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Sunday, November 23, 2014

#NYCC14: More than Comic Books and Cosplay

New York Comic Con, a conference where cosplay is king, the imagination can run wild, and heroes and villains collide. My first Comic Con, #NYCC14, was a great experience on many levels. I am not an expert of comic books and have never claimed to know much about the culture in which this amazing conference was founded, but I now “get it”. The excitement and the lure of Comic Con to many people is the outlet of the mundane world, a safe place to manipulate the human mind and step away from the colorful comic book pages into the “real world” as their favorite characters. Comic Con, aside from the autographs, movie premiers, and photo ops, provides a safe arena in which using your imagination is not only encouraged, it is mandatory.
I was fortunate to sit on a panel with an outstanding group of people and help provide a safe environment to reflect and learn how to take action to stop bullying behavior. The panel consisted of Matt Langdon, (The Hero Construction Company and The Hero Round Table), Joe Gatto, (TruTV), Ashley Eckstein, (Her Universe and Star Wars: The Clone Wars), and Dr. Travis Langley (College Professor and Author of Batman & Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight). The End Bullying! Responding to Cruelty in our Culture Panel proved to be an eye opening experience for me.
Carrie Goldman (Author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Violence) and Chase Masterson (Star Trek Deep Space 9, Dr. Who) co-founders of The Pop Culture Anti-Bullying Coalition did an outstanding job of facilitating the panel and connecting the stories of heroism to the research behind bullying behavior.
The panel session, lasting more than the allotted 45 minutes due to an overwhelming positive reaction from the audience, proved more work must be done in the field of heroism and positive deviance. As I explained during the session, there is no research or evidence in the U.S. that anti-bullying programs decrease bullying behavior in schools or in the work place. While thousands of dollars are spent in school districts each year to battle bullying, the programs and speakers schools bring in are usually met with student apathy and confusion on the desired outcomes. Many of the anti-bullying programs I have witnessed over the years, remind me of a story about a small village and a tragedy they endured. Walking alongside the river outside of the village, a few villagers noticed children floating down the river screaming for help. The villagers jumped in to save them, yelled for more help, and started to work together to save the children. A few minutes later more children were floating down stream gasping for air and trying to swim for shore. For hours, more and more villagers were jumping in the river trying to save the children from drowning and more and more children were floating down stream. The screaming and the procession of children floating down the river finally stopped. A villager walked out from a group of trees and others started scolding him asking where had he been. ‘We have been here trying to save the children from drowning and you walked away?” The villager finally said, “It occurred to me that the children were coming from up stream and I wanted to see what was causing them to fall in the river. There is a bridge two miles up and there were two planks missing. The children were trying to jump over the missing planks and were falling in the river. I worked with them and showed them how to replace the two planks.”
My Comic Con experience reminded me that as adults, we react to situations of bullying behavior similar to how the villagers continued to jump in to save the children. We are often like the villagers, jumping in and trying to save the victims. I believe we should be walking up stream to better understand the problems and create true sustainable solutions. Think of the drowning children as the victims of bullying behavior, the missing planks as skillsets or mindsets associated with heroism, and the children crossing the bridge as bystanders. What is the true solution?
Should we continue to jump in and try to save as many victims as possible knowing more and more children will be floating down stream? Or should we walk up stream, find the problems that are leading to, and fostering bullying behavior, and help the bystanders gain the mindsets and skillsets to fix the missing planks and solve the problems themselves?
I, Matt Langdon, owner of the Hero Construction Company, and our friends on the panel, know how important it is to walk up stream and help the bystanders replace the planks that have fallen. These missing planks are often characteristics of what makes us heroes.   Empathy, kindness, courage, having a growth mindset, and the ability to be a positive deviant are planks that must be in place for a child, and an adult, to walk across the bridge. Heroes go against the status quo, and will ultimately stand out and take risks for a positive outcome. The Hero Construction Company and the Pop Culture Anti-Bullying Coalition are researching and uncovering the characteristics of what makes us heroes that do not come natural for most people. Practicing and training not to be bystanders is a must to move away from the status quo of an anti-bullying initiative and begin building a culture of heroes.
After Comic Con, and hearing from people on their experiences of being the victim of bullying, I pledge to be the villager to walk up stream, find the problems that lead to negative outcomes, and help others learn to solve the problem themselves. I challenge you to walk with me.

5 Steps to Begin Building a Heroic Culture

My new adventure has prompted me to read many articles and blog posts on heroism to glean a better understanding of the hero’s journey and how it fits into my personal and professional life.  Reading articles such as Elizabeth Svobodo's, a 2014 Hero Round Table speaker, How to be Your Own Superheroand watching Ted Talks like Matt Langdon’s at TEDxMarinette, have helped me to begin looking at heroism differently.  I, like many of us, always looked at heroism as unreachable or unattainable, something that only a few people will ever experience.  I now believe…I now know, we can ALL act heroically.

