Sunday

Human rights

Human rights begin in our individual hearts and minds. Human rights are in the decisions and choices I make on a daily basis. Human rights begin in my home. How I treat my wife. How I care for our special needs daughter. Human rights are in the conscious words of love and respect I choose to use with those that are closest to me.

Human rights are in my neighborhood. My choice to smile and say hello to everyone who passes me on my walk. My choice to engage with the people at the grocery store. My willingness to listen to the thoughts and feelings of all who enter my home and office.

Human rights are in every connection, interaction, speech, class and workshop I offer to educators. Human rights are in my inclusion, acceptance and respect of all differences.

Human rights are in my honoring the legacy of all those who have served our nation and our world. For all the lives given to bring peace and understanding to this planet.

Human rights are in my working for equality, justice, opportunity, dignity and respect for all life.

Our human brains are hardwired for empathy. Love and kindness are in our DNA. Through the practice of love, kindness and empathy we will give and receive human rights for all.


Enthusiasm

The word enthusiasm has it's roots in the Greek language.  'en' (one with) and 'theos' (the divine).   So enthusiasm literally means to be one with the Divine. When we are enthusiastic we are being one with the Divine energy. We are one with God. When we are enthusiastic, we are connected. We are whole. We cannot force ourselves to be enthusiastic.  Enthusiasm is spontaneous. It happens when we are fully immersed in life. It happens when we are passionately one with an idea, a project, a practice or a person. It is an experience of unity filled with joy. 


One unconditional loving soul

"Intimate attachments to other human beings are the hub around which a person's life revolves...From these intimate attachments a person draws his strength and enjoyment of life and, through what he contributes, he gives strength and enjoyment to others." - John Bowlby

"Neuroscientists now understand that this attunement- this mysterious alignment of minds- is, in fact, the central ingredient in secure attachment...it is the very essence of connection." - Stephen Cope

This intimate attachment, attunement, alignment and connection is exactly what I feel with and for my wife, Sandra.  Sandra has the ability to perceive the needs of others.  She understands their concerns and challenges and responds with compassion and love.  Sandra lets us know that we are needed in the world.  She assures us that we are accepted, just the way we are.

We all need this kind of secure attachment.  We all need one unconditional loving soul to share the moments of our life.  We only need one.  That one could be in a moment or they could be in a lifetime.  Whatever the experience, this secure attachment acts as a repair kit.

"There is the possibility of connection and repair everywhere...The self is profoundly self repairing.  Like a seed, the self seeks the ground in which it can grow." - Stephen Cope




"Whether we pull things apart or put things together makes all the difference."- Mark Nepo

"Whether we pull things apart or put things together makes all the difference."- Mark Nepo

Human history provides numerous examples of pulling things apart and putting them back together. Our planet and our very lives are now challenged because of our history and current practices of pulling things apart. This pulling apart nature comes from a desire to gain and conquer, and an overwhelming desire to win and own. The desire to put back together has its origins in reflection and humility. There are some today who want to exclude and tear apart and there are others who wish to include and sew together.

We all have these dual tendencies. Sometimes I feel the need to build and in that building process some things (some relationships) are pulled apart. More often I feel the need to unify, connect and heal. I seek to join together.

My challenge in seeking balance is to take time in reflection. 
Is my intention to pull apart or put back together?




We must rededicate ourselves to the common good of community

"It is not more business that should be our goal. It must be to bring people back to...the warmth of community, to the worth of individual effort and responsibility...and of individuals working together as a community, to better their lives and their children's future." - Robert F. Kennedy

"Each of us must rededicate ourselves to serving the common good.  We are a community.  Our individual fates are linked; our futures intertwined.  And if we act in that knowledge and in that spirit together, as the Bible says, "we can move mountains." - Jimmy Carter

I admire how we come together in times of natural disasters and national threats.  We are a resilient people.  I experience this often.  I watch as my wife has cared for our special needs daughter for the past 37 years.  I admire my youngest son as he happily plows 3 neighbor's driveways every snow storm.  I am grateful for those who work with and for me who help me when I am physically challenged.  We are all neighbors in this world wide community.  We are intertwined.  What affects me, affects you. What comforts you, comforts me.  We must rededicate ourselves to the common good of community.  Kindness is reciprocal.

"We become human only in the company of other human beings.  And this involves both opening our hearts and giving voice to our deepest convictions" - Paul Rogat Loeb



Perseverance

"It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is best able to adapt and adjust..." - Leon C. Megginson, Interpreting Darwin

So much of our focus in education continues to be teaching to and celebrating the intellect.  Daniel Goleman introduced Emotional Intelligence and our work has been in the area of Social Emotional Learning for the past 47 years.  In 1997, Dr. Paul Stoltz introduced the concept of Adversity Quotient.  AQ, according to Stoltz, is a valid predictor of performance, ability to deal with stress and challenge, resilience, pressure and health.  Those of us with a high AQ can withstand significant adversity, maintain perspective, stay flexible and creative, enhance self esteem in the face of challenge and use adversity to move forward.  - Stephen Cope, Soul Friends

