"To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; This, is to have succeeded." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, December 20, 2010

Shaming Ourselves

It's time to talk about shame. About how we use shame in our everyday lives to validate our own choices by invalidating others. About the fact that somebody else's choice doesn't have to be wrong for ours to be right. I've talked before about the importance of choice, and now I want to talk about using that power to choose responsibly and respectfully. Choice is everybody's right, not a right reserved for those who make the same choices as us.


This problem certainly rears its ugly head among both genders, but I find it's especially prevalent among women. I don't think the problem is new in the age of the internet, but the anonymity of the internet certainly makes it more obvious.

It plays out in so many ways. You want to be a stay-at-home mom, but fear being judged, so you immediately need to defend why being a stay-at-home mom is better, at the expense of those who make a different choice. Suddenly being a stay-at-home mom is the virtuous choice, while being a working mom is selfish. Or in reverse - you want to be a working mom, but in a desperate attempt to distinguish that choice as the best, stay-at-home moms become lazy, or submissive, or betrayers of feminism. This shaming of other women results in everybody feeling guilty or insecure in their own choices. It benefits no one.

And it doesn't just affect parenting. It affects every aspect of our lives. If you choose to get married young, you'll constantly hear statistics about how young marriages are more likely to end in divorce. If you get married when you're older, you'll hear all about how hard it will be to have kids or how 'all the good ones will be taken' if you wait too long. If you want one child, you'll hear about the latest study that shows only children are lonely and self-centred. If you want 8 kids, you'll hear about overpopulation or the depletion of the world's resources or welfare-dependence. And don't even get me started on what you'll hear if you don't want to get married or have children, full stop. You want to raise your kids in the country? Oh, but they'll miss out on all the cultural opportunities that the city offers, and the lack of diversity will make them ignorant or racist. You want to raise your kids in the city? You can't do that, it's dangerous to raise your kids in the city, and they won't learn good values.

It's bred out of defensiveness. People become defensive because others insist on being judgemental.

But here's the thing, we become judgemental and defensive, which perpetuates this cycle, when competitiveness takes control of our lives. I've written before that marriage isn't about keeping score, but I think it's also important to point out that life isn't about keeping score either. What's 'best' should be what's 'best for us', not 'best in comparison to everybody else'. The choices that everybody else makes are their business, and theirs alone.

We also put unrealistic expectations on ourselves. The constant quest for perfection, for the 'best' life and 'best' choices is enough to make anyone second-guess their decisions. And by second-guessing our own decisions, we become desperate for validation that they're the 'right' decisions. And the easiest way to assure ourselves that they are the right decisions, is to prove to ourselves and others that all other decisions are the 'wrong' decisions. Can you see how this quickly perpetuates a vicious, competitive cycle of right versus wrong in a world that's really not that simple?

Not everybody is guilty of this, but a lot of us are, at least to some extent. The next time you catch yourself saying - or in this modern age - typing something that bashes another individual's choices for their own life - ask yourself whether you're really being constructive, or just trying to build yourself up at their expense.

I've used this Howard Thurman quote before, but I'll use it again, because it's one of my favourites and very relevant to this topic: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive". Live your own life. Stop keeping score. You'll be happier for it. 

*Disclaimer one: I use the term 'working mom' because of how it flows, not to insinuate that stay-at-home moms don't 'work'.

**Disclaimer two: I'm not suggesting that every woman does this, and when I say 'you', I don't mean you specifically. Again, it's used for the overall 'flow', not to specifically point fingers :)


  1. One of your best yet. Please keep 'em coming :)

  2. Hi Rachel - Lia here, first time reader. Nice article.
    From where I stand, the main basis for the behaviour you are outlining is fear and insecurity, low self-esteem, lack of meaning and purpose, inadequate knowledge of self, and/or partial or no wisdom derived from having the correct view of one's self and the lessons learned in life. All that, in turn, covers over and tunes us out of our innate 'certainty meter', as I call it.
    This is a common problem in this country, on this continent, and in many other modern western-style societies (and some eastern ones, too).
    What goes on in our minds is subjective, being the sum total of what has occurred in the past and related emotions plus our expectations, prejudices, egos and thoughts of the future. Therefore, absolute truth of a situation is difficult to discern with all that to-ing and fro-ing and analyzing going on.
    If people could keep their focus in the present moment and tuned in to the subtle instinctive, deeper inner workings of our consciousness, keeping to the high road as far as possible, many of the angularities you mentioned wouldn't occur or even exist.
    Why, you say? For a few reasons which are too lengthy to go into here, but mainly because people would be minding their own bloody business, seeing to their own benevolence and that of their surrounds, and not comparing and weighing up and judging all the time. They'd be seeing clearly in an impartial, detached way - which is the only way to be if you need to make a correct decision (small or large).
    Unfortunately, the particular weaknesses you are identifying drive many levels of our society...not because it's correct or even desired, but because it's so prevalent and insidious that it's hard to buck the system if one doesn't have a strong sense of meaning, is confident, fearless, with healthy self-esteem, is sure and steady on what one stands for in this life.
    And the uncertainties, fears and insecurities are just the way our power-, money- and materialistically oriented social system likes it - feeds off it, in fact.
    The thing is, I can't see it being sustained for much longer; we're already seeing and feeling the pressures and problems caused by that prevalent mindset and with that kind of top-heaviness, it seems to be about ready to topple over. The question is, and which you infer, what are we doing about it - in our own lives, in our own selves?
    Anyway, that's my view, my experience.


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