Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Perspective on Humiliation

Over the course of a lifetime, we all experience moments of embarrassment, those occasions when we say or do something that we wish no one saw or knew about but us.  Most of the time those incidents are quickly forgotten and the embarrassed person is none  the worse for the experience.  However there are moments when events lead to public humiliation. 

Humiliation is defined as: "the abasement of pride, which creates mortification or leads to a state of being humbled or reduced to lowliness or submission. It is an emotion felt by a person whose social status has just decreased. It can be brought about through bullying, intimidation, physical or mental mistreatment or trickery, or by embarrassment if a person is revealed to have committed a socially or legally unacceptable act. Whereas humility can be sought alone as a means to de-emphasise the ego, humiliation must involve other person(s), though not necessarily directly or willingly." -- Wikipedia 

According the Merriam Webster Dictionary humiliation is "extremely destructive to one's self-respect or dignity." In other words the difference between a simply embarrassing experience and a humiliating one is the lasting effect on an individual's sense of worth.

For example, having a gust of wind blow your dress up above your waist to reveal your underwear or having gastrointestinal distress in front of others is embarrassing.  On the other hand being asked if you keep a dirty home because you are having an asthma attack or being told "don't lie to me" when you are suffering from dementia and can't recall current events is humiliating.   Similarly, being a young child who is stood in front of a classroom and spanked or being a public person who has to live every personal failure before a camera and microphone can be equally humiliating.

Fortunately most of us don't suffer truly humiliating experiences and if we do they are few and far between.  However for the millions of Americans facing foreclosures or being hounded by debt collector, for members of the LGBT community who are being bullied, for the sick and elderly who are so often made to feel guilty for their condition, and for so many others, humiliation is a frequent experience,   I know this to be true by personal and eyewitness experience. 

There is no quick and easy cure for overcoming humiliation.  Pretending that the event didn't happen and you are not affected is not the answer.  Only time, positive affirmation and love helps a person overcome feeling humiliated.  It also helps to put the event leading to feelings of humiliation in perspective.  For me it helps to think of the life of Jesus.

So the next time that you feel totally humiliated, ridiculed and bullied by anyone, think about this.  I was once taught that  when the Romans crucified people they stripped them almost if not completely naked.  So just imagine for a moment that you have switched places with Jesus. 

You're betrayed by one of your closest friends.  You're arrested in the middle of the night. You're taken to be tortured and accused of crimes by a tribunal.  You can't sit, you can't sleep, you're alone and men are twisting every word you say because they want you to be guilty.  There is no one to defend you. No lawyer to plead your case. You're whisked from one place to another, accused of wrong-doing, beaten and spit on along the way.  

You finally get your day in court, so to speak, and the judge knows that you're not guilty of any real wrong-doing but he has to satisfy the mob which is demanding that you be crucified.   You are sentenced to being beaten with a cat o' nine tails.   You are whipped almost beyond recognition.  Your friends are no where to be found.  People might even wonder if you even have or had any friends.  You are thrown in a cell to await final sentencing. You are alone.  No one visits, except maybe your mother who isn't allowed to see you.   You are brought before a jury of the same people who told you how much they loved you just weeks and months before. They are now completely indifferent to your suffering and when they have the chance to speak up for you, they choose to save a murderer instead of you. 

As a result you are sentenced to death. You're paraded through a crowded street with people laughing and mocking you. They even make fun of your name.   They watch you walk, then fall, then crawl along the way, feeling no compassion.  "After all, you were such a big shot before. If you had just behaved more like them you wouldn't be in this mess.  You brought in on yourself, you so-call Son of God"  "You helped others, why can't you help yourself now" some are saying.

You're hung on a cross, bloody, beaten, sweaty and naked in front of the whole world.  The Pharisees are more concerned with the sign over your head than your suffering.  You hang there and watch your mother watch you die.  In death, you're buried in a borrowed grave.  Two thousand years after your death people are still making a joke of your life.  

My friends, that is humiliation. Thinking about that helps me put my own humiliating experiences in perspective. 

Would you go through that for someone you loved?  Jesus did. Of course, as Christians we believe that his death was not the end of his story. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

Writing The Final Chapter: Lessons Learned Since 2012

“The meaning and the purpose behind some events are unknowable. 
This is the ultimate test of our faith. We must trust that everyone in life is here to 
learn different lessons at different times, that good and bad experiences are only the perceptions of man. After all, some of your worst experiences have truly been your best. They’ve sculpted you, trained you, developed within you a sensitivity and set you in a direction that reaches out to impact your ultimate destiny.”  
Anthony Robbins, Awaken the Giant Within, p. 510

If you’ve been following my blog posts over the past few years you know that the past decade has been a journey filled with stops and starts, roadblocks, detours, u-turns and dead-ends. For most of that time, the good days far outweighed the bad. But as the years went by the scales tipped in the other direction at an ever-increasing rate. January of 2012 marked the beginning of the last and most painful chapter in what was the story of caring for my Mom when she returned home from a hospital stay unable to talk, see clearly, or even feed herself.

