We all become happier, better friends to ourselves and everyone when we learn to look through the understanding of our heart instead of just our eyes.
by Sensei Doug Diamond/Youth Program Director
Our heart is a tool
What is validation? How do we both feel value in ourselves and instill a sense of value (ie: self-worth/esteem) in our children, students, employees, etc?
by Jeff Campbell/Academy Director
Sensei Jonathan and his wife Lana address the ideas of validation and the failures of the “American Happiness Formula” (Look Good + Perform Well + Get Approval = Happiness) in their outstanding book Life Ki-do Parenting; Tools to Raise Happy, Confident Kids from the Inside Out. Since they have already spoken so eloquently, I don’t want to repeat that, and I certainly encourage you to read the book. But I do, however, want to speak about my own feelings and observations both in the dojo, at home as a parent, and in the world at large.
Everywhere we go, we see examples of society encouraging validation through some sort of external approval system. We’re literally bombarded from a young age with a reward/punishment system where we feel good when we meet someone else’s expectations and feel poorly about ourselves when we fall short of someone else’s opinion of how or what we should be doing (based on their criteria). In my daughter’s school, for instance, they have a daily color-coded system to acknowledge good or poor behavior. Thus my girls are constantly bragging when they get on pink or orange (the best) and feeling bad when they only get to green or a lower color, and feeling competitive about beating each other or other students. Even beyond that, they have a “rock star of the week” profile hanging in the hallway where 1 student out of each class is singled out each week as the best. In truth, I suspect they rotate through all children for the rock star so that no child feels left out, but it is still a means by which the kids are not only encouraged to feel good about themselves due to some external recognition, but pushed to feel superior to those who didn’t make the cut that week. Thus those not chosen feel varying levels of disappointment when, in fact, they may have been trying just as hard, or harder, than the student chosen. Have this happen daily from kindergarten through 12th grade, and you have the exact scenario literally programmed into our children’s heads that describe the “American Happiness Formula”.
Now here in the dojo, it’s not that we don’t encourage children to feel good about themselves or their accomplishments; we do very much so. But we want them to seek that approval from themselves and to take pride in their own feelings of accomplishment based on how they feel about their effort; not by how they did compared to someone else, not because an instructor said so, or by some rating system. True, we do have belt color levels as most martial arts schools do, and that is a rating by which students could compare themselves to one another. However, we encourage students to view the belt as a symbol of their own merits and the effort and focus they put in every week in working towards that belt level, and not as a means of comparing themselves to someone else.
Taken further, how many teens, both boys and girls, see, through movies, TV and media, examples of how they are supposed to look or dress or style their hair or manage their weight? How many fall short of this societal mark and then feel bad about themselves? Is it any wonder we see incident rates of teen depression, anxiety, anorexia or even suicide as teen’s feelings of self worth plummet in the struggle to feel like they measure up to their peers or society’s message of who and what they should be? What if we could simply encourage them to do their very best, knowing that one child’s “very best” might be very different from anothers? What if we simply encouraged them to feel good no matter where they fall compared to others and rather than scold, ridicule or belittle failure, we simply encouraged the lessons to be learned from that failure and recognized the growth potential in learning from our failures?
I began to think about this topic and formulate my ideas for a blog about it, after overhearing Sensei Jonathan discuss the downside of saying “good job” to children when he was being interviewed for a TV show. As he explained, this was teaching children to place value on themselves by someone else’s standards; external validation. I began to realize I had been saying that phrase to my 5 and 6 year old daughters their entire life. I had been programming them to feel good about themselves when I said it, and programming them to feel bad when I didn’t. I realized this gave no emphasis on how they felt about their own effort; it was 100% tied up in the value placed on my opinion. Thus, based on Sensei Jonathan’s wisdom, I began to really focus on my words to my children, and when I would catch myself offering them validation, I did my best to turn it around to where they describe to me how they felt about their own effort. Instead of saying “good job” every time they do something well (or just follow directions), I ask them how doing something well made them feel about themselves or I ask them to describe what they did and how they felt about accomplishing it. It’s not a perfect science, and having been programmed myself to say “good job” on a regular basis, it will take time to break myself of the habit. But I will strive to put my best “river effort” towards that goal.
