Yearly Archives: 2012

Letter to My Son – by Christina Antonick

This summer I wrote the following letter to my now almost 20 year old son, Deva, as I was reading Sobunfu Some’s wonderful book, “The Spirit of Intimacy”.  In the past month of R+R, I have sat with over 130 Grade 9 youth.  Many of our conversations are about family, health and growing up in the world today.  The letter below is one I want to share with all youth I work with… as an R+R facilitator, I see myself as a community member who values and holds in high esteem, each of our youth’s powerful spirit.

Deva,

I have been reading a book written by a fantastic woman called Sobonfu Some from West Africa called “The Spirit of Intimacy”.  I think you would like it- it’s all about relationships, community and living together in really beautiful ways.

One of the things she says is that, “We must try not to educate our children away from the spirit, so that they don’t have to work so hard trying to reconnect when they grow up.  When they know they already have spirit, then everything else becomes understood.  And it makes life easier for them.  This is how to succeed as a parent: acknowledge that there is a powerful spirit present that should be honoured instead of taken away.  This is how to succeed in a relationship.”

Reading this, I felt it important to ask you if you know that you have a great Spirit- and by this, I don’t mean spirit in the sense of being a nice, polite, good guy.  All of these things are true and come from your Spirit.  Your spirit is your essence and it is connected to the Spirit around you in community, it is in/of the earth and it was with you long before you were born and will be with you long after you die- no one else on the Earth, has a spirit like yours.  Your spirit can guide your work, your art, relationships and creativity but beyond all these things, your spirit lives.

It has taken me until 42 years old to begin to believe that no matter what happens in my life – I can always trust my Spirit as it is related to a larger Spirit.  I am learning that an important way I can get in touch and stay rooted in my Spirit is to sit quietly each day and meditate and be aware of my breath.  I think doing yoga is a wonderful way to do this.

I wanted to write you because as your mother, it is my responsibility to let you know that the more you focus your attention on your breath, being able to relax and open your heart, trust that Life/Spirit is always guiding you and will never leave you, you will continue to grow a deep trust in the truth of your Spirit- from this place – Life will unfold exactly as it should.  Sometimes the things we want to happen – do happen and sometimes they do not.  If we can practice keeping open and trusting towards ourselves and others – we are in touch with our Spirit and others Spirits as well.  I think one of the biggest things that is shifting in our world right now is the realization that we are all connected and wish to feel like we belong in our world – with our friends, family and even strangers.

For a long time,  some people have focused on being individuals, separate and in many ways lonely and isolated. We are realizing that in many ways, while we are all unique individuals, we are also very similar, with similar problems, fears and challenges and that the way through these is through having our hearts open to each other.

I want to make sure you know that I believe you are capable of achieving whatever it is you truly want as far as your Spirit and work/creativity.  And I will always do my best to help you in whatever way I can.  I do believe that having a spiritual practice is as important as going to school and that a practice like meditation/yoga/prayer will be as useful in the long run.  If you need guidance/support around understanding what I mean when I say “spiritual practice”- I would love to talk more with you about this.  Perhaps we can begin a practice together as mother and son.  Maybe we can talk about what it actually means to pray/meditate and find 15 minutes each week to do it at the same time together.

These are just a few of my thoughts that I wanted to share with you.  I would love to hear your thoughts as I know you are on a great growing/learning path and that I have lots to learn from you.

