This June, the HOPE team had the honor of meeting with Scarlett Lewis, Founder and CEO of the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement. Through a mission to live by her son Jesse’s message “Nurturing, Healing, Love,” the Choose Love Movement produced a comprehensive program on social and emotional learning for all ages! This program is now being implemented in schools and community organizations nationwide.
Check out chooselovemovement.org for more information on their social and emotional learning and character education programs for parents, teachers, and communities!
Tell our readers about the Choose Love Movement, and how it came to be.
I started the Choose Love Movement following the murder of my 6-year-old son, Jesse Lewis, in his first grade classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Jesse left us a message before he died. He wrote three words on our kitchen chalkboard (pictured above)– nurturing, healing, love. I realized that if the shooter had been able to give and receive [those concepts], the tragedy wouldn’t have happened.
As I started researching how something like Sandy Hook could happen, I [saw] there was a way that we could prevent it. We’d been focusing on the problems themselves, [like bullying, substance abuse, and mental illness], but there are things that we can do to fortify individuals to reduce and prevent that suffering, including violence. By implementing social and emotional learning, character education, mindfulness, etc. – [these essential life skills] could reduce a lot of the suffering that we’re seeing, even school violence. They’re easy to teach and learn, and you can do it at any age!
I decided that was my purpose; I needed to get that message out that we can’t always choose what happens to us, but we can choose how we thoughtfully respond. By responding with love, we take our personal power back and make the world a better place!
How did you create the Choose Love Formula?
(Courage + Gratitude + Forgiveness + Compassion in Action = Choosing Love)
The formula is a foundational component of everything we do. Certain parts of it [came] from Jesse’s message of nurturing, healing, love. Jesse [gave us an] example of “Courage,” because [he] stood up to the shooter and his brave actions saved nine of his classmates’ lives. So we have extraordinary acts of courage [like his], but we also have everyday acts of courage. In the program, courage could mean what it takes to be vulnerable, or face our fears. Courage is like a muscle, we can strengthen it.
So then we move into “Gratitude.” In Jesse’s message, nurturing means lovingkindness and gratitude. The interesting thing is that the majority of our thoughts are negative and repetitive. We can either focus on a lower-energy, negative thought, or a grateful thought. We teach gratitude as the great mind-shifter – you can shift to a higher energy thought by thinking of something you’re grateful for. And there’s always something to be grateful for, but a lot of times that takes courage.
And that strengthens us to consider “Forgiveness.” In Jesse’s message, healing means forgiveness! An important part of my personal journey was my decision to forgive the shooter. I knew that I didn’t want to give him any power over my thoughts that impact how I feel [and] my relationships. The way I took my personal power back was through the choice to forgive, cutting the cord that attached me to pain!
When we started [many people thought children wouldn’t understand forgiveness]. We’ve found that kids love it! They talk about how good it feels to let things go. But adults have a problem with forgiveness, because we don’t understand the benefits to us. A lot of us still feel that it’s a gift to the person who hurt us who doesn’t deserve it; but in actuality it’s a gift that we give ourselves. It frees us from the pain of our past.
And then Jesse’s message of love. Love is “Compassion in Action.” Compassion has two components – there is the empathetic component, but to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and feel empathy for them is a painful process. Then there’s the second component, and that’s ‘action.’ That’s when we actively do something to help ease another’s pain. This is when all we give out [comes back to us]. In the end all of that comes back to us in nurturing, healing, loving ourselves.
So when we’ve had the COURAGE to be GRATEFUL, to FORGIVE, and to step outside of [ourselves] to help somebody else [with COMPASSION], we’ve CHOSEN LOVE!
How does Choose Love promote access to the Four Building Blocks of HOPE?
All [four Building Blocks] could be talked about in the social and emotional realm. Relationships are so vitally important to healthy life. Love is connection, and we all are desperate for this, especially now coming out of this isolation that we’ve all been in. Hope and love are inextricably linked together! And we all need hope.
People sometimes think of social and emotional learning (SEL) as separate lessons. They are lessons, but they also become a practice. And life gives us opportunities to practice our social and emotional tools every day. You can teach those skills and tools from a young age.
In the Choose Love Movement’s lifespan programming, we offer different ways for practice. We provide the opportunity for kids to bring lessons home so everyone is on the same page – the student, teacher, and parent. And we have a separate program for parents.
And then we extended the learning to communities. When I was out launching the Choose Love Movement in school district[s], community members would show up interested in how to ‘choose love’! Now we’ve got communities across the country that are setting aside a Choose Love Movement Day. From government agencies, to prisons, foster care, attorney generals, and first responders – all these traditionally siloed efforts are coming together.
Anything else you would like to share with readers?
It’s important to start thinking about the issues we see in our children. When we start addressing the cause[s] and focusing on healthy brains, [we can build resilience.] Our brains are incredible things. They grow, and we learn. So I’m living proof that these essential life skills can be effective even at an older age! Thank you all for being part of the solution. Bring this into your homes, and your communities, and help create the world that we all want to live in. We have the opportunity to make choices right now that will impact ourselves as individuals, our offspring, and also the health and well-being of our world. So I want to thank everybody for Choosing Love!