, whenever possible, can be ideal. This way one can bring the best energy into their next life endeavor.
The topic of ‘nerves’, and feelings of intensity and anxiety surfaced in our conversation and how they play out in times of major life changes. One person knew they needed to come down ‘after the fever pitch’ to arrive at clarity to make the right move. Our facilitator Alex added that he remembered a sports coach once said to him, “Feeling ‘nervous’ is the body getting ready for new transition and change.” He noted his shift from the old paradigm of ‘when feeling anxious, go the other way’ to ‘listening to nervous feelings means I care about what’s happening’.
We then began to direct the conversation more around teens. Two participants spoke to their experiences as mothers. One celebrated the successful discerning judgement of their teenage son. The other was reminded by their son that he is ‘no longer a little boy’ and is capable of cultivating autonomy and self-reliance. A similar spirit followed showcasing adults letting go and stepping back as it pertained to teenagers’ growth. A participant recounted how their organization’s teenage outdoors program supported the teens developing skills of navigating and resolving interpersonal challenges naturally on their own. This segued us into the final leg of our conversation with the question of, “What changes are seen in our teens these days?”
The teen perspectives on leadership came up strongly. Surprisingly many teens, as shared by our Outward Bound attendees, said they were not ready to be leaders when asked directly. However after digging a little deeper, it was discovered that when asked more indirectly about leadership, many of the teens happily shared the qualities they learned that were reflective of leaders. The difference was that many of the teens felt more comfortable in taking initiative when they had a greater sense of their role in community. In further evaluations, they found out many teens did ‘not want to be defined’ as leaders. It was as if it confined them into a singular role unlike a more collective role of leadership.
This was very eye opening, as it invited all of us to begin to reframe our old cultural images of ‘what leadership is supposed to look like.’ I added that many in society believe the next great ‘leaders’ will in actuality be ‘movements’, even further supporting the notion of collective and more ‘horizontal’ leadership.
Culture and leadership rose in the discussion from our First Nations representatives in attendance. What they brought up were their youth embodying qualities of worthiness, responsibility, expectation and representing the family. When teenagers from this grounding upbringing were heard speaking of feelings of unworthy leadership, it was explained that they were more so coming from a place of deep humility and honored responsibility to hold such a capacity. With more and more teens championing seeing equality in greater parts of our society, it’s becoming more commonplace to hear them say, “I’m with my peers.”
Our youth and teens represent the change of an era, the birth of a new generation. It is the natural order for traditions to ultimately change and for transitions to evolve us to a greater representation of ourselves individually and collectively. However it is comforting to know that we are living amongst an indomitable yet inclusive ‘Teen Spirit’ to usher us forward with optimism and hope.