Ask a child, "Who is your hero?"  What do you think they will say?

We ask this when working with youth in our hero training sessions.  The young heroes in training often name professional athletes, movie stars, and iconic historical heroes such as Martin Luther King as their heroes.  Isn't that what we have been programmed to believe in our society? Hero's make a lot of money (i.e. LeBron James), hero's do amazing things on the movie screen (i.e. Captain America), and hero's are people that take on issues on a global scale (i.e. MLK).
All of these examples, in most of our minds, are unattainable to our friends and us.  We are often reminded by society of the statistics showing many of us will never be a millionaire, we will never star in a blockbuster movie, and we will never have the opportunity to do what MLK did to change people's lives.  We are conditioned to believe that our lives are what they are, never to be changed.  The bad news is we often believe the statistics and look at heroism as a state of bliss, never to be reached by common folk like us.
Here is the good news, we can leave our mundane world of the status quo and all have the opportunity be heroic.  In order to do this, we must first understand the steps it takes to be a hero.  We must be aware of the barriers and challenges that we will be confronted with and have a set of tools to assist us in conquering our fears and removing these barriers.  Defining heroism and understanding the hero’s journey allows us to look at life through a more positive, hopeful lens, while giving us the courage to battle the villains in our life.   Villains come in all shapes and sizes.  A playground bully, the boss you detest, an addiction, a fear, any negative thought or action in your life can be the villain you seek to conquer.  
I have identified 5 steps throughout my reading and my own journey in helping build a heroic culture in the Flint area that I hope will help you change your perceptions and attitude toward the status quo.  If we can all create the reality that statistics are just numbers, simply helping society keep us in our place we will be more willing to leave our status quo and experience a heroic journey.  
I have changed my perspective on heroism and now believe the heroic journey is truly the only way to sustain positive change within our communities and ultimately help change the word around us.

Think of these 5 steps as the beginning actions we must take in order to change the culture of your community, school, or business.  I say beginning because as I read more, experience more, and reflect more, I now know this is not a simple journey.  It is, however, a journey worth taking.

5 Steps to Begin Building a Heroic Culture.

1.    Define Heroism

Defining heroism within your community (school, business, etc…) is essential.  This must be the first step in order to ensure people are on the same page when it comes to the beliefs and attitudes towards success and failures (see Step #4).  I would often associate the word hero with success only, never connecting heroic actions with failures.  I now know that failure, and how we react to failure, is often the key to eventually becoming a hero. We throw the word hero around as if becoming one is as simple as doing one kind act at a time or getting a good grade on a test.  While studying hard for a test and being kind is certainly training to be a hero (see Step #2), we must be very careful not to water the word down, like the media has done in recent years.  Defining heroism will create a clear and concise vision for your staff, employees, and people living within your community.  I encourage you to seek out the experts, ask questions, and network with people (see Step #5) in and out of your community.  
You can start developing a true definition of heroism with your community by following @theherocc @adamhartley2014 @elliejacques @HeroTownFlint @kohenari @ZenoFranco @PhilZimbardo and@HIPorg on Twitter.

2.    Study the Hero’s Journey 

Studying the hero’s journey and overlaying the steps with challenges you have faced (personally and professionally) will help take a metacognitive approach to solving problems and learning from your failures.  The hero’s journey must always include taking a risk and returning to the mundane world to help others complete their journey.  If these two steps are not present, it is not a true heroic journey. Understanding the process and preparing for what the journey will entail, enhances the odds of you taking the first step and crossing the threshold, and gives you the ability to help others.  You can Google Hero’s Journey and read various articles or watch short videos like Matthew Winkler’s TedEd Talk.  The best way to study the journey, and the steps in becoming heroic, is to talk about it with others.  Compare and contrast your experiences in going through the steps.  Whether you are on the playground, taking on a bully, or in the workplace, questioning a policy, the hero’s journey will guide you in accepting your call to action, taking the first step to cross the threshold, and help you conquer your fears.
The seven steps of the Hero’s Journey
Living in the Mundane World, Call to Action, Crossing the Threshold, Connecting and Seeking Assistance from Others, Trials and Tribulations, Results, and Master of Two Worlds.

