The Hardest Lessons We All Must Learn

Alternately Titled: “A Shit-Ton Of Shame”

I often cite a particularly difficult lesson I learned over a decade ago because when I say “Over a Decade Ago” I feel like it implies that I am much smarter and wiser now. SO MUCH TIME HAS PAST! 10 Years! I’m so much better!

The lesson was that using the word “retarded” casually is offensive and hurtful to people with – or people who love people with – intellectual disabilities. AND I LEARNED IT 10 YEARS AGO! I AM SO MUCH SMARTER NOW!

But the truth is – I have learned many similar lessons in the 10 years since. I just don’t like to cite those because it removes the narrative I’ve set up that The Zoot Of Today Is So Enlightened.

Also? These lessons are hard. They are the hardest lessons.

The lessons I’m talking about are the ones where you have to categorically recognize: I WAS WRONG. And since they are lessons often connected with the negative impact of those you wronged (Like the ID community in the case of the r-word) then you can’t help but feel a SHIT-TON OF SHAME.

Here’s how it unfolds.

STEP 1: You say something.

STEP 2: Someones tells you what you said is offensive/insulting/derogatory etc.

STEP 3: You defend yourself.

AND THEN YOU WALK AWAY FEELING ANGRY TOWARDS THE PERSON AND YOU HOLD STRONGER TO THE WORDS YOU CHOSE BECAUSE YOU ARE NOT A RACIST/MISOGYNIST/HOMOPHOBE/BIGOT!

“Wait, Kim? How do you learn a lesson there?”

Well. It’s not exactly what I have done. But two things of note:

1) It’s what I WANTED to do. DO NOT CALL ME A BIGOT.
2) It’s kinda what I’ve done in the past, I’ll be honest
3) It’s what a LOT of people do. Most, maybe.

Here’s where the lesson starts to unfold…

STEP 4: The words the person correcting you use rattle around in your head for awhile and you can NOT STOP THINKING about them.

Now…if you just get angrier and angrier and rant about how Political Correctness is ruining our country? Then you are missing out. Because the next steps are where the true beauty unfolds.

STEP 5: You feel shame because there’s a part of you that sees a bit of truth in the words the person used to point out the error in your words/actions.

STEP 6: You start to really think about that. I mean REALLY think about it. The painfully type of thinking about it because the shame really starts to surface. SHIT-TON OF SHAME.

STEP 7: You realize the person was right and you go forward in your life with a little more enlightenment.

STEP 8: YOU FEEL DAMN GOOD ABOUT YOURSELF. There are so many people who go through their WHOLE LIFE never being open to change AND LOOK AT YOU! YOU ARE OFFICIALLY A BETTER PERSON THAN YOU WERE BEFORE!

Now, full disclosure: The shame kinda subtly lingers for a long time. Sorry about that part. But that comes with the territory of evolving. You see the old you and kinda cringe a little. I still cringe at how casually I used to use the word “retarded.”

But, like I said. I didn’t just go through this 10+ years about about the word “retarded.” I’ve also gone through it about racism and how I discuss and look at movements like Black Lives Matter. I’ve been politely schooled on several occasions and I’ve gone through the steps above and I’ve dealt with the lingering shame of realizing how privileged I am and how much a part of the system of racism I have unconsciously become. No one has come out directly and called me a “racist” because I have kinda and empathetic friends who know that – around me – maybe kid-gloves are necessary. But they’ve called me out. They’ve corrected me. I’ve gotten defensive. I’ve felt shame. AND THEN I HAVE LEARNED AND PATTED MYSELF ON THE BACK.

Because if you survived the cycle of the hardest lessons? And come out a better person? And not stopped at the “RANT ABOUT HOW PC IS RUINING AMERICA” – then you deserve to be gentle and love yourself. It’s a hard journey.

Enter Steve Clemons – one of my favorite political writers. He tweeted this last night.

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Let’s just call that: STEP 1

And what followed (because this was on twitter) was a TON of angry criticism. (Call that STEP 2.) Steve responded to a lot of it. And partly defended himself (STEP 3) and said he’s told men to smile too. But also, you can see, he started seeing how much pain those comments cause women because they get held to different standards than men. If you look at some of the conversation threads, you can see where he’s authentically learning how upset this makes women and listening to the lifetime of “being told to smile more” many of them have suffered when men are told that at a much smaller rate. Obviously he thought about it. Steps 4-6 happened in several different threads for Steve before he finally responded to his own tweet.

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If you find yourself thinking “Eh – what he said isn’t too bad.” Then consider this blog post your STEP 2. I’m ashamed to say that – even as a woman – I have still had to learn lessons about misogyny and how I contribute to it as well sometimes with comments on women’s “niceness” and appearance. Having a daughter helped me get past STEP 3 and learn my own lessons. I still catch myself telling my daughter to “smile” when I never tell my sons that. If you still struggle to see the problem with it, here’s a good NPR story about it.