With love and respect for your Spirit,

Your Mom,

Christina

 

 

 

 

Miss Representation – by Christina Antonick

We have a new 2011 Sundance film, “Miss Representation,” in our SWOVA library! Featuring Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda, Jackson Katz, Katie Couric, Margaret Cho, Condoleezza Rice and Nancy Pelosi, it is a riveting 90 min documentary film exploring sexism in media, politics and North American social conditioning. Often in Respectful Relationships (R+R) classes I hear youth say, “ Salt Spring Island is different…its not like the rest of the world.” I feel concerned and frustrated by such responses as it is vividly clear to me that sexism and hyper-masculinity are alive here on SSI as are racism and homophobia. I explain to them that our program is about continuing to evolve as global citizens on both the personal and collective level…that our vision is to work here on Salt Spring as well as effect change in the world out there beyond Salt Spring Island. Being able to feel ourselves connected and responsible in this way is one of the core virtues we teach in the program – empathy. Empathy, compassion and reflection are deeply needed in our world today. In “Miss Representation,” women and men articulate that media is actively distracting youth from making a difference and becoming leaders. When I repeatedly hear in our R+R circles this year, “One person can’t make a difference…,” I hear the social virus right here in our classrooms on Salt Spring Island.

“Miss Representation” shares startling facts and statistics that are meant to shake and disturb. Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s movie makes connections between government under-representation, media’s limiting and disparaging portrayals of women and how these make it difficult for the average girl to see herself as powerful. And yes, from my decade of working here on Salt Spring Island, I continue to see young girls struggling with self-esteem, body image, depression and anxiety located within constructs of sexism. I would confidently make the connection between sexism, media, technology and young women’s struggles. It is both personal as well as extremely political. I would encourage all of us to really show up for a deeper and much needed conversation about sexism and how it is hurting all of us but in particular, girls and women. This is what social and emotional literacy and 21st century learning must embrace so that both girls and boys, young men and women can climb out of the boxes that are literally, killing them

Watch the Miss Representation trailer here

Christina Antonick – R+R Adult Facilitator

“The Lie” is a Great Big, Giant, No Good, Misogynistic Lie – by Kevin Vowles

There are those of us in this world building a culture of peace, caring, kindness, and love.  Caring about the violence and responding to it are critical in reducing, lessening and eventually ending it.

The Lie, by Chad Kultgen, is a tale woven from the perspective of three college students in Texas, caught up in a perpetual cycle of violence, and dysfunctional relationships.  A response to this book is critical for me as a man involved in the struggle to end violence.  I respond because I care.  There are no other reviews on the internet by men that I can find, and perhaps this is what I find even more disturbing than the book itself.

The central character, Brett, is set to inherit a fortune should he take over his father’s shipping company.  He has a crisis of conscience, as he doesn’t want to walk the same ‘dull’ path as his father and his father before him. I doubt it is any crisis of conscience though based on the rest of his social actions, as he spends the majority of the book trying (and succeeding) to defile women in every way imaginable. He reaches his peak of depravity by visiting an island in the Caribbean inhabited solely by commercial sex trade workers (the Island is dubbed Whore Island), he contracts genital herpes—which he uses to infect his best friend’s ex-girlfriend (who dumped him after he gave her a fake engagement ring), in a sinisterly devised plot filled with as much revenge as one could imagine.

From Brett’s socially learned perspective, women only engage in relationships or sex, with men, so that they can gain access to their material wealth.  The entire plot centers on this sexist stereotype of women as gold-diggers.

For every 1000 billionaires on the planet, only 14 are women, according to Forbes magazine,.  Many of the world’s richest men have no doubt built fortunes on the exploitation, rape, pillage, and extraction of the planet’s natural resources and people, considering the present state of the planet.  The fact that women raise the majority of the world’s children, on top of contributing to family finances, is given zero credence in the book.  The remarkable work of social justice and peace advocates, health care professionals, feminists, educators, and other great women is forgotten. Truthfully though, the real exploiters in this world are men.

Under the description of the book on Harper Perennial’s website there is a warning: “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” The story glorifies the objectification of women.  It is not a critique of the sexist nature of our society.  It is clear that Chad Kultgen is not attempting to trigger any kind of mass awakening to the injustice of a system which enables men to feel entitled to use and abuse women, but perhaps with some luck that is exactly what he has done.  However, as a violence prevention facilitator I’m actually fairly certain that the book has value.  It is a ringing indictment of the fact that not only is sexism, extreme objectification and exploitation of women through pornography, binge drinking with the intention of ‘getting laid’, human trafficking, and the date rape drug, alive and well, but that more than ever, the world needs decent, respectful boys and men to grow up and engage in the struggle to end gender inequality.

