Monday Musings…. Shame on You

It seems that everyone has an opinion these days on how you should live your life. The most current tempestuous topic swirling among us is whether you should wear a mask or not. Politicians have debated it; health officials have weighed in; and businesses have established protocols. But the storm really rises within, when you’re leisurely going about your errands, and you get ‘the look’. Suddenly, your personal choices are very public, and you feel the shame of non-conformity to someone else’s standard.

Shaming is not a new phenomenon after all, but it certainly has grown in popularity thanks to social media and, I would posit, people’s possible feelings of inadequacy in their own lives. There seems to be something inherent in the human race that makes people believe that their purpose on the planet is to provide unwanted input and induce shame in others.

Shamers, (yes grammatically incorrect, but the term kind of fits) look through the lens of their own experience, and by placing judgment on you, it legitimizes their chosen lifestyle.

You’ve heard about ‘fat-shaming’, which is nothing more than the accuser’s poor perception of their own body image. If someone is a little chunky, or even a lot, the shamer feels very free to give diet and exercise advice (though they are not a medical specialist), with no thought or care to the possible reasons for the person’s physical disposition. Shamers are so quick to assume a person’s weight is due to gluttony and slothfulness without considering that not everyone has skinny genes!

I think some of the worst areas where shaming takes place, revolves around childbearing and childrearing. First off – how many children should you have? People are shamed if they have none, or ‘only one’. “Now, why would you do that?” the shamers question with dismay, as if this is a selfish choice. Or, there's the flip side, as in my case, “You better not have any more children. Don’t you know there are too many people on the planet already?” True words, actually spoken by an ER doctor when I thought I was having a miscarriage with baby number 4. No one should have to explain their fertility or the choice they’ve made as a couple. It’s really nobody’s business. And, as it likely has no impact on the shamers’ day to day life, well then, they’re best to keep their opinions to themselves.

Then, come the judgments about breastfeeding or bottle feeding, cloth diapers or disposable, soother or no soother, the age of toilet training, do you go back to work or do you stay home… and it goes on and on. Parents today are inundated with so much information, images, and unsolicited advice that only adds to their already sleepless nights and plight to just get through the next moment, let alone the day.

As the child grows, this shamer has more to judge you on! Do you put your kid into sports or music or dance, but won’t that stress them out so they can’t focus on their school work? And now the current debate for parents of school-age children is whether you send them to school or homeschool. There are concerns about physical health, mental health, socialization, and curriculum design. No matter the choice you make, someone is bound to have an issue with it.

It continues across the lifespan though. As your child reaches adolescence and young adulthood, there seems to be a constant barrage of criticism about your child's choice of education (college, university or neither), occupation, future spouse, where they live, and how they spend their time. The child ends up feeling like they live in a glass bowl where they're constantly fed dabs of disapproval from distant digits. Do this! Don't do that!

Most of these issues of shaming are not legal or moral ones. Now, don’t get me wrong - if a person’s choices are endangering themselves or others, that is a time to step in. But most of the judgments being passed on these days are simply matters of personal preference and choice.

Everyone faces multiple daily decisions, most of which are not made lightly, though the shamer seems to think they are. But, the one who is really thoughtless is the shamer, who jumps to conclusions as if they have some deep insight and understanding of your world. They don’t.

So, don’t you be shamed into believing that if you listened to them and adopted their lifestyle, your life would be so much better. Some people will never be thin; some people cannot have children; some people love having a large family. Others know homeschooling is beyond them, while others have a strong conviction that homeschooling is the best choice given the current covid climate. Some families need two incomes, others are able to thrive on one. Some people are not wired for higher education, or living in the country, or even getting married, or.....

What it boils down to is two things: an individual’s realization of their capabilities, and the need to clamp down on the comparison game. Life is challenging enough without having to feel the shame of not living up to another person’s expectations, especially when they don’t know the intricacies of your life.

Everyone has been a shamer at some point in their life, let’s not forget that. It could be a passing comment, like why are they wearing that? Or how could they afford that ? If you were truly content with your own life, I honestly don’t think shaming thoughts would pop in your mind as often as they do. When you find these judgmental statements creeping into your consciousness, it’s a signal to take a look at yourself.

Most of you have probably heard the expression to take the plank out of your own eye. Now, this is the advice you need to hear. This is the shame you need to feel. Because it’s only after you do that, that you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. These words are spoken in Matthew 7:5 and they ring just as true today as they did whenthey were first written. So, really the shamer needs to hear: Shame on you! Take a look at your life, at your imperfections, and failings before you tell me what I should do.

The solution in this stressed-out world you live in is to make daily decisions based on your needs and the needs of your family (if you are responsible for one) not the demands of others who have no jurisdiction in your life. And if everyone took the time to examine their own life, take out those planks, and make it a habit to see the best in others rather than make sweeping judgments, there would be a lot more peace in the world. That sounds like a great inoculation idea! So, as you consider all of your choices, think too about whether you can add humility and kindness to the list.

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© 2020 Connect the Thoughts: Charlene Mahon