The power of NEW and the hope it brings

Tomorrow is a special day for my martial arts school.

 

Tomorrow is the first day I teach in a new facility. We just moved two doors down to a larger space. The timing felt scary…our numbers have dwindled since the pandemic…but moreso than ever, we need space to be the best martial arts school that we can be. This was a big decision, and we remain easily convinced that we made the right one.

 

The emotions I feel remind me of when I first made the jump from “instructor” to “instructor and school owner” 4 years ago. It was a transition. We were entering a new world, a new phase of my career. Literally nothing would be the same.

 

The phase of my life in which I operated a school for someone else was an important phase in my development, but I would never go back. It was such a necessary “new” to go where I needed to go, and to become who I needed to become. I had a desire, a vision, that could not be realized until I was captain of my own ship. A certain new needed to take place.

 

This got me thinking of the power of “new”. I have been taught, and I fully agree with this teaching, that “anticipation is more exciting than participation.” The excitement of looking forward to Christmas is a stronger emotion than the happiness the day after Christmas, no matter how many of the best toys you got. And although being married is far more enjoyable than getting married, the anticipation is still more exciting than the participation (excitement and enjoyment are not the same thing).

A new baby. A new job. A new video game system. A new house.

 

New elicits a powerful emotion.

 

Sometimes “new” involves taking something that was okay or good and upleveling it to great. I have thoroughly enjoyed teaching at my martial arts school in the past…it was simply time to uplevel.

Sometimes “new” represents a putting to death of the old. New freedom from an old disempowering relationship. Turning over a new leaf to put an end to a negative chapter of our lives.

 

New elicits a powerful emotion.

 

And God knows that. Maybe it’s a problem…maybe our desire for excitement and newness is rooted in a lack of contentment. Maybe it’s something that He designed, planning to love on His children and surprise them with new things. Either way, God knows it about us. And He speaks to us on those terms.

 

Two selections of Scripture seemed to explode with meaning at key moments of my life. As I was grieving the loss of my mother to cancer, Revelation 21’s words look on life and imprinted themselves onto my heart forever…

 

Revelation 21:1-6

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 

He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.”

 

And the first five months of 2016, as Sarah and I were getting ready to buy a martial arts school and begin a new chapter of our lives, this Scripture seemed to jump out of the pages at me.

 

Isaiah 43:16-19, NIV

This is what the LORD says— he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick: 

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

 

(Let me be clear: Yes, I have a degree in Biblical Studies, and yes, I do realize that the context of this passage is not talking about my martial arts school. But something about it made me think that God does take us through different “chapters” of our lives, and I knew He was doing a new thing in our lives. It was not the intent of the passage, but rather, it inspired a thought)

 

What new gets you excited?

What new is He bringing you into?

Is there something old that ended?

I cannot imagine a solution that doesn’t start with listening.

Sorry, but I see two ideas that aren’t solutions. But perhaps we can find one between them.

Last week, with the killing of George Floyd, we saw two camps erupt on Facebook. We also saw a lot of anger and defensiveness.

We saw people who supported violent protest. We saw people who did not.

We saw people who raised a voice of support for people of color, black people.

We saw people who raised a voice of support for law enforcement officers.

We saw people who defended that just as no black person should ever be ashamed of being black, no white person should ever be ashamed of being white.

We saw people who raised a voice against racism for other minority races.

We saw “Black Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter” and the inflammatory responses to each of them.

 

But the thing that was missing…we didn’t see a lot of listening.

Or rather, selective listening. Listening to one side, but not the other.

As long as any side is labeled and dismissed, a solution will be further away from us. So what is the solution?

 

Failed Solution #1 – Calls for peace with no other substance.

There were many who condemned violent protest, quoting Martin Luther King Jr. in the process. If you watched close…you saw that this took us further away from a solution, not closer. Here’s why.

Grand Master Bill Clark (9th Degree Black Belt in the American Taekwondo Association, and a legend in the industry across the board) said that “People only change for one of two reasons…inspiration of desperation.”

Protest is meant to make people uncomfortable. Is it meant to take people who aren’t changing, and create enough discomfort for them to change. When Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the National Anthem, he made many enemies, many opponents.

What that means is…it was a good, effective, peaceful protest. (Remember, people hated MLK.)

And so, when people got uncomfortable, they started to criticize the how, why, and when of what he did. They brought ad hominem arguments, pointing out how fortunate and lucky he is to be playing in the NFL.

In short, he made people uncomfortable. He disturbed people. So they responded with, basically, “Stop that! Get back in line! Do what the others are doing!” a.k.a. “Stop making people uncomfortable!”

If what I am typing just now upsets you, I ask you to take a deep breath and consider the merit to my argument. Please know that on matters of politics, I tend to lean to the right (especially in matters of economy and crime/law) so I’m not “just another left-leaning whatever.”

