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…”

The Power of Presence (vs. Function) in Response to Grief

There is another in the fire, standing next to me

There is another in the water, holding back the seas

And should I ever need reminding What Power set me free

There is a grave that holds no body

And now that Power lives in me

There is another in the fire…

 

For anybody out there who has been tasked with preaching God’s word and wonders if their sermons or Bible studies have any effect at all, I hope this blog post reaches you with encouragement. The truth is, you never know when one sentence or one concept will just stick. And truth is, perhaps you won’t know for 5 years, 10 years, or ever.

For me, I can think of a lot of snippets of sermons that I databased in my mind. But two of them guided my decision making process as a parent this last Saturday night.

That very morning, we faced what many parents have faced…my wife looked in our gerbil’s cage to find out that Pearl, the gerbil our daughters had gotten on Alsea’s birthday 3 months ago, was stone-cold dead. We told the girls right away. Abrielle and Alsea (old enough to know what was going on) cried for a little, but then the day continued.

And then, 12 hours later, as the kids were in bed, loud crying was heard. As Abrielle could no longer keep herself busy with the day, the loss of her pet came to mind and stayed. So I had to go get her.

What do you do with your grieving child? For most people, myself included, sadness is something bad, and begs to be remedied, to be fixed. We offer perspective, we offer distraction, we offer “the big picture.”

But I remembered two sermons that came to mind, one by Doug Bailey and one by Matt McConnell.

Pastor Doug taught us that just as God had programmed the body to have an automatic process to heal from a cut, bruise, or injury…grieving is a God-designed process for the heart to heal. To avoid grieving is to avoid healing. Don’t avoid grieving…go straight through it.

Pastor Matt, in his story of God’s leading him through healing from divorce, spoke of a time when he went outside and cried out to God hurt, angry, and at rock-bottom, and demanded an answer. And I will always remember what he said: “At very few times have I heard God audibly speak to me, but this was one of those very few times. I heard God say I’m here. And at the time, I thought ‘That’s not enough, God!!!’ But I learned that those words were actually what I needed.”

Matt’s sermon taught me that when humanity is seeking a “fix it” God, or when somebody is asking God for answers, God often may not provide those things. What God ALWAYS offers is His presence. He has the power to take away the cancer, and sometimes He does. But when He doesn’t…what He offers is Someone to walk through the grieving with us. Himself. We aren’t alone.

Someone who is angry may see this as a cop-out. But I have found that this is not the case. In this, we see two things. One, a reminder of how God may choose to operate. Two, a model of how we can be Godly in our response to grieving.

So when I was faced with my child’s unfixable broken heart, these past sermons equipped me to say what I needed to say.

Instead of trying to fix the sadness, I told her “I know you feel sad, and it’s okay to feel sad. I know that you miss her. The truth is, ‘missing her’ will never go away. But the hurt in your heart will go away. But right now, your heart’s going to hurt. So it’s okay to cry. It’s okay to feel it out.” Lean into the sadness. Lean into the mourning. It’s okay.

Instead of reminding her of God’s “teaching”, these past sermons taught me to remind her of God’s presence. “Whenever you feel sad, know that God is right next to you. And He feels it with you.” (This is why Jesus wept when Lazarus died. He did not say “Silly Mary and Martha, I’m going to resurrect Lazarus! Don’t cry!” Rather, he entered into grieving with them.)

And, following God’s model, instead of offering my “function” in fixing the problem or answering the “why’s”, I offered my presence. “I’m here, too. And I miss her, too. And I’m with you.”

After a little bit, she was able to go back to bed.

 

This experience reminded me of a motif that is all over Scripture. While God talks about His function a lot in the Bible, it is at key moments that He offers His presence. To Israel. To the Jews. At the end of Matthew where Jesus says “And surely, I am with you to the end of the age.” We seek function or answers, but He offers His presence.

 

This last month, February 27th would have been my mom’s 74th birthday. But cancer made her 62th birthday her last on this.

My three daughters, who only know her from stories, do ask questions about her. And while I have discovered that the “what if they had met her” thoughts and the “I miss you” feelings never go away, the hurt, the pain, the sad, they do go away. I was taught, by a couple sermons, how to lean into the sadness and grieve well. My heart was able to heal.

One year after my mom’s death, Sarah and I got married. Four years after my mom’s death, I became a father. I entered this new life phase without my mom. But when I think about my mom, sadness is actually not my chief emotion. Actually…empowerment is.

My mom built my confidence and empowered me to be the instructor I need to be for my business. She taught me, by example, how empowerment beats criticism when it comes to parenting.

