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Steve Gross is the Chief Playmaker at Life is Good Kids Foundation. The mission at Life is Good is to spread and harness the power of optimism to help kids heal from the impact of childhood trauma. The way that they do that is by partnering with the frontline men and women who dedicate their lives to building, healing, and creating life changing relationships with kids.

Memorable Quotes:
  • “We have problems. We have challenges. There is suffering. But we can never lose sight of the opportunities that exist amidst the obstacles if we want to make things better.”
  • “But just being alive, we are going to suffer. And when we’re suffering, nothing soothes that suffering more than somebody seeing us, valuing us, and treating us with love and kindness.”
  • “Our emotions are going to get the best of us from time to time, but when we become aware of it, we can take action to try to mitigate the response and to try to make things better.”
What You’ll Learn:

Why kindness is so important to cultivate, how to use kindness to impact those around you, and how kindness affects children specifically.

This Episode Includes:
  • The origin and mission of the Life is Good Kids Foundation.
  • Professionals who interact with children need to have a “kind human disposition” as much as their professional skill set.
  • We will have suffering in this life but the power of optimism and kindness has the strength to get us through the suffering.
  • Steve’s father was the chief influencer in his life and continues to influence how he treats other people.
  • Kind people are never unhappy people.
  • Adverse childhood experiences, sometimes referred to as ACES, are overwhelming and frightening events that leave children feeling powerless. The most common are abuse, neglect, witness to violence, and severe household dysfunction.
  • Almost every single human has some sort of childhood trauma.
  • Childhood trauma can impact the way our brain develops.
  • Kindness and love can soothe suffering.
  • Getting to know others, seeing them, and truly valuing them means being curious and not judgemental.
  • We can use the resources, privileges, and opportunities that we have to help others.
Three Takeaways from Today’s Episode:
  1. Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.
  2. It’s not about perfection. It’s about connection.
  3. Practice changing your “I have to’s” into “I get to’s.”
Transcript:

Dr. Robin

Welcome back to Small Changes, Big Shifts. We’re celebrating World Kindness Day, the wrap up of our 31-day kindness campaign that has created a ripple from the heartland, east and west and north and south.

But don’t despair. If you’ve just started joining us, you can continue to spread the ripple of kindness every single day. And I’m happy to help you any way I can. You can sign up and do it all over again if you like. Today. Joining me is Steve Gross, chief playmaker at Life Is Good Foundation. I was introduced to Steve through my friend Mary Hornback, who has an outreach and takes care of kids and connected nationally with serving kids and helping plant good seeds of hope in their life. Steve, tell me a little bit about Life Is Good Kids Foundation.

Steve

Great. Well, our mission is really to spread and harness the power of optimism to help kids heal from the impact of childhood trauma and the way that we do that is by partnering with the frontline men and women who dedicate their lives to building, healing, life changing relationships with kids. So I mean, I think about, like when you think about people who are in the life changing relationship business, whether they’re teachers with their social workers, whether they’re coaches or mentors, they all come into the work with a professional skill set.

If you’re a teacher, you got to know how to teach. If you’re a counsel, you have to know how to counsel. But in addition to that occupational skill set, it is really important that you have, like, a really beautiful, kind human disposition. So when you take, like, a great human disposition and you couple it with a great professional skill set, well then you have a playmaker.

You have someone who is there and who is able to build healing, life changing relationships with people. And at the end of the day, outstanding human services require outstanding humans. So our work is really to support care providers and help them cultivate that disposition as a healer, to show up to work filled with love and compassion and gratitude and humor and authenticity and openness and courage, all of what we like to call human superpowers.

And, you know, human super power, just like anything else. You know, you have to practice them. It’s pretty easy to be compassionate for people who evoke a feeling of compassion in you. But it is not so easy to remain compassionate when people are not evoking that emotion. When maybe they’re evoking the opposite emotion, maybe they’re making you angry, maybe they’re making you frustrated. Maybe they’re overwhelming you.

So how do we use compassion? Not so much as a state of mind or an emotional reaction, but as a trait of character that we can bring with us all the time in our work.

