BAR HARBOR – “I think we need to have this party on a cruise ship,” says Kae Cooney, eyes large as she lean towards a young, blonde boy. She’s a grown-up from Brewer.
“Yes, and we need to invite the ghost of Elvis Presley,” says Corbin Bailey, who has just come back from his first baseball practice of the season and is bouncing on his toes, full of energy..
“Yes, and we need to have peanut butter and banana sandwiches because that’s his favorite,” Amy Roeder says, nodding. She’s a grown-up, too.
Three seconds later, Roeder starts laughing. Others join in. A person walks down a hallway, peers in and smiles.
The scene inside the MDI YWCA gym isn’t an exercise in fantasy party creation for kids and adults, but a workshop to build anti-bullying and pro-listening and communication skills called, “Yes, and…”
Yes, and . . .
“We’re all working together in ‘Yes, And’ exercise to make a beautiful, fun story,” Roeder says and to do that they need to listen and respect each other’s ideas.
For the first two minutes of shyness before the workshop starts, students and parents lurk in the corner of the gym. But Roeder and Cooney are not just workshop leaders, they’re also comedians, improv professionals who quickly meld the group together. Two minutes later the gym is full of laughter as participants share stories as they sit in a circle on the shiny, wooden floor.
Improvisation and anti-bullying workshops might not seem like a natural fit, but for Roeder and Cooney it’s a perfect match. The women know all about dealing with difficult situations both on stage and in person and the skills of theater are perfect for helping confidence in the face of bullying. The theater techniques of improv help participants take their own confidence and power.
Respect, Listening and Improv
Respect and listening are two of the core components of active listening and civility. Saying, ‘yes, and’ can help people learn to protect their boundaries, but also allow others to feel heard.
They are words of civility, kindness and empathy. They are the opposite of being a bully.
Locally, the Ellsworth American’s Kate Cough reported that two parents of Ellsworth Middle School students told the school board just this March that “you have a bullying problem in your schools.” In another unrelated incident, an Ellsworth student was arrested on charges of solicitation to commit murder, a charge which was in relation to another student’s suicide. MDI High School has also had issues with civility last year.
According to a study from Yale University, those who have been bullied are somewhere between 2 to 9 times more likely to think about killing themselves than those who are not bullied. Internalizing other people’s negative thoughts about you has incredible negative conseuqeunces. One method to deal with that is to internalize kindness, empathy, and love for your self and your integrity.
“It is my firm belief that we all as humans can do this naturally but we talk ourselves out of it,” Roeder said.
Banish the Inner Cop
But it’s the inner critic or cop that makes us doubt who we are and also lets others bullying voices into our minds.
“We all walk around in our society with a cop in our head,” Roeder said. “You know who we’re not really good at being kind to? Ourselves.”
To be kind to ourselves, we have to allow ourselves to make mistakes, allow ourselves to have feelings, imperfections, to find the goofy in the occasional flaw, but to also listen and respect and love ourselves the way we want others to behave as well.
The problems with bullying and civility aren’t just in Ellsworth, they are across the country. Building peace and kindness, is part of Rotary International’s mission on both the local and international level.
Improvisation helps people get rid of a lot of those negative feelings and things that they waste a lot of time and energy on, Roeder explained.
The Saturday workshops were held by the Bar Harbor (MDI) Rotary Club, thanks to support from the Rotary District 7790, Bar Harbor Kids Book Festival, and a grant from Rotary District 7790. The goal is to promote civility, active listening skills, and empathy in both adults and children.
Resources for parents, kids, and adults who are looking to know more about bullying, listening skills and other things, can visit the Bar Harbor Rotary website and find those resources as well as a video about the event. All of which will be uploaded soon.
IN THE WOODS – READ AN EXCERPT, PREORDER NOW!
My next book, IN THE WOODS, appears in July with Steve Wedel. It’s scary and one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Buzz Books for Summer 2019. There’s an excerpt of it there and everything! But even cooler (for me) they’ve deemed it buzz worthy! Buzz worthy seems like an awesome thing to be deemed!
You can preorder this bad boy, which might make it have a sequel. The sequel would be amazing. Believe me, I know. It features caves and monsters and love. Because doesn’t every story?
HEAR MY BOOK BABY (AND MORE) ON PATREON
On February first, I launched my Patreon site where I’m reading chapters (in order) of a never-published teen fantasy novel, releasing deleted scenes and art from some of my more popular books. And so much more. Come hang out with me! Get cool things!
WHAT IS PATREON?
A lot of you might be new to Patreon and not get how it works. That’s totally cool. New things can be scary, but there’s a cool primer HERE that explains how it works. The short of it is this: You give Patreon your paypal or credit card # and they charge you whatever you level you choose at the end of each month. That money supports me sharing my writing and art and podcasts and weirdness with you.
HELP US AND DO AN AWESOME GOOD DEED
Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness on the DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE podcast as we talk about random thoughts, writing advice and life tips. We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. Please share it and subscribe if you can. Please rate and like us if you are feeling kind, because it matters somehow. There’s a new episode every Tuesday!
You can buy some of my art. I paint to help inform my stories and some of the prints are available now. There will be more soon. You can check it out here.