Perseverance in the face of adversity is one of my highest valued and most admired characteristics.  Some of my perseverance role models are Viktor Frankl, Bob Wieland, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, and Sandra and Ashley Stecher.  One of the keys to perseverance is a belief in something greater than you, a higher calling, a greater sense of purpose, coupled with love and deep commitment to relationship.  I have seen this perseverance, fueled by unconditional love as Sandra has cared for Ashley these past 37 years.  Because of undiagnosed learning difference in her youth, my wife Sandra does not think of herself as "smart."  She is the most brilliant socially and emotionally intelligent person I know.  Her ability to persevere and be lovingly resilient is world class.  My life, my work, our family and many others are dependent on her social emotional intelligence, perseverance and unconditional love.




Story

Stories are the wealth of humanity.  There have been times in my life when my pockets and wallet are empty.  There has never been a time when my heart and soul were empty.

My life has been full of story and I feel a legacy, a calling, to pass them on.  They carry the essential truth and meaning of life.  My life and I believe, your life.  Our stories are connected.  Each telling of our story renews our lives.  And each retelling of the story brings us healing.

I have told and retold the story of our daughter Ashley's life over and over again.  Here lessons are deep, profound, and meaningful.  I find telling her story gives permission to others to tell their story.  When people listen to Ashley's story, they allow themselves to be vulnerable and in this vulnerability, healing begins.  Every telling of Ashley's story re-opens my heart and it opens the hearts of all who listen. 

Before I speak to an audience, large or small, I close my eyes, go inside and pray, "Please God, your will, not mine be done."  I am free, I am open, I am healed and with the Grace of God, the story I tell brings healing to you. 


Integrity

The definition of Integrity is "steadfast adherence to a moral code."  Integrity has it's roots in the latin integritas, from integer, whole - meaning "the quality or condition of being whole or undivided; complete."

Integrity is an ongoing active, life long practice of staying undivided in an effort to become whole.  

My life has been blessed with many role models for integrity.  My father, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, Ghandi, have all been men and women of courage who stood for the core values of integrity.

Throughout my life and work, I have always tried to create circles of trust that allowed participants to build a community.  In these classroom communities, we have participants develop a sense of authenticity and vulnerability.  

Integrity builds trust.  Research in education has proven that high relational trust and trust building allow schools to better serve students.  (Bryk and Schneider, Trust in Schools, 2004) . Trust holds schools together and trust holds relationships together.

"Integrity is choosing courage over comfort; it's choosing what is right over what is fun, fast or easy; and it's practicing your values, not just professing them." - Brene Brown

"Integrity is an unending process of letting our inner experience and our outer experience complete each other, in spite of our human lapses." - Mark Nepo




Act

"Nonviolence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution.  Until we stop harming each other living beings, we are still savages." - Thomas A. Edison

"Nonviolence is the summit of bravery." - Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi encouraged us to "be the peace we want to see in the world".  Unity is our only chance of survival.  Every voice, every heart, every action, matters.  We live in challenging times.  We can not afford to ignore or numb our emotions through passively sitting at a computer or watching a TV screen.  The world will change when we change.  

We must be conscious of our thoughts.  Our thoughts become our words, in all our various forms of communication.  Social media can not be our only form of sharing our truth.  Any action can become habitual.  We must be aware of our actions and our habits.  Our actions and our habits speak to our values and our beliefs.  What we value and believe creates our destiny.  

In my adolescence I was aware of and influenced by and came to honor the civil rights movement.  Early in my professional career, I was a passionate teacher in the addictions and recovery process.  For the past 47 years, my work and mission has been in whole child education and Social Emotional Learning.  Every day we must get up and take action.  Act on our beliefs and values.  Act to honor all life.  Act to bring peace and love into the world.



Every day, every moment is an opportunity to love.

"You do not need to do anything to be loved.  
You do not have to perform, or achieve, or earn a merit badge, or be witnessed doing good." 
- Mark Nepo

My life is devoted to helping each of us and myself understand we are all worthy of love just because we are.  Our birth right is love, to love and be loved.  Every interaction is an opportunity to love.  A respectful handshake, a pat on the back, a hug and deeply paying attention and listening to someone.  We need to be aware, we need to be conscious.  There are no small actions.  Everything we do, everything we say, everything we think and feel, matters to someone.  

Every day, every moment is an opportunity to love.



Gratitude

"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them." - John F. Kennedy

Gratitude inspires me, it fills me with positive energy.  It sometimes brings me to tears.  Gratitude fills me with love and grace.  I try to focus on gratitude as a daily practice.  I am grateful that I can write and read.  I am grateful that I can move and think and feel.  I am grateful that I love and that I am loved.  I am grateful for the warmth of the sun, yes, even on a hot day.

The more I commit to the discipline of an attitude of gratitude, the more health and healing I feel.

Gratitude is the choice I make today.