Dr. Robin

Well, over this last 31 days, everybody’s been getting a little tip to do, every day of something they can share. A kindness act to help shift the world. And today’s is about reassessing what you’ve done the last 31 days, and which act really spoke to you? I don’t know about you, Steve. I believe we’re all born with our own medicine. I’m going to call my medicine a kindness act. And my medicine as a wellness chiropractor is to kind of guide people. And I do a lot of guidance over the phone for people that’ll call me to my friend has a question like, well, just have them call me and say, you know what have come see him like, no, just have them call me. I’ll spend a few minutes with the on the phone, give them guidance. And if I’m the right person, great, if not no big deal, at least I’ll give them something.

And so we all have our own medicine that we’ve been given. The people have been practicing that over the last month through different acts of kindness. One of them is self-compassion, one is kindness to your neighbors, to yourself, to your pets, to your community. And so thinking about community. I’m curious. Most people, I believe on the planet, have heard of a little company called Life Is Good. And I’m curious, how did you get connected with Life Is Good.

Steve

Well, so, Burton John Jacobs, who are two great guys, two brothers who founded Life As Good Company. Well, we grew up together in the same town. We played sports together. And around the time that they were building their T shirt company, I had started a not for profit organization called Project You. So we were both kind of working out of a van.

I was working with folks picking up kids and homeless shelters and housing developments, bringing them to a gym and running therapeutic play groups with the children and their care providers. And Burton and John were out in a van trying to sell T-shirts in College dorms.

And at one point, Burt had come to me and said, hey, man, why don’t we you know, why don’t we bring up organizations together because we’re doing the same thing. And I was like, doing the same thing. Dude, you’re selling T shirts? I’m a social worker working with homeless and impoverished kids doing play therapy. How is that the same thing? And he said, Well, you know what? We’re both in the spreading the power of optimism business. We’re both about delivering positivity and trying to help people to smile. And, yeah, we do it partially through original artwork and sayings and creating T shirts. You’re doing it through therapeutic play. But let’s do it together because we’re both in the spreading the power of optimism business.

And I remember a consultant saying, well, you got to be careful because you’re going to confuse your consumer. And Burt, who’s a little bit of a rebel, is, like, great. I want to confuse my consumer. I don’t want them to know what life is good. I want them to go, what is this? Life is good. Are they an art house? They a T-shirt company. Are they a social service agency? Do they run music festivals? Really? When, when people know what is Life is Good, they’re an organization that’s about spreading the power of positivity ,and real positively not bs positive. Not this idea that, hey, there’s no problems. Everything is perfect. There’s no suffering.

No, we have problems. We have challenges. There is suffering. But we can never lose sight of the opportunities that exist amidst the obstacles if we want to make things better. And so I think that’s a really important piece. That life isn’t easy. Life isn’t perfect. Life is filled with pain and loss and sadness. And on top of that, there’s goodness and beauty around for us to leverage.

And kindness is the most beautiful thing that we have because, you know, when we’re in the deepest levels of despair, it’s only kindness that can pull us out of there and not just kindness delivered towards us, but kindness that we deliver towards others,

Dr. Robin

I like the word delivered there, speaking of delivering. I’m wondering, underneath, someone like yourself probably had some people that prop you up, and that put some seeds of kindness into you and hope and healing and wanting to do the work you’re doing. Can you tell me a story growing up about your father that helped inspire you to do the work you’re doing today?

Steve

Yes. I had a great mom and dad and, you know, my dad was especially, like, my professional role model. My mom was my personal role model because my mom, she was always there, like, for me, she was like, the embodiment of kind of this unconditional love and support like everything I did, my mom thought was just incredible. For the most part, my dad was much more kind of practical. So he was a professor, and he actually got this great high esteem job at MIT, which is probably the pinnacle of being a mathematician.

And he ended up leaving MIT to teach at a small community College in Charlestown, Massachusetts, called Ponte Hill Community College. Everyone thought he was absolutely crazy. How do you leave MIT to work at a community College? And my dad’s answer was simple. The students at Bunka Hill need me more. And he would joke that at MIT, I play mathematics, at Bunker Hill. I coach it, and I can help to make somebody’s life better and just knowing, like, even when we struggle financially, if a parent called and said, My kids having a hard time in math, can you tutor him? My dad always said, yes.

