Friday, December 14, 2012

You're humiliated. But you don't have to be defeated.

A man walked into a movie theatre and shot and killed a dozen people. A professional football player used a gun to murder the mother of his child. A young man walked into a mall in Oregon and fired a gun into crowds, killing two people. A man walked into an elementary school and begins shooting, killing dozens, many of them children. All this happened in the last few weeks - and one happened today.

And years ago, there was a high school in Paducah, Kentucky, and another school, in Stamps, Arkansas, and another in Jonesboro, Arkansas, and another in Springfield, Illinois, and another in Littleton, Colorado, and a university in Virginia, where young men who felt humiliated or persecuted decided to use guns to murder.

Yet, this is not a blog about gun control. It's a blog about humiliation. About being a loser. And about not using violence as a response to that.

It's an awful thing to be humiliated: to find out the person you love actually loves someone else, to be fired from your job, to be rejected by anyone, to miss an opportunity you've worked hard for and dreamed of most of your life, or to be belittled by anyone. It hurts. It burns. The pain is real. Your heart may race, your head or stomach may ache, you might feel like your body will explode, and/or you may feel like you are at a pit of darkness so deep you might never get out.

It can also hurt to hear your values belittled, your beliefs made fun of, your world view satirized, your culture mocked. It can hurt to know others are talking, smiling, even laughing, at YOU. The pain from being insulted can hurt like repeated slaps in the face or punches in the belly, no question. It can make you feel persecuted and victimized. It hurts. It burns. The pain is real.

I know what it's like to be humiliated. I've had my dignity publicly injured. I've felt like a loser - and known others have thought the same thing about me in those dark times. I've been alienated from people I liked because of the words and actions of others. I know that very, very real pain of humiliation. I've felt it many times. I bet I feel it again.

Being humiliated, insulted, offended, rejected, alienated - the pain you experience from that is real. And to feel anger, even rage, as a result of humiliation or rejection is completely natural. But to use those feelings to justify physical violence against anyone is an insult to humanity and does nothing - NOTHING - to improve your situation. To use those feelings to justify shooting up a school or a mall or a workplace or anywhere, to justify killing "infidels", to justify murder - it's reprehensible and far worse than any humiliation you have felt.

I've never been fond of the saying, No one can humiliate you without your consent. I think it denies the very real pain caused by very real words and actions, and creates an expectation that we all have to be Buddha or Jesus Christ or some other super hero. You are human and, therefore, you are going to feel humiliation and anger. That's natural. You are not a super hero.

A better saying, IMO, is that No one can defeat you without your consent. I have been humiliated, insulted, dishonored - but I have never been defeated.

A story that changed my life regarding humiliation was a parable about Gautama Buddha, the man that most in the West simply refer to as Buddha. The story: a man was constantly insulting and mocking Gautama Buddha, who, at last, said to him, "If you buy a gift for someone, and that person does not take it, if that person refuses the gift, to whom does the gift belong?" The man answered, "It would belong to me, because I bought the gift, I am the original owner." Gautama Buddha smiled and said, "That is correct. And it is exactly the same with your insults. If you become angry with me and I do not get insulted, then the insults fall back on you. All you have done is hurt yourself."

I love that story. What I love about it is the power transfer - Gautama Buddha says that the person that refuses the "gift" of an insult becomes more powerful, better, than the person offering the insult. You insult me - and I win!

If you are a Christian, then consider what Jesus said, as quoted in Matthew 5:38 - 40: "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well."

I never really understood that story, not really, until I heard the Buddhist story. I thought it was a blessed are the meek example, but in fact, I think it's another there is power in refusing an insult story. That makes me like it much better.

Another story I like about how to handle insults is regarding Stoics, from this blog:
    The Stoics actually welcomed insults, for two reasons.

    The first is best summed up by these words from Antisthenes (who was technically a Cynic and not a Stoic, but I digress)…

    “Pay attention to your enemies, for they are the first to discover your mistakes.”