Enlightenment

“Enlightenment for a wave is the moment the wave realizes that it is water. 
At that moment, all fear of death disappears.” - Thich Nhat Hahn

“Enlightenment is the moment we realize that we are made of love.” - Mark Nepo

As I lay on the physical therapy table, just 3 feet from my fellow therapy patient I am aware that we are all more similar than we are different. We are both human, we are both in pain and we both seek healing. We put our bodies in the hands of other humans. We trust that our therapist is skilled and compassionate. Our bodies are very small boundaries from what lies inside. A moment of grace reminds me what I have come from, what I am made of and ultimately where I am going

Will you go there with me?


Feel the love of compassion

"The Tibetan Buddhist tradition has a meditation practice called tong-len that asks us to breathe in the suffering of the world, to hold it in that unbreakable place of compassion 
and to then breathe back light." - Mark Nepo

Compassion does not say I agree with you.  Compassion says I care about you.  
You are a fellow human.  We share the same life.  
We breathe the same air.  We both feel pain and we both rejoice.  
We must affirm the spirit in each of us.  Compassion has the ability to heal.  
Breathe in the pain of others.  With each breath, feel the unity of love.  
As you exhale, release the pain and feel the light.  
Feel the love of compassion.


Dignity and Destiny

The past 4 months I have been reflecting on President Lyndon Johnson's speech to Congress in 1965 as beautifully written in "Leadership in Turbulent Times" by Doris Kearns Goodwin. 

"I speak tonight for the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy.  At times history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man's unending search for freedom.  So it was at Lexington and Concord.  So it was a century ago at Appomattox.  So it was last week in Selma, Alabama."  He goes on to say "There is no negro problem.  There is no southern problem.  There is only an American problem."  So it is today with our current disrespect and hatred of anyone we perceive as different then us.  "There is only the issue of human rights.  The cause must be our cause...it is all of us who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice."  Johnson when on to reflect on his time as a young teacher gaining a deep sense of purpose in working and serving poor Mexican American children.  "Somehow you never forget what poverty and hatred can do when you see its scars on the hopeful face of a young child."

Close to the end of this life Johnson spoke at the LBJ Library.  "The essence of government" is in ensuring "the dignity and innate integrity of life for every individual...regardless of color, creed, ancestry, sex or age.  Until we address unequal history, we cannot overcome unequal opportunity."

Johnson speaking in the 1960's still rings true and needed now.  I am saddened that, as a nation,
we still do not learn from the past.  I counter my sadness with renewed responsibility to do my part.  I will continue to educate, care, be compassionate, and empathetic.  I will continue to be human.  I will continue to be American.



Wednesday

Our life is a gift

Our life is a gift. I am grateful everyday that I get to live this beautiful life. I have learned that to retain my gift of life, I need to give it away. I need to give my life in service to the world. We can all make a gift of our lives when we are kind with all those we interact. I give the gift of life when I am understanding, compassionate, empathetic, forgiving, and generous. We all benefit when we share these life affirming gifts. Giving of ourselves and our humanity is the best gift we can give.


Sunday

You are a miracle

My friends and loved ones, you are all miracles unfolding.  You are each full of courage and a passion for life.  You all have greatness inside.  The spark of Divinity, the fire of unconditional love.  Limitless potential and the light of dreams to be fulfilled reside in your being.  You are songs, poems, inventions, dance, crafts, and engineering.  Possibilities, purpose, and perspective are all parts of the miracle of your humanity.


Mistakes

It is an essential part of our humanity to make mistakes.  I fall prey to arrogance in 8th grade and I discover humility and forgiveness.  I suffer a severe injury in High School football and I discover poetry and public speaking.  Still, unsure of my emerging artist I sustain another football injury in college and I discover education and psychology.  I have evolved in spite of myself.  I have been broken many times and my mistakes have mysteriously revealed new skills. 
We all grow from the light that shines through the cracks in our mistakes.  


"If not now, when? If not you, who?"

This ancient truth has been expressed by many different thinkers.  Now, 3 months into recovery from spinal injury and continuing daily physical therapy, there is a truth that burns inside of me.  This truth challenges me.  It will not let me rest.  It demands I offer my best self in all interactions.  The truth reveals itself with every sharp lightning bolt of pain that travels down my leg from my spine. 

The truth is this, "do not wait for tomorrow."  Act now, speak now, live now, love now.  Tomorrow is not guaranteed.  I expect to live a long time.  I experience daily painful reminders that today, now, is all I have.  

This beautiful life is not a dress rehearsal.  This is the only life we get.  No more putting off truth, joy, love, gratitude, forgiveness.  "Drop everything and follow me." - Jesus



Daring to be different

"We must dare to be different, to point to ideals other than those of this world, testifying to the beauty of generosity, service, purity, perseverance, forgiveness, fidelity to our personal vocation, prayer, the pursuit of justice and the common good, love for the poor and social friendship."
- Pope Francis, 2019

I read this on June 2, 2019 and I was thrilled and challenged.  Daring to be different and living up to ideals that are not of this world has always been my calling.  Generosity and service go hand in hand in my life.  I have always enjoyed giving my expertise and materials in service to others, especially students and schools.  I enjoy finding ways to provide my services at a reduced rate or at no cost.