We have people in the house being tutored. And whenever they asked, how much can I pay you? My father said, I don’t want any money. I look at them like that, dude, I want a baseball glove. What about a bike? And he used to say, no, I just want to do that out of, you know, out of the kindness of his heart because I think my dad realized he lost his mom when he was very young. His dad was too poor to really take care of he and his sister.

So they went from home to home, ultimately ended up in an orphanage for a little while. And when I say, dad, that must have been really traumatic, any traumatic memories. My dad was like, no, I remember only people being kind to me. I remember a lot of people taking time out of their day and being supportive and visiting and doing fun stuff. So he knew that kindness was like his salvation. And that when you deliver kindness to other people, the person who benefits the most is the delivery guy, because it’s really the only thing that makes sense.

I think it’s what we’re here for. And you can see when people are not acting kind, when they’re acting really just out of their own kind of self interest, greed, they’re not happy. I never met people like unkind people who are happy, the happiest people I met were kind people. So it’s like, even if you don’t do it for altruism, you should do it to know that’s just going to make your life better because you connect people with good vibes and good energy between people.

And that’s really what matters most.

Dr. Robin

Well, plus, it changes your brain, right? Those feel good hormones, oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin. But we’ve been talking about that all month. So, Steve, I want to go back to your Foundation, Kids Foundation. So Life is Good com backslash foundation. And there’s something on there that just almost takes me to my knees. And then I’ll talk about how we can shift the conversation, that I want our Listers to see the need. And I want you to help explain something to them.

34 million children in the United States alone, 30 or more million children United States alone have suffered at least one adverse childhood experience. What if an adverse childhood experience?

Steve

Well, you know, adverse childhood experiences that sometimes they’re referred to as ACES are really overwhelmingly frightening events that leave children feeling powerless. The most common are abuse, neglect, witness to violence, severe household dysfunction. So living in a home with a guarantee is not able to take care of your physical and emotional needs. Maybe due to untreated mental illness or substance abuse. Having a parent who’s incarcerated.

They really kind of overwhelm children to a point where it actually can change the way their brain develops. And the higher the number of ACES that children experience, the bigger the impact they can have on their health and development. So we have a lot of kids in our country and in our world who have been hurt, who have been treated unkindly, either by people close to them or people in their community, either directly or indirectly.

And human beings don’t respond well to being treated, I’m going to put it unkindly, and especially to be treated very poorly.

Dr. Robin

We think about 7 billion people on the planet. How many do you think if you had to give your best guess? I’m not sure. I’m not seeing the research on this, have suffered some type of adverse childhood effect.

Steve

I mean, I think, you know, I don’t know exactly, but I would say probably somewhere between 60 and 75%. I mean, as my dad used to say, even if it’s not that type of adverse experience, life is a traumatic event. You know, my dad used to say that all the time we would talk about trauma, to say at some point, you know, that you’re going to die. And then you also know that everyone who you love is going to die, that there’s impermanence and with that comes this kind of pain and suffering.

I don’t know if you could call my experiences in childhood an ACE. But, you know, I went to a summer camp when I was a little kid where I wasn’t treated well. And I was alone, separated from my parents for a month. And there was some stuff that probably wouldn’t be classified as abuse. It wasn’t then, maybe now it would be. But I remember feeling really lousy about myself, really afraid, really alone. And I know that that changed my brain.

Most of us when we struggle with relationships or we struggle in our lives most of the time, it can be traced back to something we experienced as a kid. So, you know, life isn’t easy for anybody. For some folks, it’s much, much more difficult than others. But just being alive, we are going to suffer. And when we’re suffering nothing soothes that suffering more than somebody seeing us, valuing us, and treating us with love and kindness.

Dr. Robin

You know, thinking about those words, “seeing” how can people be seen? Two parts of this question. How do you know that somebody “seeing” being seen? And then what are the most common ways people like to be seen?