Honestly, thinking about my mom doesn’t lower my chin. Thinking about my mom gets me to approach parenting chin up, prepared to be the best damn parent I can possibly be. Although not perfect, my mom’s words built me up. Her encouragement while she was alive helps me combat the self-doubt that every parent feels in their parenting decisions, even to this day.

There is a saying: “When you were born, you were crying while everyone else around you is smiling. Live your life in such a way that when you are on your deathbed, everyone around you will be crying, but you will be smiling.”

When I die, I hope that my children and loved ones cry, and grieve. And then I hope they get back up and kick some @$$.

I hope that they grieve well, and then they drive forward to accomplish what God equipped them to accomplish. And I hope that I will have influenced them the way that God would wish.

Until then, I hope that those in my life feel empowered by my presence. I hope I can point them to God’s empowering presence. Not just my “function.”

Don’t worry about your function…your presence is powerful.

And to anyone who is grieving…grieve well. Know that God is with you. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

 

P.S. One last thought that I believe to be practical. Many parents worry about their “function” with their children. A good parent would be teaching them right from wrong. A good parent would find teachable moments. A good parent would make sure that our time together is spent on wholesome activities. A good parent would make sure that time is spent on education, not silly, meaningless things. I believe that meaningless time with our children is awesome time, because our presence is more important than our function. This is not to guilt parents into “Hey, spend more time with your children!” but rather, to lessen the stress on parents by saying “Don’t worry about HOW you spend time with your children. Just, spend it!”

Thanks for reading my thoughts. 😊

This Upcoming Political Season: Can We All Avoid the “Them” and “Us”?

”Finally when will it be enough
To find there’s no ‘them’
There is only us
There’s only us”

-Thrice, “Only Us”

As you know, I haven’t blogged on my personal account in a while. Running a martial arts school and keeping up with three daughters keeps me busy!

But this time, I had to. The thought bubbled up inside me.

 

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

-Galatians 3:28 (NIV)

 

I’ll sum up the thought before I get started, for those with a short attention span or little time.

  1. This post is me imploring all Americans to make sure their political system is subservient to their values, as opposed to making their values subservient to a party’s platform. (Surely you aren’t going to match a party on EVERY topic, are you?)
  2. This post is me imploring all Christians of all political positions that while EVERY political party creates good guys and bad guys, anybody who seeks to be a disciple of Christ and a student of the Bible must divide the world into only two groups: The redeemed and the sought-after. The desired. The chased.

 

No matter your “side”, you are taught to be “for” a group and “against” a group. Our history taught us, both on December 7th, 1941 as well as September 11th, 2001, that nothing unites our country faster than an enemy.

We’ve seen this in middle school and high school as well, haven’t we? Gossip feels so tempting and alluring because pointing out someone’s flaws and mistakes is a highly effective way to get an “in” with the crowd. Having an enemy unites us. Creating an “us” and a “them” is a quick recipe for community.

Sociologists believe that this “tribalism” used to be part of helping us survive. A feeling of aversion and distrust of the tribe that looks, speaks, and acts different was part of survival.

The quick-and-easy route to unity is to create a shared enemy.

 

And the leaders of BOTH sides of our current political spectrum know this. (You didn’t REALLY think it was just one side, did you?)

I mean, the further polarized you get, the worse it gets, sure.

On the right side, you have nationalism. Our team is America, and the bad guys are those terrorists and illegals, attempting to either attack us or syphon our resources. On the far right, you have a belief that our country is better than other lesser countries, and that our culture is better than those other, backward cultures.

On the left side, you have class struggle. It is not necessarily our country who is our team, but rather, the poor and disenfranchised are being oppressed and wronged by big businesses and the politicians in their pocket. On the far left, you have those who would like to see wealth redistribution enforced by the government.

 

Now, if you lean slightly (or more) to the left, you might have read that and thought that the nationalists and the Neo-Nazi’s outnumber the “actual socialists”. If you lean to the right, you might believe that those “socialists/communists” outnumber those Nazi’s, and that the media is blowing it out of proportion.

I’m not here to debate either one of those. All I’m saying is this: EVERY political entity out there tells you that there is an enemy out there, and that they are on your side to stand against that enemy. It’s an effective way to “sell” you on their vision, and why their platform should earn your time, your voice, and maybe even your money.

 

Good thing I, Carson Clews, am not like that at all. Except I am. I find it inside my own heart. I can see it. When someone is just like me, I feel at ease. Don’t you? When someone has a different culture, a different background, a different way of speaking, a feeling rises in me that says I need to keep my guard up.