Now, we have seen SOME of the protests turn violent (not all, not even the majority…some). This violence has made people angry, uncomfortable, and scared.

That’s when we quote Martin Luther King Jr. “I support peaceful protest. I do not support this violence.” But if a rebuttal is presented, a rebuttal that says  “No, you don’t support peaceful protest, because you complained about that too. And peaceful protest wasn’t getting us anywhere,” then that rebuttal leaves us without a case.

 

The purpose of the violent protests is this: To say “Oh, you’re scared of threat? Of violence? Of innocent people getting hurt? Now you get how black people feel.” Calling for peace without calling for change sounds like saying “Guys, let’s just go back to the way things were.” And this just causes more anger. The purpose of resistance is to get away from how things were, by any means necessary.

Just calling for peace is a failed solution.

 

Failed Solution #2 – Violence, Us vs. Them, and “White Privilege” shaming.

Let me be clear: I believe that white privilege exists. I believe that found in the sinful human heart are different degrees of xenophobia (fearing different languages, cultures, and races, and feeling comfort around people are look and talk like us) and that each person must take every thought captive.

I do not believe that every white person is an accidental closet racist or subconscious racist. I have another blog post that I haven’t shared about the roots of racism (xenophobia, tribalism, general stereotyping to look and feel in-the-know and confusion between the ideas of what “culture” means and what “race” means), but we won’t get into that for today. I find some of these roots in my heart, yes, but I tag them as “irrational” and make sure to smile at those I meet and treat them kindly. If anyone has ever caught me doing otherwise, I invite them to accuse me, publicly, of something they’ve actually seen me do.

 

So let’s make this simple…if Team A tags Team B as a threat, Team B will never trust Team A. There will always be a rift between them. If I’m on Team B, and the narrative I keep encountering is “Team A thinks Team B is _________,” then I will never feel trust or ease when my child goes to hang out with friends of Team A, nor will Team A parents feel trust or ease when their child hangs out with my Team B child. I will feel like I have to prepare them. To teach them to defend themselves against accusation.

 

As long as people on Team __ feel uncomfortable or threatened on the topic of Team (other), they will enjoy interactions with them less, and the problem will undoubtedly persist.

 

If you look at the teachings of Malcolm X in history, on Youtube, on Wikipedia, whichever, it’s clear as day: He taught his followers that white people are the enemy. He taught his followers that while white conservatives would push for a continuation of the old segregation and racism, white liberals would use championing black causes in order to gain political power for themselves. Conservative whites were wolves, and liberal whites were wolves dressed as sheep.

 

He taught that the only way for blacks to gain their rights back was black superiority. Conflict is the way of man, so they had to come out on top.

 

If one (a black person) were wronged, betrayed, and denied justice because of their skin color, this worldview would be very appealing. It would sing to the legitimate anger and hurt.

But from a helicopter view…I cannot imagine any long term solution growing out of soil like this.

 

The solution cannot be found in “peace.” In absence of conflict, in shuffling problems under the rug.

The solution cannot be found in “conflict” or “retribution.” No one on either side is going to take that laying down.

 

The only solution I can think of is justice.

Not “retributive” justice. “Restorative” justice. Justice that says “There is no greater or lesser between us.” Justice that RESTORES equality.

 

We must analyze our thoughts and actions. We must capture the wrongs our hearts produce.

We must take action against the wrongs we see. However, we cannot assume the wrongs we do not see. This will take us away from the solution, not towards it.

 

Ultimately, we must make sure that every interaction makes others feel loved, respected, and valued.

White people: Make everyone around you feel loved, respected, and valued. Up to the point where a black person around you has no doubt. Do not passively avoid unkindness, but rather, actively be kind.

Black people: Make everyone around you feel loved, respected, and valued. In this season, a good white person is afraid of being accused of racism. Perhaps they are afraid of saying the wrong thing. They may feel defensive in the current climate. Please help lower their defenses by smiling at them and saying hi.

 

On Facebook, do not just call for peace…call for systems of accountability for law enforcement. And if the law enforcement can demonstrate numbers that show their accountability here, then don’t blast one city’s law enforcement for mistakes another city’s law enforcement makes. Each shall be held accountable to their own deeds…not the deeds of others.

 

E Pluribus Unum – Out of the many, one. Listening is critical to building bridges.

Say These Powerful Words: “It is okay for you to not be happy.”

As a reminder: This post is coming from the context of someone who has taught martial arts to kids for 20 years now. I am not a child psychologist or counselor, but I still believe that my insight has value. Ultimately, YOU, reader, will be the one who decides whether my writings have value to you and your household. I wouldn’t be typing this if I didn’t believe that you would find value in it. But that’s for you to decide.

