Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Power of Validation

A tiny goat wearing a sweater
(Note: All images on this post will be decorative pictures of baby goats. Because.)

A few days ago, it was the one-year anniversary of my blog post “It’s Always Been Done That Way.”
At the time, writing that piece and posting it in public, where people might see, was one of the scariest things I have ever done in my entire life.

Would I be completely skewered?

Would think-pieces be written and completely misrepresent what I said in favor of complaining about something else?

Twenty minutes after posting, a librarian I admire and who has like, three times the Twitter followers I do tweeted out the link. My initial response was shaking terror. I breathed through it, and realized that the exact type of shame I talked about in the post was the same shame that I was feeling right then.

So I tweeted about that, too.

And I continue to do scary things.

Baby pygmy goat using a mobility device with wheels
The above-referenced post resulted in an invitation to run a pre-conference at the New Jersey Library Association Conference. I was also invited to give a general session address at the Children's and Young Peoples Division Conference in Indiana. Since writing the preconference was one of the most emotionally and mentally draining things in recent memory, I decided to rework that material into a general address.

At the NJLA conference, I talked to 20-30 people. A couple people came up to me and thanked me for the presentation afterward. At the CYPD conference, I talked to a couple hundred people.

I admit plainly that I was not prepared for what happened next.

After my address in Indianapolis, I was approached by dozens of people. Each of them shared with me stories of their workplaces. They bared their souls to me, a total stranger. Some identified with the themes I discussed. Some even told very specific things that struck them, like how shame manifests in two ways--inwardly and outwardly. Some of them were the "don't do this thing/show this quality. Don't be a [insert that person's name here]"people at their libraries (Note: if you're someone who perpetuates a culture where saying "don't be a [name]" is meant to signify a specific quality that you perceive as negative, please stop this immediately. I know you probably mean no harm*. The people you work with are actual people, just like you). They talked passionately about their jobs and their communities. I've talked to some library staff  in the past few weeks that have even said their whole team attended and the entire dynamic changed as they talked more. 

*A cow kicked Fred in the head in the barn
The doctor said it would do no harm
So we all kicked Fred in the head in the barn

I had so many conflicted feelings about this experience. I felt sadness and frustration my address was so relatable. I felt comforted by the fact that we are all in this beautiful, difficult library life together. I felt more determined than ever that psychological safety and interpersonal trust are keys to becoming and retaining a strong team. 

baby goat wearing a green collar

I sat with this hodge-podge of feelings for about a week, when my sister (you know, the social worker who does Hard Stuff for a living and still somehow has the emotional labor leftover to love boldly and freely) told me about the book "Carry On, Warrior" by Glennon Doyle Melton. I began reading passages in silence in the Quiet Reading Room of the library where my office is, rereading parts that resonated with me and skimming over stuff I'm not into. It took me working in libraries to realize that this is okay, and I'm glad to afford myself the permission.

But there's this part.

There's this part nearly immediately, on page 3 in fact, where G talks about sharing her feelings and experiences and the imperfections of her life with a friend for the first time:
"Life without touching other people is boring as hell. It hit me that maybe the battles of life are best fought without armor and without weapons. That maybe life gets real, good, and interesting when we remove all the layers of protection we've built around our hearts and walk out onto the battlefield of life naked."
Now, I know that this sounds nice, but it is not feasible for a lot of people. When I read this, however, it occurred to me that it has been my pleasure to share my thoughts during the past year from a place of psychological safety.

And just hearing those thoughts, those dozens of librarians who approached me were giving me a gift. I did not have to solve any problems for them. They wanted to share because I shared with them. Hearing labels for things we are feeling and experiences we have that ring true to our deepest selves is validating. And validation, sometimes, is enough. Validation is power.

Goat with black glasses on

When working on this post in my head, I kept thinking about my partner in life, Caleb.  Before I met him, I was trying in vain to find something to fix me, to make me better, because I believed through messages that I had received and internalized that I was broken. The first time he ever got a glimpse of a neurodivergent idiosyncrasy of mine, I apologized profusely: "I'm sorry. I'm broken," kind of my code for, "send this model back for a refund while you still can." And he just looked at me and said, in the most matter-of-fact way I'd ever heard anyone say anything, "Man, we're all broken."

Those four words have stuck with me. Firstly because it was unexpected; but more than that: He validated my feeling. He included me in a group by using the word "we". And most of all, he sent me the message that to him, it was okay to be "not okay."

Today, I want to tell you, Reader, that at least with me, it is okay if you are not okay. Because I feel that one way to healing is by living with that brokenness, and knowing that others are struggling too.

And since it's Suicide Prevention Month, I would be remiss not to share this television special Arielle (who now writes at Adventures Uncensored) was recently on. There's some great ideas about living through crisis one step at a time.

We're alive, and whether okay or not, we're here for our communities. That can be enough.

Okay, one more for the road. Here is a video of baby goats playing teeter-totter:

Okay, NOW:
Let's do this.

1 comment:

  1. Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes x 1 million. THIS.