Psychologies of Yes and No

On the Psychologies of YES and NO

The Psychology of NO

People born after the early 1970’s are a lucky generation. The generations who lived through World War II, now in their 80’s, emerged to build their lives from the the rubble of war-torn Europe and, in America, the wake of the Great Depression. Asia still toiled under the weight of under-development and rural poverty. From the World War, they entered into the Cold War, with a world divided and the constant specter of nuclear annihilation. I remember, as a 10 year old boy in Florida, going to bed in the 1980’s fearful that a nuclear war might break out while I was asleep. The older generation knew real poverty and hardship and to them life was about finding security and stability. For their generation a stable office job and a roof over their head was the definition of success. Later on, going into the 1990’s, they experienced a prosperity and financial success not imagined in their wildest dreams.

The economic and industrial system they established, built in response to a collective experience of deprivation and hardship, was founded almost exclusively on the idea of stability. Corporations, banks, educational institutions all pride themselves on the concept of security and stability. There is a one-sided obsession with this principle inherent in the system.

However, generations born after the 1970’s have a very different life story. They never knew World Wars, the Cold War, and the poverty of an industrial world not yet developed. I graduated high school in 1989, just a few months before the Berlin Wall came down. For those old enough to remember, the Wall symbolized the great conflict that divided the globe. The meeting point of two colossal forces, the oppression of the human spirit, and the sparking point where Armageddon could begin at any moment. The dismantling of the Wall and the reunification of Germany were seemingly impossible events that took place nearly overnight and took the world by surprise.

The consequence, is that generations now in their 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s know a very different world than that of their predecessors. While prior generations faced a world of restrictions and material scarcity, today we have too many consumer goods and feel constrained by a system that serves an old set of values.


The younger generation has moved up the pyramid, from food, shelter, and clothing to a higher set of values. Younger generations are seeking freedom of movement, personal autonomy, creativity, and self-expression. These are not values that the current system was set up to foster and cultivate. In fact, people seeking these alternative (yet very natural) needs and desires are still seen as bucking the system, and may quickly find themselves swimming upstream with little social support.

This dynamic creates a Psychology of NO. That is, the subversion of personal creativity and freedom, in favor of stability. Look at our current system of education. Children are trained from day one to endure the pain of sitting at a desk for long hours, to follow orders, and to conform to the system. The education system itself is set up to inculcate conformity to the standards of the stable production system.

Our financial and economic systems reflect the same values. Maximization of profit and production are the only goal, thus ensuring stability for investors. Granting creativity, freedom and self-expression to the individual are not part of the institutional agenda, otherwise our Central Banks would be funding cultural exchange and travel programs for young people rather than investment banking houses. And most situations where creativity and freedom are supported are within the confines of profit system (i.e. creative advertising and product design), rather than as a goal in and of itself. In a nutshell, economic and banking institutions are set up with the mission of maximizing corporate profit rather than to empower and free the individual.

The result is that the younger generations are pulling on the reins imposed on them by a system created by an older generation with a very different world view and set of priorities.. Young people are often pressured prematurely into striving for the corporate stability that was coveted by prior generations. Yet as I have seen time and time again, people who do achieve “financial success” in their late-20’s and early-30’s (in a way that was unimaginable to prior generations) find themselves unsatisfied, burn out, stressed, bored, and frustrated. I’ve spoken with hundreds of people who have achieved “success” at young age who are searching for more meaning, creativity and freedom in their lives. Sometimes, they even lose all the money they worked so hard for due to lack of emotional balance, maturity, and experience.

This conflict in value systems can deeply affect paren -child relationships. In my general observation, 10-20% of people grow up with parents who accept the individuality and self-expression of their children. They somehow have the insight to accept their child’s individuality and as a result they support and cultivate their child’s interests and aspirations – whether it’s a dancer, musician or businessperson.

Another 60-80% of people, the middle zone, grow up with mixed messages. A mixed bag of positive and negative inputs, maybe some acknowledgment of individuality and autonomy, but also no strong inspiration or encouragement to pursue their dreams. This may include unconstructive messages about limitations and needing to conform to the system, or of defining one’s reality around circumstances rather than ideals.