I live with purity in the form of our special needs daughter, Ashley.  She is pure in heart, mind and body.  Perseverance has always been a trait that I most admire.  I will hire perseverance over great intellect or talent every time.  I believe true success can only be found in perseverance.

Forgiveness is an ongoing process in my life.  Everyday I learn, everyday I have an opportunity to forgive.  I pray to be more forgiving.  Social justice and the good for all, especially those in need, is the mission of our work.  It has been the mission of my life.


Forgiveness

 The process of forgiveness means that I will no longer feed anger and resentment for past wrongs that I perceive were committed against me.

I forgive and I still remember the lessons. I need to forgive and I need to remember so my part is past hurts does not continue.

For my health and well-being, I need to make peace with the past. When I forgive, I feel a weight lifted from my shoulders and my spirit elevates.

Psychoneuroimmunology teaches that our thoughts influence the cells in our body. The quality of our thoughts affects our entire organism.

Empathy plays a significant role in forgiveness. If we can  allow ourselves to see the world through the eyes of our offender, see and understand his life situation, suffering and intentions, it will help in the process of forgiveness.

We need to be less invested in judgment and more invested and understanding. Forgiveness helps us transform. Letting go of past hurts allows our kindness to grow.

Forgiveness and kindness is not something we do, it is something we are. 


Do no harm

The hippocratic oath that Doctors agree to is "Do no harm."  Although this sounds passive, doing no harm is quite active.  Doing no harm involves self-awareness, self control, and kindness.

Doing no harm requires strenght of character.  We must choose to not participate in hurting anyone.

"Be kind toward anyone you meet, because they are engaged in a big battle." - Philo of Alexandria

Harmlessness and kindness require that we reflect on our thoughts as well as our actions.  Are our thoughts hostile to ourselves or others?  Are we surrendering to anger and negativity?  If we surrender to anger and negativity, we harm ourselves physically and phychologically.  Our inner condition impacts relationships.  Harmlessness also helps us grow spirtually.  It is impossible to grow our consciousness while being negative and judgemental.

Our world and each of us is in need of collaboration, kindness, respect and nonviolence.  



Compassion

Be kind; everyone you meet is struggling with something. We don’t know someone until we know them. Kindness and compassion are always a wise choice.

“Genuine compassion must have both wisdom and loving compassion. That is to say, one must understand the nature of the suffering from which we wish to free others (this is wisdom), and one must experience deep intimacy and empathy with other sentient beings (this is loving kindness).” - Barbara O’Brien




Empathy

Our nation is in need of re-focus on cooperation, social responsibility, compassion and empathy. We need to return to what unites us.  We need to celebrate our strengths through diversity. We need to remember the value and worth of every single human being. Developing empathy is our challenge. What is our common good?

“Many animals survive not by eliminating each other or keeping everything for themselves, but by cooperation and sharing.”  Franz De Wall

Hopefully we are evolving from a time when only the intellectual is celebrated and emotions are dismissed as “touchy-feely.” We need to remember “we are hardwired or connection”, Breńe Brown. We are desperate to care about each other. As mammals we survive by bonding. When we are deprived of physical and emotional caring, we die. Time with family, friends and loved ones brings us health and happiness. In times of real tragedy (9/11) we forget what divides us.

We can be a fighting group of animals.  A charismatic leader’s ability to create outside threats, stoke our fear and pit us against each other is both historically and currently, a reality. We have potential for violence and hatred. We also have great potential for cooperation, mutual caring and compassion. Neuroscience tells us that we are programmed to be empathetic. It is an automatic response. Only psychopaths are immune to the empathy response. The feeling of attachment is part of our limbic system, the feeling brain. The feeling brain connects us to family, friends and caring for others. 

To be empathetic, we need to understand the impact of our behavior on others.  “Empathy is part of our evolution.“ Dewall. We build our empathy by getting to know people, by getting closer to other’s lives and stories, by becoming familiar with their background and history. We all must take action by supporting the dignity of every human being.


You can do hard things

Our journey through life is renewed every day.  We all begin anew.  We are all immigrants traveling to a new land of experience every day.

My journey has me in a new land of significant spinal pain, daily therapy and medical intervention.  I dance with fear on a regular basis.  I am aware that fear minimizes my creativity and positive action.  I now must move beyond fear.  I am committed to move into hope and action. 

I can do hard things.  

I have been courageous in the past and I will be courageous again.  I will take action.  When we avoid hardship, we lose an opportunity to grow strength and be resilient.  I am aware that I do not seek out hardship however, I am grateful for what I have learned.  I have learned to be kind to myself and others. I have learned to be compassionate and empathic.  I have learned to be understanding.  I am currently learning to be patient with myself and others.

I can do hard things.

I am also trying to take action through the pain and hardship.  I can do what I can do.  If I can not sit, I can lie down and stretch.  If I can not walk, I can swim.  If I cannot stand in one place, I can move slowly.  I must take action.  I can read, I can write, I can spell, I can listen, I can feel and I can think.  I can be a resource for others.  I can share my life experiences.  I can help others in any way possible.  When my physical skills are limited, I can take action with my emotional, mental, soul, and spiritual skills.