3.  Understand the Bystander Effect

The biggest eye opening reading and research I have done in the past month is learning about the bystander effect and how we as humans are naturally looking for excuses to not act.  Many times our heart tells us to take action, while our brains tell us to stay back and be safe.  Understanding the research behind why we don’t act will ultimately push us to act.  A study in 1968 at Columbia University studied group think and how people react to dangerous situations alone, compared to when they are with others (see article here).  Researchers brought in students to complete a survey and after a few minutes blew smoke into the ventilation system.  They brought in 3 groups; individual students, groups of three that were strangers, and groups of two that were friends. The results showed that we are more prone to act when we do not have others to influence our decisions.  Individual students reported the smoke within a few minutes 75% of the time.  This is compared to 38% of the groups with three strangers and only 10% of the students in the room with friends reporting the smoke.  There are many research studies that point to we are easily swayed by the social norm and often diffuse responsibility when others are present.  Understanding this about the human brain, we become more cognizant of situations when we should follow our hearts and not our brains.  Dangerous? Possibly, but there will always be a sense of danger in acting heroically.  The greatest danger is not acting at all.
*Acting dangerously and taking a risk is not always defined with physical actions.  For many of us, going against the social norms of our friends or family is taking a risk.  To be heroic, you do not have to put your life in danger.  My hope is no one has to take that kind of risk.  Acting heroically could be telling a bully “ we do not treat people that way” or telling a family member that their racist jokes are not funny.

4. Have a Growth Mindset

Bystander Behavior is often rooted in a fixed mindset.  “This is how it has always been” and “ I was never good at…” creates perceived barriers for us to act heroically.  I use the word perceived because that is exactly what these barriers are, hypothetical.  They are not real unless we make them real.  Having what Carol Dweck calls a Growth Mindset allows us to look at the heroic journey as the ultimate goal.  Success and failure is just part of our journey.  We need to start defining ourselves by our efforts and our perseverance throughout the journey, not the wins and losses we experience along the way.  To act heroically, we must know what it feels like to fail and know how to pick ourselves back up to use our failures as fuel to move forward.    We must look at the word fail as the First Attempt In Learning.  A true heroic journey (See #2) includes going back to the status quo and helping others find their passions, showing them what it means to persevere through their failures.  Unless we experience this ourselves, we cannot help others through their journey.  Having a growth mindset changes our perceptions and attitudes about our personal and professional life.  Teachers change how they grade their students, business owners change how they involve the lowest paid employees, and communities, such as Flint, redefine themselves after a big corporation packs up and moves out of town.  While having a growth mindset alone will not make you a hero, it is virtually impossible to act heroically without it!
*Carol Dweck is a professor of psychology at Stanford University and is one of the word’s leading researchers on motivation and intelligence.  
Having a growth mindset often allows us to see people in a more positive light, giving them opportunities to grow and improve.  Hero’s are successful when they make people around them better.  Fixed mindset people often look at others as competition and not colleagues.  Step 2 of the hero’s journey is looking for assistance and connecting with others to help you though the journey.  Dweck’s work points to people with growth mindsets are more likely to work with others and look to always improve.

5.  Build a Heroic Learning Network 

The researchers at Columbia University stated,“The failure to intervene may be better understood knowing the relationship among bystanders, rather than that between the bystander and the victim.”  Social norms, influence from other bystanders, and the diffusion of responsibility are real barriers to acting heroically.  There are examples of good people throughout history acting inhumane in situations because others around them deemed it acceptable.  There are also many examples of people doing nothing because, like in the Columbia research, they “didn’t think it was a real threat.”  Kitty Genovese was murdered on the streets of New York and no one came to her aid. The newspapers reported that over 35 people witnessed her being stabbed multiple times and did nothing.  The witnesses interviewed stated they, “…didn’t want to get involved” or “…I thought it was a drunk brawl or lover’s spat.”  While a simple phone call to the police may have saved her life, no one stepped up and intervened.  Apathy, carelessness, group think, and the diffusion of responsibility is often prevalent in bystander behavior.  Reaching out and connecting with people interested in heroism, discussing the research behind why we act and why we stand by, and building a network of people that are willing to take action when problems or potential problems arise is the only way we can fight the gravitational pull of the status quo.  Just as social influence can act in a negative way, if we surround ourselves with people willing to take risks and act heroically, we can create a new social norm.

*The researchers at Columbia reported that some of the bystanders that did not report the potential danger of the smoke had doubt that the smoke was real and did not want to be embarrassed or create a seen if there was no real danger.  Heroes are not just problem solvers but problem finders.  Building a learning network of people that see the action of investigating a potential problem as heroic is key.  The potential of danger must always outweigh the potential of a false alarm.  To act heroically will almost always mean you are going against the norm and being a positive deviant. 

The Hero Award well Deserved!