The final group, and I fell into this category, is 10-20% of people at the other end of the spectrum. These are people with abusive parents and dysfunctional households. This may include overt oppression of personal interests, invalidation of one’ s individuality, and denial of personal will and independent decision making. These are people that are continuously told that they “can’t, won’t, and shouldn’t” follow their inspiration and creative impulses. These parental relationships are defined by psychological and physical abuse, often cutting the child of completely from their intuitive creative instincts.

I have found people in the first group tend to be the most well adjusted, confident, and secure people. They are comfortable in their own skin and are free from self-doubt when it comes to setting their goals and actualizing their ideas.

The second group reflects the input they received. Often a mixed bag of ideas, a bit of insecurity, but still having the ability to conceptualize and achieve their goals. However, they still express a lot of uncertainty and doubt when it come to their career goals, and often greatly limit themselves based on self-imposed limitations. These persons, depending on what path they have chosen, may still end up stuck and frustrated in their careers.

In the final group, things can be very difficult. There is a general lack of direction, or at least a lot of confusion and conflict. These people don’t know what they want or what they want to do. Sometimes these person overcompensate for their repression as children as well, and end up with very off-the-wall creativity that lacks substance – a type of rebellion. Either that , or they find themselves in circumstances completely removed from their own happiness and fulfillment and feel perpetually “stuck.” They feel they are victims of circumstance and have no power to enact change. Of course, children who are abused have been victimized, they can’t escape, so there is a tendency to internalize this feeling of powerlessness in adulthood, not realizing that as adults in normal circumstances, we do have the power to change.

These are general observations I have made from exploring this topic with many people and there are always exceptions across the spectrum (i.e. people with abusive parents who end up being very creative and successful and vice versa). However, most people have observed these different personality types and parental influences, can classify their own background, and agree there is a general curve relating to level of parental support and self-actualization.

This phenomena of parental influence leaves 80-90% of us in the mixed bag to abusive side of the spectrum. Depending on the combination of social influences, education, and parenting, we find ourselves a bit uncertain and removed from a sense of control over our expression and level of fulfillment. Usually, we feel constrained by not having enough money, so we seek the “stable job” to help us out of that problem. But in most cases the stable job idea leads us down a dead end, to something disconnected from our inner sense of purpose and inspiration.

Having spent the last year in Asia, I have observed this scenario with many people in their 20’s and 30’s . The ideal of success in their culture is to get a “good stable job” as an accountant with a corporation. As the Asian economy has been growing, and demand for accountants is high, and many people have attained this goal. However, they soon find themselves bored, isolated, and unsatisfied with their work. It’s as if they have been sentenced to a life of misery, but they accept this sentence because they have already achieved the pinnacle of success in their culture. They spent years working on a college degree, played the part, got hired, gained the experienced, and now there is nowhere else to go. They achieved their parents’ ideal, but it’s an ideal completely devoid of any creativity or self-expression. And what is the alternative? They have already invested decades in following this path and they don’t even understand why they did it and why they are unhappy and unfulfilled. Nobody has ever given them the idea of an alternative.

There are rare exceptions of course, those people who somehow or another gotten the inspiration to be entrepreneurs and follow their own path. But in general, entrepreneurship is a small subset of the educational system and especially in Asia. Very few people get exposed to the idea of starting their own business and choosing their own path, so most of us end up trapped in the employee mentality without understanding how to get out.

While we must give credit to the older generation – they did indeed witness immense hardship, we must also acknowledge that the prior generation’s “yes” has become the new generation’s NO! We have houses, food, cars, smartphones – far more than we need – yet we lack in meaning and the path to creativity and self-expression. Taken altogether, for the new generation most of the institutional and cultural structures of the older generations add up to a psychology of NO!

Is the system for us or against us?

Real Wages have remained almost flat.

Productivity is up, happiness is down.

Corporate profits are up, wages are down.

The Psychology of YES

How do you people who are highly self-actualized achieve this state? How do they manage to create amazing works of art, music, business ventures, or reach great levels of achievement.