Steve

Cool. Well, by the way, I don’t have all the answers, just like you and I’m always exploring. I’m no expert from your perspective.

Dr. Robin

How about that from your perspective?

Steve

I mean, well, are you familiar with the term Sal bona? I feel like it’s way down, and they’re probably like your father planting the seeds. Sal bona is a Zulu greeting. And when people see each other and meet each other on the path, whether they’re old friends or strangers, they greet each other with the terms Sal bona. Savona simply translates into “I see you” and the response when somebody says that you can say “sick bona, I am here,” because we’re not here until we’re seen.

And so seeing somebody is about actually taking the time to look at them, to value them, to get to know them, to find out their story in a way where they’re comfortable allowing that to unfold. My dad used to say all the time, he used to say, when people would see the golden rule do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

My dad used to be like that’s selfish. I mean, it should be “due to others as others would have chosen to do unto themselves”. And if you don’t know what that is, how do you take the time to find out what that is? You know, if I’m feeling sad, I might like a hug. That might be the last thing that you want.

So getting to know somebody and getting to see them and not judge them. You know, I think that’s a really important piece of this is to be curious, to seek to understand, as opposed to all this person is a jerk.

There’s a very common reframe in trauma counseling. We’re never asking, hey, what’s wrong with this person, but instead to ask what happened to this person, because we’re all human. We’re all trying to have our needs met. We all want to be seen and valued. And so, you know, sometimes when people aren’t treating us well, we assign a reason. That person is a jerk and they’re being disrespectful. And it’s like, well, maybe if we can stop reacting and get curious, I wonder why that person is responding so harshly to me or so angry to me.

And it might be making you angry, you know, and I loved as a great quote, I think it was from Aristotle, but I don’t think anyone ever heard Aristotle say it and write it down. But to be angry is easy, but to be angry for the right reason in the right amount and express the right way. Well, that’s not easy.

And so I think that when we can, instead of reacting with anger, when we can respond with kindness. We know that we’re evolving as human beings, and it’s not always easy to do. And sometimes we slip. And I try to remember whenever I slipped and I respond unkindly, in a short amount of time, hopefully I recognize that. And I try to make it right, whether it’s with my kids. Hey, Ben, you know, I might talk to my son. You know, I got frustrated yesterday, and I didn’t like the way I was talking to you. And I apologize because you deserve better.

Or, you know, oftentimes we respond unkindly to the people that we love the most. So I think it’s just being mindful of how you’re treating others and recognizing that you’re human. You’re going to slip from time to time. Our emotions are going to get the best of us from time to time, but that when we become aware of it, we can take action to try to mitigate the response and to try to make things better.

I don’t know if I answered the question, but I think, you know, not judging, seeking to understand, meeting people where they’re at and not trying to make them different than who they are, especially with optimism. You’re like, how do I make my friends more optimistic? They’re so negative, I want to make them optimistic. I’m like, well, one of the first things you got to do is meet them where they are, show them that you love and value them, right as they are, even if they never change. And then from there, you can model it. Model love, model positivity. But telling people to be something and pushing them in that direction is kind of saying, like I’m seeing you, and I’m not accepting you quite as you are.

Dr. Robin

I heard the word curious. You said the word curious to me. I love that word in relationships. Steve, as we start to wrap up our time. First of all, thank you so much for graciously saying yes to this podcast. Thank you for the work you’re doing. Remind our listeners how you can find out more about this at LifeisGood.Com/KidsFoundation.

We’re giving away some life is good swag today. So make sure yes, positive. So positive state Amen to that. And so, Steve, as we wrap up, I’ve got a couple of final questions for you. What are some key takeaways that if you had to kind of bullet point, boom, boom, boom of things you’ve learned the last a few years, spending a few years, probably a couple decades spending time with this message. What do you want people to take away? What are the tweetable moments that you want them to have today?

Steve

Well, I got a couple of them. One is that nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care. That’s kind of the, you know, you can come in and you can have the biggest brain on the planet and you can have all this great information that we want to teach people you want to help to change their lives. Well if you don’t deeply, deeply care about the people that you’re speaking with, that won’t register.

