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The Opposite Of Shame

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Shame's been in the spotlight lately with so many people talking about mom-shaming, fat-shaming, dog owner-shaming and/or food-shaming. Of course, it's nothing new, just a few catch-phrases designed to describe an age-old problem. The use of shame to control people's behavior.

Here's an example from my past.

43 years ago I was a young teacher's assistant in a public school. I was in the teacher's lounge which at that point in history meant "smoking lounge." One of the more seasoned teachers looked at my bare legs and said, "Enjoy it while you can. When you get a real teaching job, you'll have to wear nylons all the time!" It was summer-school and I had no intention of wearing pantyhose on a 90-degree day, especially in a room with no windows

filled with nasty cigarette smoke.

I never did get what she thought of as a real teaching job. Now I work for myself in my PJ's and anyway it's smoking, not bare legs, that's disallowed in most every teacher's lounge. So there!

But shame and it's naughty big cousin blame, haven't gone anywhere over the years, even though we know they're not very helpful. Why is that?

I think I have a pretty good guess.

Shame is often used to teach values. It's a shortcut method, though, meant for quick delivery and like so many other shortcuts, it's just not as effective as the longer version. Besides, the intentions behind shame are almost always tinged with some misplaced spite about receiving a similar reprimand themselves in the past.

So the alternative is?

To lead by example and consistency. The longer we remain in someone's life the more we have a chance of passing on our values. My fairly well-intentioned teaching colleague could just as well have set a stellar example as a teacher which, of course, would have mattered more in the long run than proper teaching attire, whatever that is.

And here's one more thing to think about......while we're all busy doing our best not to heap unnecessary shame on others, especially family members, let's make sure not to shame ourselves. And that's not always easy to do.

But we can remind ourselves that the people who've shamed us in the past, probably had the misguided intention of helping us to learn something that was important to them for some reason or another.

So instead of resorting to using shame, we can picture kicking the ugly shame monster into the drink every time we happen to notice it around. And then we can take a moment to think about and clarify our own values with ourselves. Shame might just re-emerge transformed into a beautiful, self-chosen and therefore perfectly fitting value to use and pass on throughout our lives. After all, people get makeovers, and feelings like shame monsters can too! It's our values that matter in the long haul.

It goes without saying that all humans make mistakes and so we can admit our mistakes more often to ourselves and to others without shame and move forward. Here's a little well-worn saying that's helped me throughout 43 years of teaching and parenting.

You may not be the best parent/teacher in the world, but you are the one they need today.

Go spread the love! The world deserves you.

Need something to keep your kids and maybe your whole family productively engaged in fun, learning, and giving back to others this week? Check out my awesomely creative and soothing rock art activity here.


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Nanci J Bradley, 60ish, is an early childhood and family educator, author, teacher, SELF-care facilitator, family aerobics instructor, and an all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, healthy eating, lifelong learning and most of all, PLAY! She studied early childhood ed at Triton College and received her BS in education in 1986 from NIU. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison WI

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