Well, as a first step, they say “YES!”

It’s seems so simple and obvious once we point it out, but many of us are so stuck in our “no” that we can’t even imagine the possibility of simply saying “yes” our highest aspirations. Think about it, any person who has achieved anything great had to consciously or unconsciously say yes to their endeavor in order to begin. They may not have known whether or not they would be successful, but somehow or another, they said yes and got started. If we study the lives of self-actualized people, we see that most of them didn’t start out with large amounts of money. What they have in common is that they got started, they defined a vision and went after it, and they persevered through difficult times.

The Psychology of YES is based on the idea that we each have a divine spark within us. A divine, soul purpose. That spark reveals itself in various way through joy, creativity, happiness, and self-expression and self-actualization.

Have you ever seen a healthy child living in a good environment that didn’t naturally want to laugh, smile, and play? We are all born with this same enthusiasm, spontaneity, and happiness within us. But most of us have it trained out of us by parents and school teachers from a young age. We are pushed with the idea that we couldn’t or shouldn’t possibly be happy all the time. We must be trained from a young age to sit a desk for hours on end and follow instructions, completing various tasks that are dictated to us. Children who follow their natural creative instincts to talk and play are punished. Those who conform to the painful proposition of being confined to a desk all day are rewarded. This is the system for training us to be productive units of the unlimited production system (remember? the one that keeps us secure and safe). Hence, over time, most of us (there are always exceptions) lose that natural spontaneity and happiness.

But this scenario results from a flawed view of the universe in which we live. Modern society sees us as disconnected from the world, as living in hostile universe that is constantly threatening our existence.

I propose that there is a higher view. If there is a higher principle, then it should be something we can observe. If we observe the perfection of nature, it all points to a highly organized and harmonious system. A magnificent and infinite universe. The harmony of the Sun and the Moon, the movements of the planets, the oceans and tides, the perfection of a single drop of water, the miracle of our physical body and all life forms points to divine harmony and perfection.

An alternative view is that we live in a loving universe, that supports us in expressing our gifts (if we can let go of the fear that is inculcated within us). With the understanding that our purpose in being here is to help others, to make the world a better place, we can also understand that the universe supports us in creating our dream life. When we step into sharing our highest aspirations and potential with humanity, we move into a place of inner and outer harmony.

This isn’t to say it’s always an easy ride. If we study the lives of extraordinary people like Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr., we see it wasn’t always easy. But we see an inner depth of conviction, a determination, that transcends even insurmountable obstacles. When we acquire the determination to live a life dedicated to the service of suffering humanity, to help those in need, to preserve the Earth for future generations, to fight injustice, suddenly all of our personal problems become very small.

The key here is that the consumer system tells us that our purpose is simply to make money. Very few people can

The story of the human race is the story of men and women selling themselves short.

-Abraham Maslow

You’ll never be that….

My father


My Story

Part I

(Warning: I am sharing in this section my life story in three parts. This is the story of an abusive and neglectful childhood and it’s effect on someone’s life as an adult. To some people, it may sound like a story of “would’ve, could’ve, should’ves.” That’s not the point. I understand that there are people who have it much worse. I have written out this story to share with others the destructive and potentially devastating effect that the Psychology of NO can have on someone’s life, even when externally they seem well-off and appear to have everything. It may be a bit laborious to read through, but I am confident you will pick up some valuable lessons and insights into your own YES’s and NO’s as you go along.)

Some of my first memories growing up were being terrified of my father. He had an angry temper and was horrendously abusive to my oldest brother, who it seemed could never do anything right. Fortunately my father was an airline pilot, so he was gone a lot of the time, but when he was home we kids were always walking on eggshells waiting for his next outburst, usually directed at my eldest brother. I feel deep sadness for my oldest brother, whose experience as a young child was the equivalent of living in POW camp under constant psychological torture. Any activity that would be normal for a boy his age, or the slightest transgression of any rule, would result in a brutal tongue lashing from my father. Often times without warning and almost always irrational and unjustified. I was quite young and a lot of it has been blanked out. I witnessed this from the time of my birth to around age seven, when my oldest brother went off to college.

