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. 

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