A lot of people think my chosen field is new age-y. Some think I’m a child care professional or a drum teacher. When asked what I do and I explain that I ‘provide specialized interactive rhythm and music programs for all ages and abilities,’ the person usually responds with some form of, “well, we already have a music teacher” or “cool, I used to play percussion in marching band.” Today let’s talk about what interactive rhythm and music programs have to offer besides generic music skills – namely, anti-bullying and pro-kindness skills: no matter if you’re 5 or 95. People will always need to improve their people skills at every stage of development, and rhythm is a totally accessible method for doing it.
I talk a lot about when I was a child. There are two reasons for this. The first is that I had a pretty great childhood and I’m passionate about creating opportunities for today’s children to have some great and memorable experiences. The second reason is because I was bullied, and it has affected my adult personality in ways I’m only beginning to realize. Oh, you say that bullying doesn’t exist in your school, your company, your family, your organization? Well, even if it’s not outright bullying with a capital “B,” I’ll tell you that at the very least, there is room for improvement in communications.
The self-confidence crisis in schools
When we mention “bullying,” the first thought is usually what happens in schools – ‘mean girls’ singling each other out, rough-looking boys beating kids up for lunch money, and the alarming statistics on teen suicide and school tragedies. Yep, this is where it starts. Kids are impressionable. The same goes for their impressions of how to treat people. Kids look at their teachers, parents, grandparents, friends, and imaginary TV pals to subconsciously determine how to act toward each other. An unkind word from a classmate can have some pretty nasty effects if the responsible adults don’t or can’t act properly. My bullies were my friends until middle school turned them into antagonizers (or silent by-standers); my loving and supportive parents weren’t able to protect me from the nasty words at school. My well-meaning principal had no protocol in particular to follow. My self-confidence, never having wavered much before, was at an all-time low.
The communication crisis in the workplace
I once worked for an organization (which remains anonymous) that had a dramatic blow-up in accounting. A co-worker and a supervisor got into a heated argument and yelled at each other in the office, resulting in the firing of the irate employee, and also resulting in dramatic whispers about the incident by the rest of the employees – who loved their juicy gossip, I must say.
Where was the communication in this scenario? Was either employee making an effort to be an empathetic listener, and were any of the bystanders doing anything to improve communication? These days, many people are experiencing a disconnect, feeling as if they are anonymous or aren’t being heard. If you’ve never worked for a large company, watch the movie Office Space or an episode of Better Off Ted to get a dose of the communication disconnect. Corporate employees and medical care professionals especially experience the feeling that they don’t matter enough to their employers. As a result, stress is high, tempers become short, and turnover happens at a rate that costs these companies money each year in new hire and training costs.
A shift in mentality
Through my company Just Add Rhythm, I often talk about making a simple shift in individual and group mentality. The shift can be as small as deciding to go for a walk twice a week, or as large as a company exploring new options for creating a more healthy environment for its employees. By implementing these shifts on both a small and a large scale, our consciousness as a culture has the ability to improve drastically. We shift our focus to ‘pro-kindness’ and ‘pro-respect.’
The kid who was bullied in school doesn’t have to grow up to fit into the movie stereotype “recluse” or “resident nerd.” The kid who did the bullying in school also doesn’t have to fit into a stereotype of office jerk. Our shift in mentality requires a safe and respectful environment and open communication at all stages of development – from the classroom, to the university, to the workplace, even to the yoga studio or the local Target.
Self- and group-empowerment
I recently read a great post on LinkedIn about workplace archetypes. The author made a point that it always seems that the person in charge of approving a big project or decision is “difficult” to work with in some way. He also made the point that most of the employees know this but choose not to take action until the very last moment before a project is approved. Why not take actions to prevent last-minute stressful decisions by having the necessary conversations in the beginning of the process? Because most of us want to avoid conflict, and we hope it will magically go away if we don’t bring it up.
Imagine if all company cultures were such that employees were encouraged to voice their opinions before the very last step of a project. What if you, the employee, knew that in voicing a legitimate concern, you had the support of your colleagues and the ear of your supervisor every time? Would you take the initiative more often?
In my opinion, this is a culturally systemic issue that begins in childhood. Whatever you believe in the nature vs. nurture debate, we are all to some extent shaped by our childhood experiences. When we get angry or defensive about something, there is usually some underlying memory or trigger that floats up and determines our reaction.
If we address the issue like a disease for which there is a vaccine, we can both treat the symptoms and the underlying cause. Initiate conscious programming in schools that doesn’t just teach to the test but teaches to the experience. This is the pro-kindness vaccine, the inoculation that will help prevent (not necessarily eradicate! We are human, after all) an epidemic in adulthood. For the symptoms that are occurring right now, we arm ourselves with resources for compassion and respect – the wellness consultants, the health initiatives, the team-building workshops, the communication seminars – and the drum circle facilitators.
It’s amazing what a drum can do
At Just Add Rhythm, we treat the symptoms and the underlying cause. We treat the symptoms that are already present in this generation as a result of lack of systemic respect, and we treat the underlying cause starting with the next generation. We arm ourselves with drums and go into the schools, the community centers, the businesses, the conferences, the after-school programs, the summer camps, the hospitals, and everywhere else we’re needed. My colleagues worldwide do the same, with unwavering belief in the power of rhythm. Their stories range from being beaned in the head by a child with anger issues (and receiving an apology and a request to join the group), to watching a couple dance at a Holocaust Survivor’s event, to seeing an Alzheimer’s patient’s eyes light up with recognition during the playing of a particular song. My colleagues surprise employees of Fortune 500 companies at conferences with hundreds of drums and a morning filled with infectious rhythm rather than speeches. My colleagues return to at-risk youth and detention centers week after week to provide a safe and stable environment for participants to vent frustrations. They treat the symptoms and the cause, one drum vaccine at a time.
It’s inspiring what you can do!
Each choice lies with you. My objective is to empower each of you – so that you can make the shifts you need to live a healthier and happier life. I love sharing with you what I’ve learned on my own journey, and hearing from you about yours. Get started by following me or Just Add Rhythm on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+, or visiting us at www.justaddrhythmnow.com. Or, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If I can’t come to you, I’ll help you find someone who can!