The Shame of Shaming

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. – Eleanor Roosevelt

We are ALL guilty of being judgmental. We look at someone or something and immediately form an opinion. Negative opinions, combined with a blatant disregard for the feelings of others (i.e. lack of empathy), morph into shaming and bullying – an occurrence fueled by the media and exacerbated by the Internet.

I believe our minds are hard-wired to be judgmental. Indeed, without the ability to judge between good and bad – or safe and unsafe -- our ancestors would’ve ended up being dinner instead of successfully procuring dinner.

Yet the same ability to judge what is a friend and what is a foe also turns us into critics and even bullies. For some reason, bullying and shaming give us satisfaction and make us feel good about ourselves – even superior -- which is why certain people continue to do it well into adulthood. And it becomes highly disturbing when shaming seeps into the public domain.

The Internet is filled with examples of public shaming, from the way someone looks (too fat, too skinny, too young, too old, too many wrinkles, too differently abled) to the way someone dresses, sings, thinks, loves, acts, speaks, drives, writes, believes, lives … there are no lack of examples.

I find the state of Internet shaming exhausting and anxiety provoking. It’s too easy to shame anonymously, and destroy someone else’s spirit with negativity. Just reading comments posted to even the most benign articles or photos is nauseating.

So what do we do? Two thoughts come to mind.

First, while I believe we are all born with judgmental tendencies, I also believe parents have the responsibility to teach their children to control their urge to bully and shame. I equate it to toilet training. As babies, we all love to pee anywhere at anytime, but as we grow up, we understand there’s a time AND PLACE to pee. If we can train our kids to pee and poop in a toilet, we can train them to take the high road when it comes to curbing their inclination to shame. We can teach young people how to be nice by modeling the way.

Second, if we are shamed, it is our choice to embrace the negativity OR let it go and consider the source. It is difficult NOT to be hurt by mean words. Believe me, as a casualty of bullying in elementary school and junior high, I still carry those hurtful memories. But I certainly have never let them define me. I can’t control what negative energy spews from others, but I certainly can control how to react to it. And I will never let it consume me.

I encourage you to be less judgmental as you navigate your own journey. Turning shaming thoughts into empathy creates more positive energy in your life. And if you find yourself the target of negative comments, don’t internalize them. Continue to be your own best friend.

Most importantly, don't let the negativity of others become the soundtrack of your life. That would be a shame.