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The Most Stupid Girl Ever

24/01/2017 14:15

Humiliation.

The word provokes all sorts of thoughts and feelings.

It ranges from immature playground insults and cursing ourselves when we make a simple mistake, to "locker room talk" and all manner of other crimes against humanity.

Humiliation doesn't discriminate.

It can be felt by the rich and poor, the powerful and weak, the young and old. Anyone can dish it out. Anyone can be a victim. Take my five-year-old daughter for example. She wrote me a letter today. It said, "Dear daddy, I am stupid gerl ever".

About two minutes before she wrote it I had reprimanded her for chasing her younger sister around the house to the point where she became terrified and burst into tears.

"Can't you see she's crying?", I said. "Can't you see she's scared?"

She looked down at her feet and disappeared. Two minutes later she reappeared and gave me that letter.

My heart sank.

Even though I hadn't intended it, my words had ended up with her thinking she was stupid - a form of humiliation. It struck a painful chord with me because it reminded me of how I used to think about myself when I was depressed.

For the best part of twenty years - on and off - I tortured myself by telling myself I wasn't good enough, and if I didn't do everything perfectly, it would all come crashing down around me. Where that belief came from was, in part, connected to my father.

But don't go thinking he's to blame.

This isn't about him. I only mention him because, when my daughter handed me her letter, it reminded me how influential parents and their words can be.

No matter the intention, a care giver's words can be taken much more seriously than the words of others. It also reminded me that, regardless of the speaker's relationship to the listener, words can always be interpreted in unintended ways and lead to unexpected, undesirable outcomes.

The speaker's good intentions too, can fall by the wayside and get lost in translation as soon as the words enter the listener's mind.

Humiliation isn't restricted to the confines of the mind.

It comes in very deliberate, public form and on a global scale too: Nazis forcing Jewish people to wear the star of David on their arm, for instance. Or Trump mocking a disabled person.

I say "people" and "person" because of course that's what they are. They may be other things, like a reporter, mother, doctor or florist, but we are all a person first. Nazis and Trump included.

We like to forget other people - our so-called enemies - are human in the rush to humiliate, denigrate, segregate, and even exterminate "them".

There are none so blind as those who choose not to see.

The antidote?

The potential to humiliate cannot be cured. We all have the power to behave in a whole host of ways which cannot be taken away like a battery from a toy. What we can do is limit the chances of our wanting to use that power for ill.

By remembering that we are human and what it means: we have at least as much potential for doing good, as doing harm.

By believing there are other ways to respond to humiliation, other than retaliation. Meryl Streep, for instance, didn't humiliate Trump in return. She merely stated how his mocking affected her, and the negative consequences of someone in his position behaving in that manner.

We always have a choice.

We may not like the options on offer, or the odds, but we always have a choice. Take for instance my choosing to believe I wasn't good enough unless I did everything perfectly.

Like an alcoholic, I had to admit the problem before I could do anything about it. Once the door of denial had been unlocked, I was able to walk through and challenge the basis of that belief.

In time, I saw how it lacked any truth.

In time, I saw the alternatives: good was good enough. OK was good enough. Even bad was good enough once in a while.

When I chose to believe there were alternatives, and started using them, I stopped humiliating myself with impossible expectations and fault-finding. That doesn't mean I don't aim for perfect now. I do, but not in everything.

Some things are better off imperfect.

And when I slip up, and the fault-finding rears its ugly head again, I read this poem to remind myself how I felt when I broke the cycle last time.

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