“A man who really loves his country will love her in her ruin and degeneration–“England, with all thy faults, I love thee still.” C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
Today Americans celebrate the independence of our nation – and yet we know that many of us are not celebrating. There are reasons, on this 4th of July, to be a bit jaded. There is much division. Foundational principles seem to be dissipating. We may be disappointed in our leaders, disappointed in our institutions, and disappointed in each other. There is cause to be pessimistic and angry. And yet, this is our home. We should love it, be grateful for it. It is a truly sad thing when people start hating their own home, their own countrymen. Often we seek to convince our pessimistic countrymen, we speak of the many wonderful and unique freedoms and blessings of America, all the reasons we should love Her. Perhaps it would be better to stop looking for reasons and just love her because she is ours.
The idea of loyalty seems increasingly lost in our modern mindset. Yet loyalty is a glue that keeps imperfect people together. My husband and I teach our children to be loyal to their siblings, “Don’t speak badly about your brother to your friends, be loyal.” But why loyalty? Family is important, much more important than schoolyard gossip- it is a gift God has given us. It would be wonderful if our brother was perfect, he isn’t, but he is our brother, and that has to mean something. When we treat our family with respect and loyalty, we can become great. Loyalty is trusting that the “accidents” of our birth are blessings rather than curses. Loyalty grows into strength.
“A mother does not give her child a blue bow because she is so ugly without it. If men loved [their home] as mothers love children, arbitrarily, because it is theirs, their home in a year or two might be fairer than Florence. People first paid honor to a spot and then gained glory for it.”
And so we love America still. We do not shut our eyes to faults, but we love with what seems an irrational loyalty. Chesterton summarizes it well, (his words “our home” is replaced with America)
“My acceptance of [America] is no optimism, it is more like patriotism. It is a matter of primary loyalty. [America] is not a lodging house in Brighton, which we are to leave because it is miserable. It is the fortress of our family, with the flag flying on the turret, and the more miserable it is the less we should leave it. The point is not that [America] is too sad to love or too glad not to love; the point is that when you do love a thing, its gladness is the reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it more. Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.”
G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
This loyalty, this patriotism, this “irrational optimism”, as Chesterton calls it, for our homeland is not stupid or naive, it is gratitude and love. Today as we celebrate America, let us love her, our home, with loyalty.
Ain’t that the truth? From where I stand, it seems us humans have been stuck playing a rather unproductive game of ‘tit for tat’ for far too long now. Within our highly politicized society, the idea of traditional gender roles and responsibilities has progressively become more and more offensive to consider, let alone talk about. So, let’s stir the pot for a moment, shall we?
The word ‘feminism’ has a lot of different meanings and therefore evokes various connotations, depending on the person you talk to. A political activist and journalist by the name of Gloria Steinem said, “A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of men and women”. The majority of us can agree with this statement, as it validates equal human value and promotes the dignity we all inherently possess.
The next word that comes forward in today’s society is the term ‘equity’. This has become a relative term with a confused conclusion for most of us. The dictionary’s definition is: “The quality of being fair and impartial”. So, we then begin to ask ourselves: what does the word ‘fair’ really mean? Does it mean that we treat everyone the exact same? Does it mean that if we did treat everyone the exact same, we’d see perfectly even results across the board in regards to areas such as gender representation and salary?
The above questions have us then stumble upon the ‘gender pay gap’ study. The findings of this study are based on the average difference of workplace earnings between the sexes. And naturally, some will attribute men making more money than women to sexism. But, do these findings actually represent gender discrimination? On a side note, women are currently over-represented within post-secondary institutions, which tells us this gap is certainly notdue to a lack of access to higher education.
So, does this study take into consideration personal/lifestyle choices each gender group generally makes throughout the span of a lifetime (e.g., hours worked, parental leaves, field of work, qualifications, ect.)? Could it possibly be that men and women make different choices in various areas of life, which in turn affect the differences in pay? It is definitely a complex situation with many different variables at play, which begs the question: can a general statistic like this one ever thoroughly and accurately explain its findings?
“Men and women aren’t the same. That doesn’t mean they can’t be treated fairly.”
— Jordan Peterson
I distinctly remember learning the proper definition of the word ‘equity’ when I was in college many moons ago. We were taught that everyone has equal value and should have the same opportunities in life; however, there was the acknowledgement that each individual has a unique set of needs that require varying approaches and result in varying outcomes. The same is true of parenting.
A couple of years ago, my husband and I were visiting another couple who also have children. We got on the topic of parenting styles, and how drastically different each child can be compared to his/her siblings. Our friend jokingly said, “I just treat them all equally the same”. I piped up and playfully responded with, “And now, they’re all equally screwed up!” We all laughed and then the conversation progressed to what specific strategies work best for each of our individual children. We didn’t discuss which one of our kids was our favorite, or which one we treated better than the others. We all would have wholeheartedly agreed that we love each of our children equally, and we have their best interest at heart even though we do treat them differently based on their specific needs in any given situation.
“..if you leave men and women to make their own choices you will not get equal outcome.”
— Jordan Peterson
This brings us to equal opportunity versus equal outcome. If we believe that equal outcome is indeed possible through the means of fair treatment, then we have completely missed the boat. Society’s obsession with obliterating differences between the sexes has enforced an impossible mission that won’t rest until a 50/50 gender quota has been reached in any given vocation. My husband and I are a perfect example of how sexism is not driving these pay differences. I am a qualified elementary school teacher and my husband works as a full-time pastor. If I had chosen to become a full-time teacher shortly after graduating university, by now my salary would definitely be higher than his. However, because I decided not to follow a full-time career, my husband makes significantly more money than I do each year; so, is this sexism or is it equity? On paper, it could look very much like sexism, but if you actually sat down with me and asked for clarification, you’d find out that I had all the same opportunities as my husband; but I chose differently, based on my own set of needs and desires as a woman.
“Feminism is doomed to failure because it is based on an attempt to repeal and restructure human nature.”
— Phyllis Schlafly
Is it just me, or is extreme, modern day feminism trying to bury the differences between men and women in order to convince the world that women can instead be just like men, or wait for it… maybe even better? We are fooled into thinking that whoever brings home more “bacon” wins the superiority contest. North American society has lost sight of our God given responsibility to work as a united front within the context of marriage; we all have a different part to play. Sadly, greed and society’s power hungry definition of ‘success’ has and continues to consume each and every move many of us make.
“Men and women have roles – their roles are different, but their rights are equal.”
— Harri Holkeri
Well, where do we go from here? How do we navigate through a world that tantrums like an unruly two year old when things aren’t perfectly cut down the middle every time in every scenario, especially in areas such as the workplace? When will society wake up and start realizing (and even celebrating) the differences between men and women? When did it all become about the money? Why do most women not feel validated unless they have (or are striving towards) a career? Why does motherhood seem to be the very last item on a young woman’s to-do list?
“Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work.”
— C.S. Lewis
Now, do I think that women shouldn’t have careers? No. Do I think that women shouldn’t pursue higher education? No. Do I think that all women should have children? No. What I do think is if a woman and her husband eventually decide to start a family, her priorities have a good chance (but not always) of changing in regards to her previous involvement within the workforce. She might want to scale back on hours, extend her maternity leave, decline a promotion, or she might even quit her job altogether. There are so many things she might actually want to do that will inevitably reflect poorly on the all too powerful ‘gender pay gap’, which assumes women must be oppressed if the numbers are not equal in terms of workplace earnings.
“Motherhood can also lead to interruptions in women’s career paths and have an impact on long-term earnings.”
I understand that it is very difficult these days to get by on just one income within the household; my family is no exception. I am required to work part-time in order to help support my family. Most women are sitting in this same boat with me, while many others are required to pursue full-time employment. This is life, this is reality. However, it troubles me when our society seems to think a woman earning and/or working less than her husband is somehow unjust. What a potentially damaging mindset — all in the name of money and workplace status. We wouldn’t bat an eye if the husband decided to cut down his hours at work to help take care of the kids; but, when a woman does it, statistics will enthusiastically proclaim from the mountaintops, “Gender discrimination!!”
“Women leave the labour market during crucial years, setting them substantially back in labour market terms. They decide to take time out to have and raise children … perhaps moving to more flexible work or less demanding jobs.”
— Ben Southwood (Adam Smith Institute)
With all that said, I believe in order to achieve true gender equality, we must first acknowledge that gender differences do indeed exist. Then we must accept the fact that men and women often make different choices, as both groups carry varying responsibilities throughout life. This in turn will affect many facets, including earnings at work. Now, are there ever exceptions to the rule? Of course. After all, we are complex beings with some wiggle room in regards to roles and preferences. However, my point here is that the overall pay difference is not a result of gender discrimination, but rather the result of different paths taken between the sexes.
“When men and women are able to respect and accept their differences then love has a chance to blossom.”
— John Gray
“Life is not a competition between men and women. It is a collaboration.”
— David Alejandro Fearnhead
At the end of the day, let us begin to lean into this reality, and start validating the hard work many women tirelessly demonstrate outside of the workplace. May we bring dignity back to humanity, and start affirming the things that really matter in this world. Let a pay check be a pay check; a means to feed and clothe our family (a noble task in itself, no doubt). Once and for all, let the gender wars end, and may both sexes come back to the table as true partners in life.
“Perhaps the highest moral height which a man can reach, and at the same time the most difficult of attainment, is the willingness to be nothing relatively. It is nothing to a man to be greater or less than another- to be esteemed or otherwise by the public or private world in which he moves. The truth satisfies him. He lives in absoluteness. God makes the glow-worm as well as the star; the light in both is divine. If mine be an earth-star to gladden the wayside, I must cultivate humbly and rejoicingly its green earth-glow, and not seek to blanch it to the whiteness of the stars and lie in the fields of blue. For to deny God in my own being is to cease to behold Him in any. God and man can meet only by the man’s becoming that which God meant him to be. Then he enters into the house of life, which is greater than the house of fame.”
George MacDonald, Adela Cathcart
Many thinkers, including Dr. Jordan Peterson, speak of the inevitability, and function, of social hierarchies. They point to the benefits of seeking to strive upwards in a hierarchy of competence, so we feel valuable and have purpose. One may strive for accomplishment in artistic endeavors, another in plumbing. This progress brings meaning into our lives. In seeking our hierarchies-of-purpose, we should consider our strengths and interests, and seek to discover God’s will for our lives.
Yet it is important to contemplate why we seek progression, and from Whom we seek approvable. The relative prestige of the hierarchy should not matter to us: glow-worm or a star. We should not look to the side to see where others are on their hierarchal-ladder, we should look upward for guidance.
In our desire to progress, we should not be overly concerned with the opinion of others. Christianity calls us to a higher sphere for recognition. A Higher Name than Society to measure our value. Rather than depending on the respect and admiration of others, we seek God’s approval. This enables us to be content with, and even see the advantages of, a life of little public influence.
When a society loses its collective belief in a Transcendent Being – that is pleased with our humble efforts – is it any wonder that motherhood and fatherhood are viewed as thankless, and often cast aside? Parenthood produces no money and brings few accolades.
But we care not. Because we, as mothers and fathers, know that we are fulfilling a great work. We know that even the relative nothingness of parenthood to this world, is of great worth to God.
Responses to Covid-19 vary within nations, states, counties, towns, families, and individuals. The new tension within these groups, created by our responses to Covid-19, has created collateral damage in our relationships, financial lives, civic lives, and governance. While, in general, it is easy to criticize strong responses, my interest in this article is not to critique our responses to the crisis, but how to recover from the damage they have caused to our personal relationships. Our relationship lives have been affected by both social distancing and our deeper immersion in the polarized public response to political action. Once the threat and fear of the virus has subsided, we must assume that collateral damages to our relationships will remain. Now what?
CRISIS RESPONSE: THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UGLY
As is typical in the fog of crisis, it’s hard to see the silver lining. Many families are facing financial ruin due to government-mandated cessation of their revenue. While that subject deserves loud discussion, this article does not intend to focus on that component of the Covid-19 tragedy. Here, I intend to look at some nuanced changes in our social relationships and their implications. It’s not as if there are no positive social outcomes from our response to this pandemic. No doubt, in houses across the USA that have not been visited by medical despair brought on by Covid-19, families have been expressing some positive sentiment about baking more bread at home, reducing expenditures, creating more reliable family rhythms, and increased time spent with nuclear family members. Also, I suspect there is serious upside potential in re-thinking how we educate our children. We are learning a lot about the means of education while schools are closed. And regarding friendships, many families are doubtlessly pleased to find that some friendships are being prioritized while others are fading. This is kind of a study in the Darwinian fitness of our friendships. Only the strong [friendships] will survive while the weaker ones will fade into oblivion. This will allow more decidedly “important” priorities to arise within families. That’s great. But, seeing the upside in the shake-down of our friendships will require us to deal with some negative feelings as well.
Let’s look at how shame fits into this scene. Shame can be either self-imposed or foisted on us by others.
SHAME ON YOU
The Covid-19 pandemic has increased the tension in our already-tense public discourse. Being immersed in strong opinions about political action is not new to us. However, this dynamic has really ramped up and been accentuated with some additional features. Rather than merely each waking moment being an opportunity to shout our opinions about Federal competence, we now have added opportunities to squabble about varying expert medical opinions, failed infection rate models, fiscal and monetary action, the role of scientists in a cohesive advisory body, the costs and benefits of planned economic slowdown, whether or not human safety can be discussed in terms of monetary cost, the effectiveness of our local government’s response in comparison to that of other cities and counties, etc. As if we didn’t have enough to disagree about, Covid-19 is providing ample opportunity for us to further upset each other with differing opinions. Add the risk of lethal infection and observe heightened levels of emotion.
Being worked up about any or all of the changes resulting from our reaction to Covid-19 needs no justification. Change can be hard to accept. Add to that any mistrust or cynicism toward decision makers or community members and it is natural to get frustrated. However, how about when someone close to you starts talking in a way that really irks you? How about when a friend or family member starts talking ignorant nonsense? We are familiar with the admonishment of a person when they say something stupid, “You should be ashamed of yourself!” Maybe they should be. Or maybe you aren’t listening well enough. Thus, the emotional walls can be erected and catapults loaded with burning tar.
When the dust settles after any social display of anger or fear there is always at least one party who is left feeling less than good. Someone is left sweeping up the pieces (maybe under a rug!) and reconciling what just happened. Part of the fallout when someone recognizes that they over-reacted is the feeling of shame.
We often feel ashamed or humiliated from our own public displays of weakness or vulnerability. This is as true for uncontrolled crying in public as it is when we look physically incompetent by stumbling on the sidewalk. We can feel shame when we display any type of incompetence that is seen by strangers. Losing a job can feel shameful if we think the loss makes us appear inadequate. A girlfriend or boyfriend breaking up with us after we admitted love to them makes us feel ashamed. Losing a house to fire can make us vulnerable and ashamed when our projection of competence is interwoven with our possessions. I had a friend who felt deep shame after their home was plundered by burglars. Even on social media, unhinged outbursts and emotional recriminations toward our neighbors fit this description. Losing control is rarely seen as virtuous and many think it is shame-worthy.
The cloak of privacy that shields our identities on social media doesn’t help matters. I like the analogy of a Mardi-Gras mask and social media. When people don a flamboyant mask (I’m not talking about an N-90 face mask) at Mardi-Gras they might feel more apt to do something out of their ordinary because they feel anonymous. However, committing what you might think is a slimy act while being unrecognized doesn’t change the fact that you observed yourself making that particular decision. Will you feel ashamed at having done so? Maybe. The experience of unfettered freedom does not guarantee the feeling of pride in what you choose to do with it. The same goes for our behavior on social media. Regardless of how the person in question feels, we often think a person’s lack of emotional control is deserving of shame.
Emotional control is certainly virtuous for civilized adults, but hardly something to force in a young toddler. As a first-time parent of a toddler, I had to learn this lesson begrudgingly. If emotional control is required for my children to participate in society, why couldn’t they just learn it early! Since realizing that children can only learn to regulate their emotions from adults who model it, I have (far too often!) found myself in a horribly strange house of mirrors where my frustrations are simultaneously cause and result of difficult moments with my children and wife. Some of these emotionally-complicated moments just feel like a small slice of Hell and shame is not helpful for anyone.
This isn’t to say that shame is never helpful. Even for children, an interior feeling of shame can be both a helpful indicator that they behaved incorrectly, as well as a motivator to not repeat the incorrect action. Self-imposed shame can be felt in big doses and small doses, and can likewise be useful or toxic. As with many things, the “poison is the dose.” It might be that the interior perception of our own shame is useful only in proportion to our capacity for self-reflection and ability to articulate a way forward.
When shame is cast by one upon another, the scenario gets even muddier. Why would someone cast shame on others? Sometimes they deserve it. Casting shame can function as an accountability mechanism in a community of adults who share common interests. To the extent that the interior experience of shame motivates us to avoid shame-worthy behavior, others can signal it in our direction when they think we are toeing the line of inappropriate behavior that jeopardizes our common interests. Beyond this, people can cast shame for all sorts of dark reasons. Maybe they see something in another that they hate about themselves and fight it with casting shame outward. When we shame others, we had better either get it right or apologize quickly.
Shame is often cast on others very hypocritically. In our responses to Covid-19, we have created a lot of opportunity to cast shame on strangers. A good buddy of mine was tide-pooling at a beach with his daughter the other day. There wasn’t a person in sight. Soon, a duo of cyclists cruised by. One of them shouted, scornfully, at my friend, “Social distancing!!” To what benefit? I’m not sure, but the attempt at shame-casting was shame-worthy.
In an environment of heightened emotions, we might think other people are acting shamefully with more regularity than usual. Or maybe, with a little reflection, even our own actions deserve a little shame.
SHAME ON ME
In social distancing, we have agreed to not see people that we would normally spend time around. Some of these people we miss dearly. Others, we are pleased to avoid. Some other social situations we had previously not considered avoiding, but now enjoy their absence. How does this affect us? Usually, when we get enjoyment from an act we “should not” enjoy, (like eating too much cake or avoiding a friend or family member) we feel at least a little bit of shame or guilt. There’s a reason we call it a “guilty pleasure.”
Humor me while I indulge in a hypothetical shaky moment between uncertain friends. Let’s say that you have a monthly dinner date with a friend but the requirements of social distancing prevent you two from meeting this month. Also suppose that you were getting a little tired of this monthly dinner date. The whole idea of monthly meetings was an experiment. He wasn’t really that great of a friend, and you suspect that he benefited more than you did from the monthly meeting. After all, all he did was complain about mutual acquaintances and you found it annoying. While you thought he was a bit broken, you could see that he needed a friend. You were happy to be that friend when it was convenient, but now seems like a great opportunity to duck out of the arrangement. “Thank you, social distancing.” Next month, maybe you’ll feel different.
You’re probably thinking that this relationship was destined to dissolve (and maybe they should try different meds) but that isn’t necessarily true. Government-mandated restrictions on gatherings create a layer of fog between some friends. The veil of ignorance covering the reason for friends not seeing each other (“Have they not visited because of government mandate, or just because they don’t like me?”) creates a prisoner’s dilemma where we can do more harm than good.
The psyche is a bizarre thing. What happens when we observe ourselves wronging a person with whom we have an unsigned contract of friendship? Shame begets mistrust. When we feel a little ashamed about avoiding our friend, our psyche, in a tantrum of projection and blame avoidance, can easily generate mistrust toward the person we wronged. Once we wrong that person (by neglecting our relationship) we assume his willingness to neglect, or betray, the relationship too. Thus, we can begin to mistrust another person when we grow suspicious of their capacity for betrayal. What tipped us off to the idea that they might betray our friendship? Our own betrayal of the relationship… no matter how small it might have been at the time. We assume our friend is unaware of the pleasure we gained from avoiding him. However, this pleasure is not without consequence. In fact, we might begin to mistrust him precisely when we understand that he might get the same guilty pleasure by neglecting our friendship in like fashion. I don’t need to point out the obvious immaturity here. In this example, the root cause of our mistrust toward our friend’s commitment is actually our own shame in choosing to avoid him.
Changes in our psyche are rarely made under our full control. One emotion morphs into another when we see our reflection (no matter how distorted) in another person. In this example, we are obviously not talking about a super high-quality friendship that has weathered many ups and downs. Many friendships can benefit from the endurance of stress. Others whither and disappear, and not without emotional fireworks. While some personalities are far more neurotic and insecure than others, everyone must maintain positive relationships for overall health. Government-mandated social distancing has fertilized the soil for negative feelings between friends. And this can make us ashamed of ourselves.
Cringe-worthy behavior not befitting of our pre-Covid-19 social interactions can yield self-righteous indignation, pity, resentment, belittlement, or self-centered anger. We mustn’t forget that we will see our friends and family again. Even a single moment of resentment or pity toward a community member or family member will silently change the dynamic.
Covid-19 has, indeed, presented additional complications to an already-complex world. One of many results is an increase in potential for shame in our social lives. This additional amount of shame has resulted in damage to our social fabric that is difficult to quantify. How do we mend the fabric, and who is responsible for righting the wrongs?
As an analogy, let’s look at how we recuperate financial losses before looking at social losses. To the extent that we as individuals have taken financial losses due to societal responses to Covid-19, our solution sounds easy; “Give me my money back.” If money is lost, and debt accrued, because of a mandated response, then an appropriate post-crisis recovery includes an attempt to recuperate those financial losses and resolve the debts. Because we can chalk up these losses to either an act of God or to government restrictions on income, choosing the methods by which we are made financially whole is obviously problematic. We have many options, such as renewed personal commitments to save instead of borrow, work extra hours, business ventures that profit from the post-Covid-19 landscape, insistence that governments intervene on our behalf with the redistribution of other’s resources, etc. The possibilities are endless. Nonetheless, quantifying the loss is not impossible, and most of us agree on our desires to recuperate financial losses and pay down personal debts.
SHAME AS DEBT
To the extent that love and careful attention are a relationship’s currencies of transaction, shameful social action puts us in debt to those with whom we share friendship. Acting shamefully towards our community members is to over-spend our relationship currency, no matter if the act is passionately unwitting or deliberately malicious. Shameful social action is deficit spending; an emotional debt payable to those in our community.
How can we ever pay this back? How can we encourage others to move on and forget our shameful actions? The shameful debtor is in a helpless position. How can we work it off? For the answer, we must put ourselves in the shoes of the person to whom the relationship debt is owed.
The ancient Israelites had a way of dealing with debt that can be useful in this discussion. Every forty-ninth year was a “Year of Jubilee” wherein all debts were forgiven, slaves freed, and prisoners released. This effectively placed a ceiling on how big a debt could grow. Applied to this discussion about emotional debt and the release from shame, we can see how a moment of Jubilee would effectively limit the size of any grudge. (I suggest not waiting forty-nine years.) How does Jubilee translate to personal shame amidst our responses to Covid-19? Show a little mercy.
We must have mercy on those whose actions we think deserve humiliation. I think marriage and parenthood have equipped us with some useful tools here. Routinely in family life, there is somebody over-reacting, freaking out, lashing out, blowing up, or breaking down. Whether the cause is missing an afternoon nap or anger toward political theater is irrelevant. In a family where emotional closeness is requisite for proper function, the forgiveness of ridiculous acts is eventually required. Sometimes, following a shameful act of irrational frustration, a peaceful understanding is reached through explanation and discussion. Other times, blood-sugar is low, sleep deprivation has set in, and work is stressful. In these situations, we constantly say and do ridiculous things that we would never plan on doing after a full night’s rest, hearty breakfast in our belly, and gleeful work environment. When our spouses act in such irrational ways, and we think we understand why, what do we do? Show some mercy. They deserve it.
In stressful times, people freak out. Shall we hold it over their heads? Shall we ransom them with ridicule and reminders? Shall we be the type of debt collector that brutalizes his debtor? Of course, strangers on social media are not the same as family members in our household. Also, some behavior absolutely requires legal response. What I’m talking about is the irrationality that can drive wedges into our social lives due to stressful and extraordinary times. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. Show some mercy. A lot of us need it right now.