Thursday, July 28, 2011


When I was in middle school, a lot of my classmates had braces and always talked about how horrible they were. When my friends asked me if I would ever get braces, and I said no. I said that even if I needed braces, I wasn't going to get them because it sounded like a really bad experience. My friends then tried to tell me that braces weren't really that bad and were even kind of cool, after they had complained about their own braces all year. I did end up getting braces the following year, and they weren't as bad for me as they were for most people. (It was a minor adjustment, so they weren't as tight). But if braces had been as bad for me as they were for my friends, then I would be happy to know that someone else decided not to get them because of what I had said.

The braces are only one example of this: there have been many times when I said I wasn't going to do something because other people said that it was really bad, and the people almost always backtrack immediately and tell me that it's really not that bad. I understand that you wouldn't want someone to follow you blindly or make a decision based only on your experience.  But when someone is taking what you say seriously, you don't have to back out; you can explain the specific reasons that you didn't like a particular experience so that the person can decide whether or not they would be bothered by the same things. You can also explain how your situation may be different from theirs.

If a person wants something so much that they're willing to do anything to get it, they won't be fazed by anything negative that you tell them. If they are fazed by something you've said, it means that they probably would have had a problem with that issue when they discovered it on their own, whether you had mentioned it or not. If there is any doubt in a person's mind, you would be helping them by bringing those doubts to the table before they begin something that they might not want to start.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Making it Easier to Say No

Whenever someone asks me "Are you free on Monday?" my response is always "Why?" or "What did you want to do?"  I won't reveal that I am free at a given time until I know what I'm being invited to do, because it's much harder to say no to something you don't want to do once you've revealed that you have the time. It doesn't give you the freedom to decide whether to make time for an activity based on what it is.

After years of being asked whether or not I'm free on a certain day with no further details, I have developed a better way of inviting someone to do something.  I say, "If you're free on Monday, would you like to come to the party/ help out at the fundraiser/ hang out?"  This way, the person knows the event and the date at the same time, and can make a decision based on whether they want to go as well as whether they want to do something on Monday.  Sometimes I even expand the question and say "I don't know what you're doing on Monday, but if you are free, would you like to..." It's a bit drawn out, but it makes it even easier for the person to just say "No, I'm not free on Monday," and leave it at that because you've built into the question that they might not be free.

Of course, wording invitations this way is only a temporary solution to our issue of  "No" not being a complete sentence, but it would make things easier for people who feel pressured to say yes.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Absolute Validation

Validation - When you validate someone, you're letting them know that what they think and feel is legitimate, that they have every right to think and feel that way.

Absolute Value - (Different from the mathematical term).  Absolute value is the opposite of comparative value.  A person can be tall in a room of shorter people or short in a room of taller people, but their actual height stays the same.  Tall and short are comparative words, but a person's actual height is an absolute value because it doesn't change based on their surroundings. Focusing on absolute value means caring about what you're doing, but not in relation to what anyone else is doing:
  • Being satisfied with your good grade regardless of how many classmates scored above you. 
  • Feeling free to express how much you hate all the work you have to do, even if you have a lighter workload than everyone around you. 
  • Posting what you're in the mood to post even if everyone else is talking about something more important.
So when you put the two together, absolute validation means validating people without comparing their situation to anything else.
  • Absolute validation means that if your friend feels x because of y, you consider that perfectly legitimate even if you would not feel the same way in their situation.  It means not saying that they should feel z instead, even if that is how most people feel about y.
  • Absolute validation means that if your friend indicates that something is of a certain importance, you accept that importance at face value, even if the same thing wouldn't matter as much to you, or to most people.  It means treating the situation as seriously as your friend indicated it should be treated.
  • Absolute validation means not telling your friend to suck it up, tough it out, or get over it. It means accepting that your friend's situation is not okay if they tell you that they are not okay with it.  
  • Absolute validation means not telling your friend that they shouldn't be so upset about something because there are bigger problems in the world.  It means not intentionally using other problems to one-up them.
  • Absolute validation means not telling someone in an earlier stage of life that their problems aren't that bad because things will get harder when they reach a later stage of life.
  • Absolute validation means paying attention to both the objective situation and the subjective story that your friend tells you. Understanding the objective situation can help you solve a problem, but only if you keep your friend's priorities and feelings in mind. 
  • Absolute validation means accepting that your friend may find something boring or stressful that you find fun. It means not trying to "help" your friend get comfortable with an activity unless they are interested in doing so.
  • Absolute validation means being happy for your friend when they're psyched about getting a B in a class, even if you thought the class was an easy A.
  • Absolute validation means supporting your friend's goals when their focus is different from your own.  It means treating a friend's school play as seriously as they do, even if you're focused on applying for jobs.
  • Absolute validation means accepting it when your friend doesn't care about losing weight, being more social, studying, etc. It means not pushing your friend into doing something they don't want to do and telling yourself that that's a good thing.
  • Absolute value means respecting your friend's priorities, even if they pass up an opportunity that you would have taken. 
  • Absolute validation means never telling someone that the discrimination they face doesn't exist because you don't see it.
  • Absolute validation means believing your friend when they say that they were harassed, assaulted, or raped.  It means not asking if they're sure it was real, but believing them without question.
  • Absolute validation means not telling your friend that things aren't bad enough for them to kill themself. Obviously things are that bad, or your friend wouldn't be considering suicide. Absolute validation is helping a friend find other permanent solutions to their problems, not trying to tell them that their problems aren't that bad.
If you've been an absolute validator in my life, I appreciate it so much. I hope I can be one in yours.