Rewatching the Office

So, Sarah has been rewatching the Office, going back through all the old episodes. For her, obviously, she just wants to watch Jim and Pam’s relationship develop again. For me, when I’m watching it with her, I’m analyzing the comedy of the show.

One of the elements that keeps the comedy running is the motif that Michael Scott will do whatever it takes to produce a happy-looking office. And other low-confidence characters (Pam and Phyllis) are in a different-looking-but-same boat. The comedy is often (not always, but often) built on the social expectation of keeping people happy and not offending or upsetting others.

This motif makes Stanley stand out, as he doesn’t care about making anyone else happy. It also makes Angela’s character stand out, as the person who constantly expresses unhappiness to change the actions of others.

And it’s comedy, right? It’s funny, right?

Well, we know that in order for something to be funny, it has to relate to the context of the watcher/listener’s world. Things often are not humorous unless you’ve seen what it looks like in someone’s world.

And people who are held hostage by the unhappiness of others are, of course, real. And when you’re in that boat, it can make social interactions and family interactions difficult and stressful.

So say it with me. And if you haven’t said it before, I truly believe these are powerful words.

“It is okay for you to not be happy.”

 

It’s powerful for parents

 

Most parents I’ve met, seen, encountered, etc. know that only a pushover parent would allow their child to get their way when they throw a tantrum, or whine, or whatever. While there are a few parents who unintentionally award this behavior to keep the peace (“You’re whining, here’s a game or a toy or some food to quiet you down”), most know that rewarding this behavior would move us backwards.

 

However, I do believe many good, involved, thoughtful, well-meaning parents fall into this trap: When their child expresses upsetness, the parent STOPS what they are doing/talking about and works to address their child’s upsetness.

 

There is value to this in certain contexts but all-too-often, we unintentionally send off this false message: “When you are upset, it is mandatory that other people change their course of action. You can make your unhappiness someone else’s problem.”

 

I know we don’t mean to send this message, but we do. I’ve seen, consistently, a parent unable to move forward when their child is unhappy. They don’t actually give in…rather, they explain why the child should be happy with what is happening. Or they explain that these are the rules. Maybe they say things like…

“I don’t know why you’re upset, I TOLD you this was going to happen.”

“I know you don’t want to get off the playground, but we’re going to go see Grandpa and Grandma after we get home!”

Maybe a parent addresses the child’s perceived concerns. Maybe the parent shows their child that their upsetness is frustrating them and that they SHOULD have seen this coming. But the message is still sent: “Your unhappiness is my problem.” And they see you changing your course of action to fix it.

 

So if you haven’t tried it, say it with me. I mean it…it’s actually freeing! And if you’ll believe me, I dare say that it’s actually healthy for your kids. Here it goes: “It’s okay for you to not be happy.” “It’s okay for you to not like this.” “It’s okay to not want to.”

 

Whatever parenting approach we choose, we have to ask this question: “Does my child’s life get better/more desirable when they express negativity, or worse/less desirable?” It’s simple enough…if my life gets better when I express negativity, then I’m obviously going to continue to express negativity. Do I receive comfort? Do my parents suddenly come closer, whereas before this they were more distant?

 

(“I don’t like where this is going. Are you suggesting that when my child is sad/hurt/upset, that I DISTANCE myself from them?” Actually, no. When your child NEEDS comfort/closeness, provide it. When your child WEAPONIZES their emotions, you could say something like “I don’t enjoy talking to kids who are grumpy and upset. That’s a downer for me. Go to your room, and you are welcome to come out as soon as you have chosen a attitude that brings others up instead of bringing others down.”)

 

It’s powerful for social interactions at work or school

 

It’s hard to say this without sounding like a crotchety old get-off-my-lawn motif, but I’ll still say it: Some of those children became adults. Therefore, we have a lot of adults who use their own unhappiness as a weapon to control others. Because from a young age they learned…it works.

The depressing news here is the following: Those people are going to exist. You lack the ability to change them. But what you are able to do is make sure that you are not caught into their trap. It takes confidence. It takes guts. But if it can be accomplished, it’s freeing.

So let’s say it again. It takes practice. It’s freeing. “It’s okay for you to not be happy.”

The old saying “Squeaky Wheel Gets the Oil” comes from this phenomenon. When people express their disapproval, their dissatisfaction, their unhappiness, others change course to try and appease them. In other words, the adults around them reward the behavior. Their life gets better when this happens. And you can’t stop it, can you?

But you can get them to say, in their subconscious, “Wow. That doesn’t work with Martha. Martha treats me WORSE when I am upset, and better when I am calm.” That is, if your name is Martha.

 

It’s powerful for social interactions between friends and family

 

I was once in a debate with a friend where the words were uttered to me, “If you value our friendship, you’ll be very careful what you say next.” While every friendship has ups and downs, these words were the irreversible downfall of the friendship for me.

