As a little girl, my diary was a haven for secrets. I religiously wrote who was most popular, changed my latest crush daily, listed the surprises I’d buy my sister from Hello Kitty, and of course, my dreams of moving to New York City one day to dance on Broadway! What I actively tried to erase from my thoughts was a question that no one deserves to wonder… Do I belong?
Growing up in the Deep South has glorious perks! The seasons were clear, fall being my favorite with bold colors bursting through leaves as chlorophyll dissipated and mystery hues surfaced. Autumn represented a new school year, fresh opportunities to “fit in,” and one of my favorites, the plastic bags we were given at Rosh Hashanah.
And, now, for the truth.
Being a Jewish girl in the south where the divide was still highly influenced by the color of your skin was equally as divisible for me; how many times does one need to be asked obscenely mean and stereotypical questions that formulate from fear? Each year at Rosh Hashanah we missed school to attend Synagogue, not go for the proverbial shopping trip and lunch that many accused me of doing. I don’t remember when I stopped explaining myself, but I will always remember and still look forward to the empty bags.
Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, a time for sweetness all around. The holiday falls in autumn, just in time for school to begin, just in time for harvest to be collected, and just in time to stop and give to others. On Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, we always returned overflowing bags of nonperishable foods to the Synagogue. Something about looking at countless bags bursting with food for others gave me hope.
Perhaps my childhood memory was the catalyst for my classes’ first field trip each year to the neighborhood Soup Kitchen. Perhaps giving to others forged a relationship that ignored skin color, race, religion, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Perhaps one day the idea of “fitting in” would actualize into feeling a sense of belonging.
During my undergrad and post graduate schooling, I found myself volunteering in environments where communication and visiting was limited; human contact, social interaction, and connection are innately wired within each of us. When I first began working with the Atlanta Public School System, the concepts of belonging and fitting in quickly surfaced. Emotional Intelligence wasn’t tossed around freely, but I knew and lived the concept deeply. I looked at each child as a collective to our WE. I looked at each family as a collective to our community. I looked at each community as a collective to our greater good!
As one of my most cherished treasures, I’ve now had the privilege to work, learn, and grow with brilliant students and educators, influencers, and a word I don’t use lightly, leaders! Throughout my time in the classroom, I treasured helping children and families, visitors and volunteers, student teachers, and all walking through our door. Building self-awareness was my goal and every person would arrive when ready. Emotional Intelligence starts with self-awareness. A day doesn’t pass without me stopping to question…
How will I help others today?
As a believer that self-awareness is the glue to Emotional Intelligence, I also believe we are limitless beings with boundless canvases intended to help others. I chose education as my life path, but little did I know my journey was intended beyond the classroom. Discovering, teaching, and supporting awareness around the power of emotions is what fuels my soul and brings courage to life.
When I decided to bring my passion project to fruition, my sister, Caren, asked her creatives for ideas as my jingles and catchy rhymes weren’t embodying my vision. Seamlessly providing others with countless examples of their strengths, including specific evidence from observations and discoveries is a gift I hold dear. Empowering the quietest to take the lead in a group project and bolstering the meek as they highlight how their boss’ choices drive wedges between co-workers inherently flows out of me without a second thought. As children, we are told listen and do; “talking back” was disobedient, never an invitation to discuss feelings, thoughts, or events. How times have changed!
Emotional Intelligence has been and continues to be rooted in how and why I design every teaching and learning opportunity. My hope was (and is!) to expand and enlighten while fostering positively powerful voices. When working with humans of ALL ages, races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic status, one starts to see a common thread.
Emotions are raw; Emotions are real.
When Caren texted me that her friend, Brittany Szabo, suggested DEVELOPING EMPATHETIC EDUCATION WITH DANA, I stared. Gratitude, joy, and fear all surfaced. Seconds later, another text… “it stands for DEED!”
Tears, waterworks actually, poured from my eyes. Not the tears you see in the cute romantic comedies where the girl gets her dream job and saves millions of lives. The kind of tears where you’re hyperventilating. The kind of tears that open up the scariest fears, questioning your purest intentions. In that one moment I had to leap or all the energy I’d exuded thus far was pointless. Belonging is innate; one never needs to alter themselves in order to “fit in.” Teaching and modeling acceptance of self and others, respect of self and others, and compassion for self and others had always been my DEED!
As I marinated over what would become my company name, I saw flashes of my beautiful Mom volunteering at our Synagogue, committing to PTA President and class mom, proudly holding the title of Girl Scout Leader, and effortlessly sitting as the community liaison between humanitarian networks. My Mom spearheaded experiences in order to open doors and pave space for the unimaginable. My Dad, too, taught me the power of giving back. When we think of giving, often money is involved. My Dad taught me that time is the best gift.
Time is genuine. Time costs nothing. Time creates memories.
Like many, Thanksgiving was weird this year as my family gathered for organized zoom calls instead of joining together. My Dad, though reminded us, that time is both on our side and the driver of hard conversations. When I saw an email suggesting a TED Talk, I didn’t realize my Dad included all of my siblings. Sharing How we can face the future without fear, together (Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks | TED2017), was my Dad’s generosity of time. After listening to a thoughtful man share the imperativeness of hearing everyone’s story, coming together as one, and giving to others freely, I realized my Dad’s small gesture was the tightest hug. Coming together is a conscious decision.
DEEDs are time. DEEDs are love. DEEDs are shifting our paradigm.
When catching up with Kimberly Andron, a Family Therapist working with people of all ages, I shared how much I disliked the phrase “socially distancing.” As a friend, Kim understood, but what hit harder was her response from clients: “Since physical distancing, people have actually shared being increasingly social from the comfort of their own home. Online game nights, happy hour zooms, coffee with friends, and even dates. Time for more connectedness during a time of physical disconnection.”
In that one moment, my thoughts changed and a calm wrapped me with warmth. Physically distancing does not mean we can’t socially gather and support one another.
After talking with Kim, I recommitted myself to having hard conversations and actively listening to responses. I recommitted myself to creating workshops around Emotional Intelligence and holding onto fear’s hand instead of running for safety; hiding is an out if we choose. I chose to create and bolster connections. Relationships elevate our thinking, give space for our feelings, and hold us, even when we aren’t able to touch each other. When we stop to look within, we are given space to discover how we communicate, how we care for others, how we treat ourselves, and how we want to reshape our life-long (learning) journey.
Now is YOUR TIME to commit and create 31 days of DEEDS!
We are each given an invitation to positively impact OUR final 31 days in 2020. How will you bring 31 days of DEEDS to fruition?
My therapist, Andrea Spiritos, has been a cheerleader, a support, and guiding light for many years. As I inch towards my one year anniversary of launching Developing Empathetic Education with Dana, DEED, I am truly grateful for her ongoing reminder:
COMPASSION STARTS WITHIN!
By choosing compassion, we electrify gratitude. As you decide how to execute your remaining 31 days in 2020, please know,
YOU ARE LOVED!
YOU ARE CHANGING OUR WORLD FOR THE BETTER!