But what does a two or three year old child do with that kind of fear and terror? Where does all that emotion go? It wasn’t until my early 40’s, just in the past couple of years, while going through a series of health problems that I relived many of these emotions and learned that such feelings can be deeply internalized. Being at such a young age, one has no emotional and psychic filters. There is no mental or emotional structure there to screen out the “right and wrong” of the abuser’s actions, to discern what is good and bad, or even what is separate between “you” and “me.” As a child of such a young age watching what was relentless and criminal psychological abuse of my brother, day after day, month after month, year after year, I experienced this abuse on an emotional and energetic level exactly as if it was happening to me. As a one, two and three year old, I felt and absorbed the pain and distress of my older brother at 11, 12, 13 years old, exactly as if it were my own. The pain of a totally defenseless little boy, being terrorized, yelled and screamed at by a mean and ugly ogre of a man, day after day and completely without any justification, being sent to his room alone to cry, with no one to stand up for him or defend him…I felt this all as if it were my own. But at 2, 3 and 4 years old…who would know? And where does all that emotion go? How does it get processed? And who would possibly understand the psychological processes of a child that age being exposed to such abuse.

I know that for my older brother, it was a type of hell. For me, it was a sense of growing up in a continual sense of fear whenever my father was around, and I would always have a sense of relief when he left the house. I believe that on some level, conscious or unconscious, my father, who had an abusive childhood himself, just really didn’t feel that his son should deserve to have a happy childhood. That somehow he had to take every opportunity to put the screws down on my brother, always pushing the line of what would be enough of a red flag to warrant outside intervention, in order to ensure that he suffered. It was a type of perverse sadism. It seems now, in retrospect, he wanted somehow to destroy my older brother, but was restrained by the rules of society.

In fact, I don’t have a lot of memories from childhood. A lot of the time before age ten, when my father finally left home for good, is blanked out.

One of the few memories I have from this period are that my brother was a talented young pianist. He was playing Chopin quite nicely as a young teen and I remember many nights being lulled to sleep by his melodious playing. But there was a big problem. He was not very diligent with his practicing, so on a regular basis my brother, while sitting at the piano, would be tongue lashed and verbally terrorized by my father for his failure to practice. It was horrendous and terrifying the way my father would yell at him, as if to make him feel like an absolute nothing.

In one conversation with my brother, just a couple of years ago, he mentioned that when he was in the 8th grade my father asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. He said, “an orchestra conductor.” My father’s response was, “you’ll never be that.” It sounds very appropriate for my father, and you can imagine the profound psychological impact this would have on my brother. I would say this was a defining moment in my brother’s life, unbeknownst to him.

Now imagine the difference between this type of treatment and a truly loving, caring parent. Imagine a parent who would be surprised and happy and respond positively to this aspiration. After all, how many 8th graders do you hear say they want to be an orchestra conductor? It is actually something of a miracle. Imagine a parent taking a serious interest in this aspiration and making sure that my brother had access to good teachers, mentors, and role models, cultivating this interest and nourishing it. It’s like night and day. And, sadly, having now been a musician for over 20 years myself, I can say with certainty that my brother had genuine talent as a teenage pianist and having been treated with care and respect he may very well have gone off to music school and become a concert pianist or a conductor. I have no doubt of this. But my father made sure to it he would never be that.

Aside from this discord with my father we were a pretty well-off family, and my mother was usually a very kind person. I also had a very caring nanny, an elderly lady from Cuba who looked after me a lot of the time. So, I was fortunate on that side to receive affection. But my father, being a leading pilot at the peak of the aviation age was also a world class womanizer. So you could imagine that his relationship with my mother was not exactly lovey dovey. I never saw them kiss or even hold hands once in my life. We could say that I received enough love to be seemingly okay, despite the gaping hole in my psyche left by my father.