Now, don’t take any of this to mean that I never compliment my kids. I do, and I hope they never doubt my love, faith and belief in them as people. I just don’t want the entirety of their own feelings of self worth to be wrapped up in my remembering to compliment them, or failing to do so. They are strong, beautiful, loving, intelligent young women, and I want them to realize that for themselves and never doubt it amidst a sea of bombardment trying to force them to seek validation outside themselves.
They should look to me for support, love and acceptance, but look within for validation, self-worth and self-esteem.
How sensitive and aware are we of our moment to moment affect on those around us? How much of the time are we only hearing our inner dialogue and not truly listening?
by Sensei Doug Diamond/Youth Program Director
In addition to teaching classes at the dojo, I have the opportunity to work with elementary students at Parkside Community School as their P.E. teacher. I use Life Ki-do tools and philosophy in the classes, even though it’s not a true martial arts class. On a recent morning there the students requested some challenging work, and I opted to introduce them to a safe striking drill from Systema which requires partners to place their fists carefully on their partner and push.
This is confronting work. How sensitive and aware are we of our moment to moment affect on those around us? How much of the time are we only hearing our inner dialogue and not truly listening? These are questions that become very important to be successful as a team in the drill. The answers also go to the heart of our sense of who we are within any social context.
I selected partners for the group, trying to match the students based mostly on size and age. After asking the 2 biggest third grade boys in class to work with each other, I heard one of them say under his breath, “we don’t even like each other.” As a teacher I was filled with conflicted feelings. On one hand, this is the last thing you ever want to hear a student say about a fellow member of their class. On the other hand, this level of honesty presented an incredible opportunity to process this natural social challenge.
In Life Ki-do, we always look for the opportunity to use a challenge in any area of our life to grow stronger. This approach to challenges has had a profound impact on my own faith in life. Instead of feeling controlled by the external conditions I find myself in, more and more I can see the opportunity for my own growth in each new challenge life presents. More and more we can stop struggling with the challenge at hand like something imposed on us against our will, because we begin to discover the courage to accept it as the perfect challenge for us instead.
After hearing the surprising comment I asked the two boys for confirmation. “It’s true,” confessed the other boy. “Even when we try to get along we end up mad at each other.” I congratulated them for their calm, direct honesty with me and each other. Neither of these guys wanted to put the other one down. I sensed a rare opportunity
“Now that we have the truth out in the open,” I responded, “you guys have a powerful choice to make. You can leave this relationship the way it is, and I will not ask you to work together because that could become dangerous. Or, you could make a very difficult and risky choice and try to make this friendship better for both of you, right now.” Both boys were quiet for a moment, then the boy who first admitted to the challenge said, “I’ll try if he does.” To which his partner replied, “okay.”
And that was the moment things shifted, big-time. They had reached a common ground where they could accept the challenge together and cooperate towards making it better. The density in the air between them literally changed with those words. “I’ll try if you will,” was the perfect reply. It expressed both this boy’s true courage to work on it, as well as his real need to know he could count on his friend to help. Because friendship is partnership, and partnership requires teamwork- with the emphasis on work. Our kids need this work to grow strong as people and social beings. We can embrace the inevitable challenges of friendship as partner work, and use it to strengthen our sensitivity and clear communication. It is only through these challenges that we learn the big life lessons that lead to humility, understanding, tolerance, and compassion.
The boys started the striking drill together, slowly, and I left them to monitor the rest of the class. I did not check back with them for the duration of their work- maybe 15 minutes total. At the end of class I asked the group for feedback on their experience with the martial arts work, and their teamwork.
