Archive for April, 2013

The Dangers of Rushing to Judgment

Friday, April 19th, 2013

CNN at one point identified a suspect in the Boston Marathon Bombing as “dark-skinned.” We were also told the suspect was a Saudi national. It was announced that a suspect was in custody days before that turned out to actually be the case.

It’s understandable that when an act of terrorism happens, news outlets all want to be the first to report breaking news, especially when that news involves identifying who is responsible or announcing that police have arrested a suspect. However, the consequences of reporting inaccurate information can be dramatic. Perhaps the best example of that is Richard Jewell, the security guard first hailed as a hero for spotting the bomb at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and alerting police, then falsely accused of planting that bomb. His privacy was invaded, every detail of his life became public information and fuel for all sorts of speculation, and bombing victims filed civil lawsuits against him.

There’s another rush to judgment that is even more dangerous, though. At least one of the suspects in the Boston bombing has been identified as Muslim, but even before that, members of the Muslim community feared for their safety. Sadly, their fear was understandable, since after 9/11 many innocent Muslims were unfairly judged as potential terrorists, and some were even beaten or killed by people blindly venting their rage and desire for revenge on people who had absolutely nothing to do with the terrorist attack and were horrified by it.

Muslim leaders were quick to condemn this bombing, of course, just as Christian leaders are quick to condemn the bombing of abortion clinics by some who call themselves Christians, or the hateful slogans carried by members of Westboro Baptist Church as they picket funerals and add to the suffering of grieving families.

We need to see people as individuals, get to know them, and form opinions about their character based on their own words and actions, not the religious or ethnic or other groups to which they belong. We also need to have the courage to challenge blanket statements made by friends, family, or co-workers about Muslims, or any other group of people, and learn to not just accept but truly appreciate the wonderful diversity of appearances, beliefs, and practices that exists not only between but also within all of the different groups.

The Destructive Power of Shame

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

I just watched Brene Brown’s amazing TED talk about shame: It was a good reminder of just how destructive shame can be. Shame keeps us from taking risks, from “daring greatly” as she puts it, because we’re too afraid that we might fail, or look foolish, or draw unwanted attention. It convinces us that we’re not good enough, or smart enough, or pretty enough, or _whatever_ enough. It talks us into playing it safe, settling for what we are confident we can get rather than what we really want.

Shame is insidious. It is relentless. It robs us of joy and keeps us from living up to our full potential. Ironically, the way to overcome it is to openly acknowledge that we feel it, and become willing to talk about those deep dark secrets that shame has convinced us would cause others to reject us if they only knew.

I recently attended a Christian women’s gathering at which the featured speaker talked about the fact that she was sexually abused as a child, by her dad who was a pastor. She shared the fact that her healing began when she first told a counselor about it, and later her husband, and finally her mother and her siblings. Now she helps other women heal by speaking openly about something that is still a secret source of shame for many, letting them know that they are not alone and it is OK to be honest about what really happened.

Whether or not we were abused in any way as children, we all carry some shame, because humans are imperfect and even the best parents and friends inevitably say and do things that hurt us, and because no matter how much we try to play it safe, at some points along the way we will nevertheless have some failures and take some actions we later regret.

We can choose how to deal with our shame, though. If we deny it or try to keep it carefully hidden away, it will always hold us back and we’ll forever see ourselves as less than others, unworthy of love, and incapable of accomplishing anything truly worthwhile. If we freely acknowledge the shame we carry, and are willing to challenge the negative messages it sends us, take risks and “dare greatly,” and share our true selves with others without worrying about what they will think, we will overcome our shame and have more authentic, loving relationships and happier, more fulfilling lives. How will you choose to deal with your shame?