We are living in a culture of shame, and it's not good for us - culturally or personally. But is there really a better way?
There is, and that better way is 'love.'
This is complicated because love is one of those things that becomes twisted in a culture of shame and is used as a weapon of shame. On Monday, we talked about a commercial in which every word is a word of affirmation, a positive-sounding commercial that sounds like it's praising persons for their choices, but in actuality, it's a tool meant to shame those it cannot affirm into becoming those that they can. It's meant to make those it doesn't approve of sound selfish and ignorant, hoping to push them toward conforming to the standard that the commercial has adopted as 'good.'
In a culture in which we are bombarded by these messages all the time, it's difficult to figure out how to love. When the persons around us are always listening more to what isn't said or to what's implied but left out, love is hard. Love speaks plainly; it has no room for duplicity, but in a culture like ours, everything is duplicitous and so even love becomes a contortion of itself and sometimes, it even comes to look like hate.
I think one of the ways that we combat this is by remembering where love starts. Shame starts by dividing the world. It divides the world into good and bad, right and wrong, us and them. Shame starts with a standard to be met, and then it goes about judging others on the basis of that standard, whatever it is.
Love is different. Loves starts on common ground, by recognizing the things that all of us have in common. Love doesn't start by trying to figure out who is good or bad, right or wrong, us or them - love starts by establishing that there is a common thread that runs between us all. Love starts at the human level, not at the cultural level, and that permits it to be something that shame never can be: earnest.
It's the earnestness of love that is the game changer. Love truly yearns for the good of all - not for some adopted standard of 'good,' but a holistic wellness that cannot be culturally bound. Love isn't in the business of deciding who is worth our love and who isn't, who is likely to conform by our loving them. Rather, love asks who stands to benefit from love in their lives. Who needs a touch of grace?
The commercial we were talking about affirms those it agrees with; love affirms goodness, whether we agree with the person or not. Love says, "Great job! I'm proud of you!" and doesn't have a side-eye toward everyone it is not right now proud of. Love affirms not on the basis of conformity, but on the basis of inherent dignity. There is no double message in love, only genuine goodwill.
That's because love is so focused on the object of its affection that it doesn't have time to play politics. It doesn't waste its energy looking around at everyone else because it's busy pouring into this person, into this place. Love is so intense in one intimate direction that there is no space for an extra thought to something else. Love is thinking so much about the good right in front of it that for a minute, all the bad around it just seems to fall away. Love is pure like that.
Love is just such the coolest thing because it gets us out of all of these traps that the world has set, particularly the traps it has set in shame. Love knows there is no us and them; there never has been. There has always only ever been an us, and if you start with understanding that the person you're looking at is fundamentally a lot like yourself, that changes the way you engage with them. If the person you're looking at is not selfish or ignorant, but is just as measured and considerate and conflicted as you are, you can't condemn them. You can only have grace.
Love is the better way. It always has been. It always will be. Jesus not only said it; He proved it by the way that He lived in love.
That doesn't mean it's easy. Especially not in a culture so built on shame that it's always looking for the double message. The world will not simply accept love; it doesn't know how. But that shouldn't keep us from loving them anyway.
It's the only way we break this cycle of shame.