But my mother, despite being a generally kind hearted person, had her own NO issues in dealing with me. Seeing as my father was completely absent from my life, my mother handled overseeing my activities and daily life. I can make a list of my childhood interests and requests at the age they came up for me, things I was genuinely interested in and excited about pursuing upon learning about, and my mother’s response.

Violin lessons (age 8)-=No

Gymnastics (age 9) – No

Tap dancing (age 10)– No

Boarding school (12, 14) – No

See the pattern?

Add to all this (as if it wasn’t enough already), that I had another older brother, seven years older, who simply despised me. My oldest brother, as an outlet for the abuse he was getting from my father, would incessantly fight with and beat my second brother. The second brother, as an outlet for this, would incessantly taunt and tease and beat on me. Of course, as 6, 7, 8 year old boy, I wanted nothing more than to constantly play with my older brother and follow him around, etc., as is natural for a boy that age. But this very frustrated and unhappy 13, 14, 15 year old had no use for me. I was simply pushed away, taunted, beaten and given the cold shoulder at every opportunity. This older brother had a drum kit in the house and was learning to play drums, sometimes jamming with a band. Of course, as a young boy I dreamed of getting to play those drums. But I was forbidden to touch them. I can say I never did, I as I knew that the consequences would be severe. And in all those years the drum kit was in the house, I was never sat down with kindness and affection and shown how to play the drums. It was a total shut down.

I can remember very few things I wanted to pursue growing up that I was actually supported and encouraged in. In fact, to the contrary I was forced (even with physical beatings) into things I DIDNT want to be doing. The main example and a very traumatic experience in my life was my involvement with sailboat racing. At the age of 10, I was in a sailboat racing program that simply didn’t suit me. The kids were cliquish and not friendly to me and it was too competitive for me. I had an artistic temperament. I tried to quit at some point and was literally beaten, dragged to the sailing center and dropped off for the day. At age 10, this became my routine, almost every single weekend for 5 years.. I was dropped off at 8 am and picked up at 5 or 6 pm on Saturday and Sunday, and spent most of the day isolated and alone, on a small boat competing with other kids. My father, now separated from my mother, never came to a single practice. Not even once! There was some social interaction with other kids at times, but it clearly wasn’t me. This sport became the main defining activity in my life, even though it was something I had decided at age 10 wasn’t for me. On the other hand, my deep involvement with this sportI was denied the expressions of my artistic and musical interests.

So, by the time I was in high school, I was floundering. I was enrolled in a high powered academic program, completely overloaded with school work, and deprived of the social interaction and artistic expression that was innate in my spirit. This was the situation that had been dictated to me. There were certainly longings and ideas about doing something. However, I couldn’t have understood the factors involved, and considering my early childhood history, you could probably guess that every idea I had about what might be better for me was met with a quick NO, either from within myself or from outside.

I was completely cut-off from my intuition. Cut off from my spontaneous, instinctive, gut feeling about what would or would not be good for me. I remember receiving an invitation from USC to begin college a year early. My initial, instinctive reaction was a big YES!…how exciting was that. But I talked it over with an older friend that advised me to stick around for me senior year of high school on the suggestion that my senior year would be “so much fun!” OMG!! It was a total nightmare. I was completely overloaded with work, fighting with my parents, teachers and school administration, and

in a profound state of alienation and frustration. I wanted to leave, but to where? I thought of dropping out and starting college in the middle of my senior year, but that would “look weird.”

Of course we lived in a nice house and had nice clothes and there was plenty of food to eat. I was certainly material comfortable. But on a spiritual and emotional level, I was living in a vacuum. So, you can see, the profound effects that living in an atmosphere of NO can have on a young person.

I left home the day after graduating high school for a summer job as a summer sailing camp instructor, bought a guitar and started learning how to play (I drove my roommates crazy!), and the following year entered an college in Spain for my first semester of college. I just wanted to get away from it all.


…realize fully one’s potential

…realization or fulfillment of one’s talents and potentialities, especially considered as a drive or need present in everyone

Me, “I am going to Thailand….”

My friend, “Wow, that’s amazing, you are going to have so much fun!!”

My parents, “Why are you going there? You are going to get bitten by a snake!!”

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