THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Karen Salmansohn Headshot

The Power To Change Our World's Storylines: Donna Karan's Urban Zen

Posted: Updated:

Quick question. Which storyline would you rather hear about?

Storyline #1 - tales about people being good, generous, helping each other to become their highest potential?

Storyline #2 - tales about people being caught up in danger, fear, conflict, failure - with lots of action packed violence and humiliation?

Far too many media outlets believe you won't find Storyline #1 nearly as exciting as Storyline #2 - and so media stories abound about how we humans are not very kind or moral. Or how we humans we create goals which are never fulfilled. Or how we humans keep trying to solve problems - only to keep failing.

Unfortunately this constant bombardment of negative Storyline#2's is dangerous to our universal psyche. Hearing these terrible tales -- over and over - can make us all feel powerless, hopeless, diminished - and pessimistic about our world's future.

Sure, admittedly, our world is in crisis -- in many arenas. But just as surely we have the power to change our world for the better. And we have many Storyline #1 tales to tell to prove this!

Exciting, factual tales even!

Yes, you don't need to be a fictional Iron Man to create positive change in this world. You don't need a nuclear powered heart and an iron techno-savvy suit. You just need an open, aware heart and the very computer you are reading this article on.

For example, did you know that right now -- via your computer -- you have the power to help our world's children who are in crisis?

It's true.

I discovered these incredible world-changing computer-generated powers two weeks ago, when I attended a fundraiser thrown by Donna Karan's Urban Zen Organization to help raise money for Spirituality For Kids (SFK), a nonprofit which gives kids in crisis the tools to help them make positive choices, build self-esteem and realize their full potential.

This inspiring event was held at Karan's huge, airy loft on Greenwich Street, attracting thousands of local parents and kids throughout the weekend, many of whom participated in the very same playful activities SFK brings to kids in crisis around the world.

As I inched my way around Karan's jam-packed loft, I became quickly aware of the consistent sound of children giggling. A beautiful sound - which was highly contagious. Everyone around me was smiling sociably at everyone around me. Children and adults equally. Immediately I was reminded of a famous study - detailing how children laugh eight times more a day than adults. Or at least that's how laughter can and should be for children. Unfortunately, as SFK reports, far too many children today are being raised without parental or community protection. And far too many children are victims of malnourishment, abuse, war, and HIV/AIDS.

The specific global numbers SFK details about today's children are staggering to behold. There are 246 million child laborers,143 million orphans, 8.4 million trafficked kids.

Plus, distressing trends for children are not merely a problem in underdeveloped countries -- but wealthy countries as well. For example, a recent National Youth Gang Survey report indicated that here in the US in 2004 we had roughly 24,000 youth gangs with 760,000 gang members.

Thankfully, with the unified efforts of Urban Zen and SFK, this disheartening media Storyline#2 is now transforming itself into an uplifting media Storyline #1.

"We at Urban Zen and SFK are determined to make sure that instead of passing along today's problems to future generations - we are passing on solutions," Donna Karan enthusiastically told me, from the privacy of her light-filled, very zen office, above the loft where the SFK fundraiser was held.

And together Urban Zen and SFK are indeed creating proactive solutions - as evidenced by the Rand Report - which clearly showed SFK's measurable positive affects on children - in virtually every domain covered by the Rand Survey.

For example, SFK was shown by Rand to demonstrably amend children's problems with attention deficit, hyperactivity, disruptive behavior - as well as clearly improve children's skillsets in adaptability, leadership, communication, socializing and overall learning as a whole.

Although SFK stands for Spirtuality For Kids, the organization is not a religious program, but rather one which teaches kids to look inward -- encouraging kids to understand the cause and effects of their thoughts and actions. Plus SFK wisely recognizes that " to educate children" is not simply a matter of teaching that famed "reading, writing, arithmetic" triumvirate. Nor is "good education" simply a matter of giving monologue-based lectures. Indeed, repeated studies show that only 20% of children learn best from a traditional auditory lecture approach. Having wisely learned all these valuable lessons about learning, SFK makes sure its teachers employ a variety of learning methods -- including visual, kinesthetic, musical, and interactive ones.

