The Way of the Donkey

Nancy Willard, M.S., J.D., Director of The Way of the Donkey, has worked for several decades in digital safety and bullying prevention. A strong focus of this work has been directed at developing research-based strategies to empower young people to make good choices and to empower young people to effectively respond to hurtful or risky situations in a way that is empowered and seeks to reduce the potential harmful impact.

The approach Nancy recommends to schools and others in this area is fully grounded in positive psychology and trauma informed practices.

The field of positive psychology provides insight into strategies individuals can use to live more happy and productive lives. Trauma informed practices provide insight into how individuals can respond in traumatic situations to reduce the potential of harm in the form of a traumatic distress response and can assist those who have experienced harm to recover from that harm and respond effectively when in stressful situations.

It turns out that donkeys share many of the traits that social science researchers say help people feel happier, feel empowered, and more effectively handle stressful situations. The Way of the Donkey calls our donkeys “Intuitive Empowerment Facilitators.”

The Way of the Donkey includes these seven, research-based components:

  • Connect With Friends Donkeys love their best “buddy.” To be a good friend think about how the other person feels and treat the person the way you would like to be treated. (Connections)
  • Reach Out To Be Kind Donkeys scratch each other’s back. When you reach out to be kind to others this makes them feel great ~ and you also! (Kindness)
  • Build Your Strengths Donkeys like to learn new things. When you use your personal strengths to do new things this makes you feel empowered. (Character Strengths)
  • Be Thankful Donkeys are thankful when they receive treats, especially carrots. Being thankful for the good things makes you feel happy. (Gratitude)
  • If things get tough… If donkeys become unsure or afraid, they do this:
  • Stop and Stay Focused Donkeys don’t run or fight or freeze. They stop and stay focused. (Mindfulness)
  • Stand Tall Donkeys stand tall and look powerful. Recognize that you cannot control how others act, but you can control how you feel about yourself and respond. Standing tall can help you feel more powerful. (Presence and Rational Emotive Response)
  • Think Things Through Donkeys think things through. They figure out what is best to do. If you need to figure out what to do, ask yourself these questions:
    • What has actually happened?
    • What is my goal in this situation? If someone was hurtful to me, what is the most powerfully positive way I could respond? If I was hurtful, how can I acknowledge this and what harms do I need to make right?
    • What several powerful positive actions, using my strengths, could I take?
    • Is each action in accord with my values?
    • For each action, what might happen?
    • What is my best first choice?
    • If this does not work, what else could I do? (Problem Solving, Character Strengths, and Restorative Practices)

These are handouts about The Way of the Donkey:

  • For parents.
  • For young people
  • For anyone