(I don’t think this makes me bad. I think that good people are not the ones who don’t have bad feelings, but those who have bad feelings but keep those feelings subservient to their values.)

 

“Us” and “Them” in the world

In every setting, micro or macro, I see someone creating an “us” and a “them”. Elitism is one of the outworkings of the sinful nature, or the Id (from Freudian psychology).

Within the world at large, we see it in racism (I remember a speaker at Corban saying “If you believe that racism actually doesn’t happen nowadays, then I want the white people in the room to imagine what your parents would say if you brought home a black person you were dating.” Multi-racial relationships still raise eyebrows, don’t they? To pretend that racial prejudice doesn’t exist anymore is naïve.)

Within businesses, we see it in “perks” and “Gold Memberships”. Something, ANYTHING that can make us one level higher than those others. To acquire a higher level of “prestige”.

 

“Us” and “Them” in the Church

Within the Church, we see it in certain doctrinal dogmas. All who are in Christ are one with Him, but although we don’t admit it, listening to just Christian music makes you a SUPER Christian (many people are greatly benefitted by regulating what goes into their ears. Gary Vaynerchuk talks about that in business. Pumping your head with positivity). Maintaining virginity before marriage makes you a SUPER Christian (by the way, great idea. Having sex with the one you’ve committed your life to is definitely way less risky than committing to the one you’re having sex with. Apparently our brain is better at choosing a mate than our genitals. Who knew?). While we seek wise decisions, this desire for elitism in our hearts is always looking for ways to create an us and a them.

In fact, on that topic, the church made a huge mistake for years that was directly contradictory to Scripture. Out of our fears of the life-altering consequences of teenage premarital sex, we wrongfully taught (I am part of the church, I was there, I remember hearing this and passing it on, so yes, I mean we) young women that however many men they had kissed, or slept with, or gotten physical with, that this lessened their “value” to their future husband (To stay consistent, we tried to teach the same thing to young men, so that we wouldn’t be all hypocritical and imbalanced).

But this concept is in no way consistent with Scripture. In fact, Scripture gives us a picture of prostitutes who are redeemed and honored and clothed. To teach or even imply that virginity makes one more “valuable” than a non-virgin is incompatible with the Gospel of Christ.

 

Whether in politics, in church, or in small social settings, Christ seeks to create “One” where we seek to create an “Us” and “Them”.

 

So if you lean to the right, I encourage you to stay away from the narrative that the invaders are coming for our resources (And if you are staying away from it, great!). How can America HELP the world? How can the world help us? How can we work together?

If you lean to the left, I encourage you to stay away from the narrative that every financially successful person is greedy and big business is out to screw over the little man. There are greedy people in big business. Yes. There are also generous people in big business. There are big companies that ask “How can we do right by our employees?” Seek out those stories. They are there.

 

And Christians, I used to think that Christians shouldn’t get involved with politics, because Christ doesn’t fit well into EITHER party. While I still believe that Christ doesn’t fit into either party, I do believe that there are good Christians who are called to push for political change. But I implore you to do these two things:

 

The second most important one is that you don’t try to make your position the “Christian” position. Left-leaning Christians would like to see the government doing more for the poor, and they call the right-leaning Christians out for voting “against” the poor. Right-leaning Christians can care about the poor, but they believe that the private sector does a better job than the government. However, right-leaning Christians, you can’t ignore that there are some damn good programs out there. It’s naïve to ignore programs like WIC or food stamps. Programs that keep Dave Ramsey’s “four walls” up (Food, shelter, clothing, and transportation) are a benefit to society, not a “handout”. If one person takes advantage of the system, but 2 or 3 use it because they need it, then I certainly don’t want to see the system go away.

 

The first most important one is that your political stance remains subservient to the One you’ve built your life upon. Don’t fit Jesus into your politics. Rather, make Jesus LORD of your politics.

And unless I’m missing something here, this will inevitably result in this: The world will be divided into those Christ HAS, and those Christ yearns for. Our enemies are not flesh and blood. If they are flesh and blood, then they aren’t our enemies.

 

Thank you for reading this. When the Democrats tell us that big business is our enemy, or when the Republicans tell us that illegal immigrants are the enemy, I hope God’s word and the Holy Spirit give us clarity of mind and clarity of vision.

 

”Finally when will it be enough
To find there’s no ‘them’
There is only us
There’s only us”

-Thrice, “Only Us”

 

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

-Galatians 3:28 (NIV)