Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

This has to stop, these shootings July 19, 2017

Positive words posted near a garden in the heart of downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

SOMETIMES I COME across an article and accompanying video so profound that I am moved not to tears, but to sobbing.

Often I read those stories in Minnesota Public Radio blogger Bob Collins’ NewsCut column. He rates as one of my favorite writers for his ability to ferret out those stories that touch human emotions. You won’t necessarily see top news stories of the day featured online in NewsCut. But you will read stories that are deeply human, that elicit thought and emotions.

Sometimes Bob makes me laugh. Sometimes cry. Sometimes shake my head. And, almost always, he makes me think. His stories prompt plenty of reader interaction. Whether I agree with comments or not, I always find them interesting.

On Monday Bob published a story and linked to a video in a piece titled A wellness check by police ends with a son dead. The headline grabbed my attention. But it was the video of a grieving father that twisted my gut and made me cry in the deep sort of painful way that heaves your shoulders and unleashes primeval wailing.

In summary, the Massachusetts man’s 26-year-old son, despondent over a break-up with his girlfriend, holed himself up in his room with his dog and a gun. Police were called as was the SWAT Team. The parents were ushered from their home, the father pleading with police to just let his son sleep and to not over-react. I would encourage you to read the entire story and watch the video by clicking here.

 

I purchased this retro tray at an antique/vintage shop in St. Charles for its simple message. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Admittedly, I came to this story with emotions on edge after the police shooting of Justine Damond, 40, in an affluent south Minneapolis neighborhood late Saturday evening. She called 911 to report a suspected assault in an alley by her home, her family says. The death of this Australian woman, who moved to Minnesota several years ago to be nearer her fiance’, has triggered outrage and world-wide attention. And rightly so. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is now investigating the shooting of the unarmed, pajama clad Justine. Few details have been released. The police officer who shot Justine in the abdomen has thus far refused to be interviewed. Justine’s death continues to top the news in Twin Cities media.

Nearly every evening I turn on the 10 o’clock TV news to hear of another shooting in the Twin Cities. A drive-by, a targeted victim, a domestic and, yes, more and more, a fatal shooting by a police officer.

All of this leaves me wondering. Why? Why so much gun violence? Why the increase in fatal shootings by law enforcement officers?

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

Repeatedly, I hear of the need for more officer training. A recently-passed Minnesota state law requires police officers to receive specialized de-escalation, mental health and implicit bias training beginning in July 2018. In my county, that training is already happening and may have factored into a positive outcome for a 61-year-old local man who last week threatened suicide. He survived his crisis when police responded.

With increased societal awareness and openness, we’re seeing an attitude shift in handling of suicide threats and other mental health related calls to police like the one in Massachusetts. Common sense should tell you not to roll in with an excessive show of force and upset an already struggling individual. Lights, sound, action may work in Hollywood, but not necessarily in reality.

 

Sidewalk poetry in downtown Northfield, Minnesota, carries a powerful message. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

We can choose to remain calm, to listen to one another, to be compassionate and caring, whether we are a neighbor, a family member, a police officer or a stranger. I know that’s not always easy in a fluid and tense situation.

But something has to change. Too many people are dying due to gun violence in their homes, in alleys, along city streets, on sidewalks…from Minnesota to Massachusetts.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How we can become better at caring for others June 26, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Perhaps we could learn something from owls, who have a superb sense of hearing. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Perhaps we could learn something from owls, who have a superb sense of hearing. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU. How often have you thought that and wanted to tell someone:

This is not about your challenge or difficulty. This is about me, what I’m dealing with right now.

Me. See, the person you’re looking at, the person standing right in front of you, the person emailing you, the person calling you, the person you think you’re trying to help. But you’re not. You’ve shifted the focus to yourself. You.

This is not about you, your personal experience projected onto mine or the impact of my situation on you. This is about me. While I empathize that you, too, have dealt with your share of difficulties, now is not the time to talk about them. I don’t need that kind of “help.” I just need you to listen, to hold the unsolicited advice, to encourage, to simply be there. I don’t need to hear your story.