If you’re reading this, feeling angry, and wanting to get involved, you should be proud to take the first steps as an ally to women and girls.  From here, I’d recommend heading to www.missrepresentation.com where you can watch the film Miss. Representation. You can also go to www.antipornmen.org, where men speak out against pornography. Or, visit author websites such as Jackson Katz, David Hatfield or Paul Kivel—all influential men working on issues of violence, masculinity, sexism and homophobia.
For the full version of this book review head to www.kevinvowles.wordpress.com

by Kevin Vowles, R+R Adult Facilitator

More Funding for the R+R Program

Press Release – 31 October 2012

We are delighted to hear that the Respectful Relationships Program (R+R) has two more funders. Coast Capital Saving’s generous grant of $10,000 and Mid-Island Coop’s grant of $1,000 will go towards delivering the R+R workshops to approximately 500 students in our schools in School District #64.  It is through the support of businesses, foundations and our local community that we are able to teach students about respect and safety in relationships.

Without your support, we would not have been able to keep the R+R program going for the last 13 years.  We and the students appreciate all our supporters.  Violence prevention is key to making a more peaceful world and with your support you are actively participating in creating a non-violent community.

An R+R student summed it up:

“I personally think that respecting others is the most important skill in every kind of circumstance.  When people are respecting one another, conflicts will gradually decrease, as long as people are willing to listen and accept other’s opinions.”

 

Every year we receive feedback from youth in the R+R program who say it has changed their lives.  When grade 10 students were asked what they would apply based on what they learned in the R+R program they shared the following comments:

“Being able to reflect on difficult situations with myself and others.”

“I’ll have a lot more empathy and be able to deal with negative emotions in a healthier way.”

“I’ll think about other people’s feelings and be careful about what I say.”

 

The students in the R+R Youth Team learn to support their peers and co-facilitate workshops for younger students.  They take on leadership roles by modeling respect, assertiveness and awareness around issues like sexism, racism, and homophobia.  By participating in the Youth Team, they gain skills which they will use in their life and work.

As one youth team member put it:

“This work experience undoubtedly has a strong impact on developing my personal thinking towards different situations in school and outside school, building cooperative skills when participating on a team, building self-esteem and capability to speak in public.”

 

You are supporting a more peaceful culture – A big thank you to Coast Capital Savings and Mid-Island Co-op!

For more information about the R+R program, go to the Respectful Relationships page

Respecting Ourselves, Each Other and the Earth – by Christina Antonick

On the way to the high school this morning, I hear the line “the deep intelligence of the Earth” and decide to weave it into our morning check in with our Grade 9 students. Check ins are skill-building opportunities in reflective listening, empathy and assertive communication. Each youth is given the floor to share how they are feeling (we encourage them to move beyond socially acceptable “good” or “fine”) and answer a question that Kevin or I bring into the session. So my question is this… “One way I am taking care of the deep intelligence of the Earth is…”

It’s a deep, provocative, and confusing question. There isn’t one answer. These are the questions I enjoy putting forward into our R+R circles. I let youth know that being confused or not knowing answers is something they should not be ashamed of.  Just last week, I listened to a CBC radio documentary on the neurological importance of the “unknown”.

And on point, the question evokes further questions, confusion and debate. My kind of morning! I love my work.  Arriving into the possibility of circle each day and getting present.  The world needs more circles and definitely ones with lots of Grade 9’s.

Youth debate the term “deep intelligence of the Earth” and discuss tree, plant and animal intelligence. We weave in environmental concerns and one youth offers that he is taking care by making music.  Some youth ask what this has to do with them and refuse to see the connection between the Earth and us as humans.  I wonder if we asked the same question to youth in Asia, Africa, South America or in indigenous communities if the response would be any different. Other questions including, “ Is getting lost in life valuable sometimes?” and “Do we always need to have a plan?” emerge.

