Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Societal expectations are built on judgement

By William Calhoun via UN Volunteers

Our lives are filled with stories—stories we hear from our parents, from our teachers and professors, from our friends and colleagues, and from ourselves.

We are led to believe that these stories about us are true, and that someone in a position of authority over us has authority over all things—the ability to judge us and evaluate our lives. But like any story, none of this is actually true.

For example, two people can watch a football game and talk about it afterwards, but in very different ways. Sure, they’ll tell you who won and who lost—that is what is so—but they will also tell you who played the best, who was the most impressive, and whether or not it was an interesting game. All of these are part of a story, and says more about the person telling it than what actually happened.

Our control over our lives is limited. But we do have control over how we view our lives, and how we approach difficult situations. What can we do when we are faced with a seemingly insurmountable turn of events?

I graduated college in 2007. Those four years were a wonderful time for me. Campus life was beautiful, I had many close friends, and my experience was intellectually fulfilling. It was a welcome change from high school—I finally met people I could relate to. I had confidence in my future. I was also utterly unprepared for what life would hand me.

I moved home in 2008 and found some low-key jobs that helped me save a bit of money. I quit my job toward the end of the summer, and then the Great Recession hit. Stores closed, jobs disappeared, and I was unable to find work. My affluent hometown intensified feelings of shame that accompanied my lack of a job. I didn’t think it could get worse. It did. 

I remember waking up while it was dark—it must have been midnight or possibly a bit later. I felt like someone had my head in a vise and was popping my left eyeball out of its socket. I was rushed to the emergency room and strapped to a chair. I was held in place, my eye open, my body at an angle.  I had never experienced physical pain so intense and overpowering. It was torture. I wept. 

The diagnosis was narrow-eye Glaucoma—a hereditary condition that tends to affect older people. I was 23, and had no family history of the disease. The chances of me getting it were astronomically unlikely, but there I was. Over the following months I received shots in my eye, laser treatment, and eventually had tubes installed in the back of my eye to reduce the pressure. 

I was physically limited and spent most of my time in my house (usually in bed) on strong painkillers. I gained weight—about 70 pounds, enough to make me obese. Isolated, in pain, permanently blind in my left eye and burdened with the knowledge that my plans for the future were on hold indefinitely, I fell into a deep depression.

I knew I had a difficult road ahead for recovery. I noticed that people around me made fun of me. Nurses infantilized me, saying things like “Do you need your mommy right now?” Old “friends” from high school slighted me with put-downs like “You’ve literally lost focus!” 

I was also shamed for my weight gain and lazy eye. I especially remember one encounter. I called urgent care after feeling some pain. I walked into the office and the doctor motioned for me to sit. He told me to close my left eye. I put my hand over my eye, and he began waving his hand in front of me, and said sarcastically “Can you see this?” He growled, “Don’t come crying to us when you don’t pay attention to what we’ve said.” He patted my stomach. “You’re a big boy now.”

Much of my depression and loss of confidence came from the terrible shaming experience of being overweight, unemployed, depressed, socially isolated, and living with my mother. In my Silicon Valley hometown, with such a premium placed on professional and social success, few people were willing to be understanding about my situation.

We all have a need for social belonging—this is a basic psychological need that is built-in by evolution. We want to feel accepted by others. The brain processes and experiences social rejection the same as it does physical pain. I had not met expectations to be successful, as defined by my community. I felt ostracized and worthless. But I eventually decided to reject these feelings.

It certainly hurt to be judged by society. But what is society? What does it mean to be judged, and how meaningful are those judgments? Whose opinion matters in the end?

Society’s “expectations” are a myth. Expectations of who we should be and what we should be doing vary across cultures and time periods and can be extremely different from each other. They are simply stories, which only have as much power as we decide to give them.

Acknowledging that we have been hurt is healthy realism. But hurtful stories, created by “society”, are nothing we have to give in to. There are things we have and do (like money and a job) but there is also being, which is separate from having or doing.

Being cannot be put into words and is not subject to any outside judgment or evaluation. Recognizing this means freeing ourselves from any social “expectations.”

Once we make the decision to know ourselves—to recognize ourselves as bigger than the sum of our parts and definitely bigger than any social expectation—we can create a story about ourselves that is empowering instead of shaming.

I looked at my experience as a victory, and a very private discovery of something greater than myself. This gave me the strength to ignore the stories of shame and get back on track.

Since my physical recovery, I have found work as a writer and editor, interned in northwestern Ireland, and completed a Persian language course at the University of Wisconsin.

