Home Elevate Toxic shame is bad, I agree, but shamelessness results in–45.

Toxic shame is bad, I agree, but shamelessness results in–45.

by Confluence
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By: Maria Thompson Corley – Confluence Daily is your daily news source for women in the know.

I wonder if the false idea that we get whatever we deserve is part of the reason it’s so hard to make any progress towards levelling the playing field. I realize this is defensive: people are so much more comfortable feeling like our situations are justice, rather than fortune. I’m not negating the idea of hard work and smart decisions, however, it shouldn’t rock your world to acknowledge that maybe you’ve been lucky (as I have been), and that without that luck, your life would be completely different. Doesn’t mean we can’t still make the next positive decision, but a big part of the polarization (“otherizing”) is based on labelling “those people” as solely responsible for their fate. I’m not trying to disempower anybody, just saying that the idea of being born on third base is true. And that it matters.
Maybe this is why I see white people get SOOOO bent out of shape about the idea of systemic racism, or acknowledging that this country was built by racists and misogynists. As I mentioned, my experience on a Canadian Zoom call taught me that speaking the obvious out loud isn’t that hard. Nor is it that time-consuming. Should little kids learn these things? Of course. Do they notice that some people treat other people badly, even without the lens of race? Their little minds can handle that sometimes, things aren’t fair. Maybe the problem of explaining why that happened is beyond people. I don’t think it should be. It’s about money and/or power. Should we teach that the means always justifies the end? That’s kind of the implicit lesson we’re currently teaching, by not mentioning the means. Maybe that’s okay? Sure, if you’re the person whose ends are the way you’d like them to be.
But what about (hand to forehead) the SHAME! Toxic shame is bad, I agree, but shamelessness results in–45. Without a sense of shame or guilt when you’ve transgressed against people, what results? Well, actually, we’re seeing it. Do I want people to be ashamed of their ancestors? Sure, if they did horrible things. The thing is, nobody is a monolith. We’re so simplistic: either somebody has to be all good, or all bad, and we can’t deal with the nuance or complexity of a combination of the two, especially not in ourselves. Hence the handwringing over the possibility that we might have even a hint of bias, or that our idols might have clay feet. I’ll never attend a Bill Cosby show, but The Cosby Show was, actually, both funny and groundbreaking. The Constitution’s flaws are showing themselves, but the people who wrote it had some brilliant ideas, despite being typical of their era (racist, misogynist). It’s possible to disavow the confederacy without hating everything about your grandpa. Maybe he had a lovely singing voice, and you enjoyed going for walks in the country. You can disavow his membership in the KKK and still admit to yourself that his tenor was stellar.
Even typing that made me uncomfortable, to be honest. But the thing is, when we become so uncomfortable with discomfort, there’s no way forward. “I don’t want my kids to be uncomfortable with their history.” But why not? “Because they’ll be uncomfortable.” So what??? “They might feel bad.” Aww. Well, we wouldn’t want anybody to ever feel bad. Tell me–is that curable? As in, can we move forward, perhaps choose a path that won’t perpetuate that feeling? We can? So…what’s your problem?
There’s also an peculiarly American addiction to happy endings. I know why: it feels good. Not that I think feeling bad is the goal, but maybe the idea–which people in certain echelons of society can hold onto because experience supports their view–that the good guys inevitably win, so if you’re “winning,” you must be good is part of the problem. I’ll say it again: we’re not all good, and we’re not all bad. No human, philosophy, group, country is all good. If I’m mostly good, should I try to be better? How does that happen if I make sure not to address what’s bad?
Kind of related (and borrowed from a friend): if the idea of affordable childcare, paid family leave, more affordable higher education, and more affordable healthcare was presented as increasing our liberty, I wonder how that would sell? Because seriously, wouldn’t that lead to great personal freedom? There are actually things we can learn from other countries, believe it or not…
Trauma can affect our DNA, but healing is possible. I really recommend My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem (thanks, Kathy White Bullock for telling me about this). I’m still reading it (nearing the end), but the prescription for our polarized state is individual healing. The premise–which focuses mainly on black, white, and police bodies, because we hold our trauma responses in our bodies/lizard brains–is that with learning to settle ourselves, we’ll be less likely to act out.
Something that doesn’t always get mentioned is that watching other people get brutalized is traumatic, and that the white people who came over from England had watched unbelievable brutality (watch The Tudors if you need a demonstration). This is obviously not meant to excuse the inexcusable; it’s just contextualizing.
I probably shouldn’t have begun to mention this, since I’m not going to get into sufficient detail. Just saying that everything builds on everything else, but each of us can take a step towards changing the dynamics. Unless, of course, we are so sure we’re “winning” that we aren’t willing to examine ourselves. The thing is, all fall short. This is just normal, and doesn’t need to cause any sort of toxic shame response, unless we buy the idea that we must be perfect to be lovable or worthwhile.
If we could all live with the idea that our imperfections aren’t the sum-total of who we are, while not dismissing them, how much better would this world be? Maybe we could listen to critiques, and occasionally see the parts of them that are valid. Maybe we’d be more empathetic of others if we had more empathy for ourselves. Again, empathy doesn’t excuse horrible behavior, but perhaps it allows us to name it as such without our whole world tumbling down. We wouldn’t be so afraid of feeling guilty if we knew how to steady ourselves. We wouldn’t be so afraid of telling our children the truth if didn’t feel that our self-image (national image, heritage, history) had be as free from acknowledging the flaws as possible.
Again (in case you didn’t read my other, long post), even though toxic shame isn’t something I advocate, shamelessness is a pre-requisite for appalling behavior. The current trend of normalizing absolutely anything and everything by doubling down needs to stop. Will it? I’m not particularly optimistic. But I’m not hopeless. Yet.

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