A month or two ago I was having a conversation with a friend who was trying to figure out how they felt about something they had done: were they ashamed or, was it indeed no big deal? The event was a transaction in a doctor’s office where the receptionist had over looked charging for a missed appointment co-pay. As they stood there, torn between informing the receptionist of the mistake and not saying anything, they opted to let it go and didn’t say anything. Several days later she told me about the incident and was still wrestling with it. She said she couldn’t see whom it had hurt. I pointed out the reality that she was wrestling days later which, meant something did not sit well, so maybe it hurt her? In our conversation she came to the conclusion that if she told the story of what happened at a dinner party where her friends or family were there she would be uncomfortable, or ashamed of the route she took in that spilt second decision at the counter. A decision any one of us could make, and have made, during our lives. The fact it didn’t sit well for her meant that she needed to go back and revisit and decide that next time she might choose differently.
During our conversation I revealed that I try to live my life in a way that any of my actions could be put on the cover of the NY Times and I would not be ashamed of them. I hate the spotlight but I stand by what I do and say, even when I screw up. After this conversation I took some time and dug around to see if that was true in all areas, something I had not done in a while. By being thoughtful I was able to be more conscious and tweak someplaces that gave me pause in my own life in terms of the language I choose when presented with a situation that does not please me. I am not always honest, and can at times put myself last rather than make a fuss. Which is misleading, and wussy-like behavior coming from an adult. When presented with a moral dilemma asking if our choice would cause us to be ashamed of our actions is a great litmus test. Our heads can justify any action and make it palatable to us, our bodies can be more soft-spoken—especially if we are not used to listening to them. So having a simple tool to use in times of pause, or wavering, is kind of like having a pair of readers to make something clearer instantly.
Shame is something that separates us, its fear of disconnection from others. “If people see who I really am they will not love me.” or “I am not ______ enough to be worthy, loved or valued.” The blank can be filled in with things like good, thin, successful, smart, beautiful, etc. all of this talk is built on shame and fear. When we do things to perpetuate this separateness we feel more alone, the less we talk about it the more it has a hold on us. I know a number of people who compartmentalize their lives to a point where they have to check their language content constantly depending on who they are talking to. I don’t know if I would call it lying per se but it is editing to a degree that has to create stress, fiction, and maybe never really being seen or loved for who they are. When we slice ourselves up and create tiny lives there is no real freedom to just be who we are for fear of rejection.
I like the simple tool of the NY Times cover to keep me on track. If I am editing what I say or do it makes me look at my motives. Is there a disconnect between what I believe to be true and what I am putting out there for others? Am I hiding my beliefs and actions for fear of judgment? Does editing myself make me less than–make me feel cruddy about my choices and who I am? If I flip to blaming, which is a method to discharge pain and discomfort, what was my trigger? Where am I vulnerable and covering that up? All these things are hot points to stop, pause and breathe. I go back to my three basic questions; What do I need? What do I want? What do I feel? By using those questions to take my temperature of where I am in the crazy I can take a step back from my motives and adjust so that my mind, body and soul are in alignment. I have found for me that not being aligned in those areas makes for chaos, shame and depression. For me age has given me some great tools, it lets me drop the rules of things that no longer serve, stop bullshitting and just be. Even if I am thought to be foolish in large print on the cover of the NY Times I find no shame in that, only great writing material.