“Whom do you call bad? Those who always want to put to shame. What do you consider most human? To spare someone shame. What is the seal of liberation? No longer being ashamed in front of oneself.”
~Frederich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
We all have that unspeakable something, don’t we? We have that unspeakable something that weighs on us so heavily that sometimes it is hard to breathe. For me, well, if I told you, it would no longer be unspeakable, so maybe I’ll just keep it to myself. What if I told you, though, what it is that weighs so heavily, and you told me that it wasn’t so bad? Would the weight finally be lifted? Yes, I think it would.
I’ll imagine for a minute that I’m walking around day in and day out with a weight like a heavy briefcase. Do you have one? A briefcase, I mean, or maybe a backpack. It really begins to pull on your shoulder, which pulls on your back, which definitely pulls on your attitude. Tired, sore, and cranky is how you can end up when you carry a heavy load for a long time. The heavy load most of us carry, though, is ‘virtual’, ( though not imaginary) and I think it affects us the same way a physically heavy load does.
For men, maybe the heavy load is not letting anyone see how weak you sometimes feel. Weakness might come from a sad loss that revisits you, from feeling like you aren’t providing financially as well as you think you should, or from sensing that you aren’t measuring up to someone’s expectations of you.
For women, that heavy load is often tied to a picture of perfection. Do we and our lives look perfect? From losing weight, whitening teeth, and coloring hair to being available for anyone who might need us, presenting the perfect family, and never admitting to being unable to meet a task with a smile, women labor to satisfy someone’s expectations.
The heavy load has a name, and I’m going to bet you have at least one bag with the label of SHAME stitched upon it. Unlike an adhesive label, this one can’t be just yanked off easily. It requires a lot of time and effort to remove each thread. While the quick removal of an adhesive label might leave a lot of sticky residue to remind us of what was there, though, the more careful removal of the stitched-on label will only leave some very tiny holes that might eventually fill in over time as the fabric of the bag expands.
Shame is an uncomfortable load we each bear for one reason or another. Unlike guilt for a deed we wish we hadn’t done, shame is usually a way we (or someone else) punish ourselves for a crime we’ve possibly never committed. For a man to feel shame that he still wants to cry over missing his father or losing his child, or for a woman to feel shame that she isn’t the person magazines or fairy tales say she should be is suffocating punishment.
Shame finds us in two ways: we heap it in loads upon ourselves, and we bathe in the constant pool provided by others.
There are professionals who specialize in techniques to help us remove the stitching of the self-imposed labels of shame, but we first have to admit that there is no shame in asking for help. When we are tired enough of feeling like we’ve felt, we will seek change. Seeking to liberate ourselves often requires outside assistance.
The second situation, dealing with those whom Nietzsche calls ‘bad’, is out of our control. We can’t force another person to not enjoy making someone else feel less than the person they truly are. We can, however, change this very day two things: 1)Whether we accept shame from someone else and 2)Whether we place shame upon another. I don’t believe that we are empowered by weakening others, but by strengthening them.
Brene’ Brown, research professor at The University of Houston has said, ““We cannot grow when we are in shame, and we can’t use shame to change ourselves or others.”
If you are a parent, think of your words to your children. Will you once again shame them by reminding them that there are children starving somewhere, just so they will clean their plate? Will you shame them because they didn’t hit the ball the right way or hang out with the ‘right’ kids? Shaming might not start as an albatross, but we build on it where it begins. What is worn at the age of five has shaped a person’s sense of themselves at thirty-five.
As adults, we can build each other up as quickly as we can tear each other down. Before you speak to someone today, maybe you’ll ask yourself what you want to accomplish. Will you weaken both of you with words that bring shame or will you choose to strengthen with words of empathy and support?
Whatever was said or done to you when you were a child or last week, you can work to let it go and still love the offender. Whatever you have said or done before this day, you can ask to be forgiven, and at the least behave differently. So simple, our choice to think before we speak and forever change for the better the lives of at least two people. I wish for you today to be a most human, liberated person.