Friday, July 22, 2011

When to Question Legitimacy

I said in a recent post that I don't approve of questioning legitimacy, and I wanted to further explain what I mean.  There are many situations in which we should question legitimacy.  For example: if you receive an email stating that you will win a free car if you give some information, you would probably think that the offer is not legitimate.  In this case, questioning legitimacy means questioning whether what the email says is true. That's fine.

Now, let's say someone tells you that they're not feeling well or that they're going through a tough time.  If you suspect that this person might be lying - saying that they're not feeling well when they actually feel fine, or saying that they feel worse than they actually feel - then it's fine to question the legitimacy.  People lie sometimes, and it is possible that someone might lie about not feeling well. What I have a problem with is when we believe that the facts are true, we believe that the person actually feels the way they say they do, but we say that their situation is not a legitimate reason for feeling the way they feel, or that the way they feel is not a legitimate reason for acting the way they are acting. That's for them to decide, not us.

A few of the dictionary definitions of legitimate are "conforming to established standards of usage, behavior, etc." and "based on correct or acceptable principles of reasoning," but I don't think either of these things should be up for judgement, and I don't believe in "correct principles of reasoning."  Everyone has their own reasoning.

Finally, think about this: a person who is lying wants to be believed. If someone is going to make up an excuse for not being able to do something, they would probably say that they were sick or had to go to a funeral, since these are acceptable excuses in our culture.  If someone says they can't function because the walls are yellow or people are typing too loudly, they are probably telling the truth because someone who is lying would come up with a more socially acceptable reason.  And keep in mind that some people lie because no one will accept the truth.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Don't Be Careful What You Post

We've all heard people say that you should be careful what you post, that you shouldn't write anything online or even in an email that you wouldn't want your parents or teachers or future employers to know about.  Well, that doesn't work for me because there is not a single thing I post online that I would want future employers to see, unless I am actually talking to them.  I love to write online and refuse to censor or reign myself in, and I get really annoyed when people tell me to be careful what I post. I have privacy settings and anonymity so that I can't be found by everyone. I don't let people into my online space if I have to be careful what I say around them.

I understand that we should avoid hurting people's feelings and sharing other people's private information online. But if you want to share your own private information, why not just regulate who can see it? I understand that sites will sell your info to market researchers, but when it comes to privacy against people you know in real life, the privacy settings can pretty much do the job.

Not everyone wants to keep their websites as private as I do, but the point is that there are multiple ways to make your information private from individuals whom you don't want to see it.  I once got into trouble for something that I posted on Facebook, and since then, I've often been told to be careful what I post. But I am much more careful now - I'm careful about who can see it. My Facebook page is private. Only certain friends can read what I post. I have never used my full name on this blog. I have searched my own name on the internet numerous times and nothing that I don't want people to see comes up.

The example on the right is commonly used as a be-careful-what-you-post warning. But why can't it instead be a be-careful-who-you-friend example? Not saying stuff like this is one choice, but not adding your boss in the first place is another choice, and is the right choice for those of us who want to complain freely online.

Don't let people tell you not to over-share, online or anywhere else.  If someone is going to make you compromise what you would like to share, they don't belong in your personal space.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Peer Pressure Is Not Okay

A good friend of mine says that if a person says no to something 49 times and the 50th time you ask them, they say yes, that's not consent; that's pressure.  I couldn't agree more, yet a lot of people think that it's okay to pressure someone into doing something that they don't want to do if the thing itself is positive.  But I make no distinction between pressuring someone to try drugs or get a haircut or join a volunteer group if the person has said that they do not want to do it.

Part of the problem here is that we have learned to associate peer pressure with negative behaviors; when we learned about peer pressure in elementary school, the scenarios we discussed usually involved one kid pressuring  their friend to do something wrong, such as stealing.  While it is important to teach children right from wrong, the message of the story is that the kid shouldn't go along with their friend because stealing is wrong.  As we get older, peer pressure is all about drugs, alcohol, and sex, but the peer pressure education is still the same.  Anyone who teaches you to stand up to people who push you to try drugs or do sexual things assumes that those things are wrong, the same way that stealing is wrong. They don't emphasize the "if you don't want to do it" part; they tell you not to do things. Our whole concept of peer pressure is so intertwined with what society tells us is right and wrong that we have never been taught about handling peer pressure that doesn't involve something wrong, pressure to do neutral or positive things that you just don't want to do.

