Monday, June 16, 2014


When someone starts starts shouting on the subway, I usually freeze up and pray that it ends soon. But not this time.

A few days ago, there were crazy problems on Manhattan-bound subways, and we passengers were being bumped from train to train and sent back into Brooklyn. 

One woman loudly proclaimed that she had been on 5 trains, and was being sent back to Brooklyn for the second time.  She started cursing and shouting, then began to cry.  People were either staring at her or looking away in discomfort.  I mean, nobody is supposed to act like that in public - right?  And I know that there is this training a lot of us get to mind our own business in public places, especially if someone seems like they're on edge.

The woman said out loud, but to no one in particular, that she was supposed to be picking up her daughter from school in Manhattan.  I thought about going over to her, hesitated for a minute, then finally decided to head her way.  Sitting across from this woman, I offered to go above ground with her and call her daughter's school.  Her story was pretty involved, but I just listened and told her several times that it wasn't her fault.  She got calmer and softened. I've felt like this woman before - enraged and panicked at the same time - but kept the feelings tucked inside.

It's definitely an interesting challenge to intervene in spots where people could use a hand in the moment and out in the public sphere.  Maybe the mom being super harsh with her child on the subway is actually overwhelmed and could use some friendly contact with another adult.   Maybe the teens who are being disruptive at the park could use an ally to come over and joke around with them.

Of course, it always makes sense to use one's discretion when approaching a tense scenario.  Maybe it's good to recruit  others to help in a dangerous situation instead of trying to handle it solo. But I think we're all more capable, creative and courageous than we think we are when it comes to being thoughtful in the direction of "strangers" out in public.  

We can always try, and make mistakes, but it's sometimes better to actually do something and learn from the experience than to be passive out of fear.

We don't always have to know each other in advance in order to offer comfort or assistance to each other.  We don't have to occupy an official role, title or position to come to someone's aid in a public space.   Appoint yourself whatever title you need to step up to the plate when a situation needs your courage and intelligence.  Be a Minister of Kindness in the workplace.  Be a Keeper of the Peace on the subway and in the streets. 

I'm curious to hear about where you've thoughtfully intervened in a tense public situation. What was the outcome? What did you learn from the experience?

Let's support each other to be wisely brave out there in the parks, subways, grocery stores and sidewalks.  Our communities need us to stay on our toes and ready to take action at a moment's notice. 

Whether it lasts 30 seconds or 30 minutes, your act of courage in someone else's direction could make all the difference in the world.

Photo credit:

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


SC Gathering Brooklyn 2014, #1SC Gathering Brooklyn 2014, #3
SC Gathering Brooklyn 2014, #2Listening

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of participating in a tour of The Brooklyn New School to learn more about its incredible efforts to promote sustainability.  The tour was organized by Emily Fano, who heads up the New York Eco-Schools - National Wildlife Federation.

After going on the tour, I understood why this school was recognized with the Green Flag by the National Wildlife Federation’s Eco-Schools USA program.  The staff there - from the principal to the science teacher to the sustainability coordinator - work closely as a team to help the whole school community conserve natural resources and incorporate environmental education into the curriculum.

What first impressed me is that BNS has its very own Sustainability Coordinator, Johanna Esteras. This seems crucial in pulling all the different sustainability efforts together, so it's not just people doing their own thing off in different corners of the school.  The fact that there is a dedicated staff member tells me that this is a big priority for the school.

The other thing I noticed is that as Johanna showed us around the schoolyard and its various eco-friendly projects, different children came up to her to make contact and to chime in about these various projects.  They seemed to have a great tie with her and a real sense of ownership over everything.

Also, it was clear that Johanna has good relationships with different staff, and I thought "Right! All of this is possible because of those solid, cooperative connections."

Here are some of the other reasons BNS is outstanding in the field of sustainability:

* The school  has its own green blog: Ecorama.  Do check it out!

* Students took on a variety of sustainability initiatives; these included forming an Eco-Action team, increasing green space and biodiversity on school grounds, saving energy, and implementing award-winning waste reduction measures.

* The school recycles and composts 75 percent of its cafeteria food waste, turns hard-to-recycle items into art projects, and is an official city Compost Project demonstration site.

 * The school’s garden includes a “pollinator palace” and bug hotel,

* BNS students learn about a variety of globally important issues across the grades and curricula:

First graders raise crops in the school garden, use the compost they produce from their cafeteria scraps on their raised beds, and harvest and serve their produce. They explore green spaces in and around the school community — including parks, community gardens, and other urban farms.

Second graders learn about the importance of water as they engineer ways to collect water, including: designing a water filtering system, creating rainwater catchment systems, and building pipe systems to meet a variety of challenges. This spring, they created pipe systems to irrigate the school’s gardens.

Fifth graders study weather and climate change and the benefits of alternative energy sources. They demonstrate what they learn at the school’s yearly sustainability “science fair” — Ecorama.

 * Students and staff have ventured out into their community to plant and care for trees, participate in ecological restoration and cleanups at nearby Plumb Beach, and raised and released native pollinators like monarch butterflies.

* Other gems include the Green Studio — a room devoted to sustainable projects and activities; the cafeteria recycling stations; an outdoor composting center and garden, and the Eco-Casita — an outdoor classroom in a converted shipping container, topped off by a green roof.

Photo Credit: Cynthia Carris