Monday Mitzvahs: No More Shaming

Today, I have a couple special “guests”.  You know Oprah, but do you know Brene Brown?  If you do you are lucky, as I am to have learned from her.  If you haven’t met her yet, allow me the pleasure of introducing you.  Dr. Brene Brown is a shame researcher and author of several exceptional books.  Please take a couple minutes (less than four to be precise) and then we’ll talk about it.

Note: Brene uses teachers in this illustration about shame, but she did NOT intend it to be a slam on teachers, whom she has great respect for.  In a blog post yesterday, she apologized for the misunderstanding.

This video is so important, not only for the obvious message, but because there is a valuable message here for parents about child abuse.  If you have ever wondered why abused children don’t tell, Brene just gave you the answer: shame.  If the child feels shame–and abuse is very shaming–then they won’t tell.  It really is that simple and that powerful.  Shame is crippling.  Shame is suffocating.  And it is so unnecessary.

I think Brene also offers a very powerful solution here as well.  No name calling–not even to yourself.  I don’t use negative names with my children and I don’t think any of my friends do either, but I suspect we are all guilty of shaming ourselves.  I believe (and deeply hope) that if we give our children a home without shame, they will be more shame-resilient as they move into the world–more likely to experience humiliation (rather than shame) and therefore healthy anger–which will be a great protection for them.

So today’s mitvzah is to stop the shaming.  Be gentle with yourself.  Who knows but you how hard you try?  And how much you care your family and friends?  So give yourself the gift of kindness.

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Monday Mitzvahs: 3 Keys to Avoid Saying the WRONG Thing

We’ve all done it, someone is hurting and we say the wrong thing.  Many of us have been on the other side too, having the wrong thing said to us.  When sad things happen, and life is full of them, sometimes it is hard to know what to say.

This happens most commonly with funerals and serious illnesses such as: cancer.  And it gets even more complicated with less common tragedies such as suicide, and sexual abuse/assault.  When faced with these situations too often we either say the wrong thing or say nothing at all.

EmpathyThere is a reason for this.  Empathy is a skill that does not come naturally to most people, but you can learn it.  You have to work at it though.  Brene Brown taught me this in her book, I Thought It Was Just Me.  She talks about how to cultivate empathy.  Apparently colleges try to teach this skill to people majoring in psychology and social work.

This explains something my therapist said once.  I had asked him why it felt like only the “professional people in my life knew how to help” and by this I meant show empathy.  (These have been a few exceptions of course).  He said, “Maybe that is why they are the professionals.”   I couldn’t figure out the connection.  To me empathy is a way of showing love…I thought everyone could do it if they just tried…but apparently I was wrong.

So if you feel like you are lacking in the empathy department (and most people are unless they have consciously cultivated this skill), I have a few pointers to get you started.    I know you are busy so here are some suggestions that take various degrees of commitment.

First, if you need help now here’s the key in a nutshell: don’t talk, just listen.  Yes, it really is that simple.  Too often people say the wrong thing because they start trying to solve a problem when they don’t really know what the problem is because they haven’t listened.  One of my favorite things about therapy is that my therapist doesn’t try to solve my problems for me.  He listens, and he asks questions to help me find my own answers.

Key #1 When you don’t know what to say, just listen.

The next step is more complicated, but so worth it to learn.  This tip comes from a LA Times Op Ed piece, brilliantly said.  In “How Not to Say the Wrong Thing”  Susan Silk and Barry Goldman explain the “Ring Theory”.   As they explain in the Op Ed piece, you write the name of the person who is suffering and then put a circle around it.  Then write the name of someone close to them,  i.e. a spouse, parent or child write that and circle it to from an outer ring.  Keep going until you find the appropriate ring to place yourself.

Then Comfort IN, Dump OUT….if you are talking to someone in a circle smaller than yours, you mostly just listen.  They get to vent, scream, cry, and you listen.  If you also need to vent, scream and cry, do it with someone in a larger ring than your own.  Simple but so powerful.  I highly recommend you click on the link and read the article from the LA Times.

Key #2 Ring Theory: Comfort IN, Dump OUT

Finally, if you really want to help others, and help yourself as well, read everything Brene Brown has ever written.  Ok, I’m teasing.  Seriously, start with  I Thought It was Just Me.  She discusses empathy as part of shame resilience.  If I could, I would buy a copy of this book for everyone I know.  I believe if everyone read it and applied it we would not only be happier, but we would be better parents, spouses and friends.  Seriously, it’s powerful stuff.

Key #3 Cultivate the talent of empathy

Learning to truly listen and show empathy may be the best acts of kindness you will ever give.


Monday Mitzvah’s were inspired by Linda Cohen.  Check out her page HERE  or read her book 1000 Mitzvah’s

Monday Mitzvahs: Service with a Smile

Photo credit Petr Kratochvil Brene Brown, in her book Daring Greatly, talks about a scenario that some of us will recognize.  She went to have her nails done at a shop she has been frequenting for years.  Small talk over the span of this time has added up and she knows the women in the shop by name, and they know hers.  They know about one another’s families etc.

One day she saw a couple of women come into have their nails done.  They  were on their cell phones.   They answered the manicurist’s questions with head nods or pointing, and never for a moment got off their phones.  Brene was stunned by the rudeness and asked the manicurist about it.  She got tears in her eyes and said, “Yes a lot of people are like that; it’s like we are not even here.”

This story really made me think.  Is our culture getting so involved in technology that we are forgetting the value of connecting with the person in front of us?  I’ll leave that for you to decide, but I hope not.

I am reminded of when I was in Venezuela as a missionary.  As a greenie, I was overwhelmed and disheartened by the poverty.  So great was the need, and I had no way to fulfill it.  It was heartbreaking.  When I asked for advice, I was told, “You just harden your heart to it after a while.”  Unacceptable.

Then I read something by Mother Theresa.  I can’t find the quote, I have tried, but it was something about how sometimes people are hungry, naked or cold yet they lack not food and clothes– but human kindness, love…the warmth of a smile.  That quote from Mother Theresa was for me like waking up from a bad dream. . .there was something I could do.  I couldn’t solve their financial woes, but I could smile, I could say hello, I could genuinely love people.

Taking time simply to pay attention to the person in front of you, whether it is a stranger or a friend…taking time to smile and be in the moment.  That is truly a small act of kindness, but a powerful one.


Photo Attribution: Petr Kratochvil

Monday Mitzvahs was inspired by Linda Cohen and her book 1000 Mitzvahs.  You can learn more about her here on facebook.  Or read her book!