Shame and Responsibility

Yesterday was cloudy, hot, and muggy.

We decided to stay home for the weekend, and tackle small projects around the house.

My projects included paying bills, collecting items on the list of things to take out to the Rideau Camp on the next visit, and crocheting water balloons.

Attila’s projects yesterday included planting the squash and the scarlet runner beans, weeding the garden, and installing a lattice screen across the end of the back porch, for privacy from the road. The fir tree used to provide adequate privacy, but the bottom branches have died back since we had the basement perimeter dug up to waterproof the basement, and the water main leak was repaired by the municipality, just too much change for the tree.

Today I am remembering my greatest shame. It is an incident from my early years, Grade One or Two, and the only person who called it was my teacher, bless her heart. Her response to my unkindness to another human being, performed to impress the clique of small town girls, for their approval, set me on the social path I have followed ever since.

I don’t remember the details of the incident very clearly any more, but I do remember the feelings. We ate our lunches, those of us who stayed at school for lunch, at our desks. My desk was near a little girl who was new, and only there on a temporary basis, her family were farm labourers who migrated to follow the harvests. I too lived on a farm, and the small town girls were not very nice to those few of us who came in to school from the outlying farms. One day at lunch, the small town girls were friendly with me, and persuaded me to be mean to the little girl sitting near me. Hoping for acceptance, my young self let herself be persuaded, let that longing for acceptance override natural tendency. It was a small mean thing I did, hiding her lunch bag, or her milk bottle, or something like that. The little girl’s reaction was only to lower her head, to cry. I felt terrible, and found that the small town girls were laughing, not just at the little girl’s pain, but at me as well, for playing the fool. The teacher came to hear about the incident, and took me aside for a quiet word. She asked me how I thought the little girl felt, she asked me how I felt, then she put her arm around my shoulders, gave me a quick hug, and sent me on my way.

I don’t think the clique of girls, who used my longing for acceptance, ever felt bad about that incident. As I grew older I observed these types of girls, in elementary school, in high school, in university. They always looked ugly to me, no matter what they looked like on the outside.

Ever since, I have carefully considered the issue of approval and reward, and just how much the who and why matter when it comes to affirmations. My conclusion has been that the only people worthy of providing valuable feedback are those who are busy being themselves, to the point where they have developed internal integrity. Having come to this conclusion, these beautiful people have come into focus, and into my life.

At a Celebration of Life for a dear companion and friend, Pat Logier, one of the musicians said of myself with Attila, “where does she find them!” The answer is, I don’t, these connections are a gift from the universe, and have not been found by seeking, only by being true to myself.

There is another issue that comes to mind, when I explore the issue of shame in my life. It is concerning that which I have participated in, in innocence of malice, or ill will, that may have caused harm to some people. Being blind to the strategies and machinations of the intolerant, the greedy, and the ambitious is not something I am ashamed of, but it is something that I feel compelled to acknowledge, and whenever possible to avoid. I did not create our social ills due to single unknowing acts of complicity, with well organized, often entrenched and cloaked designs for power, and wealth creation and maintenance. I can not change these designs through single knowing acts. It is my choice, once I am aware of how a social ill evolves, and what role I have been assigned to play in the process, to do what I can, wherever and whenever I can, to act with personal integrity.

I feel I should provide an example of this abstract description, if only to remind myself, years from now, upon rereading this entry, what meaning this has in a material sense.

A glaring example would be racial prejudice. I grew up in an environment that did not display or express racial hatred. When I ran into it for the first time, I did not know it for what it was. I participated in it as a member of a group, following the leader without question. I was a cheerleader in high school. My first year as a cheerleader saw me with my team at the side the football field, in front of the bleachers, during games played with other high school football teams. One of the schools was a Catholic School, and the student population was almost entirely of Italian descent; which I didn’t know or even notice at the time. One of the cheers the team leader led had an ending that went like this: “wop, wop, wop“. It was meant to be a racial insult. We were supervised by teachers I might add, and at no point was this particular cheer, used only for competitions with this particular school, questioned. I do not feel shame for trusting my team captain, and my teachers, to behave honourably. I do not feel shame for not knowing that the competing team was Catholic or Italian in descent, these were not what the game of football was about, these attributes were not mentioned overtly in my presence, and I had no experience with disdain for other nationalities or religions. I do feel that it was, and is, my personal responsibility to learn from the experience, and not to trust the status quo, authority figures, or media figures, to provide the checks and balances needed to ensure that all members of society are treated with respect.

