Thursday, October 4, 2012

Resilience, Self-Worth and Self-Expression: Ben Speaks Louder Than Words

To feel happy, healthy and connected, most human beings need to feel loved and seen for who they truly are. This is particularly true for children, who grow best and thrive when they are in environments that cultivate their authentic selves in a safe, respectful way. Something has broken down tremendously in today's world, where bullying is epidemic from the playground to the boardroom, cutting across age, class, and education level. While we use the phrase "dog eat dog world," I have never seen two dogs attack one another with the intensity and impact of two human beings. We truly live in a "human eat human world," and the consequences are grave for our children as well as ourselves. Judy Giovangelo is working to make a transformational change in the tectonic plates that govern the socio-emotional practices in our schools, in our homes and in our culture at large. She founded Ben Speakes Louder Than Words after losing her middle son, Ben, to suicide on April 16, 2009. Judy shared that when she was presenting at a high school with 850 students enrolled, she learned that 75% had a psychiatric diagnosis and/or were taking psychiatric medication. 50% of the students smoked pot. The numbers are staggering. In our increasingly competitive world, there is no space for human emotion. If emotions are "energy in motion," and we have no room for them to move, our emotions, have to either implode or explode. In this context is it any surprise that cutting, road rage and bullying are epidemic as our emotions explode? Is it any surprise that addictions to food, video games, shopping, internet porn and substances are also epidemic as we numb ourselves to keep from imploding? We are creating a culture of disempowered youth, whose minds and bodies are filled with negative thoughts, words, feelings and actions. We are taught to look outward and feel the void of a connection with our inner voice. Judy's message through her work is that we must transform the way we think, feel, speak and act. We must learn to find our inner voice, and find pathways for meaningful self-expression. We must be the change we seek in the world. And change begins within. Our thoughts and feelings have great power. When we bring positive thoughts and love to our thoughts and feelings, this powerful energy informs our words and actions. Judy does a wonderful demonstration, inviting someone to come to the front of the room, and think about a negative experience while holding out their stronger arm. She invites the person to resist as she pushes down on their arm. Having been her test subject for this experiment, I experienced first hand how little power I have to resist her push when thinking about a negative experience. Judy then invites her subject to think about a positive experience, and pushes down on the weaker arm. When Judy tried this with me, my weaker arm was unmoveable. There is a short demonstration was a visceral illustration of the power of position thoughts. Judy's work invites us to empower ourselves. We must embrace our pain. It is part of being human. And we must meet our dreams with strong positive emotions. Joy creates resilience. We need to learn to take space to dream and set higher goals and take action one step at a time. We need to learn to walk through the world with gratitude, since gratitude only creates more circumstances that evoke gratitude. Judy invites us to live in our hearts, the place our power truly lives. She advocates mind-body practices, like yoga, which help us find this space within. She also underscores the importance of the arts in all forms, so that kids learn to express themselves rather than repress themselves. Whether you talk it out, write it out, sing it out, draw it out, pain it out, dance it out or rap it out, self-expression grows self-worth and self-esteem. At the end of September, Judy produced the 3rd "Concert To Remember" as a fundraiser for Ben Speaks Louder Than Words, but as a living example of the power of self-expression. For more information on this transformational work, e-mail or check out Judy's website

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