The problem with romanticizing our elders is that we don’t learn from their mistakes. Note, I use “mistakes” loosely. Maybe life lessons better describes what I’m trying to say. We act as if they did everything perfectly and then feel like utter failures when our performance is less than perfect.
I get it. We have an enormous amount of respect for our elders, as we should. But why would acknowledging the fact that your grandmother has had children by two different men be disrespectful? How does that dishonor her? Why whisper that in shame?
There is so much that we could learn from our elders with honest discussion. Discussion not couched in shame. I think this is part of the reason families seem to repeat bad decisions generation after generation: enter generational curses.
I think that’s why sharing your testimony is so important. Don’t “pretty” it up either. While I started this piece with examples regarding romantic encounters, the same applies to professional experiences. If you had a low LSAT score or passed the bar on you 5th attempt, say that. Own it without shame. That will help someone keep pushing. That can prevent someone from giving up. I know I’ve been moved the most by the authentic stories I have heard or read.
But this brings me back to my original point. When it comes to our elders, tell the whole, complete story. You cannot shame me into avoiding the same pitfalls you found yourself in; but you can tell me your experience, how you overcame it and what you learned from the ordeal. And please, say more than you just prayed and had faith. Faith without works is dead. What work did you do? How did you do it?
For the people looking for authentic feedback or disclosures, don’t feel bad if you get responses that deny facts and accuse you of disrespecting said elder. That response is likely couched in shame. Shame that grandmother wasn’t a saint despite her perfect attendance at church every Sunday. I personally believe shame serves no one. But I also believe that most people do not do the requisite work to truly move past painful and hard lessons. With that in mind, do not take it personal if you feel attacked for asking honest questions. Their shame has nothing to do with you.
But for the seasoned folks reading this:
- Share your story. Somebody needs to hear it.
- Own it without shame.
- Be honest, to a fault even. The truth will set you free. Your truth might set me free.
Through sharing the honest truth about out elders, we may break down societal stigmas. Stigmas around single parenthood, divorce and mental illness.
Our grandparents colorful past doesn’t make them any less worthy of respect. Nor is your cousin any less worthy of respect for having multiple children by different men. In fact, one day she will be probably be a grandmother.
Originally Published in Publishous
Well said. Thank you for addressing this. Families are fond of embracing shame and sweeping things under the carpet. Sometimes those things need to be brought to light. Shame may not be the answer but learning from mistakes may get to the answer.
Absolutely! Thanks for your comment!