Because I strive for kindness, I usually hold those thoughts inside.

I’m not a self-centered person. In my life, I strive to be compassionate and caring. Like everyone, though, I fail at times.

But I am convinced that, with some effort, all of us can become better at caring for one another. And that begins with listening. I direct you to one of the best articles I’ve read on the topic:

http://articles.latimes.com/2013/apr/07/opinion/la-oe-0407-silk-ring-theory-20130407

It comes from a 2013 op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times by Susan Silk, a clinical psychologist, and by Barry Goldman, an arbitrator, mediator and author. Titled “How not to say the wrong thing,” this article is a must-read for everyone. It may change the way you approach family and friends who are dealing with health issues, challenges, difficulties. The authors emphasize listening, really listening, and focusing not on yourself but rather the individual in need.

Please read the article and then share your thoughts.

TELL ME:  How do you help friends, family and others through difficulties in life? How have you been helped? Let’s learn from one another.

FYI: Please note that my thoughts here come not only from personal experiences, but also from my observations of others.  So when I use the words “I” and “me,” I’m referencing more than myself. I am grateful for the many genuinely loving and caring people in my life who truly know how to listen.

(H/T Hope Center Facebook page)

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Learn to listen, really listen April 20, 2017

I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN A MAJOR proponent of the art of listening. Listening differs from hearing, which is a physical act. Listening requires close attention to what is being spoken.

I don’t hear well due to a severe sensorineural hearing loss in my right ear. If I walk into a room and someone says hello, I may not hear. And if I do hear, I will scan the room to determine the location of the speaker. I can’t pinpoint sound sources. Put me in a group of people carrying on multiple conversations or before someone speaking too softly and I struggle to hear. Add music or white noise (like a fan or air conditioner or furnace) and I won’t hear anything. Whisper into my right ear and I won’t hear you.

For six years now I’ve dealt with this severe permanent hearing loss. And no, a hearing aid won’t help. My brain processes sound at a slower rate if at all. Every single day I need words repeated to me because I simply do not hear them. It is frustrating and difficult. But I manage.

While an unexplained cause (likely a virus, so my ENT team surmised) forever altered my ability to hear, I remain committed to the art of listening. It is a skill I honed decades ago, first as an introverted child and later as I studied journalism and worked as a newspaper reporter. To be a good journalist, you have to be a good listener.

 

My column on trustworthiness, courtesy of The Virtues Project, Faribault.

 

I use that skill of listening beyond my chosen profession as a writer. I practice good listening in my everyday life and consider myself a good listener. I wrote on the topic of listening as it relates to the virtue of trustworthiness for The Virtues Project, Faribault. The Virtues Project is a “global initiative to inspire the practice of virtues in everyday life.” Virtues like honesty, understanding, caring, respect and more are being addressed each week in columns published in the Faribault Daily News. This was my week to write on trustworthiness in a column titled “Learn to Listen, Really Listen.”

From 10 a.m. to noon this Saturday, The Virtues Project, Faribault Team will expand on listening during a workshop on “The Art of Companioning.” That process is defined as “just listen to a person when they are sharing their story—without judgment, expectations, or fixing. Often times a hearing ear is just what the other person really wants, and when we do that, we are giving the person a chance to come up with their own solution.” The event will be held in the Buckham Memorial Library Great Hall in Faribault and is open to all at no cost. We could all benefit from learning and implementing the art of companioning.

TELL ME: Do you consider yourself to be a good listener? Why?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Don’t tell me you’re “fine” when you’re not & other insights March 5, 2017

 

HOW ARE YOU? I’ve never liked that question, even realizing the underlying kindness that laces those three trite words.

The standard answer of “I’m fine” is expected. The truth most often is not.

 

ttfa-1024x1024

 

Now Minneapolis writer Nora McInerny Purmort—who has faced her share of “I’m not fine” days—tackles the “How are you?” question in a podcast series from American Public Media. Terrible, (Thanks for Asking) is a must-listen series in which Nora seeks only honest responses to “How are you?”

