What would happen if instead of judging another person, we offered him or her unconditional grace? I remember reading that in certain regions of South Africa, when someone does something wrong, he or she is taken to the center of the village and surrounded by his or her tribe for a time while they speak of all the good he or she has done. In this tribe, individuals believe each person is good yet sometimes he or she makes mistakes, which these people recognize as a cry for help. They unite in this ritual to encourage the person to reconnect with his or her true nature. The belief is that unity and affirmation have more power to change behavior than shame and punishment.
In Babylon, history suggests that anyone who became sick was forced to sit in the village square, and each citizen who walked by had to prescribe for the illness and the patient was required to carry out the prescription. In essence, that society was the doctor, and sickness and health was in their spoken words.
Would you say you are more like the South Africans or more like the Babylonians? Ask yourself: “When I hear that someone I know has had an affair, how do I tend to react?” “When I hear that someone’s son or daughter is using drugs, do I feel compassion or judgment?” Or what about; “When I become aware that a neighbor has been accused of embezzlement, filed bankruptcy, or had their house foreclosed on, what are my first thoughts?”
What are we teaching our children (and others who are under our influence and care) when we shame them for their failures? How will we, ourselves, receive grace in time of need, if we are not familiar with how it works?– Grace that is the unmerited, undeserved favor that has restorative power and promotes growth and healing.
When we judge others for not living up to our standards, we are imposing a shame sentence onto them. Research suggests that as early as two to three years of age, one is capable of experiencing shame. Developmentally we have little capacity for processing shame at this young age. We carry it in our body as a physiological memory. When later triggered, this shame may cause such anxiety that we feel paralyzed by it. We may react from a stand point of defensive pride and shame others, or simply remain feeling shamed ourselves. Both are damaging to our felt sense of self. As we gain insight into the shame our bodies have held onto, we can, instead, develop compassion for the child we once were. This also enables us to give grace to others. Shame can, then, be left in the past where it belongs. We, then, can gain the resultant wisdom that we can call upon for freeing ourselves and others.
Try to remember the South African tribe and the way they bring healing to the ones they cherish the next time you hear about someone you know who has done something that you yourself would be ashamed of or would be disappointed with.