Friday Fundamentals: Hope and Social Justice

I just finished reading “Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown, PhD. She describes what is going on in individuals and society at large when we experience shame. When I try to talk about what I have learned from this book, I have had to start out describing what shame really is. I told one person about shame, and their response was that they wish people were more ashamed these days – ashamed of their immoral choices. That is different. What they really wish is that people would feel more guilt about their choices, but because people already feel so ashamed of who they are, their behaviors are justified, sort of. Dr. Brown describes shame as an attack on our identity or inherent sense of worth, and fear of disconnection. Shame is “I AM bad”, while guilt is “I DID something bad that doesn’t align with my values.” Guilt compels people to change and grow.  I am totally paraphrasing any of the information I got from this book, just so you know. If you want direct quotes, read the book. It is awesome.  (By the way, this is a super long post, but I hope you’ll bear with me).

When people experience shame, our “flight or fight”, or natural response is one of three reactions: to move toward it (to please or appease), move away from it (hide, become detached or depressed), or move against it (become aggressive, shame or blame others). You know we see examples of this EVERYWHERE. That is the point of Brene Brown’s message. Shame is a plague on our society. Because of shame, we are isolating ourselves, propagating disconnection. People are afraid of being vulnerable because we believe we live in a world where there are two types of people: kill or be killed.

“Connection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. The power that connection holds in our lives was confirmed when the main concern about connection emerged as the fear of disconnection; the fear that something we have done or failed to do, something about who we are or where we come from, has made us unlovable and unworthy of connection.”
― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

ONE example of shame that resonates with me the most is how all women experience shame around motherhood. All women do. If you have no babies, people start asking when you are going to start, or remind you that you won’t be able to have babies forever. If you have a baby, you’d better be married, that baby had better be flawless, and you had better be perfect. Then people ask when you’re having another. When you have them, you feel pressure about everything: too many kids, too few, you’re too young, you’re too old, they are spaced too close, they are spaced too far apart, you should co-sleep, you should let them cry, your kid should be reading before they can sit up, they are too thin, they are too fat, vaccinate, don’t vaccinate, you’re too permissive, you’re too aggressive, and ultimately you are wasting your college degree and an insult to the female sex. If you can’t have children, you are burdened with shame, and you will never understand what it is really like to be a mom. If you have ever had an abortion, you are in a world of shame (not advocating anything here, I just want to make a point). Everyone can find a reason to say you are a BAD mom. Shame. Most of the time, people who are pointing the finger the loudest are the ones who feel the most ashamed of where they are in this spectrum. I saw a meme recently that said something like, there is no way to be a perfect mom, but there are a million ways to be a good one. That’s good stuff right there.  Check out Brene Brown’s Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto on her website.

“The real questions for parents should be: “Are you engaged? Are you paying attention?” If so, plan to make lots of mistakes and bad decisions. Imperfect parenting moments turn into gifts as our children watch us try to figure out what went wrong and how we can do better next time. The mandate is not to be perfect and raise happy children. Perfection doesn’t exist, and I’ve found what makes children happy doesn’t always prepare them to be courageous, engaged adults.”
― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

I took a personality psychology class during my undergraduate studies, and we discussed the plague of personifying characteristics as inherent flaws rather than simple choices. Think of that last time someone cut you off. Did you think, “boy, that was rude. Didn’t they see me here? Maybe they did not learn how to drive properly” Or did you think, “what a jerk!” and go the rest of your trip driving offensively because the road is full of jerks, essentially becoming one yourself.  In shame culture, we attribute our choices to who we are, rather than simply our process of learning and growth that is naturally fraught with mistakes.

“When I look at narcissism through the vulnerability lens, I see the shame-based fear of being ordinary. I see the fear of never feeling extraordinary enough to be noticed, to be lovable, to belong, or to cultivate a sense of purpose.”
― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

If we consider Erik Erikson’s stages of psychological development, we go through a phase where we either experience autonomy, or shame and doubt.  If you never experience true autonomy (self-efficacy), you get stuck in that phase.

We all have something to gripe about. All of it, very real. Sexism, racism, class-ism, ageism, sexuality, level of education or the type of work you do, religiosity vs. atheism, political views, parenthood, single vs. married, fat vs. skinny, the list goes on and on! We all fall into some category that we identify with, and we can find someone on the “opposite” side claiming their plight is worse, or more credible. Everyone is fighting over who is the bigger victim rather than owning our story.