The truth about shame is that it is a cruel lie. We can reject it and embrace our true selves—our great selves.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Shame is a distorted mirror in our society

By Isil E. Celik via UN Volunteers

I have had a wondrous weekend with the ones that I am in love with. We wandered around days and nights smoothly in a beautiful world, then closed the door and slept together feeling secure.

Monday morning I learnt that during the weekend the head of the Diyarbakır (Amed) Bar Association Tahir Elçi, a lawyer of Kurdish origin, a human rights activist was shot dead in Turkey. He has been receiving death threats and he was facing a prison sentence for supporting Kurdish rebels.

The Kurdish movement in Turkey is the same age as me. The attacks against journalists, activist, against people who fight for freedom, equality and peace is far older. On Monday morning after I read Elçi’s death in the newspapers, I read more about his life. I regretted that I didn’t know much about him before he was killed.

This is neither the first, nor probably the last time we feel pain because of losing someone, yet this time something is different for me because now I am in love and I feel everything subtle and more intense. As usual, I felt ashamed of being a citizen of a country that lets those who seek peace get killed. I felt ashamed because we are still living in a world where people are shot dead because they want a peaceful world for all.

Then, under flying autumn leaves and the first rays of winter sun I wondered if I should have felt shame because of being in love and joyful while many others are suffering. Millions of refugees are searching new territories to escape from wars, the nations of the world are negotiating on devastating effects of global capitalism on our -so far- only possible environment in a democracy capital, which is actually in a state of emergency because of terrorist attacks that diffuse more and more fear tearing people apart. But how can we even think about feeling shame because of love and joy?

The mirror which shame gives us to see how we look like is a distorting mirror. The more we affirm shame the more we feel shameful. Yet shame is a meaningless feeling that feeds on us being too much concerned about our images and about ourselves. It is about learned expectations that reduce the world into images that we think we are condemned to. It is what pushes us to little corners where we are more and more swallowed by a narcissistic vortex where the more we feel shame the more we get separated from each other.

Shame is difficult to share, but it loses its meaning, its power on us and disappears when it is shared. Maybe that is why it is difficult to feel shame when we are in love. Because in love we experience the world beyond our own selves and we enter into the domain of collective. We accept and feel accepted, which means there is no place for shame in love.

Within the alienating and separating societies we live in it is impossible to not to feel shame. But it is also possible to get over it and learn from it by sharing it. And, we should do so because in the coming decades, humanity will continue facing an unprecedented incertitude about the future. We do not know if we can find solutions to the complex problems that have been effecting radically our environment and our cognition leading us seemingly to new conflicts and wars. 

It seems like to communicate the vast knowledge we acquired so far on behalf of life is the only thing to resist with. This means that we should shift from “I” to “Us”, from “Shame” to “Share” because if there is a way out we can’t make it alone.

Meaning is constructed collectively and shame divides us apart into lonely corners. To share lets us stand together for a meaningful world. If you ever feel shame because of anything just share it. Future is about #SharingNotShaming

About Isil

My name is Isil E. Celik. I am from Turkey and I live in Japan. I am majored in Philosophy and I am an art curator. I have been conducting PhD research on art management about art practices of marginalized people, lately focusing on sex workers.

Monday, 11 April 2016

My Body is Model Perfect.

By Moore Lione, SAFIGI Volunteer

As a model I have had to deal with a lot of rejections and the feeling of shames. Some time this year I had a runway fashion show to do.  The event was a three day fashion show but I had five days to rehearse and do dress fitting for the designers.

After four days of rehearsal and dress fitting, guess how many designers I had to "walk" for? None. Not even ONE. Reasons;  my butt was too big,  my breast was too big. None of the available designers was ready to put their designs on me.

I felt so ashamed, my friends were like ‘you don't need this, you are a beautiful woman.’  I understand they were coming from a place of care and love, I was coming from a place of passion for the fashion.

I almost gave up but you see the said event was a very big show and walking its runway I knew will put me on the international modeling stage and I really wanted that. So I decided to come for the last day of rehearsal.

We waited for the designers the whole day; we were informed they will be coming in straight from the airport. At about 7pm in the night, "no show" for the designers.  We were asked to go home and rest for the next event.  

And those of us who didn't get any designers to walk for, we were asked to come and watch the show if we wanted to. Well I wanted to walk in one especially this one.
As we were about to leave one of the organizers announced the arrival of the last group of designers. At this point I thought to myself to let me try my Luck.

Well, even I didn't believe what happened... the designers couldn't get enough of me.  One designer had artificial breasts and buttocks for the models.  The very same reason I had not been booked one designer so far as they stated "my body type was just not right" for runway, one designer had told me. Look at me now, will you.

This particular designer let me wear four designs for him.  He was like "I came to Africa so I make clothes for the African body. Some of the designers who we were told we couldn’t walk the runway for their designs, showed up on the morning of the fashion show and the story was different.

