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Wisdom & Insight
Practice 'Appreciative Living' To Address the Bad, the Negative, and the Tough on Your Next VolunTourism Journey
For those who may be new to the realm of voluntary service and travel, you might find it disconcerting to know that VolunTourism has its pitfalls. Probably the biggest pitfall is this very fact: the experience may challenge you; it may bring up emotions from inside of you that you didn't know existed; it may expose the phenomenological nature of reality, your reality, and how it can be demolished instantaneously in the context of a rural village or urban outpost. When this happens, the immediate, and quite natural I might add, human response is - this is bad, negative, or tough. What does one do in this situation? Jackie Kelm suggests that we 'live appreciatively.'
Jackie Kelm inked Appreciative Living (Venet Publishers, 2005) "based on the principles of Appreciative Inquiry (David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva), with constructs from Positive Psychology, law of attraction, chaos theory, and other strength-based approaches." I contacted her to discuss how her erudition might support voluntourists and voluntourism operators in addressing the difficult moments that arise during voluntourism experiences, some instances proving particularly prickly because it is human nature to think that 'doing good' should be exempt from the 'dark side.' In response she sent me several of her Appreciative Living Ezines.
I realized, after reflecting on my conversation with Jackie and upon further review of her articles, that the following excerpts will be of little value if they go un-applied. If you resonate with the story or any of the wisdom & insight presented herein, then make an effort to put into practice the items that Jackie includes in the "Try This" segment. By including any or all of these exercises as part of your normal routine in your home destination, you will find it much easier to apply them when you are on the road. It is while traveling that you may find such support infinitely helpful amidst the chaos of unfamiliar territory. And for voluntourism practitioners, you may discover some items for inclusion in your respective operations or as support tools for voluntourists.
How To Handle Bad Situations Appreciatively
In this issue I want to address one of the most common questions I get that goes something like this: "It's one thing to appreciate and focus on the good things that happen, but how do you deal with the bad stuff?" Does Appreciative Living work on the "shadow side" as well? Let me just say that this is probably the biggest area of confusion for people whether they are just starting this work or have been doing it for a while.
Before I can answer this question, we have to begin by talking about what we mean by "bad" things. We typically define situations as bad if we experience negative emotion around them. In other words, if something happens and we feel angry, sad, afraid, ashamed, or helpless, then we think of that as a "bad" thing. A few of the millions of common cultural situations we consider to be bad include getting in an accident, losing a job, getting cancer, discovering a cheating spouse, or going broke. Few people would welcome any of these experiences into their life which could also serve as a definition of a bad experience.
So how do we handle these "bad" things appreciatively when they show up? The answer is, we handle them the same way we do the good ones. In other words, the thought process is the same regardless of what is happening. We look for what we can appreciate in the negative situation and try to create something positive out of it. This is typically much harder to do in bad situations because it is almost the opposite of how we are used to thinking about them. In fact, it is this negative thought pattern that has caused us to experience them as "bad" in the first place.
Notice that Appreciative Living is not about ignoring what is going on or denying the situation in any way. It is not about masking feelings or pushing them down. The difference comes in how you chose to work with your thoughts about the situation at-hand. Rather than continually focusing on the most painful and scary prospects that would take you into a downward spiral, chose to look at the upside and find a way to "turn lemons into lemonade."
Pulling Out of Negative Spirals
There I was, stuck in a major traffic jam, fifteen minutes before my first painting class was about to begin. I had been wanting to do this (take a painting class, that is) for at least six years now, and the big day was finally here. I had to work hard at staying patient and hopeful while traveling 5 mph, and the traffic jam turned out to be just the beginning of a frustrating morning.
I finally got to the class a full half-hour late, just as the instructor was literally finishing up the lecture part of the class. People began pulling out their paints as the instructor walked by and told me to "simply create a color wheel." He might as well have told me to paint the Sistine Chapel. I felt my frustration begin to build.
I made a mental choice at this point to not get caught up in the negative story I was creating, and decided I might as well just copy what the other people in the class were doing. I looked around the room and realized they all seemed to be doing something different. A few were mixing colors, one man was finishing a "real" painting on canvas, and another woman was painting a stencil-like image on some sort of rice paper. It occurred to me at this point that no one in the class really knew what they were supposed to do, or else they were a bunch of anarchists. It turned out to be a combination of both.
Copying the others was not going to work, so I asked the instructor for guidance on how to create a color wheel. He quietly came to my table, smooshed some paint around on my paper, gave me a meek ten word explanation of what he was doing, and then slipped away. I spent the next hour or so trying in earnest to smoosh paint around like he had, and this is really where the story begins.
It turns out I was not the only one who was frustrated and confused, and at this point in the class people got so fed up they started to leave. It was so bad, that everyone in the class had left within about an hour, except for me and the man who was finishing the "real" painting. There was still a half hour left in the class and my thoughts began to go south. I had paid good money for four weeks of this class, but more importantly, I had gone to great lengths to set time aside for it. I got angrier and angrier the more I thought about it, and next thing I knew I was in a full-blown downward spiral.
