PROJECT HERO, Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, and the Space for Empathy

This week, I had the pleasure and privilege of teaching a workshop called Project Hero at East Hampton Middle School.

Project Hero  is a Theater Arts curriculum created by the incomparable Kate Mueth for Guild Hall and The Hamptons International Film Festival, that partners with and pushes into local middle schools. Teaching artists spend three days working with sixth grade students on...their feelings. We have conversations. Through theatrical games we dig deeper into their own narratives, and their own stories. We cultivate a space that hopefully gives them the tools to dea and cope with the world around them. We ask them to look inward at their own reactions to circumstance and conflict. We ask them to look around and see how they can help another.

We build empathy.

And it is beautiful.

Earlier this week, the world lost Kate Spade. 

Today we learn that Anthony Bourdain is no longer with us.‬

And as strange is it may seem to you, the work that I did in this workshop this week is intrinsically tied to the suicide of these two bright souls. 

‪Too often we put up walls.

Too often we look the other way in uncomfortable situations.

Too often we stay away from those we don't understand, or don't know.

Too often we think we know the plight and mood and motivations of another. How many times have you looked at someone and thought, they have it all together? How many times have you looked at someone and thought, "they don't understand struggle or pain."

Nobody is immune to struggle and pain, and mental health does not discriminate.

It does not care how much money you have. It does not care what you look like. It does not care about your gender.‬

It does not care.

Part of the workshop is an activity called the spectogram. We literally put a piece of spike tape down the middle of the classroom and make a line. One side is "yes", one side is "no", and the middle of the line is "maybe".

We then ask the students a series of questions, starting with the less personal (i.e. - I love the color pink, and slowly but surely leading up to more serious topics like, I have been bullied. I feel like I don't have anyone to talk to."

Each and every time I run this workshop, there's always one statement that hits kids the hardest.

This year it was "I do not feel safe at home, and/or I know someone who does not feel happy at home."

Five out of the fifteen students in my class moved to the "yes" part of the line.

One student, we'll call him Paul was upset by this.

"Megan, he said. I love going home. I let out of sigh of relief every time I go home and go, "ahhh, school is done."  I can't imagine not loving being home. Or not feeling safe at home. And it makes me feel so bad that some people feel that way. And it makes me want to take them into my home."

He's 12.

Isn't it funny how sometimes, the children of this world are the ones who teach us?

I said to him, "Paul, that is beautiful. That is wonderful. And I hope you never lose that. I hope when you are an adult, and when you see people hurting, you always want to have them come into your home. I hope you always want to help."

I don't know where the point is when people stop inviting the hurting into our homes. And I mean this in the figurative sense, of course. But somewhere along the line, it happens. But perhaps it's students like Paul that can bring us back to what matters most. 

People.

People need people. And depressed people need people even more. And they're not going to ask for help. The world in which we live doesn't always create the space where we can ask for help without fear. Without judgement. Without repercussion of having a negative label tattooed on our foreheads. 

But, I have to hold out hope that we can create that space.

Imagine a world where people feel safe asking for help, where people could pursue counseling without fear of judgment, where you could say, “I’m not fine”?

Imagine that? 

Let's create that world. 

I don't claim to have any special solutions to this. And quite frankly, I don't think there is one. For I do know too many people championing for the hearts and mental health of others, and if there was a magic fix, they would've used it by now.

But I do know it starts with conversation. It starts with listening. It starts with showing up for those you love, and even for those you don't. 

Everyone has a different story, but at the core of us all remains three things: the desire to be seen, to be heard, and to be loved.

So as you navigate your days, weeks, months, and years ahead - see people. Hear people. Love people. 

And invite those who are hurting into your "home".