I grew up Catholic and I went to Catholic schools all the way though high school. Beyond religion, my parents believed they were procuring a good education for me and my siblings. And I was getting a great education.
Shame was how the nuns and the priests kept the exuberance of youth in line. It was how they got us to be quiet, compliant and obedient. While it kept the order as far as they were concerned, it took a toll on me; leaving a deep and indelible mark of fear and apprehension. One that said there was something inherently wrong with me anytime I did not agree with what was being offered up. Anytime I did not line up to what the status quo was demanding of me, automatically put me in the place of not just feeling wrong, but being wrong. Inherently.
To say the least, it put me at odds with myself; undercutting my self-esteem, confidence and creativity, along with undermining my sense of ease with others. For when you feel the ever-present potential of shame and it’s result, feeling inherently wrong according to another, it’s hard to let down. Hard to trust. Hard to be yourself.
It literally took me decades to unwind from all of this. Just in time, it seems, to be living through the most “shamey-ist” of times I have ever witnessed. All being played out under the banner of being politically correct, a good person, virtuous, inclusive and caring.
Look around. Somehow we have come to the place where we have allowed ourselves to be shamed into the medicine we use. Into what we put into our very bodies; whether it aligns with our beliefs, or not. Shamed into how we speak and interact with others. Called out for using an incorrect pronoun or for challenging questionable relational mores. Shamed for feeling differently. Canceled and censored across social media when we do not line up with the narrative du jour.
Worst of all, shamed for asking questions, for using common sense, for pointing out obvious discrepancies, mixed agendas and attitudes that separate.
As someone who grew up under the dark and heavy shackles of shame-based approaches, what I will tell you is this: When you shame someone, you may, for a time, coerce or scare them into behaving in a certain way. But you will never, ever, have their agreement. You will never, ever, have their heart and soul. You will never, ever, have their goodwill or genuine allegiance. You will never, ever, have the necessary checks and balances to keep those in power from doing the wrong things.
And you will never, ever, have an authentic contributor to the common good whenever you manage a person through the power of wrong. For shame destroys freedom, love of life and fellow man, creativity and authentic connection.
But maybe that’s the point. Maybe those in the position of shaming others care not for us to live in that place of sovereignty and conscious choice, but instead relish our head down, tail between our legs, obedience. Maybe they, as the nuns did, prefer keeping us afraid to question. Afraid to choose differently. Afraid to call out the harm being done.
But at some point that shame goes sideways. Always. Shame drives people into resentment, secrecy and acting out. Shame keeps a populace infantilized and reactive. You need look no further than the Catholic school kids I went to high school with. We were the craziest at partying, having sex and acting out all kinds of subversive behaviors. All the things where shame had been applied the most heavily by our “teachers.”
I propose we learn to make our choices from a mature and internal place. One connected to our heart and soul, and therefore, by its very Nature, inextricably bound to doing right by not only ourselves, but by the group as well.
As my yoga teacher once said, there is the compassion and other forms of moral behavior you put on like you would a coat because you were told to. Shamed into. And then there are the ways of living and being with others and the world born organically from within. Life-affirming behaviors and perspectives that naturally arise when you are aligned with an open heart, a clear mind and a body free from stress.
But this would take time. And a ton of personal responsibility on each of our parts. Not to mention a whole lot of courage to not allow yourself to be bullied into something by the shame police. Choosing instead, to live from a place of understanding, forgiveness, encouragement and open discourse.
I’m in. You?