Saturday, September 19, 2009

The power of shame

Windows down, music turned up loud, I was lost in my own world. Driving back from a night of hanging out with some STINT friends, I was stuck in traffic in Orlando near UCF. The music that was playing was Alli Rogers, a singer/songwriter who is pretty mellow and very much a girl. In fact, her music may be girl music. This is not soulful Amy Winehouse, this is chill and relax, but I like it and had just found her new CD so I was giving it a try.

I was woken out of my little reverie by laughing and comments. Stuck at a traffic light, there was a Hummer next to me full of college students. Not being too far out of college, this is still my peer group. And they were laughing at me. I looked over and the guy riding shot gun was laughing but pointing back to his friend, who apparently had been making some comment that I half heard. I look back at him and he looks at me and sarcastically says, "I like your music." And then rolls up his window as they all burst out laughing again.

I wanted to turn it down. I was ashamed. And it made me sad that that was my reaction. All I said to the guy was "Hey, I listen to what I listen to," as I sheepishly shrugged. But I stopped to think. Why was I ashamed? Because I was listening to music that they didn't deem appropriate or cool? If I was listening to the latest hip-hop hit, or perhaps Kings of Leon, or maybe some indie darling like Modest Mouse, would I have gotten laughed at? Probably not. But I liked the music I was listening to. So why did it matter so much to me what they thought?

It made me think about the power of shame and/or peer pressure. We hear so much about that in elementary, middle or high school but don't realize it goes on for the rest of our lives. Right now, at Relevant Magazine, I am slightly ashamed to say I like certain music because it doesn't pass the test of what others like. What I should be truly ashamed of is that I know that I have, in the past, tried to make others feel stupid for liking the music they like. I am sorry if you are one of the ones that was on the receiving end of that.

It is not wrong to like something and not like something else. It is not wrong to present that viewpoint to someone else, or try to persuade them to listen to what you like. It is wrong to use shame and fear to manipulate someone into believing your point of view. And it sucks. Lowers you (and me) to a level that we were never meant to live at, showing off our own insecurities at how much we want our music... or job... or clothes we wear... or hobby... or church to be liked. When we seek to find our significance in others opinion, we will be easily swayed this was and that, never choosing ground to stand on and defend. To offer to other people without humiliating them into joining our side.

Peer pressure and shame are highly effective tools. And one that we should be ashamed for using. But we will always be affected by it if our sense of identity and security is found in something like what we do, or who we like, or what we own. If our identity isn't rooted in something deeper than ourselves, we will be weak and powerless to resist it. What is your identity rooted in? I want mine to be my relationship with Jesus Christ. But do I live like that?

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