At the end of day one of the 3-day fashion show, I had more than enough designers than I could handle. I guess want they say is true "Be careful what you wish for you might just get it." 
Some of the girls who would not talk to me earlier on now wanted to take pictures with me. LOL.

The moral of this story of my life is this.  Never be discouraged,  dream and dream big, then wake up and make it happen for you and don't forget... don't ever let anyone make you feel ashamed of your body.

We are simply # SharingNotshaming

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Confronting Superfluous Societal Taboos

By Isha Gupta, via St. George School.

As everyone has noticed at some point, there are certain issues that people are cautious about when talking casually. Physical appearances, ethnicity, gender, mental aptitude, etc. But the one that has struck me most throughout my life is the inherent apprehension in society to talk about skin colour. I wonder if these taboos are really still necessary?
When I was 6 years old, I was on a field trip into the city and our class stopped by a café to buy some ice cream. I remember when one of my friends, scrutinizing all the different flavours, remarked ever so innocuously how I corresponded to the chocolate-brownie flavour, when she herself was better matched with vanilla. We were both surprised when our teacher somewhat severely told her that she couldn’t say things like that- after all, it was true.
When I was 8, my parents took me out for a Saturday-evening dinner to a fancy restaurant where I made friends with a girl of my age. We played amicably enough, until she threw me with the unanticipated observation: ‘But you have dark skin! That means you couldn’t be in the Wonderland!’ 
Upon closer investigation, I discovered ‘Wonderland’ was a place in one of her favourite storybooks, and sure enough, each and every illustrated character was portrayed as white as the paper itself. I remember holding my own arm up to the pages and agreeing that yes, I wasn’t depicted in this story. I was surprised when her parents sitting nearby told her off very sternly for her remark, apologising profusely on her behalf while continuously shaking their heads at their child. I was perplexed- had she meant it as an offence? Was it… bad to be brown? Is that why her parents did not allow her to mention it?
Recently at a basketball game I played in, when we put our fists together for the pre-game cheer, one of the girls suddenly noticed ‘Oh, the ring of arms looks so cool, especially with all the different colours…’ She trailed off, smiling uncertainly, and then quickly said sorry. Sorry? I was surprised- did she expect someone to be affronted? Clearly all our arms were different colours. My coach quickly brushed it over and began discussing game tactics.
All through my life, I’ve found talking about skin colour is always a slight taboo, but especially drawing attention to someone’s darker colour: these are just a few incidents that have brought this to light. It is not one particular instance where I felt shamed for being a darker colour than people around me as much as it is an in-built attitude that I am continuously faced with. If skin tone is commented on even in the most harmless, inoffensive way, people raise their eyebrows, smile somewhat nervously and steer the conversation off into another direction. 
I understand now that due to history, it’s a sensitive topic and people are particularly careful not to cause offence in that regard. But when growing up, this ingrained trait in society would leave me with an unspoken, lingering doubt about whether having darker skin was something lesser, less glorious, something that should not be mentioned in fear of making someone ashamed of their colour.
And that is why I think we should lose the idea that skin colour should not be discussed. Intentionally avoiding the topic is only more awkward, and rather than following the concept of embracing differences it imbibes an approach that insists on ignoring them, as though there is something disconcerting about the topic.
In the effort to convey how our skin tone does not define us; to promote equality; to forget the discrimination in the past, I notice how people are extremely hesitant to ever talk about differences in skin colour in day-to-day conversation. This in fact has always had the reverse effect of making me feel uncomfortable, or even prompting the idea that I should be abashed or conscious of the fact that I (as my classmate had said) am the colour of chocolate, even if chocolate is a minority here.
Parents tell their children to just not talk about it, or to be cautious when talking about divisive topics such as complexion, but I’d like to put the idea out there that comments on that theme really would never have bothered me at all, if I hadn’t detected the consistent unease or hesitation that most people I encounter bear on that issue. I am darker. I am brown. I honestly don’t have any problem with that, and in the 21st century I think we can lose the perception that it is unmentionable or off-limits. Accepting differences does not amount to pretending they don’t exist- that only sets up a backdrop leading to unintentional shaming.
That said, these issues only bothered me when I was much younger. As I’ve grown I’ve seen more Obamas, Oprah Winfrey’s, Halle Berry’s and Beyoncé’s do amazing things in so many different fields. I have enough perspective now to see I never ought to have been so conscious and sensitive in all these little situations in the first place! Still, maybe this is something that could change in society in the future, so that fewer little kids are left to wonder about the unsaid implications of dodging around such topics.
Let’s lose the superfluous taboos.