“...shame should be reserved for the things we choose to do, not the circumstances that life puts on us.”
Ann Patchett (Truth and Beauty)
I've been wading through the writing of a memoir called Old Crazy Town, about the little North Carolina mill town where I grew up. Like all mill towns, it was populated by the very rich and the very poor, who mostly worked for the very rich. Besides the textile and furniture factories, one of the biggest employers in town was a huge mental hospital. When I was a child, it was a little city in itself—with its own working farm, laundry facility, power plant, housing for physicians and their families and dormitories for single employees. In other words, it was another sort of mill town. Old Crazy Town specialized in shame for a lot of its citizens—if you were poor, or if you spent time as a patient in the mental hospital, you were encouraged to feel ashamed of yourself.
We moved there when I was in the fourth grade, and I got the lay of the land fairly quickly. The children of the mill owners, doctors and lawyers seemed like a different species. They breathed rarefied air, and walked slightly off the ground. There was something in the tilt of their heads, and the glint in their eyes that let me know I did not walk among them. For the first time in my life, I felt shame for who I was and not for anything I had done. I was called Olive Oil, Skinny Minnie, Boney Maloney and other names not fit for mentioning in a spirituality column. They weren't terrible people; they had simply been allowed to think that shaming others was their birthright.
Now, with the advent of social media, this kind of name calling, labeling and taunting can be done anonymously, and far more viciously. Shame is a devastating thing for a child; for anyone, really. If you were shamed as a child, you carry a wound that is easily reopened. When we have leaders who taunt and belittle others, the door is opened for the worst in us to find expression. Shaming others is a brutal way of life. It rips the soul-fabric of both the one who shames, and the one on the receiving end. It generates negative energy and negative karma. No one on this planet should be the butt of shaming simply for who they are. If we want a less violent world, let it begin with us.
In the Spirit,