There was an episode while I was still a school girl when the members of my class grew a bit rowdy. As anyone who knew me back then will attest I generally did my best to be a good girl, and so I was not involved in the mischief even though I secretly would have liked to have been. My teacher was having a very bad time and she ended up reading the riot act to all of us. She told us that we were perhaps one of the worst groups of students that she had ever taught and then proceeded to keep us all after school to complete a grueling punishment.
I was filled with anger because I knew that I had done nothing, and yet I was subjected to a group trial so to speak. On top of everything else it took me longer than most of my classmates to finish the task that she assigned. By the time that I was turning it in to her all but one other student had already gone home. The teacher smiled at me and whispered that she was sorry that I had been part of her humiliating lecture and subsequent sentence because she knew that I had been totally innocent of all of the bad behaviors that had resulted in the group shaming.
I was quietly stunned by her admission and simply left the classroom without saying a word. My sense of fairness had been badly wounded and I lost respect for the harried educator after that. In fact, I’ve spent most of my life believing that indicting entire groups of people because of the wrongdoings of a few is quite horrible. Unfortunately it appears to almost be a national past time of late.
Our society is playing a demeaning and dangerous game of laying guilt trips on whole groups without real thought. Instead emotions are at an all time high rather than rationality. We have created so many “isms” that it is difficult to keep up with all of them. It sometimes feels as though we are being shamed just for existing.
We have those who are criticized for their bodies. They are too overweight or too thin. They eat the wrong things or wear the wrong clothes. They don’t exercise enough or have become too obsessed with attempts to make themselves more perfect. No matter which way individuals choose to go there will be someone just waiting to inform them of the error of their lifestyles. Sadly we now have young children who are constantly weighing themselves and pushing food away because of concerns that they not measure up to some nebulous definition of how we should be.
Some are being told how horrible they are because they vote a particular way or live in a certain kind of neighborhood or house. It often feels that just being born makes one guilty of some egregious crime. Sadly it’s difficult to know what that may be until the accusations start flying. Even just quietly minding one’s own business is often viewed as demonstrating a lack of compassion or justice.
I read an editorial recently in which the author criticized Katy Perry for being too nice. This person felt that Ms. Perry’s attempts at being diplomatic and bridging compromises between people was a sure sign that she was not as “woke” as she pretended to be. In fact the writer asserted that Ms. Perry needed to choose sides quickly or be viewed as a total fraud.
I was stunned to actually read words indicating that anyone who attempts to stride along a middle ground or tries to be kind to everyone is actually worse than those who are honest enough to rant and rave. I found myself wondering what we have come to when common decency is judged to be our biggest problem. I suppose that I sound very old and out of it when I suggest that we might all cease with the judging and name calling, especially when we don’t even know the people that we are attacking.
One truism that I learned as an educator is that if one carries on with continuous nagging and negativity people will eventually quit listening at all. I suspect that we are quite close to that situation. I find that few people want to discuss anything in a meaningful way anymore. They simply want to be left alone to lead their respective lives as they wish. They have grown weary of being misunderstood by people who won’t even take the time to learn the facts. They are eschewing the laziness of judgements like my teacher of long ago made. Such opinions are mattering less and less.
I fear that many innocents are being hurt because they feel overcome by the stereotyping and ignorance of our current ways. I know we have gone too far when we even have a local television station sending out an email headline filled with inuendo that advertises a story about “the confederacy era hero, Sam Houston.” The fact is that Sam Houston had many character flaws but being a confederacy era hero was not one of them. He was the governor of Texas at the time when most of the southern states were seceding from the union and he unequivocally pronounced his opposition to having Texas become a member of the Confederacy. He was ousted from office as a result.
At the same time that we are being so critical of so many aspects of our humanity, our history and our philosophies, we are also becoming less and less willing to listen to opposing points of view. We shut certain people down immediately simply because we believe that we already know what they are going to say and we find their comments to be so offensive that we are willing to deny them their first amendment rights. Journalists whose job it is to bring even horror into the light of day are being ostracized if they allow certain individuals to speak.
We are shouting constantly at one another and putting our heads into the sand at one and the same time. Nobody is exempt these days and we find ourselves wondering what if anything that we hear is true. We have lost our way and it’s time that we found our way back to a sense of fairness and decency and honesty. Not that Katy Perry is a paragon of thought, but we have to ask ourselves what is wrong with her idea of seeking to be nice.
I dislike much of mankind’s actions of the past, but I do not in any way feel responsible for things that I did not do. I refuse to feel shamed or to accept punishment for ideas that have never been mine. I don’t prescribe to wearing a hair shirt and beating up myself or anyone else for that matter. Our history is what it is and the best we can do is learn from it, not continue to divide ourselves over it. Even if we to were remove every last hint of wrong doing from our memories and paste scarlet letters or six pointed stars on those that we fear or despise we will only end up repeating the sins of the past. Shaming has never been an effective means of correcting behaviors, but it often leads to egregious crimes of inhumanity. We’ve used a bit too much of it of late and I suggest that we take ourselves off of this path before we find ourselves in places that we would rather not be.