Y’all. Even as I’m writing this I’m struggling getting to STEP 8 about the whole “telling my daughter to smile” lesson. That’s probably the one I’ve learned the most recently and I’m still so ashamed when I allowed myself to really look at my parenting and see that I’ve NEVER told my sons to smile and have told my daughter to at least a gagillion times.

GAGILLION TIMES.

So, Steve Clemons? I feel ya, dude. I’m a liberal feminist Mom raising a daughter and I’ve made the same mistake. Thank you for learning the lesson and making me feel a little better about my own errors.

And if you can’t list anything you’ve learned in this manner then there are a few possibilities:

1) You’re enlightened naturally. CONGRATS!
2) You’re scary and your friends aren’t comfortable correcting you.
3) You’ve never made it past STEP 3.

Here’s to all of us dealing with the shame of learning hard lessons together. The more we do, the better our world becomes. Here’s to feeling a Shit Ton Of Shame together!

9 thoughts on “The Hardest Lessons We All Must Learn”

  1. Two things I can think of that I’ve been trying to correct: when I realized I was pushing my daughter to be nice (similar to the smile thing) much more often than I was saying that to her brother. The other was a long time ago – the word gypped. At that time I didn’t know it was a racial slur, but I stopped using it once I did that. I remember feeling indignant at first because I thought it was a nonsense word, but then slowly realized that to someone hearing it, that didn’t matter and I needed to fix it.

  2. I think if it helps people get past that shame, they should know that even as others are cringing at their misogyny/racism/homophobia/whatever, they also WANT them to get past that shame and become a better person.

    Like Colleen, I have also had that moment with the word “gypped.” I get that it’s hard (sometimes I still have to correct myself in my own head) because it’s hard to undo a lifetime of learned behaviors, and I don’t even know any Roma people so maybe it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. But I lose nothing by saying “oh shit, I didn’t know that was wrong, let me not say that anymore.” The people who SHOULD be ashamed are the ones who double down on ignorance and refuse to even try to do better. Because at that point it’s not ignorance, it’s just someone being stubborn and hateful.

  3. I learn a lot about myself and interacting with others from this blog. You make me think about things I would not otherwise have thought about.
    So I am trying to learn about what you have posted here and I am confused. So should I not tell my daughter to be nice and smile or just make sure I tell my son the same amount that I tell my daughter? I really feel they should smile, be nice, and spread joy throughout their days.
    I didn’t think I was contributing to a society of misogynist, but maybe I am?

  4. I think it’s more about “equal treatment”. I have NEVER told my sons to smile, the more I thought about it. I definitely want all of my kids to be kind and respectful (we are a yes ma’am, yes sir family) but somehow I let my kids talk to someone and not interpret “unkind” or “unrespectful” if they don’t smile. Whereas my daughter isn’t smiling and I’m like, “SHE IS BEING RUDE!” And I realized that’s kinda society telling me that.

    If I honestly had looked at myself and seen I tell all kids to “smile” equally – it would be different. But that was NOT what I realized.

    The other thing I have trouble with is walking the line between “smile!” when maybe my daughter isn’t happy, you know? I’ve been trying to talk to her more about other ways to show kindness and respect, like looking in someone’s eyes and “active listening” and stuff like that. Because, you know, if she’s sad or stressed I don’t want to make her feel like she HAS to smile?

    I don’t think it’s easy and if you’re treating your children the same you are NOT me for sure. I was/am not and I’m realizing that’s just my reaction to the culture I grew up in. If that makes sense?

    Also – I’m learning with some women NOT smiling is the subversive move and I respect that so I try to consider what part of me WANTS someone to smile and WHY do I want that?

    But again – that’s me analyzing/learning/reprogramming. Not sure if any of this applies to you.

  5. Ok, this is starting to gel for me now. Thank you so much for being open and honest! Really, you have no clue how much you have helped me look at so many topics from a different angle.

  6. I feel like Steve made it part of the way there, but he’s not quite getting the whole context. If people stop telling women to smile–great. But the big picture is telling women how to act. He could have left the word “smile” off of the tweet and it still would be sexist and offensive. Women are expected to have a particular public persona, and that expectation is BS.

    I summari

  7. Dang it, I somehow submitted mid-sentence.

    I summarize his tweet as “Hillary is a woman. She should speak softly, act upbeat, and be relatable, because she is a woman.”

    I guess I’m not confident that he truly understands that is what he said and why it is bothersome.

  8. Well, I guess no one can really know by his tweets but I guess I interpreted the several threads I read where he engaged critics as lesson learned, but I’m also always going to err on the side of “best case scenario” and possibly in error.

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