By Zenisha Shah, CEI Writer and Counselor at Innisfree House School
The city of Flint, Michigan has a long history of crippling economic and environmental troubles. Water crisis, lead poisoning, and financial deficit are some of the challenges the city has faced in the past (CNN, 2016). In addition to the implementation of various policies, this crisis calls for non-conventional solutions as well. The Mindful Cities Initiative is one such solution that is using mindfulness-based interventions to train civic leaders in Flint and other cities.
Why Mindfulness-based Training?
Environmental stressors seem to increase by the day, so we need a solution that makes individuals more resilient. Like the motivational speaker Brian Tracey suggests, “You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control your attitude toward what happens to you, and in that, you will be mastering change rather than allowing it to master you.”
The practice of mindfulness can help one stay calm through chaotic and stressful situations (Moreau, 2016). Emerging research on mindfulness-based programs in schools indicates various benefits for teachers and students. These include increasing stress resilience, improving emotional regulation and behavioral self-regulation, decreasing burnout in teachers, and enhancing attention and thereby improving academic performance (Bullock, 2018).
It helps one detach from a stressful situation and build inner strength. In addition, mindfulness has also been proven to increase compassion and focus (Aldina, 2016). These qualities not only make good leaders but also contribute to a more resilient and compassionate society.
Mindfulness in Flint
For a community to rise above a challenging situation, they need strong leaders. The Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, a brainchild of Google, aims to bring about thriving communities through developing creative and collaborative leadership skills. They collaborated with the Foundation for a Mindful Society and Crim Fitness Foundation in Flint to train civic leaders. Over 100 leaders attended this mindfulness-based training from the education, government, healthcare, business, and philanthropy fields.
The Crim foundation is aiming to implement mindfulness-based training both at the policy and individual level by offering school and community programs. These programs are designed to not only reduce the negative consequences faced by the Flint community but also increase well-being and growth. The organization has a history of applying evidence-based holistic interventions in Flint schools (Bullock, 2018). Crim also provides consulting support for various environmental, systems, and policy changes.
Though Mindful Cities is a relatively new initiative, there is evidence supporting the effectiveness of mindfulness-based leadership. Research suggests that the skill of mindfulness provides leaders with a competitive edge (Carter & Gimian, 2018). Mindful leadership also creates more focused, self-aware, compassionate, and resilient individuals (George, 2016). The focus of the initiative is connecting leaders to experts that can help create these mindful societies through community education campaigns, creating networks, and offering webinars and databases of resources. Civic leaders are at the forefront of this initiative and can significantly influence the project’s success.
A significant aspect of good leadership involves one’s ability to deal with conflict and diverse situations. Leaders must work with a diverse team to reach a common, inclusive solution. Mindfulness can help not only individuals, but teams, too (Yu & Zellmer-Bruhn, 2019). Mindfulness training can help leaders implement compassionate, efficient, and inclusive policies. The Mindful Cities initiative in Flint is one such example of using mindful leadership to create a flourishing community. The pilot phase of this initiative has expanded to two other cities: Jackson Hole, WY, and Boston, MA. Hopefully, more cities will use Flint as an example and invest in mindfulness to help their citizens thrive.
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