Shame is not a Social Justice Tool

Photo by @felipepelaquim on Unsplash

It’s important for us to maintain perspective when pursuing social justice and equality. As much as we may want to yell sense into someone, it’s only going to create further divides at the end of the day.

From inherent shame about our bodies to insecurity about our abilities or intellect; shame is a driving factor that leads us to think, feel, and act in certain ways.

Shame has been commodified to sell products, particularly beauty and makeup products, as magical cures promising “you’ll be exactly enough with three equal payments of $24.99.”

They say there is one acceptable profile to fit into and until we carve off pieces and use THIS product, we will always be too much, imperfect.

Shame has always been a powerful tool of oppression. It’s been used to enable those in power to keep power, and it demands to be felt but that doesn’t mean that men, the wealthy, or the white are excluded from this emotion.

Approaching conversations around topics like “White Fragility” to white folks or “Toxic Masculinity” with men has always been a touchy subject; many times, even the verbiage of “Fragile Whiteness” or “Male Fragility” triggers a defensive reaction that derails the conversation and blocks understanding.

No one wants to think we’re racist or misogynistic and oftentimes more effort goes in to defending oneself from the accusations than understanding that this reaction is the fragility we’re speaking about.

It’s important to understand that the act of being anti-racist or a feminist isn’t perfection but understanding and choosing to see the ways that our societal systems are designed for the caucasian, heterosexual-male.

If we’re too busy being defensive about our blindspots, we will never be able to see them clearly. These are indications for a need to connect and understand the experiences of others, the injustices happening against our neighbours. Injustices against one person doesn’t eliminate or overshadow injustice against another.

When we realize (without ego) that someone taking the time to have this conversation with you is an act of caring, we can start to approach conversations without “Armouring Up” and becoming unreceptive to ways we can increase equality.

Grounded Conversation Tips

  1. Take a Deep Breath.
    Make sure that your body is relaxed, as much as you can be. Our body, spirits, and minds are connected; whether you realize it or not, your mindset and physical are in a symbiotic relationship.
  2. Weigh the Outcome.
    How much does this affect you? How much personal experience do you have around the topic? Is the friendship or being seen and heard more important? Is shame replying for you, angrily, to avoid embarrassment? Will this matter in 5 minutes, 5 days, 5 months?
  3. You’re here to Get it Right, Not Be Right.
    No one gets everything right all the time. Through making mistakes, we grow and develop. We’re human; we’re messy and complicated and emotions overlap. Our feelings are indicators that something is happening in our lives; and unmet need or goals, a lack of autonomy, a recurring issue.

We operate with the information available to us and as new information emerges, we have to reshape and update our perspectives. In this way, what seems right at one time might be harmful with further study, or in ways that the folks running things haven’t noticed. We all have blind spots.

This is where we can use systemic thinking to be able to visualize and optimize these structures and systems to be able to be supportive of all.

Systems are made up of unique components that work together, kind of like each of us. Let’s optimize our systems, and be the best we can be.

If you’re like to learn more about the powers of shame, I highly recommend Dr, Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us Podcast.

“Shame begets shame and violence.” 

Dr. Brené Brown

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