Grief, Not Guilt

There are so many times in our lives when we goof.

When we get stressed out and overwhelmed and ‘lose it’ on the people around us.

When we completely forget a friend’s birthday party that we’d promised to attend.

When we act without thinking about the impacts of our words or our actions on the people around us.

When we fail to live up to our own standards for ourselves, or the standards others desperately wish or even need us to conform to.

And the prevailing responses in all of these cases is either to become defensive or to grovel in guilt or wallow in shame.

The problem with all three of these responses, is that all of them create big emotions that we then use to distance ourselves from the pain of the one we’ve hurt. If our emotions are big enough to take up the whole room, we don’t have to see the emotions of the person who is suffering. They are actually just different forms of self-protection.

But what’s the alternative?

I think the alternative is grief.

It’s seeing the pain of the other person, and entering into that pain.

It’s grieving the gap between the way things are and the way they were meant to be.

In a week of #metoo, it would be so very easy for so many people to get defensive. For so many others to get pulled down by guilt or shame. None of these responses have any potential to bring transformation or change.

What can be done is to grieve.

To grieve the pain of close to 1:1 women who have experienced sexual abuse, assault or harassment at some point in their lives.

To grieve the pain of a society that has failed to teach consent to it’s men – young and old – and failed to give them a healthy understanding of their own sexuality or the tools necessary for self-control.

To grieve the pain of a world that for so long has operated on the assumption that more than half of it’s citizens are somehow things, instead of the unique, incredible people they really are.

To grieve the pain of a world that things that has dehumanized itself to the point where no one seems immune to these violent and unprovoked acts.

And we need to grieve all of the lost potential from those who have been refused a voice or a seat at the table, all those who were told to hide or were beaten down for speaking up.

Grieving will require that we feel the pain.

Grieving will require that we dig deep to understand what underlying assumptions got us here in the first place.

Grieving may require apologies, but it will certainly require new ways of living – ways that spring organically and compassionately out of the deep knowledge and insight that comes from a listening posture of grief.

So if you’re looking for a response to all that is #metoo, I would encourage you – lean into grief, not guilt.

That’s the path to transformation and change.

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