Thursday, February 09, 2017

The Real Shame of #TrumpCantRead

image source:
Unless you’ve managed to live off-the-grid this season, you’re probably aware of the hashtag #TrumpCantRead and the evidence various commentators (including the ghostwriter of The Art of the Deal) have presented to suggest that Donald Trump has difficulty reading and thus avoids doing so.  I suspect these commentators are onto something, yet this hypothesis has actually made me feel a bit more sympathy for him.*  While I feel strongly about calling out people for destructive behavior, shaming someone for something they can’t control—that crosses the line.  

You see, lately I’ve been working on learning more about the psychology of shame.  After seeing BrenĂ© Brown’s TedTalk “Listening to Shame,”  I bought one of her audio books that delves deeper into the subject. Shame is a powerful emotion that drives so many destructive behaviors (chauvinism, perfectionism, bullying, etc.).  Like the fight-flight-freeze response, humans respond to shame by either puffing up, shrinking, or appeasing. Shame often manifests in violent ways: from suicide to cruelty to others.  As psychologist Mary C Lamia points out, “Narcissistic personalities often have the emotion of shame at their core.” 

Let’s imagine for a moment that Trump really does have trouble reading.  Perhaps it is dyslexia; perhaps it has something to do with his attention span or countless other issues that ideally would have been identified in childhood. According to a Frontline documentary I saw, his father was a man who praised toughness and mocked weakness. Perhaps little Trump was deeply ashamed by his struggles in school and developed coping mechanisms to mask his struggles and deflect these feelings. Perhaps his coping response was to puff up—to lash out at others.  Jessi Sholl writes thatTo compensate [for our shame], we scramble to cover up our perceived flaws by engaging in a long list of broken behaviors, including blaming and shaming others, perfectionism, lying, and hiding out.”   

Hmm… sound familiar?
Here’s the thing about shame:  When someone’s toxic behaviors are in response to their shame, trying to shame them into changing only makes them more ashamed—and thus even less likely to change. (this especially applies when trying to intervene with loved one who has an addiction problem)

Here’s the other thing: Shame is highly contagious. While the intention of the #trumpcantread conversation may be to suggest that Trump isn’t well educated on key issues, all the other people out there with reading difficulties get the message loud and clear that their struggles are shameful and their adaptations (getting news from t.v. instead of newspapers or enjoying movies over novels or having someone type their Tweets for them, for example) merit ridicule.

And that, is a real shame.


P.S. I recently met a pastor who shared how, despite his severe dyslexia and previous beliefs that college wasn't for him and his only career options were manual labor jobs, he courageously went back to school and had just completed seminary.  Bravo. 

*That is, in the same way I feel more sympathy for a school bully after hearing about her horrid home life.    

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Stress, Superpowers and Sanctification

image source:

My stress levels have been toxically high lately, and I suspect you can guess why.  Part of this is because of current events and the context I’m living in, and part is because I’m what Glennon Doyle Melton calls a canary. 

My family tree is full of canaries spanning at least five generations.* Canaries are the people who feel, fear and ponder more intensely than the average person. Like the canaries that were used in coal mines, we are the first ones to to show signs of illness in a poisonous environment. Some may label this as a genetic mental defect, but I’ve come to embrace it as our superpower. 

As with all superpowers, we must learn to control it—to wield it for good—to not let the power drive us insane. This takes training and dedication. Just as great tales of heroes involve a period of getting their minds in an advanced state of wisdom (Luke Skywalker with Yoda, Jesus Christ with the Tempter, Paul Atreides with the Fremen, etc.**), we canaries need to strive for all out sanctification to not only survive but to lead our people out of this mess.         

[“Wait a sec.” Taylor, “What did you just write? Sanctification?”]   

Would you have understood that last sentence better if I’d written instead all out zen master?  Whenever I want to describe a person having reached the pinnacle of the human capacity for self-awareness, inner-peace, understanding of their interconnectedness with the universe, and wisdom, all the words that pop instantly into my mind come from other faith traditions. And yet, my faith tradition has a word for it too: sanctification.  That is, having become perfected in love for the Creator and for all of creation. Just as Buddhists seek enlightenment, Methodism teaches that sanctification is what Christians should have as their goal in life.    

Last year I decided to start getting hardcore serious about striving for sanctification--training my mind like olympians train their bodies. I’m taking a holistic approach: physical exercise, healthy meals, discipline in prayer and scripture study, and enlisting mental health experts to coach me on how to not simply manage stress and negative thoughts but to develop exceptional levels of emotional intelligence so that I can effectively serve on the front lines of any crisis with love, grace and stamina. I'm still a work in progress, but progress is being made.

So here’s my advice to all my fellow canaries: Now more than ever, your country and your world needs you and your sacred gift. This is a “such a time as this” moment. It is time to step up. If you are struggling to control your powers of sensitivity, seek out help. This might mean meeting with a mental health expert to design a mind-training program that is right for you. It might mean joining a support group, and/or it might mean finding a medicine that enhances your ability to think calmly and clearly.***  Please, I beg of you, do whatever it takes to get out of the fetal position and into action.     

Much love from Algeria,


*Fittingly, my ancestors were coal miners, and the family homestead is built over an abandoned mine.  
** Dang--Why am I having so much trouble coming up with female examples that don't have an after-school-special/Disney girl-power vibe? Help me out here folks. 

***And in so doing you get to give “taking my big-girl/boy pill” a new meaning.  ;)