The following months were a non-stop series of pleas for assistance and intense conflict with a health care and legal system that was a cold as Hell, MI was a few weeks ago. I finally gave up. Yes, I hear there is really a place named Hell.  For the last 10 months of her life, Mom was unable to tell me what she was thinking; how she was feeling; or what she wanted.  Our conversations consisted of random words, eye contact, facial expressions and the squeeze of a hand. I spent more time than I care to remember taking out my frustrations on helpless china, pottery and a myriad of other household items that would shatter in the same manner as our lives. In the end Mom lost the ability to do the simplest things like swallow or clear her throat. In December, the last paragraph of the story was written when my mother took her last breath.  The next morning, for the first time in my life, I awoke to a world absent of the one person who had known me since I took my first breath.  I’m sure that I will never look back on this as one of my “best experiences”.

 Over the past few weeks, I’ve been going over blog posts and journal entries which I had been intended to be compile into a book detailing Mom’s and my story.  During that process I reached a decision that any memories that I have not shared are too personal.  I’m just going to pack away the boxes of medical records, bills, call logs and notes and move on.  Mom is at peace and she would want me to be as well.  The best way to honor her is to remember the love, let go of the anger, and allow my memories to propel me towards my future.  I’ve shared enough and now is my time to heal and do so privately and on my own terms.  I pray that what I did share has helped others or at least let them know that they were not alone. 

So as I close the cover on one book, which will remain unpublished, and prepare to live the introduction to another, here are the final lessons learned during the journey that I shared with Mom. Many of these have already been shared with my social media friends. 

I’ve learned that the closer you get to achieving your goal, the more painful it is when you do not succeed.  It is during those times of setback and failure that you discover who you are and whose you are.

Character is not defined by the number of our wins or losses, but how graciously we handle them.

The path toward making Jesus first, (or the center :-), in your life is different for each individual.  For many people, myself included, it has involved a period of time of literally separating myself from people. 

You will never know that you are truly able to stand up for what you believe until you are standing alone knowing that God is the one that has your back.

No one is your friend who belittles your dreams; who laughs "at you" instead of "with you"; who tells you that "you can't" instead of helping you believe that "you can"; who takes joy in your failures and makes small your achievements; who tries to mold you into their image instead of seeing you as God sees you; who insists that you travel their path when they do not know your intended destination; who wants you to be more like them instead of your own unique self.  Keep those people at a distance. You will never please them and they will never understand you.  Like the shade on a lamp, their "friendship" will limit your ability to shine.

One of the best exercises that I completed in 2012 is defining on paper, Who I Am; What I Believe; and Why I Think That I Here. For those of you who are new friends here's who I am in order of importance: Christian, woman, daughter, friend, lover of all people, and granddaughter of farmers who is of African American heritage.

What I believe is a lengthy discussion. Why am I here is something that I shared before. In short, to share my faith; to share my life experiences in a way to help others avoid the same stumbling blocks; and to be a friend and advocate to those who are traveling on my same path.

It's really hard to decide what you want to do with the second half of your life. I've decided to take my life experiences, both good and bad, from the first half and channel them into a career for the second half. For you fans of football, it's kind of like adjusting the game plan at halftime. The first step in planning for the second half is knowing who you are, what you believe and what really matters to you. The second step is believing in yourself and seeing yourself as God sees you. The third step is writing a good mission statement. The fourth step is acting on that mission statement. The fifth step, and probably the most important, is to be prepared to call audibles. Life will throw more than a few surprises your way.

I now understand the following passage of scripture more profoundly than ever:

“Then Jesus told them, ‘A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family.’ 5 And because of their unbelief, he couldn’t do any miracles among them except to place his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.”   Mark 6-4-6

While I do not consider myself to be a prophet, I humbling realize that if Jesus could accomplish very little in his hometown, that I as a follower should not be surprised when I experience the same.  Throughout this journey it has seemed that I have been able to reach out to, help, comfort and be comforted by those who were not closely connected to me. Certainly not a situation that anyone would willing choose. 

To summarize the lessons of the past decade, I end with this quote by Linda Lee  Elrod: 

I have learned:

"SUCCESS is many things to many people, but if you have the courage to be true to yourself, to live up to your potential, to be fair with others, and always look for the good in any situation... Then you will have been the best you can be, and there's no greater success than that."