The Gift of Shame (And the Habit of Justifying Stupidity)

God is so kind to me.  Knowing that I would suffer from writer’s block today (despite a list of potential blog topics and questions to answer), He nudged a reader to send me this list, knowing it would give me an idea of something to write about.

So thanks for that, God.  (and Joe!) :)

Onto the post:

The aforementioned link is to a list of “25 Things I’ve Learned in My Twenties.”  (If you haven’t figured it out by now, us bloggers like these kinds of “list” posts.  They’re almost as simple to write as they are to read.  Plus, they’re fun!)  Posts like these serve as sort of cautionary lists of advice while at the same time patting the reader on the back, as if to say, “what you’re going through is completely normal experience.  We’ve all been there (or will be there).  But if you haven’t been there yet, here’s what you can do to make it a little easier on yourself.”

Anyway, a casual glance at the list will likely be enough for you to figure out that I don’t agree with everything on it (To be fair: I don’t disagree with absolutely everything on it, either).  There are things like drugs being normal and fine so long as they’re not negatively affecting you (because hey, drugs can sometimes be a good and productive use of your time, right?), or getting wasted and puking in public (everyone does it, so you should too!), and sleeping around (the solid foundation of any healthy and fulfilling lifestyle).  All of these are normal experiences in your twenties, so don’t worry about it.

Okay, fine.  I can’t address every one of these, but the ability to reason that you’ve hopefully developed by the time you’ve hit your twenties ought to be enough to give you a hint that some of the items on this list are not exactly the best advice to be following.

However, in my opinion, number 12 is worth addressing specifically, because I think it’s a lie we might be tempted as young people to tell ourselves quite frequently:

12. You’re going to betray your convictions. You’re going to feel shame. You’re going to continue to put yourself in situations that aren’t good for you. And then, slowly but surely, it will become less frequent. It might not ever go away completely but it won’t be as bad. In the meantime, stop shame spiraling about it. It gets you nowhere.

For starters: Why are we considering it a given that you’re going to betray your convictions?  Sure, we’re all human and we all make mistakes.  We may very well do things that betray our convictions.  But a surefire way to guarantee that happening is to tell yourself that it’s going to.  By definition, if you have convictions, you should be doing everything in your power to keep them.  If you’re not, then they’re not very strong convictions that you have in the first place.  But then again, maybe that’s the author’s point…

My advice: develop strong convictions before your twenties, so you care so much about them that you wouldn’t dare betray them.

In any case, what he says next is the reason I chose to address this point all on its own:

You’re going to continue to put yourself in situations that aren’t good for you. And then, slowly but surely, it will become less frequent. It might not ever go away completely but it won’t be as bad.

This is just not true.  This is the lie we tell ourselves over and over again so that we won’t feel as bad for doing whatever we’re doing when we know it’s wrong.  “It’s not like I’ll be doing this forever,” we tell ourselves.  But the fact of the matter is: unless you make the conscious decision to stop, and unless you actually make the effort to stop putting yourself in those situations which you recognize are not good for you, then the only thing that will change is that you’ll stop recognizing that the situation is bad for you.

The author even acknowledges this!  “It [the bad that you’re doing] might not ever completely go away,” he says, “but it won’t be as bad.”  Why won’t it be as bad?  What has changed about the situation other than the fact that you’re now more accustomed to putting yourself in a bad situation?  The truth is that it’s still just as bad as it was when you started.  You’ve just (unfortunately) become accustomed to it.

My advice: You might find yourself choosing to place yourself in situations that are bad for you.  Stop it.  Cut it out right now, or you’ll justify it (and other things that are wrong) for the rest of your life.

And praise God when you feel shame for doing something wrong!  It actually does get you somewhere; that’s the point.  You don’t like feeling shame?  Then stop doing whatever you’re doing that’s making you feel shame.  It’s as simple as that.

It’s a sad place to be in when you do something terrible and don’t feel a drop of guilt for it. But regardless of your feelings, if you know you’ve done something wrong, go to confession and then do whatever you can to avoid doing it again.  Making excuses for yourself is what gets you nowhere (except for into deeper problems).

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