Validation and Motivation: From Tension to Intension
When it comes to the self-help messages, I’ve noticed a split between two streams of thinking.
One approach takes the tone of validation and grace: “It’s ok to not be ok. Just accept your feelings and allow things to just be. If all you did today was survive, that’s good enough.”
The other takes the tone of a coach, or motivator: “We can do hard things. Challenges are opportunities. Growth begins outside the comfort zone and stretches us to become our best selves.”
Here are some examples, relating specifically to now:
“Now that we are home with fewer obligations and distractions, we can use this extra time to organize the house/ get in shape/ learn a new language/ launch an online business…”
“Now that we are all disoriented from our regular routines, we need to slow down, attend to our emotional needs, not add extra pressure on ourselves. We need to understand that it’s ok to just be a mess, and stay in pajamas and watch Netflix, if that’s what helps us get through these difficult days.”
“Now that the kids are home with us, it’s a chance to bond, make routines and learning schedules, do projects, chore wheels- become that strong, connected, productive family that grows close and resilient in hard times.”
“Now that there is more stress on everyone than there was before, it’s ok if we cut ourselves and our kids more slack than usual- screen time, bed time, junk food- these are comforts that allow us the breathing space we need. It’s just about being kind and gentle with ourselves and our loved ones; the rest doesn’t matter that much right now.”
There is sometimes a beautiful synthesis between these two types of beliefs, because, of course, like almost everything else, it’s about balance. We can’t always be pushing ourselves hard, (and certainly not others). And then there are times where we do need to push through a challenge in order to grow or even just get through it.
Lately, I’ve noticed some judgment and even hostility between the two camps. The “coach” tough-love types saying things like: “You’re just being too soft; you lack will power/ discipline/ resilience.” The validators mocking, or saying: “stop it with the all the preachy, over-achieving, self-improvement messages- we are all just wonderful exactly the way we are; no need to change a thing (Karen).” Somehow, my not wanting to institute certain standards gives me license to denigrate others who do, or vice versa.
In Jewish mysticism, this dichotomy can be labeled: Chessed/ Rachamim and Gevurah/ Din and Ahava/ Yirah. They mean: Lovingkindness/ Compassion and Strength/ Justice and Love/ Reverence. (They are represented in the duality of how we write vs how we enunciate G-d’s holy name.)
In our relationships to ourselves, with G-d. and with others, we need a combination of both ingredients. Lovingkindness and compassion are like validation, giving, accepting, and grace. They are the primary values upon which the world exists. But there also need to be boundaries. Endless grace, patience, and kindness allow for exploitation. So strength and justice are added to the mix. G-d can be loving and say “give charity” (lovingness/ compassion) but on the flipside “don’t steal” (strength, justice.) We, with other humans can say: “I forgive you for hurting me” (lovingkindness) but also “Since it keeps happening, I need to take some space from the relationship.” To ourselves, we can say: “I love and accept myself for the core pure soul that I am, and recognize that I deserve happiness and health” while also saying “I acknowledge that have some habits and tendencies that could be harmful to myself or others, and I need to work on refining those parts of myself.” To our children we say: “I love you no matter what.” And: “There are certain behaviors that are not allowed.” To the world at large, we can say: “I choose to live and let live, I accept our differences with love and understanding.” And: “As long as the way you practice your differences doesn’t encroach on the basic human rights of others.”
One way to look at it is: when to say yes, and when to say no. To ourselves and to others.
These 7 weeks of the Omer are how we count the time from liberation to enlightenment. It’s not enough to just have freedom; it needs to be utilized for the good. Each week represents a different energy, a Divina Sefira that we can reflect and embody. The first week is Chessed, lovingkindess, because that is the foundation that makes the world go round. Without it, we can’t exist. But with only unboundaried chessed, there is breakdown of society; there needs to be some accountability, justice for violation, order and structure, and inner strength to uphold a moral value system. This is the delicate integration of lovingkindess and strength, compassion and justice, validation and motivation. For each of us individually, within our relationships, and for society as a whole. It’s not either or; it’s both.