Why? Because it was a leverage. “My happiness, my approval of what you’re going to say next, is of a higher value than your thoughts or open discourse. I won’t enjoy this friendship unless you walk on eggshells around me.” And according to Social Penetration Theory, intimacy (both platonic and romantic) deepens through a mutual and gradual process of self-disclosure. When self-disclosure is punished, friends begin to depenetrate in which they share less and less of their deep thoughts, and are only willing to engage in superficial conversation. No one likes to walk on eggshells.

This is why people have more conflicts with those close to them than they do with acquaintances…because when they are upset, they are more likely to share it and not hide it.

This should not be overplayed…remember that when upsetness is played, it still has a cost to the other person. So someone who gets upset all the time because they’re close to someone has to remember that they are throwing a burden on the other person’s shoulders.

But going back to it: If someone is engaging in honest communication about their feelings, it is healthy. If someone is weaponizing their emotions and preferences to move someone else to action or control someone, there is cause to counteract. This is for a whole new blog post about the power of wisely creating conflict, but for now, here’s what I want to say: Someone who is whining and then expecting you to fix it does not have to control you.

 

In fact, you can flip the script in these scenarios.

I believe that one of the reason people get in and stay in either majorly destructive relationships or stressful frustrating relationships is low self-esteem. Insert plug for martial arts training: Yes, I know I sound biased, but I literally don’t care because I’m passionate about this topic: I believe the saying “If you want a happy eternity, choose the right Savior. If you want a happy life, choose the right spouse.” (Please don’t misunderstand: I’m not advocating for the “There is just one out there for you” theory. Who you make a covenant with, that’s the one. However, choosing the wrong relationship can derail one’s enjoyment of life and dramatically increase how stressful one’s life is. I don’t think anyone would disagree with this.) Early in the relationship, it is so important to express and communicate how you require others to treat you. This can FILTER out toxic people and help you find out if they either treasure you, or are willing to treasure you.

In order to do this, you have to decide that you are worthy and deserving of being treasured. Christians: Throw that worm theology in the trash. You were created by God and bought by the blood of Jesus. Humility does not mean debasing yourself…Humility just means remembering that you are not more important than other God-created beings. Please see yourself with the value that God sees you with.

If you need empowerment in this area, take up martial arts. Do it. Kick a target. Yell with a confident voice. Find out what you’re really capable of.

 

If they are not happy with your requirements…it is okay for them not to be happy. Distance yourself.

It’s powerful for leaders. Real leaders.

(Before we continue, I’m going to get political. The great thing about healthy democracy is that by giving the people power, it keeps the government’s power in check. The bad news about democracy is that as long as our leaders are elected by a “popularity contest”, our politicians are followers. Not leaders. There. I said it.)

 

I have noticed that leaders of large, profitable companies often upset others. Steve Jobs was known for being very “My way or the highway.” In my own martial arts organization, Grand Master Bill Clark and his student Chief Master Sergio Von Schmeling are well known as the builders of huge, profitable, powerful multi-school businesses. I think of martial arts consultants like Fred Mertens and Michael Parrella.

 

Here are a few things that I’ve noticed:

  1. For each of these people, I have heard lots of criticism. What someone doesn’t like about their approach.
  2. For each of these people, I have noticed that you don’t want to speak out of turn in their class. They do not mind calling you out.
  3. In my experience, despite the criticism, I have found that these people have many followers who say that they deeply care, and have changed their lives.

 

My hypothesis in short: I have discovered that effective high-level leaders do not subject themselves to the social expectations of every Joe and Sally. In fact, if you try and throw a social expectation at them, they will break it almost out of principle.

In fact, there is a degree of arrogance in ANYONE saying “You fall short of my social expectations.” So they do not let themselves be controlled by these. Rather, they are guided by their vision, and their like-minded mentors. Not their critics.

They also don’t waste time trying to change their critics’ minds. Gary Vaynerchuk gives a speech about how “I can’t hear you…the positive or the negative. You all need to be putting out 10x the amount of social media content that you are. But you’re not. The reason? You’re too scared of what everyone else thinks.”

Great leaders are able to drown out the noise. Early in the game they decided…it’s okay for people not to like me. It’s okay for people to be upset.

 

Whether personal or professional, I am convinced that the words “It’s okay for you to not be happy” are powerful words that can free many people from chains they were never meant to be in.

 

This does not mean that we live with no moral code. Rather, this just frees us from trying to live by EVERY SINGLE PERSON’S moral code.

 

Christians: Knowing that Jesus said “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” helps drown out the noise. People’s expectations of you will contradict…people can’t make up their mind! But what Your Creator and Redeemer wants from you…that’s a different story. “My yoke is easy and My burden is light…”