I spent a huge chunk of today working on my website for graduate school. My topic has morphed from true computer science instruction to gamificiaton of the classroom - a concept so new that the computer always tells me I am misspelling the word. Anywho, a good friend of mine posted this fantastic article about something called "The Compassion Games". She already has her M.A. of Ed. and is crazy, wicked smart. She teaches high schoolers and they create games - among other amazing things they do in class. She is always explaining the benefits of gaming. This game is full of epic goodness.
Basically, you can earn points by doing acts of kindness. They tested the game out in a pretty violent woman's prison and the shift in culture was profound. Sharing food, and cleaning up someone else's space were just a few ways that the women could earn points. Gang leaders were re-designated as "Compassion Ambassadors" and after playing the game, the prisoners began to self-identify as "compassionistas". This was a profound shift from the daily violence before the games started. You can check out the story here.
All of which, got me thinking about the ways that we can shape the world around us. The shift in focus from punishment and tightening of the rules, to giving people a new purpose and allowing them to redefine themselves led to a cultural transformation. Think about it - the gang leaders were literally given new names and because those names gave them new purpose - the world around them was changed.
This is the terrifying power that is embedded in the world of the classroom. It can be a place where students are empowered and encouraged, but we've all had the flip side of that experience. I remember vividly my 10th grade math teacher mocking my lack of understanding in front of the entire class. Perhaps he was trying to be funny, or maybe he'd had a very rough morning. I don't really know. The only thing I do know is that I never asked another question for the rest of my high school math career. I redefined myself in that moment and stamped the lable- : BAD AT MATH across my heart where it remained for a very, long time. Of course, my 6th grade teacher did the complete opposite. She made a point of reading a story I had written to the entire class, telling us she enjoyed it so much that she had read it out loud to her husband when she'd been grading it. She took me aside afterwords, and said, "You are a writer. You spell nearly every word wrong, but it doesn't matter because your ideas are so unique and lovely. We can fix the spelling but no one can teach you to write like that. It is your gift." She could've tossed the work aside based on the spelling or maybe even the neatness but she looked beyond it, and was able to discover the words underneath.
And it is a power that is true and evident in all things, really - not just schools or prisons, but everywhere. I stopped going to Starbucks and started going to Dutch Bros. coffee because of their positive, encouraging spirit. It is what their brand is all about - making the world a better place and making good coffee. Joy, compassion, and positivity are not just abstract ideas they have a presence that is tangible.
While waiting for the Husband to return from band practice last night, I found myself watching one of those "What Would You Do" shows - mostly I was snoozing. One story showed a woman taking the gas pump out of a stranger's car and pumping the gas into her own car while the person (an actor) went inside the store. There were tons of people who confronted her - taking her picture and angrily calling her out. There was only one man who saw what she did, and stopped her as she went to leave. "Do you need money?" He asked with compassion. "Do you need money for gas?" He handed her a twenty and offered no anger or shame. The actress seemed positively flummoxed. She had expected the usual reaction: anger and retribution, but his act of kindness seemed to leave her with no response. They asked him after they revealed it was just a show, why he gave her money. "She seemed down on her luck. I just figured she needed a little help." Man, he was such a kind person -- he thought of the one thing that no one else did; maybe she just needed some help.
I fall short in this area many times. I know I need to lean on patience, kindness, and compassion - not only with strangers but with family and friends. I want to be slow to anger and quick to forgive. I want to play the Compassion Games not just for a few days or as a research project. I want to be a player for life.
Keep moving forward,