Wednesday, February 15, 2017
Read || On Granting Permission
I used to watch the show What Not To Wear on TLC. You know, the make-over show with Stacy and Clinton. But saying that it was a "make-over" show implies that it was perhaps shallow and superficial--like the hosts just slapped some fashionable clothes on some unfashionable people and called it good. I don't think that's how it went.
Please keep in mind that this is not really what I want to talk about, but we have to talk about this for a second first.
So What Not to Wear (or WNTW hereafter) was a valuable show in my estimation that provided a substantial service both to the viewer and the participant. (An anomaly in the world of reality TV.) While WNTW was a make-over show it was so much more than clothes, a good haircut and a make-up lesson. It was about helping people do this thing that my friend Stasia, a stylist, does really well--something she calls inside outside congruency. Stacy and Clinton helped people match who they were on the outside, to the person they are on the inside. I believe it is also encapsulated in the idea of Look good, feel good, do good.
I don't think it's too much to say that for some people the experience was life changing.
I have always believed that the physical world and the spiritual world go hand in hand, and are meant to enhance each other. Yes, inner beauty matters most, but I also believe our outer selves can be a reflection of our inner selves, and vice versa. (Obviously we could go on and on about the importance and influence of design, art, music and beauty in general--but I'm keeping it basic here.) Of course there will always be examples where these two ideas don't match up at all--a beautiful person who happens to be a terrible human being, or a very uncomely person who has a heart of gold. I want to acknowledge those extremes while also reminding you that this is not really what I want to talk about.
What I want to talk about is the word permission. Time and time again as I watched WNTW the word permission constantly came into my mind.
WNTW hosts, Stacey and Clinton were teaching people how to dress their body type, they were teaching them about clothing and fashion, and they always gave them a set of rules to follow, but they also gave them this really big gift called permission.
I often had the impression that many people on this show dressed the way they did because there was an unspoken rule in their life that they were not allowed to change. Not even their clothes. It seemed to me that many people would have loved to try to dress in a different style a long time ago, but they would have felt so deeply uncomfortable in actually making that change. They might have to answer questions, from people around them and maybe even from themselves.
Who am I to dress this way? What would people say? What if someone says something to me and then I feel silly for trying to be something I'm not?
The greatest thing I ever thought that show did for people was to grant them the permission to change, when they didn't know how to start that process for themselves. Because no one will question your sudden shift in style if you were on a TV show that taught you how to change your style. In fact, they will celebrate it!
I have heard this common refrain from people over the years and I bet you have too: "I could never pull that off."
Granted there is always going to be a style or an outfit that all of us feel “we could never pull off”--like anything worn in any Beyonce video ever--but extremes set aside, this idea of "pulling it off" seems to imply that it would be a matter of permission--perhaps from the outside world, perhaps from yourself.
Ideally, we would all be brave enough and strong enough to give ourselves permission. But sometimes we’re not. This is one of those ideas that would make absolutely no sense to my childhood self. Adults don’t need permission! They can do anything they want!
Except we can’t because of that petulant and most common of F words: fear. Fear is the adult’s version of an adult. Fear is constantly telling us what we can and can’t do. But unlike real adults, fear isn’t concerned with your safety and well being as much as it is concerned with your comfort and the comfort of others around you. (Although I do believe that fear is sometimes concerned with our safety and we should honor that inner voice that tells us when something isn't right. I highly recommend Gavin De Becker's book The Gift of Fear.)
We have to learn to grant ourselves permission. And when it positions in authority or even partnerships, we also need to learn how to grant that permission to others. For example, parenting.
There are times when I see my kids wanting to change something as simple as their mood, but feeling completely unable to do so. I've been thinking about this idea of permission lately and noticing how I grant permission differently for different children. For example, one of my children is quick to smile and laugh and easily bounces out of a bad mood. Because this is her natural tendency, I have found that I expect this from her. Therefore when she would come to my crying in fear, sadness or pain, I’d shush her and say there, there and expect her mood to shift almost instantly.
That’s not the permission she needs. She needs permission to cry and feel fear, sadness and pain. So now when I hold her I say, Let it out…it’s OK to cry, just let it out. I am totally sincere in my desire to let her cry for as long as she needs, but what has actually happened is that she bounces back even quicker than ever because I have given her permission to be sad. Now, I do not think the goal of parenting is to "perk" my children up or make them feel happy all of the time. There will be a time when I give her permission to cry and she will surely cry for hours, but at this tender age permission is helping her move through her sorrow much more quickly and I do believe that is a good sign.
On the other hand, one of my other daughters struggles with the fact that when she’s in a bad mood, she has a hard time snapping out of it—even though I can often tell she wants to. Naturally when I have reached my breaking point and I suggest she change her attitude immediately young lady!... well, you might find this shocking but she doesn’t change her attitude immediately. And I find that when I try to joke with her or make her laugh, she doesn’t exactly like that either. She doesn’t want to be forced out of a bad mood.
Instead, I have found that if I can find another topic that is completely neutral and non-threatening, and something of interest to her as well, and speak to her in a normal tone (i.e. not overly cheery or obviously tense) I am in effect giving her permission to move on if she so chooses. I am not forcing her through, but rather opening the door by letting her know I’m ready to move on and talk about something else if she is. It's just permission. Nothing more, nothing less.
And permission, can be powerful.
I have some more thoughts on permission I’d like to share in the future--thoughts about how we can grant ourselves and those around us permission in big and little ways. I’d love to hear your thoughts on permission. Is there something in your life—big or little—that you’re struggling to give yourself permission to do? What about other people in your life—do you feel as though you need their permission to do certain things? Are you good at bestowing permission on others when appropriate? Anyone else use this idea of permission in parenting? I’d love to hear.
photos by AlexDavis.Photography