One of the boys who had said he didn’t like his partner raised his hand immediately. I called on him: “I would like to give my partner a complement,” he started. His partner’s eyes got wide as the boy continued. “Every time my partner put a fist on me, he checked on me to see if I was okay. Sometimes he’d ask me, and sometimes he’d just look at me and see if I was okay.”
I saw the other boy’s eyes light up when he heard this. I probed a little more for my own understanding, and also to help illustrate the power of what he’d done to the boy listening to this feedback about his choices and actions.
“How did it make you feel?” I asked the boy who was talking.
“I felt cared for, and safe,” was his simple answer.
The listening boy was now beaming with a knowing smile. He knew by what he heard from his partner, and felt in his own heart, that they’d risen above the challenge together, as a team.
“That sounds like a big improvement in your friendship,” I noted. “Do you think this might help you get along better with each other from now on?” Both of them nodded with a look of true confidence on their faces. They were confident because they’d both had a real, tangible experience of bringing their deepest care and inner strength to a challenging moment of friendship- and making it better, together.
We can all improve our moment to moment interactions with more conscious, honest communication when we accept the natural challenge of working with others, and move in the direction of mutual understanding, one baby-step at a time…
The Life Ki-do Way
Essential to our long term happiness, how to use River Effort to awaken our innate, universal drive to care for ourselves and each other.
by Sensei Doug Diamond/Youth Program Director
I have a son in kindergarten, and last week I had the opportunity to sit and speak with his class for 20 minutes. Our discussion centered around River Effort which is a term we use at Life Ki-do meaning a self-identified and self-maintained state of feeling good about who you are and what you are doing by focusing on the quality of what you are putting into this moment, rather than trying to get the sense of how we are doing and who we are from others. What I learned from these 5 and 6 year olds reaffirmed to me the transformative and empowering experience of feeling our own highest effort.
At the end of our interactive discussion about River Effort, we used a few simple Qigong breathing and movement exercises to see if we could create an experience of River Effort that the kids could all feel and identify. I was moved by the deep focus and commitment to this experiment that I saw invested by each and every child. It seemed to be their nature to move their bodies with a lucid, luminous awareness of themselves and everything around them. My son’s teacher also participated fully in our work and was visibly changed from it.
After attempting to feel our breath move into various parts of our body, we all held hands and tried to share the feeling of inhaling and exhaling with the people next to us, and finally with the whole circle. It took a few breaths, but on one group inhale in which I simply asked the group to attempt to inflate the entire circle of people, the group of kids and adults spontaneously and fluidly rose to their feet in unison, every hand and every mind helping another with strength and grace.
It was a beautiful surprise for me to witness, and the look of excitement and understanding on the young faces is one that I can still see clearly. “I get it, I can feel it!” was one of the exclamations that I heard from the group at that moment. I was inspired to ask for more feedback from these wise young people, and I heard so many descriptions of true inner strength and well being that I cannot list them all. “I felt calm,” “I felt happy,” “I felt strong and comfortable,” were a few.
One boy’s comment stuck with me in particular, since on a previous lunch visit with their class this boy had courageously admitted to me that he had just punched a child on the playground because he was so mad that he couldn’t control himself. When I asked how they were feeling after helping each other with River Effort, the same boy rose his hand and said (with the profound simplicity only a child can summon), “I feel like I never want to fight again.” Unprompted and unsolicited! Why did he say that he felt like he never wanted to fight again? I believe it was very simply because this sweet young boy, who at this point in his life is having a real challenge with his self control, for a brief moment experienced the strength inside to be who he really knows he is.
What we call River Effort is an integrated experience of ourselves that empowers our highest capacities for focus, ability, and perseverance. Maybe even more essential to our long term happiness, the young boy in my son’s class reminded me that River Effort also awakens our innate, universal drive to care for ourselves and each other.
The Life Ki-do Way.
Good Day’s Scarlett Greyson sits down with Sensei Jonathan to discuss one step you can take to become a better parent. Read more: http://www.myfoxaustin.com/story/23793425/step-one-to-becoming-a-better-parent