Plus, another reason SFK believes that the Rand Report shows their teachers to be so successful, is that SFK teachers don't place judgments on children being right or wrong when they give their answers. Instead, SFK teachers encourage kids to explore all their choices, and show kids respect for truly thinking for themselves.

One fun SFK lesson which Donna Karan enthusiastically shared included teachers using two colorful hand puppets. Each puppet represents a different choice of voice a child can use in their head when faced with difficult challenges. SFK teachers call the positive puppet's voice "the good guy" - and explain to kids how this is the voice which talks in a caring and sharing way. The negative puppet's voice is called "the opponent" - and is the voice which talks selfishly - only caring about short term results. The teachers then use these two puppets to act out various funny dialogues - specifically showing kids how their "opponent's voice" might gain them quickie fulfillment - but will -- in the long term -- create big time life problems.

Another SFK methodology Karan excitedly shared included kids using candle light in a darkened room to serve as a metaphor for what happens when you share ideas and good will. In this lesson SFK teachers give each child a candle to use to light another child's candle. The lesson learned? When you share your personal light with others, not only does it not take away one iota from your personal light - it actually brings further light into this world.

Karan also shared with me the very empowering way SFK demonstrates the destructive affects of cruelty. SFK teachers give children their very own single red paper heart - then tell them to rip up their hearts -- then put these shredded pieces back together again into its original heart form. Quickly the children realize these hearts can't be so easily mended. A discussion then ensues about how when we hurt others with our mean words and deeds, the relationship once shared will never be exactly the same.

Another SFK lesson Karan shared - which I personally loved - was the one about teaching children the value of discipline and effort. In this lesson, kids are given colorful balloons to play with - in two different kinds of games. The first game requires keeping one balloon in the air using both hands. The second game requires keeping many balloons in the air -- while having one hand held behind your back. Afterwards, the kids talk about how this second game - the more effortful game - is the more fun game. Then the teachers discuss how in life, the more discipline and effort you put into your actions - including putting in the discipline and effort to make wise choices - the more big and longterm your satisfaction will be.

"Basically, SFK teaches kids that life is much like a game," explains Karan. "Life has universal rules - and opponents challenging us all the time - all of which kids can learn to overcome -- and thereby potentially win at the game of life."

All this effective SFK curriculum - plus many more inspiring methodologies - is presently being taught around the world, in 33 sites, in 7 countries including Africa (Milawi), Middle East (Israel and Refugee Camps), Central and South America (Mexico, Panama, Brazil, Chile), Europe (United Kingdom), and North America (LA, NY, Miami, Las Vegas).

The first program SFK started was in LA - at a school so troubled by gang problems it had 7 separate entrances. This SFK premiere program proved so successful, that it later was brought to children at Rilker's - who loved it so much, a majority have chosen to continue the SFK program even after leaving Rilkers. And in Israel, where the SFK program is also taught, Arab and Israeli children are brought together to learn the principles of unity and tolerance -- using fun methodologies - like demonstrating how rowing a boat with one oar won't get you anywhere. You need two oars in the water to gain positive momentum.

So far, funding has been largely private. But as SFK has gained rapid credibility, thanks in part to Urban Zen's fundraising events, some city grants have helped them gain momentum, and so they're quickly expanding, adding on new cities.

Personally I find hearing about this positive, happy Storyline#1 to be far more exciting than hearing about a depressing, tragic Storyline #2.

Indeed, the only thing better than hearing about a Storyline #1... is to actually become a powerful, proactive participant in creating more Storyline #1's which you can very easily become via that powerful machinery called "your computer." All you have to do is go to the "Help Us Help" section of www.urbanzen.com to find out how you can make a difference.

You know that expression "Don't just sit there, do something"? With today's modern technology, that expression can be re-tooled to become: "If you want to do something, JUST SIT THERE."

Yes, without even moving from your seat, you can change the future of children in crisis - giving you one big one up on a flying Iron Man.

Karen Salmansohn is a best selling author with over 1 million books sold - her most recent being THE BOUNCE BACK BOOK: HOW TO THRIVE IN THE FACE OF ADVERSITY, SETBACKS AND LOSS. Salmansohn's personal mission is to share information which leads to our world's transformation - to help this world bounce back from the many tough challenges it's now going through - and to eliminate that pesky word "impossible." For more info: www.notsalmon.com.

From Our Partners