I can do hard things and you can do hard things.




Believe

"It is not a matter of thinking a great deal but of loving a great deal, 
so do whatever arouses you most to love." - St. Terea of Avila

I believe in a presence, a Higher Power, an unconditional loving God.  I believe this unconditional loving presence knows me and loves me, just the way I am.  I can love when I am in the light and I am loved when I am in the shadow.

We are all worthy of this Divine love.

"Isn't it amazing that we are all made in God's image, and yet there is so much diversity among his people." - Archbishop Desmond Tutu


Affirmation

"It's the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief.  And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen." - Muhammad Ali

In some mysterious way which we are not aware of, through some process which does not explicitly reveal itself, life enters us and with this life comes an irresistible impulse to create.

We all have gifts and talents that are unique to each of us.  Affirmation, affirming our life.  
Affirming our gifts and talents takes deliberate practice.


Sincerity...

"Given Sincerity, there will be enlightenment." 
The Doctrine of the Mean - Ancient Chinese text

As I age, I continue to value sincerity.  Upon frequent assessment, I think it is one of my strengths.  I am not the smartest, certainly not the most handsome and not the most talented, but at my best, I speak from my heart.  I am sincere.

Sincerity asks us to be fully present.  Sincerity comes from the latin sin cere.  Sin cere means "without wax."

"During the Italian Renaissance, sculptors were as plentiful as plumbers, and markets selling marble and other stones were as prevalent as hardware stores.  Frequently, stone sellers would fill the cracks in flawed stones with wax and try to sell them as flawless.  Thus, an honest stone seller became known as someone who was sincere- one who showed his stone without wax, cracks and all.  
A sincere person, then, came to mean someone who is honest and open enough not to hide their flaws.  This honest stance becomes even more important when we consider, as the priest and therapist John Malecki says, that "without vulnerability, there can be no transformation." - Mark Nepo

In not hiding our cracks, we allow the light to shine through the cracks.  I believe sincerity is a stepping stone on the path to enlightenment.

"Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in"
- Leonard Cohen


For Easter Sunday

Ashley has lived longer and more vibrantly than anyone has expected.  Her life is a miracle.

She has come, in her wheelchair, to a few of my speeches and workshops.  Over the course of her 35 years I have shared her story everywhere I have spoken across the continent.  Her presence, her story and her life has touched the hearts of tens of thousands.

Ashley emanates Divine love.  She is pure in her body, mind and spirit.  She has no ego.  Her challenges are obvious.  No physical movement, no vocal ability, no ability to eat, drink or swallow.  her one ability is love, unconditional love.

We, her immediate family, have grown familiar with her routines, sleep, wake, medication, feedings, breathing treatments, percussion, transfer to wheelchair, repeat, repeat repeat for 35 years.  Ashley is open and loving to all treatment.  She is open and loving to all life.  Her deep brown eyes shine with the light of her soul.  Being in her presence is a great blessing. 

In Ashley's presence, I feel the unconditional love of Divinity.  Her warmth radiates through the room.

I have learned to never take a moment of life for granted.  It is a privilege to be in her presence.  I have learned to never hold anything back.  I tell her with each interaction, I love her and how grateful I am to still be with her these past 35 years.

Every life is a blessing.  
Let those we love know that we love them.  
Take nothing and no one for granted.


The Spiritual Life

"The spiritual life is about becoming more at home in your own skin." - Parker Palmer

I am blessed to teach classes where people want to explore their spirituality.  I have come to believe that one aspect of our spirituality is being fully authentic.  When we are integrous, authentic, vulnerable, and transparent, we are our best selves, we are spiritual.

I have experienced the spiritual holding the hand of our special needs daughter.  I have experienced the spiritual listening to the birds on an early spring morning.  I have seen the spiritual in the dust that sunlight pours through, letting me know miracles are real.

"In the world to come, they will not ask me, 'Why were you not Moses?'  
They will ask me, 'Why were you not Zusha?'"
- Zusha of Hanipoli

Our primary spiritual task is to be all God created us to be.  We do not need to aspire to be like someone else.  We only need to be all that we were designed to be.  Our spirituality resides in our authenticity. 



Being Real

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of speaking to 600 educators from Delaware and Maryland.  This is not an uncommon experience in my life.  Over the past 47 years I have often been asked to give keynote speeches and workshops.  I have never thought that what I had to offer was particularly gifted or brilliant.  I know that intellectually, I am very average.  Something that I express however resonates with most people.  I share my life experiences, my heart, my soul.  I have found that being authentic, being transparent and being real does more good than intellect, salesmanship, debate or force.  I find that being real connects.  My life connects with your life.  We are more similar than we are different.  My only intention is to do God's will and share my truth.  As I speak, I see in the eyes and faces of the audience in genuine connection.  We feel the light of our soul's sun begin to shine.  We are warmed in our authenticity and vulnerability.  We begin to grow together.  Some call this love, some compassion and some empathy.  I feel it as community.

Somehow, through the grace of God, my vulnerability and authenticity gives my listeners permission to be fully human.  We remember our innocence, we remember our sense of purpose.  We remember our joy.

My life is blessed to find the courage to be brave and speak my truth, to share the guidance of the still, small voice.  I pray for the continued courage to be brave, to be real.


Being Human

No other form of life has the depth of intellect and consciousness that human beings are privileged to experience.  The Buddhists believe it is a rare gift to be born a human.  That we as humans have the ability to write these words and read these words and feel connected emotionally through these words is rare indeed.  I never want to take the gift of this human life for granted. 

Today we are alive.  Today we share our precious and rare humanity.  
I am grateful to be here with you.  

So how will we act today?  What will we think today?  
How will we feel today?  Who will we connect with today?  

Today we have much to be thankful for.  Today we are awake.  
We are grateful to feel the warmth of the sun and the warmth of those we love.


True Education- authentic, courageous and vulnerable

My purpose in life is to be authentic, courageous, and vulnerable to the truth of my life.  I am here to follow the still, small voice.  The voice I have come to know as God.  It is that spiritual place in all of us that some call soul and others call unconditional love.  I am here to serve that place in you and in me. 

To know who we truly are, to be authentic, is knowing we are connected to the infinite.  I have come to experience that being authentic requires a lifetime of courage.  This courage, this love of life is like a gentle rain eroding the stone walls of ego. Throughout this process I have experienced moments of enlightenment.  I felt at one with Divinity while in prayer in the mountains of Idaho, praying for healing for our special needs daughter, Ashley.  The message I heard in my heart, head and soul was "She is not here to be healed, she is the healer, let her do her work."  From that moment on, I have shared this vulnerability of my daughter and our life together whenever I speak and teach.

I have come to believe that in therapy and education it is essential to focus on the courage, integrity, authenticity, and vulnerability we need to become fully human.  All the best therapists and teachers I have known help facilitate a learning and discovery process.  The learning is in the process.  The Latin root of the word education is educere.  The meaning of educere, the root of education, is to draw out and lead forth.  Education at its best, has always been about drawing out the best in our students.  It is the passionate teacher that leads forth their students into a life of passion and service. 

True education has never been about shoveling more content into the minds and hearts of children.  True education has never been about one test to find how much content they have accumulated.  True education has always been about those that teach courageously and authentically showing spirit and passion that connects with and draws out the passion and value of their students.

This does not happen with force, manipulation, authority, prizes or rewards.  It is through the integrity, warmth and love of our full humanity that we teach each other to transform into spiritual beings. 




Whole Child Educators...Stay true to our calling

As an educator, teacher, counselor, administrator, and now consultant, I always care about being effective.  Am I getting through to my audience, to my listener, to my students?

As whole child educators, we need to remember to be faithful to our mission. We need to be grateful to the gifts that we share.  We need to be grateful that the world needs our gifts.  I experience a world where children, families, and colleagues need passionate and caring educators now, possibly more than ever before.  We must never allow politics and testing to crush the spirits of the children and colleagues we cherish.

We must stay true to our calling.  We must stay true to the precious children entrusted to our care.  We know in our heart of hearts we will never accomplish our tasks in our lifetime.  When at the end of our time we can say "I was true to my calling" we can leave with a full heart.


Healing

“Healing comes with owning our wounds as the first step in any beyond them.”
- Anonymous

I believe in working together.  All of us, different, unique, abled, disabled, sharing our life stories.  Being together, sharing ourselves, seeing different perspectives, understanding and accepting.  Our pain becomes a teacher.  We become more sensitive, more caring, better able to listen, more compassionate and more empathetic.

Pain is challenging.  There are good days and bad days.  There is mild, manageable, pain and there is crippling, debilitating pain.  It moves me forward.  My priories are clear.  I am forward.  I must do what I can, while I can.  I ask for more help.  I find greater discipline. I seek deeper conversations.  I listen for deeper voices.  I find deeper meaning.

We are all here on this blue marble, hurdling through space, trying to do the best we can with what we know.

I remember one of my dear old friends who had devoted his life to recovery.  He had been abused and beaten as a child by his alcoholic father.  When I asked how he was able to forgive for all the years pain and abuse, my friend said, “He was doing the best he could with the what he knew.”

This for me still rings true as one of my greatest lessons in forgiveness and healing.



Speak your truth

"It is by risking ourselves
from one hour to another
that we live at all."
- William James

Although I do not like conflict and throughout my life, I have often tried to avoid it, there is no way to avoid conflict.  I am a passionate man and I am very passionate in my mission to serve children and schools in Social Emotional Learning.  I have found that when we are passionate in our mission, we will encounter conflict.  When I have avoided conflict with others, I have created a deadly conflict in myself.  When I have not shared my truth and passion, that same truth and passion festers inside me.  When I speak my truth and address my mission, at some point I am in conflict with those who would like me to be someone else.

The cost for being authentic is someone will disapprove.  There will be conflict with someone.  The cost of not being real, the cost of being less than myself creates a series of little deaths inside of us.  Trying to please everyone destroys our authenticity.

At 67 years old, I have to speak my truth.  Life is precious.  
Life is too short to appease everyone and suffer the little deaths that come with societal approval.  


Kindness

"Kindness and compassion are among the principal things that make our lives meaningful. Consideration of others is worthwhile because our happiness is inexplicably bound up with the happiness of others."  - the Dalai Lama

Kindness is essential for our survival.  The qualities of kindness, empathy, trust, gratitude and forgiveness are in urgent need today and every day. The human being is hardwired for altruism.  The giving of kindness benefits the receiver, the giver and all who witness kindness.

There is a great deal of hostility, negativity and hatred in the world today.  We tweet, Facebook, Instagram, email and watch hatred every day on TV.  Mean makes headlines but the human race continues because of kindness.  I see kindness every day.  

On February 19th, I had ear surgery at Hahnemann Hospital in Philadelphia.  I felt kindness all day.  My wife got up at 4:30am to get ready to drive me to and from the surgery.  Before we left our home, she got our special needs daughter ready for the day.  Diaper change and feeding from 4:30am to 5am.  Our youngest son Christian took care of his sister including medicine, breathing treatment and percussion vest so we could go to the hospital for a 6:30am appointment.  We entered the hospital to be shown kindness by the car attendant, the reception desk woman, the surgical center registration nurse, the nurse that checked me in.  Every questions was with a smile.  The anesthesiologist was kind and clear with his questions and the ear surgeon was positive and comforting.  In the surgery room, the women who got me set on the operating table were all warm, friendly, clear and kind.  Until the sedation put me to sleep, all I experienced was kindness.

I awoke to a sweet voice saying "Mr. Stecher, surgery is over, you did great."  In recovery, I continued to be treated with kindness and respect.  Being helped, supported, and guided to the bathroom and to the post op recovery room where I got to see Sandra, my role model for kindness.

I was helped to dress, given post op instructions and a kind man wheeled me to our car.  Sandra drove home and made me soup.  The rest of the day, as everyday, my wife, children and friends showered me with kindness.  My loved ones are kind because it is in our DNA to be kind.  So it is for all of us.  We are born to be kind.

Kindness gives meaning and value to our lives.  It makes us healthy physically and psychologically.  Kindness has an essential impact on our health and well-being.  Kindness can transform us.  Kindness is a universal intervention.  A child treated with kindness grows in health.  A student treated with kindness grows to believe in themselves.

Kindness is giving up revenge and domination.  In kindness, we recognize others perspectives.  We work to understand their point of view and their challenges.  

We are at a critical time in America.  Kindness is essential to our survival as a people, as a nation.

"One nation under God (kindness), with liberty and justice (kindness), for all (kindness)."


Connection


One of the greatest human needs, along with food, water, shelter and touch.  We are biologically designed to nurture, connect, and touch each other.

“We are hardwired for connection” - Berne Brown

It is through the human power of kindness and connection that we will solve the challenges of the world.  I am no longer enammered with intellect.  I know too many very bright intellectuals doing very little to help the world and the people in the world.  I also know countless individuals whose compassion, empathy, and kindness has touched hearts, minds, and saved lives.  We have the power to be warm, caring, sensitive, open and understanding.  These profound human character traits bring a deep heartfelt caring for the value of every precious human life.

We all need compassion.  In our pain and grief we are healed by the loving presence of another human being.  Love is the greatest of all human strengths.  Love transforms our pain into forgiveness, gratitude, and integrity.

We are all blessed with our own personal stories of challenge, compassion and growth.  I invite each of us to reflect back on our lives to a time when we were compassionate.  Allow yourself to remember and feel the warmth of extending compassion and love to another fellow human being.   These are the transformational moments of life.  Those single moments of trusting, listening, saying I love you, holding a hand and giving a hug.  These are the finest moments of human connection.



Compassion

"From your brains perspective, treating people around you with kindness is usually, but not always, the right response." - Dr. Paul Zak, Trust Factor

Compassion improves behavior much more than being tough.  Throughout my 47 years in education, I have often investigated and discussed with fellow educators what is our best intervention for a student who is underperforming or behaving inappropriately.  In my 20's, I sometimes responded with anger and frustration.  Expressing my frustration was a very honest reaction and did allow an outlet for my stress.  It may have stopped the students inappropriate behavior for a short period of time because her or she was frightened but overall it was not helpful.  Generally I have found that punishment is not helpful in challenging behavior.  I have grown to the place that in my late 60's, I preach to focus on compassion and curiosity.

Compassion and curiosity ask "What happened to you?"  Compassion and curiosity moves me from the judgmental place of "What's wrong with you?"

Current research in Trauma Informed Care and empathy tells me compassion will be the better intervention.  Compassion and curiosity will initiate connection, build relationships, and build trust and loyalty.  Students will see their teachers as kind and this kindness "elevates" their trust and loyalty.

