Gilles M. with Member of Parliament Joy Smith
Have you ever met a hero? I have.
A hero is a person who demonstrates noble qualities like generosity, courage and kindness. Each of these words fit the hero I just met. His name is Gilles M. (due to the nature of his work, we cannot publish his surname) and he has inspired this blog post, as well as getting me thinking about how to be a hero in my own life.
Gilles introduced himself to me after participating in a program I delivered on The Neuroscience of Leadership. "I work as a Corrections Officer for young offenders" he said. "I think your message would really help the young people I work with. I wondered if you would you be interested in coming to speak to them some time?"
I told him I would certainly be interested in speaking with him further about this opportunity. He gave me his card and said he'd be in touch.
Two months later, my phone rang and it was Gilles. He told me a bit more about his role as a Juvenile Counselor and Corrections Officer, "working closely with the program and chaplaincy departments, I am responsible for the safety, security and case management of residents in care."
We talked about the facility and about the young people Gilles interacts with every day. "They range in age from 12-18 years, both boys and girls," he said. This really struck me, as I have a 19-year-old daughter and a 16-year-old son at home. The thought of them being incarcerated was unimaginable to me.
"They have seen a lot in their young lives," he continued. "They have experienced more than most adults will ever experience -- suicides, homicides, sexual and physical assault." He told me that he watched my TEDx talk, in which I share a personal story about suicide. "Not to minimize your story, Deri, but some of these kids have been touched by suicide multiple times." I knew this would be an audience like no other for me. I also knew that my role was not to tell them that I could relate to their life; only that I might have something to share that could help them.
We arranged for a tour of the facility (in fact, we had two...Gilles is very thorough!) and then set a date for my presentation. The title we selected was: The Power of Positive: How Your Perspective Impacts Your Results. The goal was to leave these young people with a message that a positive brain is a resilient one, that perspective is a choice, and that they could assume more control over their results by adjusting their thoughts and behaviours.
As I met with Gilles to prepare for the presentation, I was struck by the way he talked about the youth in his care. It was not just the words he chose as he shared stories with me, it was the way in which he looked, and the tone of his voice, that really resonated with me. As he toured me around the facility, I could see how much people thought of him. Staff and residents alike readily smiled and greeted Gilles with the warmth of a friend.
I quickly learned that Gilles brought in an array of professionals to inspire, teach, and coach the residents. Speakers, comedians, musicians, and even the first ever Amazing Race Canada winner, Tim Hague have all visited the Youth Centre. (And Gilles achieves all of that, with no budget!) I asked him if this 'program' was a formal part of his job. Here is how he responded: "It is not usual or expected, but it is something that is in my heart to do."
That seems to be the key to being a hero...you do something unusual and unexpected that is in your heart to do. Gilles looks beyond the surface of his job expectations - "the safety, security and case management of residents in care" -- to his deeper purpose as a Corrections Officer and as a human being: "Working with these at-risk-youth, you quickly realize that the stories in the newspapers are just a tiny part of the real story. I've met a lot of great people over the years that have overcome overwhelming odds, and gone on to lead successful, happy lives. I have personally experienced blessings and changes in my own life as well, so I know that it is possible for all of us."
When I asked Gilles how he'd like to impact the young people he works with every day, he replied, "I'd like to introduce them to new ways to see themselves, to help them make better decisions, and to encourage them to choose healthier ways to view the world, and their future."
He continued: "It may seem futile to some, but not to me. We can all remember the hurtful -- or helpful -- words and actions of others in our past that have shaped our present mind-sets: good or bad. You never really know what word or action will impact which individual, but I'd like to counter-act the negative expectations they may have accepted about themselves. If they assume that this is all life has to offer them; if they have no hope of things ever getting any better, then why would they want to make the effort to live better? If I can show them enough 'success stories', if they can just catch a glimmer of hope, then they might start considering the possibilities of a better life. I've seen it work too often not to try with these young lives."
Gilles is one of the most humble people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, as evidenced by his comment to me when I complimented him on his programming accomplishments; "It seems I can't keep from getting involved with something. My wife is very tolerant and patient with me. I always have plans either in the developmental or implementation stages at work, and out in the community. I continually meet new people that are willing to step up to the plate for these youth. I take no credit. While I do set goals and have aspirations, I'm really just along for the ride and waiting to see what's around the corner next. I believe that when the time is right, the right people will present themselves and good things will happen."
Well, Gilles is definitely the right person in the right place, and he makes good things happen. He is definitely doing more than going 'along for the ride', and I hope he takes the credit he is due. Meeting him has encouraged me to continue to acknowledge the heroes that I meet along the way. How about you? I'd love to hear those stories here.
And, think about this: What can you do -- at work or at home -- that is unusual, unexpected and "in your heart" to do? What can you do to be a hero in your life?