Brene Brown says that to conquer shame we have to own our story so that we can be the ones to write its ending. In my mind, this means applying the atonement of Jesus Christ, His grace, to repent and make your life new. It means being agents who take accountability for life and choices, having the power to act for yourself, rather than be acted upon. Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explains this concept: “As you and I come to understand and employ the enabling power of the Atonement in our personal lives, we will pray and seek for strength to change our circumstances rather than praying for our circumstances to be changed. We will become agents who act rather than objects that are acted upon (see 2 Nephi 2:14)” ( “The Atonement and the Journey of Mortality“)

Dr. Brown says the antidote, or the supernatural response to shame is empathy and connection. Find someone who will commiserate with you and console one another with soothing responses of identification and compassion. I believe the most important connections we can have that create the deepest resilience are our connection with God, and our family and/or ancestors. In the context of what I am saying, a deeper remedy to the problems of our society is hope. What is hope? Hope is a topic Dr. Brown touches of briefly in her book. She says hope is “grit” or “a function of struggle.” The ability to endure discomfort because you have developed strong character. Hope is a learned trait. It is cultivating our capacity to persevere. It takes practice to learn how to endure discomfort, failure, stress, tolerance, delayed gratification, rejection, and fear. People who have hope know who they are, they have self-efficacy, and are resilient to those things that cause pain or discomfort because they can endure it knowing there will be a bright side to it all, or at least an end. Someone who has hope doesn’t let tough things change who they are.  They can enter into a vulnerable situation with hope that they can endure it.

” Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God” (Ether 12:4, The Book of Mormon, emphasis added).

If people had hope in a better world, they would not be insecure when they hear insults, but would let it slide because they can endure a little discomfort. When you have hope, you can act on faith to produce that better world. Faith is an action word that compels us to do something supernatural. Rather than focus on the negative, look for the bright spots.  Rather than fighting the things you disagree with, promote the things you believe in and care about.  If you hope to grow a garden, you act in faith to plant a seed and to water it and nourish it (See Alma 32, The Book of Mormon). If you give up faith that the seed will grow, you will stop nourishing it. You will also lose hope that you will ever have a garden.  You might wonder why you’re experiencing a trial, and perhaps it may simply be that you need a greater measure of hope.

“Sister Burton told Latter-day Saint women that as they move along life’s path, the Lord gives them burdens to carry that they might yoke themselves to Him. ‘Yoking ourselves to Him not only helps us develop the spiritual muscle needed to get us through our current trials but also blesses us with His enabling power, which helps us face the future trials that surely await us.'” (General Auxiliary Presidents Speak to Women About Atonement).

I believe that through hope we have the power to see the world differently, to look for the bright spots, to have hope in a better world! Then, have faith that we can do something about it. We don’t have to all agree with each other, but we can let things slide without it breaking down our character. We can show expressions of love to others who may be ignorant of our plight. We can also seek out those who will understand and have empathy rather than withdraw and become bitter.

“Wholeheartedness. There are many tenets of Wholeheartedness, but at its very core is vulnerability and worthiness; facing uncertainty, exposure, and emotional risks, and knowing that I am enough.”
“Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection.”
― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

“And now I would that ye should be humble, and be submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering; being temperate in all things; being diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times; asking for whatsoever things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal; always returning thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive.
“And see that ye have faith, hope, and charity, and then ye will always abound in good works” (Alma 7:23-24, The Book of Mormon).

“And again, my beloved brethren, I would speak unto you concerning hope. How is it that ye can attain unto faith, save ye shall have hope?
“And what is it that ye shall hope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise.
“Wherefore, if a man have faith he must needs have hope; for without faith there cannot be any hope.
“And again, behold I say unto you that he cannot have faith and hope, save he shall be meek, and lowly of heart.
“If so, his faith and hope is vain, for none is acceptable before God, save the meek and lowly in heart; and if a man be meek and lowly in heart, and confesses by the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ, he must needs have charity; for if he have not charity he is nothing; wherefore he must needs have charity.
“And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—
“But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure” (Moroni 7:40-48, The Book of Mormon).

 

 

Wednesday Wellness: Body Image and the “In Between” Stage

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“It looks like dough,” my sweet daughter observed about my belly fat while we snuggled in my bed this morning.  I don’t blame her.  It really does look like dough, especially when I’m kneading it in my hands like dough.  It isn’t the first time a child has paid me such a compliment.  I was once enlightened by my then six year old niece who looked up at me and said from her vantage point while pointing up at my chest in a figure eight motion, “aunt Jodi, you have big breasts.”  I’m sure it was easy to confuse them with mountains from her perspective (thank you, Shakira for that image.).

