We’re all works in progress. Right now, feverish and bronchially challenged, I am working on ridding myself of this parasitic virus which claims squatter’s rights to the lining of my lungs and the lion’s share of my energy, the little fucker. In my delirium, an idea of late has loomed large enough to allow an assembly of some words in some order; maybe I’ll wait to edit when I’m well and will laugh and laugh.
I have a tendency to categorize people and dig in my heels to make them stay in that category. I want ALL KINDS of room for others to allow me to change, to make mistakes, and to learn from them, but grant very little space to others to evolve. I know I’m not alone in this sloppy way of thinking, and I try to be conscious of it. It’s human, I know– but it’s not humane.
When I was going to school for different types of counseling we learned to avoid labeling people by their varying afflictions– so very PC, but, necessary too– someone is not “a schizophrenic,” but rather a person– a whole person, with dark hair, and blue eyes, and a memory of grandma’s pie from childhood, who played the bassoon in high school and had his first girlfriend sophomore year in college, and who found out that same year that he suffered from schizophrenia. But something puritanical in us wants to make sure an addict is continually reminded of the past, of his affliction, and shamed for it too. “I know exactly who and what you are, you opioid addict! Hide the valuables, Clyde!” We want to keep that person in the small box of shame. In that vein, an ex-smoker is not a smoker in recovery– I am an ex-smoker, but I would never define myself by the absence of cigarettes. But other addicts remain labelled addicts for a lifetime.
The dryly funny Jon Ronson is writing a book on public shaming, the fun new game to play on the internet. Public shaming, Ronson says, was outlawed as inhumane beyond Colonial times because it attempts to permanently define us by our worst aspects. Attempts to PERMANENTLY DEFINE US BY OUR WORST ASPECTS. Puts each of us in a classification and throws away the key. It doesn’t matter that last week you rescued kittens; this week you were caught driving drunk. So now you’re a drunk driver, no longer a kitty-hero. We want people to stay within our own (changing) definition of what’s “normal,” what’s “acceptable” (this sin, not that one– or, no, that one is now OK provided it meets criteria 2-B and 192, see codicil A). When people don’t, we make them hurt for it. We label them, forget them, avert our eyes, secretly ashamed not of them or for them but of ourselves, fearing most the very thing we suspect exists in us.
People are amalgams, shape-shifters, changelings. Ask any college freshman at Christmas break and he will tell you what we all need to hear, again and again: “I’ve changed.” Sure, there is a core, you can see the six year old girl in the 93 year old’s rheumy eyes, but the thick nougat outside the core compresses and changes color, gets smashed and extruded by life experiences, is kneaded and proofed and allowed to rise. ALLOWED. That’s what we must do for each other– give permission to one another to surprise, disappoint, go crazy, become unrecognizable–and then revert back. See? See me? It’s the same core– the same eyes you knew. We have been under construction, and will continue to be so for some time. We are not just one thing, we are a billion things, a mosaic of good things and bad, a soupcon of evil, a measure of selfish, bits of nasty and a truck load of trying. Until the last day, we keep trying. In the meantime, excuse the dust.