Shame . . .

Come on, sillies. Polar Bears can't feel shame. He just
doesn't want to look at your dad in sandals and socks.
I was pretty sure I was going to "punt" on today's blog post because I feel sort of hurried and disinterested today but I was clicking around the ol' Interwebs and eventually found this piece from The Atlantic on "shame" and it got me dialed in. Why? Because I feel like I want to bookmark it as a non-apology the next time I'm accused of being "overly critical."

You can (should) read the piece but it is probably longer than the casual interest would afford so here's the key points . . . in the last several decades we've risen up, as a society, against criticism and shame (gay pride, Autism education, little-people acceptance programs, etc.) where pride is the key and anyone who would want to knock against the pride of another (shame them) is evil. The article goes on to detail that if shame was so bad - our genes didn't get the memo as we are actually wired to feel and react to shame. There are several examples given where shame is not something we should fight against (abandoning children, physically attacking another person, etc.) and there is mention that countries like the US are fairly rare in that we have the "luxury" (their word) of putting time, energy, and resources to making everyone feel special and that everything they say and do is okay.

Let me be very clear lest you are curling your lip at me and presuming where this is going and whispering "You should be ashamed of yourself." (See what I did there?) I am PRO the notion that people are entitled to be happy, confident, comfortable, and protected for who they are. I think homosexuals should have equal rights. I think we should provide screening and treatment/support to people with developmental disabilities. I think if you are born a boy but believe you are a girl - that is something you should explore. I am fine with people who are blind, deaf, mute, etc. thinking that what makes them different makes them special. I don't think there is a skin color, ethnicity, culture, creed, or race that is inherently bad or should bring shame and woe upon those born in to them.

I'll HAPPILY argue any person who thinks that the above characteristics (and others I left out in a failed attempt at brevity) or - more importantly (technically) might speak, act, move, or exert energy to make someone feel "shame" for simply being unlike them is a "bully" (or whatever word we want to use) and that they should be exposed, criticized, ridiculed, and - ironically - bullied themselves (if that is what it takes) because while we all know you can't really change a person's mindset on these things, you can at least get them to cut the crap and adopt a "live and let live" mentality.

But HERE is where I think we are failing in this overly broad labeling of bullying, criticism, shame-casting, and the dismissal of those who might dare to argue we are not all perfect and that we might all have room for approval.

It is this shortsightedness that has every kid that ever played a little league game getting a trophy. It is the presumed discomfort with dissension that has people bite their tongues until they bleed for fear that their perspective might be taken out of context. The fact that we can't point out when people are being less than they should (based on a true knowledge/understanding/respect to their intellect and what hand of cards they were otherwise dealt) makes me crazy. Truly.

We HAVE to be able to criticize each other for conscious acts and decisions that are not becoming. We HAVE to allow for criticism and failure and the temporary pain that comes with falling short and having that be known. I'm going to run a half marathon in a few months. You don't think the ONLY THING that has me running as much as I am, dieting as carefully as I am, and taking this whole thing seriously is the potential SHAME that comes along with NOT finishing that race? Or knowing that to not would be quitting? Or that not using the distraction as I should would be giving in to the other frustrations? Or finishing it with a horrible time? Or having people come out to support me (or worse - having to see my Tweets, Facebook statuses, Blog posts and so on for all these weeks) and seeing me fall short of expectations? You're NUTS. I am very much aware of the notion that if I don't do this and do it well - it will hurt how I am perceived. And if you're shaking your head right now and mumbling "I won't think less of you, Sean. You gave it your all." you are PART OF THE PROBLEM.

We have to be constructively criticized. It is what makes us better. I don't trash my daughter with verbal abuse and taunts but I will let her know, directly (and without undue drama), when she is disappointing me or hurting myself or her mother. If we are in public and she is acting poorly, I give her a pinch on the back of the arm (an act a friend recently told me was "child abuse" - we've gotten so absurd in our protections and disillusion). When my kid is disappointed in me, I hear about it (with undue drama, generally (smile)). And I'm fine with that. She doesn't like the way I made her lunch this morning? Tell me how to make it better. Think my blog post, Tweets, Facebook status, stated opinions/positions, or other words, actions, and deeds are wrong? Let me know. I am OPEN to criticism. I CRAVE it.

In life there are winners and losers. There are good and bad people. There are smart and dumb decisions. There are easy and hard behavior choices. There are people of character and people without any (I don't know opposite off the top of my head). There are times and places where criticism is the best thing you can do and there are times and places where it should not exist. There is no shame in knowing the differences between these things and acting accordingly.