I was contemplating the weeks of training it will take to lose my dough belly, not really ready to dive in head first.  I feel like it is taking me longer to heal from this pregnancy, and exercising has left me a lot more sore than I remember getting after a workout.  It wouldn’t be so bad if my clothes actually fit, but buying a wardrobe for this stage would be like accepting it.

I have never been thin.  I probably will never be thin.  I honestly didn’t even know what it meant to exercise until I was almost 25.  Not even when I watched myself pack on fifty pounds on my mission.  I thought dieting would be the solution.  I know now that dieting is only half the solution, and 90% the problem if you’re not doing it right.  I have lost faith in diets, especially after studying their effects on self-efficacy and body image, never mind that they don’t work.  Never diet.  Ever.

This post is not about dieting.  It’s not even about exercising.  I plan to lose the weight, just like I did after my last pregnancy, with discipline and perseverance.  It feels good to sweat, and I can’t begin to describe the vigor of having a strong body, with energy and power to do things without straining myself!  That is why I do it.  I know I will never be thin, but being in shape just feels so right.

My body is a temple.  That is what we ought to know.  That is why we should fight for our health and cleanliness!  My body is a temple.  So why do I tell myself how much I hate it?  Why?

Even with all its flaws, my body is a temple.  It is perfect.  I am blessed to have this body with working limbs to lift by children, eyes that see (even if not perfectly), ears that hear (even after years of playing the drums and going to rock concerts), a nose that smells, and a mouth that tastes and chews amazing food (so excited about Thanksgiving tomorrow).

In this past General Conference, October 2013, Elder Nelson gave a stellar talk about how our choices shape our eternity.  He said this:

“My professional years as a medical doctor gave me a profound respect for the human body. Created by God as a gift to you, it is absolutely amazing! Think of your eyes that see, ears that hear, and fingers that feel all the wondrous things around you. Your brain lets you learn, think, and reason. Your heart pumps tirelessly day and night, almost without your awareness.

“Your body protects itself. Pain comes as a warning that something is wrong and needs attention. Infectious illnesses strike from time to time, and when they do, antibodies are formed that increase your resistance to subsequent infection.

“Your body repairs itself. Cuts and bruises heal. Broken bones can become strong once again. I have cited but a tiny sample of the many amazing God-given qualities of your body” (Decisions for Eternity).

I am determined never to hint to my children that I have poor body image.  I want them to never associate their value, their worthiness, their purpose for love, with their appearance.  When I compliment them on their appearance, I tell them they look clean and smart, or strong and healthy!  I want them to value those traits above any message the world may send about how they should look.  They are perfect!  They have a blank slate.  I will never tell them they have to earn my love (period) by how they look.  Not directly, nor indirectly by how I treat them, how I treat myself, what I say about food, or other people who are overweight.  I tell them treats, and even fast food, are “fun foods” to eat in moderation, and that too much candy will rot their teeth and feed the germs that make them sick.  I try to teach them that nutritious foods help make their bodies healthy and strong, but so do exercise and sleep! I am constantly hugging them and telling them I love them, and I’m trying to hold my tongue when I get impatient with them.

I ought to do the same for myself.

Elder Nelson continues:

“With your body being such a vital part of God’s eternal plan, it is little wonder that the Apostle Paul described it as a “temple of God.” Each time you look in the mirror, see your body as your temple. That truth—refreshed gratefully each day—can positively influence your decisions about how you will care for your body and how you will use it. And those decisions will determine your destiny. How could this be? Because your body is the temple for your spirit. And how you use your body affects your spirit. Some of the decisions that will determine your eternal destiny include:

•    How will you choose to care for and use your body?

•    What spiritual attributes will you choose to develop?”

With our bodies being so crucial to God’s eternal plan, it is also little wonder that the adversary wants so badly to diminish its value!  Don’t listen to that voice.  The Spirit of the Lord will never tell you you are ugly or fat, though He may entice you to want to change in positive ways.  The Spirit will never belittle you for how you look, or make you feel insecure because you had an encounter with someone who made you feel self-conscious about your appearance (p.s. no one can make you feel anything).  Allow the Spirit to guide how you should feel about yourself, your talents and skills, and all that you contribute because of who you are.

That’s what I have to keep telling myself.