Here is a true moment I had with my three-year-old at Peoples Jewellers waiting for my wife to finish shopping in a different store (something that can take surprisingly long – she has a gift):
- Worker: can I help you?
- Me: I need to find a push-present for my wife.
- Worker: When is she due?
- Me: Last year… I’m a little late on this.
- Worker: It’s been a weird year.
- Me: Thanks for understanding.
- Worker: If you need anything, please let me know; otherwise the clearance section is over there.
- Me: Perfect, thanks.
Isn’t that hilarious? That moment made my day. Her response basically meant she looked at me and thought, “Yeah, this guy’s cheap” – a true thought. Maybe it was because of the outfit I was wearing – very comfort focused. Maybe it was because I had a three year old with me and, therefore, have more important expenses in my life than shiny rocks. Maybe when I said I had a wife, the worker realized I’m not a boyfriend compensating for anything or trying to buy forgiveness “That guy’s not buying an ‘I’m sorry I cheated’ necklace because who’d go for him?” Maybe it was more positive and she could tell I wasn’t a sucker who would buy overpriced jewelry from a mall when I can get it much cheaper somewhere that has less overhead. Whatever the real reason, this worker should be allowed to categorize me as cheap without it being offensive. Categorizing people is part of healthy social interaction because it helps us know how to best interact with the person in front of us. For instance, how someone talks on stage at a church should be different than talking on stage at a comedy club… I learned that the hard way.
The unfortunate reality is if I wanted to play a victim (i.e. be passive aggressive), I could easily spin this situation and be insulted claiming, “You’re shaming me!” Here’s a phrase I don’t remember hearing when I was younger: You’re shaming me! Ugh, I hate that statement. When did this passive aggressive retort become allowed? What happened to the days when the response to do this would simply be “Get over yourself,” and that would be that. People who claimed this would be seen as manipulative – because they are – so they’d be shut down. Now, it seems whenever someone claims shaming or bullying, the one being accused is the biggest villain in the world without trial or even question: “A person claims someone is bullying? It must be true! No one ever misinterprets, exaggerates, or claims this because they’re manipulating the situation to get what they want.” To assume the accuser is right and the other person is evil, to put it gently, is stupid. (Is that gentle?) The idea of shaming and bullying has gone over the top. I’ve heard kids accuse teachers for being a bully because they told the kid to stop doing something bad – that’s not a bully. Authority is supposed to be authoritative. Just like a parent is meant to be an authority who makes the rules and doesn’t cater to their kids needs (a strange concept to many). Also, if a peer asks you not to do something, that’s not a bully either; that’s someone asking you to be considerate of their feelings.
What’s scary to me is people who are straightforward (a good quality) are frequently accused of being a bully or shaming when they’re just being honest and the receiver can’t handle it. A bully is mean to make themselves feel better like people who slander others on social media or those who try to ruin others’ reputations as payback through backstabbing and gossip. Those actions are cowardly and cruel, yet we allow it. Revenge, in general, is villainous. Meanwhile, if someone raises their voice or gets visibly upset well below a rage category (a very normal human response to feeling threatened), they’re labeled as having anger problems because they’re “scary.” What happened to encouraging people to develop a thick skin? What happened to letting people have emotions and not having to suppress disagreement?
Maybe I’m blind, but it regularly appears that whiners are given megaphones while good people are told to just take it and do more work to compensate for the whiners too busy whining and feeling sorry for themselves to work. I miss the days when you could say, “It’s time to put on your big boy panties and suck it up.” I miss the days when it was a badge of honor to say you never missed a day of work. I miss the days when people cared more about others and how what they did affected the community rather than it being all about the individual’s needs. The world I remember looks like a world with integrity and respecting others. Without these things we end up creating self entitled, hypocritical jerks who claim how hard their first-world life is as they demand special treatment despite the wake of pain they leave all around them. It’s almost as if our world has forgotten what shame is as individuals feel they “deserve” everything they want. I think the biggest pointer to entitlement is the success of Uber Eats and Skip the Dishes. As a cheapskate, those businesses make me nauseous. I heard someone bought a bag of Skittles for $25 through Uber Eats because they didn’t want to stop playing their video game to walk to the store – ouch.
It used to be if it walked like a duck and talked like a duck, it was a duck. Now, if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, be careful not to label it a duck because they’ll be offended… unless the label somehow gives them special treatment then they’ll use it to their advantage. Here’s a fact: I’m 20-30 pounds overweight. I’m technically fat. If someone told me this fact, that’s not “fat shaming”; it’s rude and a sign that person doesn’t have proper social skills; they are, therefore someone I shouldn’t be that worried about: “I’m fat and you’re rude; we each have our faults.” The reality is it only hurts if you believe it; you can’t insult someone who brushes it off. If a NBA player called me pathetically short, I’m not hurt because I don’t believe it; to someone who was insecure about their height, that would be crushing. If someone called me a whore, I’d just laugh because I know I’m not. Some guys would even wear that as a badge of honor: “That’s right! I’m a lady killer.” If most women were called this, however, they’d lose their mind. Why? Because on some level they’re afraid there’s truth to it. Maybe they don’t like the word, but even then, why does it bother them so much? What people say only has power if we give it power. At the same time, like me being fat, sometimes someone really is a whore based on their lifestyle choices. That’s not an insult; it’s a fact. If you don’t like that fact, change the way you live.
Instead of claiming someone is shaming us, we need to reconsider why it bothers us so much. We can’t control the world around us (as much as passive aggressive people try), but we can control how we think and act. I’m responsible for me. If being called fat bothered me, I should change my lifestyle while at the same time owning the truth: “Yes, I am fat. You just stated a fact, so I’m not offended, but it does remind me to go jogging later.”
As far as shame goes, I used to think it was bad. I define guilt as a healthy emotion that helps protect us and those around us as it has the power to teach a lesson and motivate us to do something to make it better. Shame, on the other hand, is guilt taken too far; it’s what keeps people down: “I don’t deserve any better, so I’ll suffer.” As far as this definition goes, shame is a pretty terrible thing to have, but recently I realize that shame is still a gift. I’m guessing that sounds strange, but shame is a gift insofar that the fear of it can keep people from doing stupid things. The fear of shame can keep people from posting overly honest information online. The fear of shame can encourage self control and people acting with respect to others. The fear of shame prevents “The people of Walmart,” and encourages healthy social norms. The fear of shame used to keep people from being so self-entitled, but now it only appears that shame has been bundled up and given to a select few people who are already overworking and slowly killing themselves with how hard they are on themselves while others roam free and hurting those around them.
To be honest, I look at what’s in the news and I can’t help but miss when shame helped people be nicer. I miss when shame prevented people from being so quick to throw stones at others as a pre-emptive strike from others saying anything about them. Maybe one day we as a society will learn that boundaries and norms are important and that not everything should be allowed. Considering it can be fun to break the rules once in awhile, we even lose out on potential fun if there aren’t boundaries and norms to follow.
Ultimately, as a culture we need to learn to start laughing at ourselves more and assuming the best of those around us. Worrying about being shamed makes us nasty people who judge and assume others judge us (a terrible way to live) while laughter can unite people together.
This week may you consider how shame has actually helped you as a way to prevent the power it can potentially have over you.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)