The moment you sit down with Christine Guthery, a funny transformation takes place, you find yourself swelling with optimism, self-confidence and personal-potential. It’s a gift Christine has, she simultaneously exudes these attributes and brings them out in others. She’s passionate about what she does and her enthusiasm has a way of igniting passion in others.
Christine is a lawyer by training but as the mother of three children (now ages 16, 9 and 7), she has discovered that her real calling is as a community activist and SPARK Kindness is community activism at its finest.
SPARK is the offshoot of a coalition called Parents against Bullying and Cyber-Bullying, which Christine founded in 2010, and its sister organization, the Metro-west [Boston] Anti-Bullying Coalition (ABC). The need for an anti-bullying coalition arose from a wide-spread, cyber-bullying incident at a local middle school, which impacted more than 90 students and their families in 2010.
Ironically, though neither Christine nor anyone in her family has ever been a victim of bullying, Christine is on a mission to prevent it. “Bullying is a social justice issue,” Christine says. “in order to rise above it, you have to be resilient, empowered, self-confident. I’m a lawyer by training and this idea of building resiliency inspires me. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. That’s my cause.”
“The definition of ‘bully’ used to be pretty straightforward. It was a label once reserved for kids, who were considered outliers or playground thugs, the type of kids who committed physical acts on their victims. But times have changed. Now it’s not just the kids who are insecure or outcast that are doing the bullying, rather it’s also the popular kids, both boys and girls, who are trying to reach the top of their social/athletic/academic pyramid that can be the perpetrators,” Christine says.
“Not too long ago,” Christine continues, “a slanderous note passed around at school could impact a whole class of students or even a school community but when the kids went home at the end of the day, they left the incident at school. Now, with the Internet and smart phones, [and thanks to social media sites like Facebook, MySpace and Instagram,] bullying incidents can enter the cyber-sphere and quickly go viral. Kids have no way of leaving an incident behind them,” explains Christine. “In fact, these days, a great deal of bullying occurs during out-of-school-time.”
Christine believes that genocide and ethnic-cleansing—such as the ones that have occurred in Darfur, South Sudan and Nazi Germany—is “bullying taken to extreme measures.” And it’s really this mindset, this deep desire to eradicate the cause at it’s root, that has given rise to SPARK Kindness. The evolution came in 2012, when Christine realized that just talking about bullying wasn’t making progress.
“For two years [2010 & 2011] I had been focusing on bullying and trying to understand it better,” she says, “but then I realized, what if we shifted the conversation away from the outcome (bullying) and toward the prevention (nurturing kindness and resiliency)? What if our efforts were proactive rather than reactive?”
She compares this shift in mindset with the approach of Western medicine, where the focus is on addressing the illness, not on maintaining and promoting wellness. “I was finding that just talking about bullying was disempowering,” Christine reflects. “When I focused on the positives of resilience, kindness and courage, I felt empowered. It was exactly like the emotion of ‘elevation’ or self-transcendence that psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, described in his 2012 TED talk,” she says. “In other words, when you witness someone doing something positive or altruistic, it inspires you to do something positive or altruistic. This is where SPARK Kindness came from, how can we build the community we want rather than just address the ills we want to avoid?”
teach children not just about kindness and emotional self-awareness early on but how to be resilient and seek support when they are feeling insecure or are suffering. SPARK Kindness, ignite positive change in your community.
To find out ways to SPARK Kindness in your own community, click the logo above or visit http://www.sparkkindness.org/.
This post summarizes an interview between SPARK Kindness founder, Christine Guthery and World Moms Blog Managing Editor, Kyla P’an. This is a World Moms Blog exclusive interview.