Jeffosophy: a collection of possibly useful things I have learned over the years.
 

 

 

Not OK (Drawing by Ira Nikolayeva) 
Not OK - drawing by Ira Nikolayeva

 

The Power of OK

On 22 March 2016, Islamic terrorists bombed Brussels airport and the Maalbeek metro station, killing 35 people and injuring 340 more. People were freaked out. The nation went on alert and friends and family from around the world got in touch to see if I was OK. I was freaked out. As a frequent traveller, I am at the airport often. But, I was OK.

 

Are You OK?

The following evening - 23 March 2016 - the Imagination Club  (a group I co-founded with a friend) had scheduled a workshop. As people arrived, I did not ask them, "how are you?" as I usually would. I asked, "are you OK?"

A number of people were not OK. They were upset, confused, saddened. If I had asked "how are you?" many of them would automatically have replied, "I'm fine, thank you. How are you?" But, when I asked if they were OK, I made it easy for some people to say, "no, I am not OK." In fact, many people responded, "I'm not sure." From there we could start a conversation about what happened and how people felt about it.

That evening, I was reminded that, "are you OK?" is a powerful question to ask when you suspect someone might not be OK. Because it is different from the usual "How are you?" people are more likely to respond thoughtfully. Because you ask whether or not the other person is OK, you give her permission to not be OK with you. And, it can open a conversation about the her (and maybe your) well being.

"Are you OK" covers a lot of ground. It's not just about whether or not one is physically OK. Everyone who came to the Imagination Club that evening was physically unharmed (though I later learned that one member, who was not with us that evening, lost her husband in the bombing). OK also covers mental and emotional wellbeing. In this respect, not everyone was OK. One very sensitive woman was overwhelmed and broke down into tears. Many people were upset and anxious.

From the evening onwards, if I have any reason to suspect that someone I care about might not be doing well, I do not ask, "how are you doing?" I ask "are you OK?"

That said, when you ask someone, "Are you OK?" you need to be prepared to have a conversation with someone who is not OK. If you are not up to that, stick with the classic, "How are you?"

 

It's OK to Not Be OK

When people experience a strong negative emotion, such as sadness, anger or frustration, they often experience two negative emotions: the negative emotion itself, and feeling badly about experiencing a negative emotion. When someone is depressed, for example, she not only feels melancholic, she also feels badly about being melancholic. Worse, she may feel she is letting friends and family down by being depressed. Telling her to cheer up or saying, "things are not that bad" will only make her feel worse about being down.

A far better approach, when someone you care about tells you she is feeling down or angry or frustrated, is simply to say, "it's okay to feel down [or angry or whatever]", because, damn it, it is OK to feel down. We all feel that way sometimes.

Moreover, once you reassure the other person that it is OK to feel down (or angry or frustrated or sad or whatever), you reduce the number of negative emotions she is experiencing by 50%! Now, she can focus better on dealing with whatever is making her feel down without feeling badly about feeling down.

 

Especially for Kids

This is especially true for children as they learn to grapple with feelings that sometimes overwhelm them. A child teased about crying at school needs to be reassured, "You're home now. It's OK to cry and it is especially OK to cry here.

When a child is frustrated because she cannot understand the homework, let her know that it is okay to feel frustrated when you cannot understand your homework. If a child is sad because her best friend sat with someone else at lunch, let her know that it is OK to feel sad when your best friend sits with someone else.

If you teach your kids that it is OK to feel both positive and negative emotions, you better enable them to cope with negative emotions. You make it easy to open up and talk about those emotions. You enable them to better understand their emotions as they grow up, you enable them to find ways to manage those emotions, especially the strong ones, and you teach them to be more empathetic to other people's emotions.

 

Wonderfully Neutral

The great thing about OK is its neutrality. If you tell your sweetheart, "It's okay to feel angry about what happened" you are not telling her that being angry is good or bad. You are saying it is OK. It is acceptable. You give her permission to feel angry without judging that anger. When you ask someone, "are you OK?" you are starting from a place of neutrality. The person responding can be in one of three states: OK (neutral), better than OK or worse than OK. Whereas, if you ask, "are you angry about what happened," you start from a state of not being OK and that may push someone to feel obliged to be angry; or to defend herself: "of course I am not angry, why the hell do you think I'm angry, fish-face!?"

 

But Powerful

I have sometimes wondered how a person knows she is so sick she needs to go to hospital, rather than take an aspirin and stay in bed. Then, few years ago, after several days of what I thought was the flu, I woke up and knew I was not OK. I was seriously not OK. I was not sure what was wrong, but I was sure my respiratory system was not OK. I suspected I had pneumonia.

I went downstairs and told my then partner I was not OK and needed to go to hospital. She took me. I had been correct. I was not OK. I had a serious case of pneumonia and a partially collapsed lung.  Fortunately, it was a bacterial pneumonia, which is easily treatable with antibiotics. Nevertheless, I was operated upon, spent a week in hospital and spent another three months getting back to full health.

Now I understood how one knows one needs to go to hospital. When the body says, "I am not OK" it is probably not OK.

 

Your Cry for Help

If you feel less than OK, whether because you cannot breath or because you feel deeply melancholic or because you've had a bad day, saying "I'm not OK" is a good way to let a partner, friend, family member or doctor that you are not OK. Anyone who cares about you should stop, ask and listen to you.

 

And You?

So, how about you? Are you OK?

   

 

 

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