I realized I had hit bottom when I felt my stomach coil up in a big knot. That's one of my physical cues that lets me know my thoughts are in the wrong place. So at that point I checked-in mentally and began intentionally applying Appreciative Living. What was I focusing on in this moment? I was wondering how in the world this bonehead ever got to be an art instructor. It's no wonder I was having the experience I was.
I made a decision at that point to do all I could to find something to appreciate about this man. It took a few minutes, but I knew that he was an accomplished artist, and had a certain following in the community. My negative feelings lightened a bit as I realized he was considered to be a good artist, so he must know what he's doing. I began to feel a little better. I then pondered the fact that while he was a good artist, he didn't know how to teach, and that was what I was here for. It made me angry again for a moment, but then I realized that's not such a crazy thing. It actually makes sense in some ways. Art is a very right-brained activity, and teaching and explaining how you do it comes from the left. It was actually understandable that he could not teach. This last insight caused my negative feelings to completely dissipate, and I was able to consider some positive possibilities for moving forward.
The appreciative question I asked myself was "how can I help this man teach me to paint?" I decided I would be like a detective, and ask him every question I could to try and understand how he does what he does. I called him over, and he quietly and patiently began answering all my questions with simple 5-10 word answers. So I kept on asking, and asking. He was more than happy to answer, and I ended up getting a private instruction for the next half hour from a wonderful artist.
Many people had dropped after the first class, so only a few people showed up each week. I continued my "private" lessons by asking questions, and others in the group began to catch on. We all learned to ask for what we wanted both individually and as a group, and I ended up really liking the instructor and getting even more out of the class than I had expected.
Finding the good in whatever shows up can be learned, and it is a process. Here are three questions that will help, and if you are new to this way of thinking, it may be quite difficult at first to come up with answers. With continued practice your brain will eventually "rewire," and you will more naturally and easily be able to answer these kinds of questions.
1. What 3 things can you appreciate about this?
2. What is at least one thing you stand to learn?
The next time you find yourself in a negative spiral, notice where you feel it physically. Does your throat tighten? Your stomach knot? Make a mental note to use this as your physical cue in the future to tell you your thinking needs to shift. Then, answer these questions to try and pull out of it:
1. What am I focusing on?
2. What good can I find, or what can I appreciate about this situation or person?
3. (once the negative emotion has lightened) What do I really want in this situation, and what is one way I can get it?
The next time you find yourself feeling angry, discouraged, or overwhelmed about the situation you are in, take a moment and do the following:
1. Either in your head or on paper, try to find the silver lining by thinking of everything you can about this situation that is good or that you appreciate. Continue to come up with ideas until you start to feel better.
2. If it is practical, start mentioning the items on your list to others who are involved in the situation. The more people you engage in looking for the good, the faster you will all begin to feel better.
Jackie Kelm, Author, Appreciative Living
About Jackie Kelm
Oh, where to start? My official career began as a development engineer for General Motors with an undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering. During this time I wrote and presented a few technical papers that had concepts like "thermodynamically balanced," which I have selectively forgotten.
I then explored being an entrepreneur and started a custom carpet business. Working with interior designers, we designed and made one-of-a-kind area rugs and carpet inserts. I also volunteered for SCORE during this time, providing business consulting to other start-ups.
Three years later, I sold the business to return to school full time. All my life I had been fascinated with individual behavior and group dynamics, and when I discovered there was actually a field devoted to this--called Organization Behavior, I dove in headfirst.
In 1996, I graduated with a Master's degree in Business with a concentration in Organization Behavior from Case
Western Reserve University. During this time, I happened to take several classes from David Cooperrider on Appreciative Inquiry (AI), and was enamored with the concept. I became passionate about learning and applying AI from that time forward, and have been committed to it ever since.
While still finishing graduate school, I began working with Ernst & Young LLP as a senior consultant in the Leadership and Organization Change group. I was able to use AI in several initiatives and also got some great experience in education and training, along with group facilitation. I left as a manager when I had my daughter in 1999.
Being a full-time mother was a whole different kind of learning experience. I did a few part-time activities on the side, like participating in the start-up and founding of Appreciative Inquiry Consulting (AIC). I was also engaged in personal and spiritual exploration during this period, and began looking at applying AI in daily life.
Clarifying my ideas through a few years of heavy research and reading, I tried various practices along the way. As my life began to transform, my passion for what I was learning burgeoned. Writing accelerated my learning even more as the ideas unfolded on paper. In September of 2005, it all culminated in the publlication of Appreciative Living--and it has been a wonderful whirlwind ever since!
And now I am passionate about sharing these ideas with others. My life continues to get better and better, and my
prospects for happiness are greater than anything I ever believed possible. I am working on several future book ideas, and fittiing this in with workshops, speaking engagements, book signings, and, of course, my family. I have two wonderful children and a husband of 18 years. It is an exhilarating journey, and I am grateful every day for having found my calling--something that is so deeply meaningful and fulfilling. My greatest joy comes from watching others take these ideas and make positive changes in their lives, and I look forward to many wonderful years of co-creation!
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