I’ve listened to one podcast thus far. “Unbroken” features an interview with sexual assault survivor Sarah Super. It’s an incredible, horrible, powerful and, yes, sometimes graphic, story. But so worth your time for the insights revealed. Sarah is one strong woman. And we can learn so much from her about the importance of speaking up, of being heard and more.

Both she and Nora address the issue of silence. And, yes, I picked that from the interview because silence is all too pervasive. I’m talking the hard, uncomfortable silence that those who have suffered trauma, those who are dealing with health issues, those who are facing unimaginable difficulties and challenges hear. Yes, hear. Silence truly can be deafening.

Sarah cites the reason many friends and loved ones remained silent following her assault: “I didn’t know what to say or do.”

Puh-lease.

“Your silence,” Sarah says, “feels like apathy.” The definition of apathy is lack of interest, enthusiasm or concern. Lack of. Imagine how that feels to your loved one who is hurting. Lack of.

Nora reiterates Sarah’s thoughts: “Silence hurts when you are on the other end of something awful.”

In an interview with National Public Radio about her podcast series, Nora repeats, “The worst thing—and it doesn’t matter if you’re dealing with death, or if you’re dealing with all of these other things that we’ve talked to people about—silence is the worst thing you can hear from people.”

She gets it. Within six weeks, this young woman lost her father to cancer, miscarried and then lost her husband to brain cancer. Since then, Nora has authored the book It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool, Too). And now the enlightening podcasts have followed.

What can we learn from all of this? My take-away is this: First, we need to speak up, to end the silence, to really care when we ask someone, “How are you?” And then we need to listen, really listen. That means setting aside our stories, our comments, our whatever, and truly focusing on what the other person is telling us. It’s about them. Not us.

#

CHECK BACK TOMORROW for a way that Minnesota is breaking the silence on an issue that affects all of us, directly or indirectly.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Silence is not always golden January 10, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
Powering into a new year, symbolism in a locomotive photographed along US Highway 14 between Owatonna and Janesville.

Powering into a new year, symbolism in a locomotive photographed along US Highway 14 between Owatonna and Janesville.

A NEW YEAR BRINGS introspection, the opportunity to start anew, to face challenges head on, to build up rather than tear down.

That can be applied on a personal level and on a community level. In Faribault, my home for more than 30 years, I’ve never felt a stronger sense of caring for one another. That message of “you are not in this alone” has repeated itself in words and actions following two murder-suicides here in December. My community is choosing to be there for one another. That uplifts and empowers.

When life throws us a curve, we need to be there for another, linked by the commonalities of care and compassion.

When life throws us a curve, we need to be there for another, linked by the commonalities of care and compassion.

Yet, it takes more than a community reacting to tragedy to effect real and long-lasting change. And that starts with each of us. But we get busy. And we forget about the individuals in our circle of family and friends who are grieving, battling illnesses, struggling financially, facing unimaginable challenges. I try to be cognizant of the needs of others, especially those closest to me. Sometimes I fail, though, to extend much-needed care. There is no excuse. I have enough time to pick up the phone, send an email, jot a note in a card and/or simply ask, “How are you doing?” I can listen and encourage without injecting my opinion, my advice, myself.

We can

In a harvested cornfield, we choose to walk around the stubble to avoid physical pain. In life, we need to acknowledge the painful stubble in others’ lives and not avoid it.

By ignoring an issue, by failing to address the difficulty a friend or family member is facing, we add to the pain. Silence is not always golden.

Sometimes we must intentionally choose to keep at arm’s length those who fail to support us. That failure can come via omission or via hurtful words and behavior. We are all adult enough to realize when words encourage and when words hurt.

So many times I’ve observed people shift a conversation to themselves, as if that’s going to help whomever is struggling. This is not about ourselves; this is about the person sharing his/her concern.

A strong visual that we can help one another. Photographed near New Ulm.

This strong visual shows that we can help one another. Photographed recently near New Ulm.

Bottom line: We need to hone our listening skills, to show genuine compassion, to be here for each other.

TELL ME: How do you help family and friends who are struggling with challenges in life? What do you find helpful and hurtful when you are dealing with a difficulty? Please be specific. We can all learn from one another.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling