I used to hear the phrase, "Isn't that a shame?" quite a bit, but I don't anymore. Back when it was commonly used, it indicated mild regret or polite sadness on the part of the speaker, but it didn't possess any real power to condemn, hurt or excoriate.
That wasn't the intent back then.
Today, instead of "That's a shame," most people say, "That's too bad." Shame, it seems, has taken on another meaning just as "gay" did years ago when it went from "carefree" and "happy" to the preferred term for homosexual males.
Shame was once a powder puff of a word. Now it's a powder keg.
Shame is what you don't want to bring down upon your family. (In some countries, women have died for doing so.) Shame has become an insidious way to control women, limit their power, judge them. Slut shaming has entered the public consciousness thanks to Rush Limbaugh and Sandra Fluke.
Shame is something you keep at arm's length, never admit to having, avoid at all costs. Shame is the ugly stepsister of guilt, but guilt seems honorable, even respectable, compared to shame. If guilt is a mantle you wrap yourself in, shame is the oppressive burqa a harsh society forces upon you whether you want to wear it or not.
Some of us are growing tired of wearing that shame.
I was at a women's retreat a couple of months ago where I attended a workshop in which the leaders invited participants to write down a deep-seated shame they'd never told anyone else. Then they asked us to pair up with a total stranger and share that shameful secret.
Difficult, right? Not in this case.
Imagine being in a room full of women totally accepting of everything anyone had to say. Imagine how unburdened you'd feel setting free your most awful feelings, thoughts, experiences. Imagine saying them aloud to someone else and watching that dark shame dissipate in the afternoon sunlight.
That's what happened in that room.
The workshop leaders, Amy Ferris and Hollye Dexter, knew that every woman present would welcome the chance to let go of that shame. They knew it because they'd just published a powerful, revealing, and liberating book, Dancing at the Shame Prom, a collection of first-person stories about living with and overcoming shame.
Amy and Hollye knew that the need to release that shame to heal and grow is a universal one. They knew that for the women in that room, connecting with each other as we let go of that shame would bond us for life.
And it has.
I told Jill my secret shame. She told me hers. As it happened, I was the right person to hear her story and vice versa. We may never speak to each other again, but we're Facebook friends and we will always have that moment of mutual revelation between us, keeping us compassionate, understanding, accepting of each other.
Though we left that room and went our separate ways, we carry what we learned with us. Fortunately for the rest of the world, those same lessons exist within the pages of Dancing at the Shame Prom.
Below is my review of the book. But be warned -- if you attend the Shame Prom, you will feel like dancing. Not because you want to, but because you have to. Letting go of shame is the price of admission, and the lightness of being you'll experience afterwards is worth the cost.
Related article: Dancing at the Shame Prom Book Review