I feel that the greatest gift I have ever received has been a sense of personal responsibility for my own actions and words, a sense that what I do and and what I say matters, even if no one else sees or hears me. I own my words and actions. I think some people regard this a relationship with God, for me it is a relationship with myself. And perhaps that fits, as some people feel that God exists in all of us.

Is it ever too late in life to commit yourself to owning your own words and actions?

I don’t know.

Worldly Distractions

Weather

20°C
Date: 7:00 AM EDT Sunday 18 June 2017
Condition: Partly Cloudy
Pressure: 100.5 kPa
Tendency: Falling
Temperature: 19.6°C
Dew point:18.4°C
Humidity: 93%
Wind: SSE 27 km/h
Visibility: 19 km

Quote

“Guard well within yourself that treasure, kindness. Know how to give without hesitation, how to lose without regret, how to acquire without meanness.”
George Sand
1804 – 1876

7 Comments

  1. TopsyTurvy (Teri)

    You remind me of 2 incidents in my life. The first was when I was about 7 years old. I’d gone to the grocery with my mother. They had a special sale on some item – maybe toilet paper – but there was a limit on how many you could purchase. My mother wanted me to go through with some separately, so she could purchase more. Little me flatly refused. We were not separate, so it was wrong to purchase the extra amount!

    Interestingly, now that I think back I realize I never got in trouble for that moment of willfulness. My mom was a good woman and I guess she realized my reaction was appropriate. My viewpoint on taking more than I’m due hasn’t changed.

    The other memory is from many years later. I was probably 20 and living in Atlanta, Georgia. I worked in a plastics plant running gas chromatography samples on pop bottles to test how easily the carbonation would come out of the pop. I worked 3rd shift.

    One night one of the women that worked in the warehouse where the bottles were stored came in looking for someone. With eyes that are much more open now I’ll say the woman was black. She said to me, “You know that black girl that works here?” Totally confused, I said no. “You know, that black girl.” No. And she explodes in anger, the verbal comment almost like the lash of a whip. “What’s the matter, they don’t call it black where you come from?!” I was mortified. I realized later the woman was talking about my second shift co-worker, Naomi. I’d never quantified anyone by their race before, though I might notice differences. It cut me to the quick to be seen as racist when the truth was I’d never seen her race. But I saw myself as a failure because in my blindness to color I’d apparently short-changed someone of a connection that was very important to them.

    I always quantify people by their race now. Sadly, I’m probably a little too sensitive to it because of how I was treated that day.

  2. I recall my dad telling me I wouldn’t be permitted to play on my ball team if I participated in the “chattering” our teacher/coach had told us to practise when the other team was up to bat. It was poor sportsmanship, he said.

    I think I did lots of mean things as a kid, bullying things even. I’m not proud of them for sure, but I’m trying not to be ashamed either. I’m just glad I grew out of whatever that was and am now more human. The good kind.

    -Kate

  3. Kate, your Dad sounds like a very ethical and kind person! How lucky you were and are to have him in your life.

    Shame, and guilt, are useless emotions I think, they seldom lead anywhere positive. I was so lucky that a great teacher stepped in to offer life changing insight, and a reassuring hug. The insight was not that the little girl felt very hurt, I knew that from my own observation, and felt bad about that all by myself. It was asking me how I felt, letting me know that I too had emotions that needed attention and respect, that taught me a lesson beyond shame. I think to acknowledge and own our behavior with honesty, and without shame, is a very civilized act, and it is very difficult to do.

  4. TopsyTurvy (Teri)

    I think your teacher did the right thing by you, Maggie. It was appropriate to point out the feelings but she never shamed you. A lot of people today, especially the last few generations, seem very quick to shame.

  5. TopsyTurvy (Teri)

    I can’t Edit, so wanted to add I don’t see young you as a mean child. Like most children, you weren’t able to think things through. You weren’t able to think far enough ahead to see you were being used. Catty girls like those that used you are nasty things. I thank goodness that in my youth I never ran into any.

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