Giving Pause: How A Small Break Can Inspire Big Results

Giving Pause: How A Small Break Can Inspire Big Results

by Dov Seidman

Fifteen year-old Trisha Prabhu understands the power of pausing. As a high school student and daughter of software engineers, Prabhu spent years studying computer programming from a young age. After learning about an 11-year-old girl who committed suicide in 2012 because of relentless bullying on the internet, she was prompted to put her knowledge to use in order to disrupt one of the greatest social problems facing her generation.

Prabhu’s award-winning solution, Rethink, is a mobile app designed to stop cyber-bullying before it starts. Using a patented filtering technology that evaluates whether or not the text of an email, social media post or text message is offensive in nature, when the program detects flagged language it prompts the user with a pop-up window: “Are you sure you want to post this message?”

Research shows that this simple intervention, this small pause, is unbelievably effective – both in terms of changing immediate behavior and longer-term decision-making.  According to a recent study conducted by Rethink, a reported ninety-three percent of users changed their minds, opting not to post offensive content after all, while their overall willingness to engage in bullying behavior declined from seventy-one to just four percent.

“Very rarely in this connected world do we remember the need to slow down, pause and think about what we’re doing,” said Prabhu in a recent TED talk. “Our posts have significance, and that significance has a message.”

Prabhu understand the new reality of our age.  We live in such an interconnected and interdependent world that one person’s deeds – or misdeeds – can have resounding repercussions for a child, a parent, a teacher, a company or even an entire region of the globe.

Today, one fruit vendor in Tunisia can spark a revolution across the entire Middle East, and one trader at a desk in London can trigger global financial volutility.  Now, one teenager with a cellphone can radically alter the direction of another person’s life with the content of their messages.

In this world without distance, the act of pausing to reflect on how our actions affect conditions around us has never been more important. How we behave, even in the smallest of interactions, matters more than ever and in ways it never has before.  Our daily motives, decisions, reactions and behaviors contain important messages about who we are and what we stand for.  Yet when exactly do we look more deeply and listen more carefully to the messages at hand?  When do we take the time to pause?

I am reminded of the words of existential psychologist Rollo May, who in 1975 made the observation that: “human freedom involves our capacity to pause between the stimulus and response and, in that pause, to choose the one response toward which we wish to throw our weight.”

I believe that even simply asking: “Have I taken the time to pause?” can serve as a turning point for most of us, and I am in good company.  Inspired by our shared vision and complimentary purposes, my organization LRN— whose mission is to inspire principled performance—has collaborated with the 92nd Street Y– an organization with a 141-year history of helping people connect with and develop their fullest human selves.  Together, we have developed an online tool to help people stop and reflect on their values and on the consequences of their behavior.

The goal of the exercise is to help us reconnect to the values we hold dear.  Once we’ve reestablished the links to our conscience, we can spread these shared principles throughout our communities and organizations, helping to ensure that a common culture guides us on, not just what we can and can’t do, but what we should and should not do.

Our website, Giving Pause, asks people to look inside themselves and determine if they are living the life that’s best for them as individuals – and the collective world around them.  The online survey takes just ten minutes to complete, and in that time, helps answer such statements like: “I live according to my principles, even when it’s inconvenient,” or “I use sarcasm in a way that hurts people,” or “I hide behind anonymity on the internet to say things I would never say in person.”

Trisha Prabhu’s Rethink and GivingPause both aim to demonstrate the idea that the deep pause is not just about taking a breather, but reconnecting with our values and fundamental beliefs.  As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “in each pause, I hear the call.”

In your pause, what call will you hear?

Originally published on Forbes.com.

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