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  • Writer's pictureRhea Lyons, MS-LMFT

You Are Entitled To Joy

I read this book recently called, We Still Belong. It’s a middle grade novel by Christine Day, about a girl’s experience on Indigenous People’s Day. In it, the main character, Wesley, writes a poem celebrating indigenous life, which she publishes in the school newspaper released on Indigenous People’s Day. She’s proud of the poem and proud of her people; she’s excited to share it with her English class and also to get the extra credit students usually receive when they publish something, but her teacher tells her the poem was a “missed opportunity” and that she should have used her platform to create an argument about why people should celebrate Indigenous People’s Day instead of Columbus Day. He told her he couldn’t give her extra credit–wouldn’t let her share her poem with the class– because she didn’t present an argument. 

This girl received the message that argument is valued over experience, that argument is valued over joy. I know there is nuance in everything, and, and. A lot of conversations in personal life, in the media, in the therapy room have been centering around this idea- that needing to have an argument, needing to show people that you’re angry, needing to convince other people or ourselves that something is wrong and something else is right through constant confrontation is the answer to better understanding. What I see it do- in this work, in the world- is bring people further away from the connection we’re needing. 

Lately, when I haven’t been able to sleep, I get out of bed and watch an episode of America Outdoors With Baratunde Thurston. On an episode about Death Valley, ultra marathoner Mosi D. King talks about running while black. When asked if he ever thinks about Ahmaud Arbery when he runs, he says, “every time. And I can’t let external factors dictate my joy.” This doesn’t mean he’s not aware of systemic oppression, it doesn’t mean he’s not scared. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t have strong values. It means that he is entitled to live a life where he gets to experience joy, just because he exists. 

Wherever you are, whoever you are, you get to stop and just be. You get to celebrate and share joy for your own existence right now. 

This is one tiny blog post on a private practice therapy website in Madison, Wisconsin. If you’re reading this and thinking, “but there’s more to it than that!” you’re absolutely right. There is always more to any given moment. It is not always your job to articulate the nuance. 

Wesley, the girl who tried to share her poem, is brokenhearted, confused and feeling ashamed when she tells her best friend about her teacher’s comments. Her friend responds with the following: 

“Look, everyone is always looking for an argument. A debate. A fight. And sure, there are plenty of fights to be had in this world. There are some things we need to fight against, and even more things worth fighting and standing up for. It’s important, but…we don’t need to argue about every single little thing. It’s not our job to go back and forth all the time. We can just– be. We can exist and feel proud and satisfied with ourselves. We can create art. We can celebrate. We can shut up and enjoy life, you know? Instead of constantly battling against everyone and everything, especially those who try to tell us we’re not enough.” 

Please remember that you get to stop thinking sometimes, you get to stop actively fighting for your beliefs. It doesn’t mean you’re setting them aside, and it doesn’t mean you’re not going to write a letter to your senator later. Let yourself sit in the sun. Let yourself drink a soda you loved as a kid. Let yourself play a video game or write a rough poem about your cat or read a novel meant for children because it feels nice. You are entitled to the experience of joy and peace simply because you are here. 

This is a picture of joy: crafts, a big cat, friends

Also a picture of joy: friends in a field of flowers with "Lady Hats" on

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Lex Lancaster
Lex Lancaster
15 mrt.

Yes! So true in academic contexts especially, where we can’t just present a set of possibilities or creative ideas without making an argument (for and against another) and trying to prove we are “right.”

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