Last night I had the privilege to introduce this year's Patrick McGinnis Community Hero Award to Dr. Nita Kulkarni.  The award is given to a community member that has had a positive impact on both the Flint Boys and Gils Club of Flint and the community of Flint.  Dr. Kulkarni has shown time and time again her dedication to the youth in this community.  The award is a true reflection of her time, her hard work, and her heroic leadership.  Preparing for the introduction, I struggled with what I would say and how I could lead up to Nita's speech which was no doubt going to be a great one.  With the help from Nicole, my wife (and ghost speech writer) I decided to use the story about the children drowning and the villager that was brave enough to walk upstream (see last week's post).  While that certainly was the right choice and I thank Nicole for the suggestion, I do want to share my original introduction.
...There is a story of two friends walking on the beach enjoying the summer breeze.  They were laughing, talking about their families, and feeling grateful for everything they have in life. As they soaked up the sun they noticed a few starfish that had been washed up onto shore.  One of the friends, noticing more laying across the sand, turned around and said, "Check out all of these starfish, there must be hundreds.  No sane person could ever think they could save them all."  As the two walked the shoreline, the other one bent down, grabbed a starfish and threw it back into the ocean.  The other friend stopped and asked, "Why did you do that?  You know you can't save all of these starfish."  "Yeah", the one that threw the starfish back said, "but I saved that one!".
This story (or poem) is told many times and often is told to depict the person throwing the starfish back as a hero.  I myself have always wondered how might the story be changed so it reflects true heroism.  See, heroism goes beyond kind acts, doing good things for others, and saving a starfish.  True heroism involves a risk, a sacrifice, and challenges people to look outside themselves to better the current conditions of the status quo.  While the friend did save a starfish, where was the risk?  Where was the sacrifice?  With one starfish back in the water, how was the status quo changed for the better?  The two friends continued their walk, continued having the conversation about their own lives, and were able to enjoy the sunny day.
Nita Kulkarni is a true hero.  If she were walking that beach she would have stopped walking, stopped talking about her own life and would have started throwing every starfish she could get her hands on back into the ocean.  She would not have stopped there.  Her friend, watching her throw the multiple starfish back, would see the determination and the courage she had to save them all and would have no choice but to help.  Dr. Kulkarni, just as she recruited key people for the HERo program at The Boys and Girls Club, would then run up and down the beach looking for anyone that could help save the starfish.  The day would turn to night and if more had to be saved, Dr. Kulkarni would find the resources and the people to help.  In doing so, she would sacrifice her walk in the sun, a good time with a friend, and ultimately would meet resistance from people telling her the task is impossible.  That is true heroism.
Dr. Kulkarni did not settle for saving one young lady from making bad choices in their life, but built a program to save them all.  The HERo Program was open to all girls ages 13-18 at the club and proved to be a powerful way to build self esteem and self awareness for the girls.  Dr. Kulkarni set the vision and the mission right way to point to empowering these young women to believe in themselves and to see themselves as heroes.  The HERo Program not only threw the starfish back into the water, it gave the starfish the skill-sets and mindset to remain in the water and live healthy, successful lives.
(Matt Langdon, Jason Roy and I from H.C.C. helped write the Hero Curriculum for this program)

Adam Hartley, Ed.D. Introduction

My name is Adam Hartley. After spending 17 plus years in K-12 education as a teacher, principal, and central office administrator, I left my position as Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction to pursue a greater adventure. I am now working with a few others in Flint, MI to create Hero Town U.S.A., a non-profit organization focused on inspiring and instructing heroes. I am co-founder of The Hero Round Table with Matt Langdon. Matt is the owner of The Hero Construction Company and continues to be an expert in the field of heroism and bystander behavior.  I am also co-moderator of #COLchat, a twitter chat on Monday nights, 9-10 p.m. EST.  I co-moderate the chat with Michele Corbat (@MicheleCorbat) and Rod Hetherton (@RodneyHetherton).  They are both administrators in Swartz Creek Community Schools located in Swartz Creek, MI.

WaterStops Learning is a LLC I started in 2014 after leaving Swartz Creek.  WaterStops Learning reflects how I see change, as a marathon and not a sprint.  Change is essential in improving our personal and professional lives.  Change is difficult and the fear of change will often create a world where people become apathetic, fearful of what change may bring.  It is my mission to help people not only prepare for change, but to embrace change.  When we stop to reflect, refresh, and and rejuvenate (WaterStop), the marathon of change is not so daunting.

I am married to Nicole, a kindergarten teacher, and we have three children.  Taylor, our daughter, and our two sons, Adam and Cameron.  Speaking of change, our children are 21, 18, and 15.  We love them more than anything!

Thank you for following my blog and keeping up with what is happening in Flint, MI and the surrounding areas.  Flint is truly the hub of heroism and I hope you learn from this blog so you are inspired to run the marathon yourself and change your community in a positive way.

Dr. Adam Hartley

Dr. Adam Hartley
"If you are not on the edge, you are taking up too much room". -Jim Kitchen