    The idea here is that insults can act as signposts. If there’s a grain of truth to them, then they help point us in the direction of our faults and insecurities, and we can get busy working on those and improving ourselves.

    The second reason Stoics welcomed insults was because they believed they helped build a kind of immunity against criticism. A man who has been criticized regularly in the past is likely to shrug off future insults as no big deal, while a man who has never been insulted before will surely be left reeling when someone first likens him to donkey appendage.

And then there is the dignity and honor I've seen in so many people that have survived rape and torture. People who have been through unspeakable horrors, far worse than merely being insulted, and have no sign of defeat in their eyes - if they can do it, can't I? Can't you?

None of this is to say that you should have no response at all to insults. When someone uses language that I find demeaning, I will say to them something along the lines of, "That is demeaning. That is hateful. That is wrong." I'll never become unoffendable. But I hope that I always remember that I can choose my reaction to what is happening to me - and that choice can be what's best for me and have nothing to do with violence whatsoever. I work to channel my rage in such a way that I don't make the situation worse. I try to think, "What's best for me, now and in the future, regarding how I respond to this?" That reaction may words. That reaction may be to remove that person from my life. That reaction may be start a petition or otherwise bring a spotlight to what has happened. That reaction may be to go far away, on a journey where I can get perspective regarding what has happened. Whatever the reaction will be, it will be what's best for me - and, therefore, will never be about violence.

What about revenge? For me, the most important thing is that I recover, that I work to find my strength and dignity again, something that is ALWAYS possible - not that I hurt the person as much as he or she has hurt me. If I feel the need for revenge - and, yes, sometimes, I do - then my recovery and later success is revenge enough. For me to know that I have been triumphant over assaults on my dignity is my revenge - it is enough for me. I also believe being an asshole brings more assholes into your life - when Miss Celie says at near the end of the movie The Color Purple, "Everything you done to me already been done to you," I get that. I believe it about all the assholes of the world.

When you lose, when you are rejected, when you are humiliated, you will lose some friends - perhaps many. That's okay - ultimately, it is a gift to be rid of those people, because you don't want people like that in your life. The good news is that those that remain will be real friends. And if no one remains, then you get to use your new-found people assessment skills to make new, better friends who would never abandon you because you have been rejected in a job or a lover or American Idol.

If you want to hurt others, to shoot, to kill, it's time to get professional help. If you feel despondent, that there is no hope for your situation, that things will never get better, it's time to get professional help. There are people that are ready to talk to you, to hear your story, and to get you the help you need. Go to Google and type in the name of your city (if it's relatively large) or the name of your county or the name of your state, and the word crisis hotline. Do it again with the words crisis counseling. Most of what you will find will be suicide hotlines. If that's all you can find, even if you aren't feeling suicidal, call such. Say anything that provides information on the seriousness of your situation. An example,

"I am feeling a huge amount of rage. I want to hurt someone. Help me."


"I am so upset I'm shaking all over. I can't stand this feeling. I'm desperate. I need help, right away."

You may need ongoing counseling. You may need medication. Any of those activities are better than violence.

There is no honor in violence in response to feeling insulted or persecuted - none at all. It might make you feel better for a few seconds, but it will provide you no peace nor satisfaction long term. And to kill yourself afterwards just makes you a coward, worthy of all the insults that will be hurled your way in death.

If it takes selling all your worldly possessions and taking off with a backpack and tent, or a car and small trailer, and coloring your hair and changing your name and rejecting every person you've ever known up to this point in your life in order for you to completely distance yourself from the humiliation, in order for you to be a new person, a different person - do it. The stars won't judge you. The trees won't judge you. Lakes and rivers and streams won't judge you.

No one can defeat you without your consent. Don't be defeated. Go live, flourish, and pursue joy. That is always the wonderfully selfish and better choice than violence.

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