Behind all of our work at the Flawless Foundation is our core belief in the perfection of every person. Our perspective is always based on seeing our common humanity through the lens of light and love. And we know we aren’t alone. There is a growing movement toward living and working from a place of empathy and acceptance. Next month, at the Mental Health Association of Palm Beach County’s conference, “In an Age of Violence: Helping Children and Families Cope,” we’ll be hearing from two revolutionary leaders who embrace this philosophy: brain health advocates Kevin Hines and Dr. Jeremy Richman. In advance of the conference, we sat down with them to discuss what all of us can do to create safer and more connected communities.
Both Kevin and Jeremy bring personal experience to their work on this issue, and both are passionate in their belief that preventing violence depends on changing our culture and promoting holistic health. The author of the bestselling memoir, Cracked Not Broken, Surviving and Thriving After a Suicide Attempt, Kevin now dedicates himself to inspiring others to stay well through his speaking engagements, films, and advocacy. Jeremy is the founder of the Avielle Foundation, which he started after his daughter’s tragic murder with the mission of preventing violence through supporting brain research and community education. During this inspiring discussion, they shared their vision of a happier and healthier world — a reality they believe every one of us can help build through taking these key steps.
Replace “black and white” thinking with grey.
In American culture, our strong tendency to divide the world into “good” and “evil” often causes us to dehumanize those we perceive as “bad.” With this mindset, there’s no room for empathy or understanding, and thus, little possibility for healing or change. Kevin proposed an alternative: “I look at people as people who’ve had life stories that lead them to a particular place. I try not to judge others no matter what they’ve done, but instead look at the entire picture.” It takes continuous effort to achieve this shift in our perspective, but we can all commit to taking small, everyday actions toward releasing judgment and focusing on our shared humanity.
Start thinking about physical and brain health as one: health.
Both Kevin and Jeremy believe that to achieve a healthier society, we must begin by redefining health. “Because of our lack of knowledge about how it works, the brain has been put on a pedestal and we think of ourselves as separate. But the brain is just another organ,” Jeremy said. If we think of the brain as another organ, we will begin to care for it like we do other parts of our bodies — in a comprehensive way that includes both prevention and treatment.
Behavior is a reflection of brain health: Be alert for warning signs.
“The brain is the source of our memories, feelings, and behaviors,” Jeremy said, “so if your behaviors aren’t healthy, there’s something unhealthy about the organ.” Paying greater attention to behavior as an indicator of brain health not only allows us to intervene earlier, it also gives individuals the ability to be advocates for their own wellbeing. As Kevin emphasized, our thoughts don’t have to become our actions, which is why prevention is so important.
Change begins with the next generation.
Particularly for educators and parents, it’s critical that we create safe spaces where kids feel comfortable talking about their emotional life. “The only way we’re going to change the generation coming up is by giving them the tools to recognize their fellow classmates in pain and to have open and honest conversations with adults without feeling shame,” Kevin said. For both Kevin and Jeremy, education is the key to making an impact early on and putting powerful brain research in the hands of those who can apply it for violence prevention.
Be aware of risk factors.
We believe that, for all of us, brain health is on a spectrum, and as such, everyone needs to proactively eliminate the risk factors and seek out protective elements that enhance the health of our brains. Knowing the risk factors that create a higher potential for violence — like violent media, physical and emotional trauma, inflammation and infection, and many others — is, as Jeremy put it, “not just powerful, it’s empowering.”
Actively pursue a “brain healthy” lifestyle. Just as there are environmental factors that have been scientifically shown to increase the risk of the challenging behaviors that go along with unbalanced brain health, there are also equally powerful factors that promote resilience and compassion. We all need to be aware of them and develop our own brain health protection regime. Spending time in positive social and peer groups, exercising and eating well, monitoring stress, developing emotional intelligence, and cultivating mindfulness are all effective habits we can practice.
We each have the ability to create a more peaceful society. The steps mentioned above are just a few ways we can do this. First and foremost, we must adopt and help to promote a new way of thinking that’s based in neuroscience and rooted in compassion, and which emphasizes prevention over reaction. Both Kevin and Jeremy agree that this paradigm shift must be our primary goal if we are to lower the incidence of violence and create a safer and more flawless world.