Grade 9, Monday morning.  Thoughtful, curious and wise voices show up in the circle. There are moments of quiet (we are working on explaining to youth why slowing down and embracing quiet are huge relationship skills!) and group wonder.

This R+R circle is one way we are taking care of the deep intelligence of the Earth.

 

Christina Antonick – Adult facilitator, Respectful Relationships Program (R+R)

Systemic Violence and the Death of Amanda Todd – by Lynda Laushway

The recent tragic suicide of Amanda Todd is front-page news in Canada. Cyber-bullying and other forms of bullying are the topic of many conversations. What seems to be missing from the conversations is the desire to look at the systemic violence, attitudes and behaviour that underlie all forms of bullying.

 Fazeela Jiwa, writer and former BC high school teacher writes: “Why isn’t anyone talking about the sexism and misogyny involved in Amanda Todd’s life and death? ‘Bullying’ is important, yes, but it is a vague term that glosses over the structural reasons for why it happens, like race/gender/class/ability (and I would add homophobia). If we don’t start talking about the specifics of power structures in high schools, every ‘bullying’ campaign will be a waste of time… Bullying is not childish; not a thing that happens solely to teenagers; those same learned behaviours are the ones that circulate in the workplace, in clubs, on the street, and any other adult-inhabited place.”

 According to Jarrah Hodge, who writes and educates on gender representations in media, politics and pop-culture: “There was no discussion of the pressure girls like Amanda experience to measure their worth through their sexual desirability. From her story it sounds like this man had the hallmarks of a predator—he tried to use her photos to blackmail her and yet she’s the one who got blamed. This comes from the idea that it’s up to girls and women to protect their purity at the same time as all their role models in the media say that you need to ‘get a man’ to be a complete person, that you need to be sexually attractive to be liked, appreciated, and valued. She said the guy she showed off to was telling her how beautiful she was. Given our culture that can be really tempting for a girl.”

The question is- do we want to tackle the real problems of systemic violence in our society that manifest in behaviour such as bullying and harassment? Do we want to look at the messages in our culture that create enormous pressures and isolation for girls like Amanda, or do we want to simplify the issue and say we need to crack down on bullies?  I think that the answer is we need both.  Bullies need to know that their behaviour will not be tolerated and we also need to change school culture so that systemic violence cannot find a breeding ground where dozens of youth join in and become the harassers.

Blogger Krissy Darch says: “This man’s intention, when he threatened Todd with exposure of the coercive images, was to make Todd feel like a whore. The weapon that this man was able to rely on was the judgment of our society. Under our unequal social and economic conditions, the stakes are higher when a woman falls out of favour with her community. For a girl or woman, falling out of favour with her community can mean a sentence to a nightmarish cycle of distress.”

With education for our youth about systemic violence and the consequences, and what social justice means, we can change school cultures and find a way to support our youth rather than marginalize and isolate them. That would be real social change and a positive outcome from the tragic death of Amanda Todd.

 

Lynda Laushway –  Executive Director of SWOVA

I can’t sit around the fire anymore… By Kevin Vowles

So I’ve been struggling.  I’ve participated in a surf culture for the last 4 years that has dominated my social life.  All of my ‘close friends’ in BC are kitesurfers.  Most of them I would classify as good people – friendly, outgoing, and easy to be around.  It’s been one of the most amazing experiences of my life to be part of a culture that is so unique and vibrant.  We kite in incredible places, nestled in nature, doing saunas, laughing and playing.  It’s fun.

My struggle is that I find all of the conversation centres around kitesurfing and the equipment associated with the sport.  While the conversation is interesting and relevant, I find myself stagnating and wanting something more. I know it is because of the amazing learning I have done through my job as a facilitator with SWOVA’s Respectful Relationships program. I find that a lot of the interactions focus on competition (who has the best move) and who has travelled where to kitesurf and what these experiences have been like.  Trouble is I need more.  I need more from my social interactions than just surface interactions, centering around kitesurfing.  What I believe many men and women are most longing for is connection — a departure from competition.

Last weekend I went to my favourite spot to kite, and bumped into one of my favourite kitesurfing friends.  He and I usually hang out (often just the two of us) and the conversations with us seem to steer into some different and highly interesting areas, though frequently they come back to kitesurfing — which is ok.  He is one of the few people I can spend an extensive amount of time with and feel as though I am connecting on a deep and meaningful level.  At the campfire that night was another fellow who has been known to say some hugely sexist things.  Now I’ve been coming to a place where I can openly admit that I’m uncomfortable with sexism, find it offensive and call someone out for their behavior.  But as I pulled up a chair that night to the campfire, and settled into the conversation about kiteboarding I realized that I just couldn’t pull off sitting around all night listening to the same old, same old.  I knew in that moment more than any other that I yearn for something more, and I’m not getting it.  Luckily I hadn’t spoken to anyone there about whether or not I was staying overnight or not, and so I decided that I would leave, excused myself and drove home.  I tried to process it on the drive that night, but didn’t have much luck, and as per usual find that now that I am putting it into writing, I understand the situation with a new lens.

Often I find that the sexist behavior I’ve seen in the surf culture is brought out by consumption of alcohol, which I haven’t consumed in four years now.  I will admit that it does make me somewhat uncomfortable to be in situations where there is a lot of alcohol being consumed, and this did slightly factor into my decision to leave, but it wasn’t all there was to my decision.  I knew though that the sexist behavior would likely rear its’ head that night, and although I’m ready to confront it, I realized what pushed me away that night to drive the logging roads in the dark to make the last ferry back home to the island.

I want to surround myself with people who nourish my soul in a peaceful way, and I’m not sure that there is always going to be room for that within my current social circles.  Kitesurfing nourishes my soul and of course I want the social aspect that comes with the soul journey that kitesurfing has been for me. I want my friends to still be my friends and I’m sure that on some level they will be, but I also know I feel a sadness because I’m moving on from them being the center of my social life, to growing into a member of the Salt Spring Island community, where I know instinctively that I will find more of what I need.  As with any departure from the familiar, or more specifically loss, there is a discomfort, and sadness which ensues.  It is a loss, but there is also something gained, and that is me surrounding myself with people who I know will inspire me to grow into the man I’m becoming.  There’s always an upside of a shift in a different direction.

To read more about kitesurfing: www.kevinvowles.wordpress.com

Bullying Leaves Scars for a Lifetime – by Megan Manning

Bullying is a universal problem, but we’ve only really heard about it in the last 20 years or so.  Tragic stories of suicides and murders in the news have shocked educators and parents into taking more notice of bullying.  The vast majority of bullying does not end in such dramatic and tragic ways.  There are more subtle effects and repercussions for victims and bullies later in life.  Stories can be helpful to those experiencing bullying, so in the hopes that this might help someone out there, this is my story.

I am now in my 50’s and when I was a child, my family moved a lot, so I did not have experience of school or interacting with kids my own age.  Life at home was relaxed and loving, so it was a cruel shock when I was sent to a co-ed boarding school at age 5.  I cried a lot, moped about, and the other kids saw me as a potential victim.  The bullying started pretty much right away. I was beaten up, ridiculed, and my dolls thrown into mud puddles.  I begged the other kids to play with me and a favourite torment was to agree to play with me and once we got to the woods or the playing field, they would yell “lets run away from Megan,” and I was left in the field alone.  The worst times were bedtimes and mornings. We slept in dormitories with up to 10 kids in one room so you can imagine the opportunities for bullying.  One morning, when I was 8, a particular ring leader decided that he would ‘rape’ me.  He tried to climb up onto my bunk (I was on the top bunk) as the other kids cheered him on. I didn’t entirely understand what ‘rape’ meant, but I was determined not to let him on to my bunk.  I smashed his hands with my fists and kicked him in the face, but he kept trying to get up.  Finally one kid went to get help and a teacher broke it up.