Peer pressure is often disguised as encouragement.  The only time I believe in encouragement is if a person knows what they want, but is having trouble getting there.  If a friend told me that they really wanted to try out for the track team but were nervous about not making it, I would encourage them to go for it because they have made it clear to me that it is something they really wanted to do.  But if I asked my friend if they want to join the track team, and they say no, that they would rather get home after school and watch TV, then any further encouragement is negative peer pressure because my friend has already said no, regardless of the benefits they may (or may not) receive from joining.

In order to not pressure people, you have to pay attention to what they want.  When my college friends asked me for advice about things, like whether or not they should take five classes instead of four, I turned the question around and said, "Well, do you want to take five classes?"  I asked a lot of questions that would help them think about the pros and cons of taking five classes and figure out what they wanted to do.  But most of the time, if someone asked everyone at the lunch table whether they should take five classes or four, almost everyone encouraged them to take five, without asking questions or trying to figure out what the person wanted.  That to me is a subtle form of peer pressure.

Finally, consider that if a person wanted to do something, they would probably do it or work towards it. It's fine to recommend things to a friend that they might not have known about, but if they say they're not interested, that's the end of the discussion. If a person wanted to cut their hair, change their style, join a club, join a gym, join a social network, get drunk, get a hook-up, apply to college, look for a job, or educate themselves on a particular topic, they probably would have done so already. Or at least expressed interest.

No is a Complete Sentence

Here is an example of "no" used as a complete sentence:

"Are you coming to the talk tonight?"

Simple, but it never feels this simple.  For some reason, we can't accept no as a complete answer to a question.  Yes is a complete sentence.  If you replaced the "no" with "yes" is the above conversation, it would sound fine. If your answer is yes, you don't need to provide an explanation for why you are going.  Yes can be followed by a period, but no is always followed by a comma and then a reason for not going.  But you don't owe anybody an explanation for why you're not doing something. No is a complete sentence.

I really hate it when people complain about other people's stupid excuses. People wouldn't have to invent so many stupid excuses if it were perfectly acceptable to just say, "No, I'm not going/not joining/not interested," and leave it at that.  No one has an obligation to do something just because they can.  People often denounce the "I don't have time," excuse, saying that the person does have time.  But I always assume that someone might choose to take an easier course load or a less busy job because they want that extra time for themselves. If anything, I would assume that a person who is involved in a lot of things already would be more likely to join something else because they clearly like to be involved in a lot of things.  I would also guess that a person who is involved in fewer things (or nothing at all) would be less likely to add something new to their schedule because they probably don't like to be busy.  And saying that a person who doesn't do as much should do more amounts to peer pressure, which is not okay.

No does not require an explanation.  No should not be followed by a comma, but by a period, because no is a complete sentence.

I Support Attention Seeking

If you want money, you can look for a job. If you want to be fit, you can work out at the gym. But for some reason, if you want attention, you're not supposed to try to obtain it.  No one asks you to pretend that you enjoy bagging groceries after school because it's socially acceptable to do it just for the money.  So if attention is what you want, why is it not socially acceptable to try to get it the same way that you try to get anything else?

I am an attention-seeker.  I absolutely love attention, and I support other people's attention-seeking.  It really bothers me when people "write off" behaviors as attention-seeking, as if attention is not an acceptable reason for doing something. People can do things for any reason that they want.  I was once disappointed about not getting into a fiction-writing class that involved a lot of individual meetings with the professor. When I said how I felt, someone asked me it was really the class I cared about, or if it was all the individual attention that I wanted. Of course I wanted the attention!  This person acted as though the attention was less of a reason to join the class, but for me it was more of a reason. There is nothing wrong with doing something to get attention.

I understand that some people do things that are wrong to get attention, such as lying or deceiving other people.  But those actions are wrong because deceiving is inherently wrong - it's not wrong because of the reason that it was done. An action that doesn't hurt anybody doesn't become wrong because someone does it for attention.

Finally, we can't write off other people's behavior, like "She's just saying that to get attention," so that we don't have to respond to someone's distress.  It just gets us off the hook of having to care about other people's problems. Maybe it's our own lack of response and attention that has made the person resort to whatever they are doing.  The worst is when we write-off suicide attempts as attention-seeking. First of all, almost everyone who attempts suicide is seriously considering it.  Secondly, even if we somehow know for a fact that someone attempted suicide for attention, there is still a major problem: if a person has to resort to attempting suicide in order for people to pay attention to them, then something is very wrong with their situation, with the fact that no one will listen or be there for them unless they do something extreme.

The bottom line is that attention-seeking does not make something less legitimate, valid, or real, especially when it comes to serious things. Attention-seeking does not write off or lessen or invalidate what a person is doing.  Attention is something that a lot of us want, and we shouldn't have to pretend that we don't.