"Trust profoundly improves performance by providing the foundation for effective teamwork and intrinsic motivation." - Dr. Paul Zak, Trust Factor

Research also tells us that not only will the student who receives our compassion and curiosity be elevated, but all the students who witness our compassion will also increase their trust and loyalty and be elevated as well.

Compassion increases human beings desire and willingness to trust.  Neuroscience confirms, trust improves behavior and performance.  Compassion also reduces the students stress response.  The reduction in stress and the increase in trust increases creativity, learning and innovation.

Steps to respond with Compassion

- Take a Breath
We need to take a pause and breathe.  We need to control our initial fight, flight, or freeze response.  Pausing to take a breath invites a more mindful response.

- Empathize
We need to see the whole child and be aware of all that is impacting their life and current behavior.

- Forgive
Forgiveness strengthens our connection and relationship with students.  Forgiveness builds trust.  Forgiveness lowers your blood pressure and that of the persona you are forgiving.  Forgiveness reduces stress.

Compassion produces connection, trust, loyalty, creativity, learning and innovation.  
Compassion lowers stress and improves our overall health and well-being.

"We don't have to earn the right to compassion; it is our birthright." - Dr. Kristin Neff


Awareness

The secret of mindfulness is simply paying attention, being aware.  The older I get, I realize that my education as a human being is based on being aware.  Aware of the small, minute details of life.

All of our relationships, thoughts, feelings and actions are enhanced when we bring our awareness to the moment. 

I can easily mentally complicate my life and bring mental clutter and stress into it.  It is simply and profoundly being aware that allows me to be in tune with the warmth of the sun on a cold winter day, the song of a bird on a clear morning, the unique touch of a loved one that touches my heart.  When we are fully aware, our love is enhanced.

Awareness is being in the moment.  Being in the now.  Wisdom is in the moment.  Love is in the moment.  Awareness is sensitivity.  Awareness is being connected to life.  In awareness, we are connected to other hearts and minds.  In awareness, we are connected to our thoughts and feelings.  This internal awareness brings peace.


Love is life

Love is knowing we are connected to everything.

Imagine what a wonderful world it would be if we could walk into every interaction with loving intention.  Love often brings forth a similar response.  Both the giver of love and the receiver of love benefit.  Research into loving kindness tells us that the witness of loving interaction also benefits.  

Love is also healing.  I have witnessed and felt it whenever our daughter Ashley is in the hospital.  The love of her family, friends, nurses, and Doctors is part of her healing process.

Our world needs your love.

Love brings value and worth into our relationships.  Love brings appreciation, joy, compassion, empathy, connection, celebration and life.  Love connects us to meaning and purpose in our life.  Love helps us see the good in others.  Love also helps us appreciate our unique selves.  Love helps us appreciate rather than judge.

Love is life.


Hate will have to dissipate and be broken by love

If we stand up to hate, the world will be blessed with a freedom never known before.  

If we fail to speak our truth, 
if we fail to stand up to hate with love, 
the whole world, 
including everyone we know and love and all those we care for,
 will sink into a depth known in history as the holocaust.  

Let us pray together in love and respect and care,
and believe and accept one another,
no matter how different.


More similar than different

We all reach for different dreams
but deeper within each of us resides
the same Divine spark that reaches
for our unique dreams

Each of us has a unique role to play in life.  Each of our unique roles is essential in building a beautiful community, family, or relationship.  At the core of our uniqueness, there is a Divine seed, a spark of universal love that is in and surrounds all of us.  At our core, we are the same.  We are all seeds of Divinity.  

Empathy teaches us that when we look past our outer shells and when we see deeply into the soul of another, we find ourselves.  At the center of humanity, we all share the same fears and the same joys.  

In my youth, I worked hard to be an individual.  I worked to be creative and unique.  I confess to being proud of my differences.  Now in my 67th year, my primary goals are to build community.  I strive to help all I come in contact with, see their similarities.  I continue to be humbled to be a part of building an understanding and empathetic community. 

Through years of unrelenting back pain and the fear for our special needs daughter's health challenges, I have experienced the vulnerability of my full humanity.  When I was leaving IC, after being with my daughter who was in recovery from pneumonia, I caught the eye of another worried visitor in the elevator.  We looked at each other, tired, worried, and unified in our grief.  In that moment, I realized, we are more similar than we are different.

To love another person is to see the face of God.  


We are more alike than different by Hulya Kara

Purpose

One of the great joys in my life is helping others find and practice their sense of purpose.  I believe that one of the primary reasons for our lives is to find and practice our sense of purpose.  Our sense of purpose is unique to each of us.  We are blessed when we share our purpose with others.  There is no greater joy then to be on purpose.

If you have a sense of purpose, be grateful and practice.  If you are not sure of your purpose, reflect on the moments in your life when you feel joy.  I find that our sense of purpose is difficult to find when we are self absorbed.  When we are being of service to someone else or something greater than us, our purpose is often revealed.

Over the course of my life, I have often reflected and worked on my sense of purpose.  My purpose statement found me in my early days while reading "A Course of Miracles", 1976.