In the beginning, some of the older kids took pity on me.  They let me hang out in their rooms and gave me sweets.  This made the younger kids jealous and the bullying increased, so the headmistress suggested that the older kids should stop being nice to me.  She also had a solution to my toys being broken: – don’t bring any toys to school. In those days, finding support from adults at my school didn’t work. As I got older, the injustice of it all fired inside my head trying to explode and I learned to fight and scream.

Finally someone suggested that I be moved into a smaller room with just one other kid.  This improved the situation but did not stop it completely.  I withdrew into my own world, spent hours sitting in the woods, staring up at the light through the branches and playing with my imaginary friends.  I also learned to read which helped me to escape into fantasy worlds and started a life-long addiction to fantasy and science fiction novels.

When I was a child, bullying was just part of the reality of being a kid. The established way to deal with bullies was punishment, not prevention or education.  The focus was on the bullies’ behaviour and the more trouble they got into, the more they would bully. The main message that I got was that I should just stop feeling sorry for myself and get over it.

When I was 10, my older sister had a talk with me: “Megan, the reason they bully you is because you put on a good show.  If you want them to stop, you have to ignore them and pretend that it doesn’t bother you.”  I tried out this technique at bed-time when one of the kids stole my clothes and locked them up. Inside I was panicking,  “How am I going to get dressed in the morning?”  Outwardly, I pretended to be completely unbothered.   They soon lost interest in teasing me about my clothes and in the morning, I calmly went up to him and asked for my clothes back.  He gave them to me.  It was simple. Don’t give the bullies what they want and they will lose interest. I wish someone had explained that to me earlier.

Although this technique worked when I was 10, there has been a down side. As an adult, I find myself ignoring people when they are mean to me instead of being assertive and standing up for myself.  I guess the behaviour stuck.

In my opinion, most kids who are bullied react either by becoming completely passive or fighting tooth and nail.  I found that neither of these techniques worked for me.  Ignoring the bullies and being assertive and calm worked.  Unfortunately not many schools teach kids how to be assertive and calm.   Solutions are based on punishment which in many situations, including mine, did absolutely nothing to remedy the problem and in some cases has escalated it.  I’m not saying that I have all the answers or that bullies shouldn’t be punished, I’m just telling my story and sharing my observations.  Bullying has repercussions and my experience has affected me throughout my life.

Social and Emotional Learning and Why it Matters to Our Children – by Lynda Laushway

Social and emotional learning are as important to our children as learning to read and write.  They are skills for life that will support our children to become successful and caring adults.  They are the skills that build community and our relationships with each other and promote fairness and social justice.  They are important both for our work and our personal lives.  Social and emotional learning are the basis of youth healthy relationship skill development and underpin community safety and well-being.

In our complex world, well-rounded youth need to be provided with academics combined with social and emotional learning. Schools have been shown to be ideal places for developing these skills and they can be taught.  Social and emotional competence creates a safe and caring learning environment within schools and improves academic achievements.

Daniel Goleman, author the book entitled Emotional Intelligence, is one of the founders of the Chicago-based Casel organization, www.casel.org . Their focus is on promoting children’s success in school and life and to establish social and emotional learning as an essential part of education.

According to the Casel group, “social and emotional learning promotes young people’s academic success, health, and well-being at the same time that it prevents a variety of problems such as alcohol and drug use, violence, truancy, and bullying. Social and emotional learning helps students become good communicators, cooperative members of a team, effective leaders, and caring, concerned members of their communities. It teaches them how to set and achieve goals and how to persist in the face of challenges. These are precisely the skills that today’s employers consider important for the workforce of the future. Research clearly demonstrates that social and emotional skills can be taught through school-based programs”.

For over a dozen years SWOVA has offered the Respectful Relationships program in SD#64.  The program is based on social and emotional learning. It is important for every student in Canada to have this opportunity in their school.