And so that caring piece is really important. It’s related to the next piece, especially when you’re working with folks that it’s not about perfection. It’s about connection. And sometimes as a teacher, as a presenter, I’m so worried about presenting everything perfect way and when I do that, sometimes, I forget about the people I’m trying to present to. And my dad used to say that a lot of professors, they’re experts on their subject, but they’re not experts on their subjects. And so there’s a big difference there.

And then, you know, another big one, last on,  is trying to change, we talk about this, a lot at Life is Good, trying to change the “I have to” to “I get to” when we think about it. I have to go to work now, we get to go to work. It is a privilege, even something like, I have to go to the dentist. I hate going the dentist. I can’t believe I have to go to the dentist or no, no, you get to go to the dentist because you’re uncomfortable or you’re in pain. And then all of a sudden, you get access to great people who studied almost their whole lives at this moment of taking care of your teeth, to try to alleviate pain or to help you to be healthy. That, that’s a privilege and oftentimes in life. Man, we just get into this, I have to mentality and I’m guilty of it all the time.

And so I have to reframe it. I told my son recently he’s, like, my oldest son is like that. Can I use your car?? Oh, man, I have to give you my car all the time. Said, no, dad, you get to give me a car, you get to have a son, and he loves you. You get to have a car, you get to have other modes of transportation, and you can take your bike.

So people are always reminding us of this idea of that, it’s not I have to get to, but there’s a lot of privileges that many people don’t have. And I know, man, I’m privileged. And when you know that and then say, okay, I used to feel guilty about it a privilege. But now I know, hey, I can use that privilege in a way that tries to make life better for other people.

And I think that’s important to use the resources and the privileges and the opportunities that we have to help others.

Dr. Robin

I’m grateful I got to interview you today and share you with my audience. You’re definitely a bright light. Last question for you. Is there a song or a quote or a book that inspires you to keep on going on? Because, sometimes, it’s not so easy when the world’s a little dark.

Steve

You know, not a song or what? There’s a beautiful song that I think folks should that I absolutely love. And it’s by a group called the Avett Brothers, A-V-E-T-T. And the song is called No Hard Feelings, and it kind of goes when my body won’t hold me anymore and  it finally let’s me free? Will I be ready? When my feet won’t walk another mile and my lips give their last, Kiss goodbye? Will my hands be steady? When I lay down my fears, my hopes and my doubts the rings on my fingers and the keys to my house with no hard feeling. Now, I won’t sing anymore.

I apologize for the singing, but I was singing it the other day because it’s like we all know that the time is going to come when we’re gonna be on our way out and when we’re there, we recognize that hard feelings never did anything for us. Never did any good anyone. We kept them, they get in the way of us living our best lives. So I’m sorry if I ruin the song for you through my mediocre voice, but check out the Avett Brothers. No hard feelings and recognize when that time comes. I got to be there with my dad when he took his last, you know, his last breath. And I knew at that time the only thing that mattered to him was the love and kindness that he shared with others, it wasn’t his math accomplishment. It wasn’t his house. It wasn’t anything material. It was those kind feelings. And that’s all that matters. So if we can know that early, instead of waiting til we’re on our deathbed, then we’re going to be able to share it and live our best lives and help other people live their best lives.

Dr. Robin

Well, I love the song. Thank you for having the courage to sing it. It’ll be in the show notes for all of you listening today. And so much wisdom in today’s show. I’d love to hear your takeaways. I’d love to hear what experience you’ve had. Sharing kindness, how it helped you shift from possibly some of the feelings you’ve been suffering from the last, quite frankly, whole your whole life. I think we start suffering the minute we’re born sometimes because the first trauma is our birth. So, Steve, I’ve loved every minute with you. Thank you for sharing with me on Small Changes, Big Shifts.

Steve

Thank you. I loved every minute with you. And thanks for doing this podcast and for spreading kindness. It’s a gift to be on here. Thank you.

Comments
  • Donda McLaughlin
    Reply

    Loved it. Helping me with a client that has been hard for me to work with. The statement “see them” and recognize they were probably hurt was a great reminder we all need caring to help our journey.

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