By Gil Gonzalez
“Que pena.” Being from Miami, it’s a phrase I grew up with a lot. It translates to “what shame” or “how shameful”, and it’s the keystone to cultural behemoth that is Hispanic Catholic guilt.
I grew up in an environment in which many things were done not so much out of genuine desire, but rather out of the need to not look bad. Family politics, neighborhood hierarchy, school/church perceptions; they all helped steer the actions – and reactions – of my family circle.
As I think about this week’s topic for Random Writers – What is the greatest discovery you have ever made? – I see how it’s so easy to get caught up in appearances, and how the focus on façade is not unique to any one region, religion, or demographic. Rather, I think it’s part of our innate human desire to avoid the feelings that come with embarrassment or shame. Just like we don’t deliberately seek out activities that will cause us physical pain – “Hey, let me put this marshmallow that’s on fire in my mouth!” – we also look to avoid those circumstances which feel us leaving humiliated.
What I’ve learned over the years is there’s a great sense of liberation that comes from letting go of shame, and it ties into what I wrote about dealing with people who don’t believe in you. In my opinion, if you’re not an important aspect of my life, then I don’t really care what your opinion of me is. Therefore, if you think what I am wearing is tacky or doesn’t match, then that’s your problem to deal with. You think I’m making a fool of myself in public, well then I’m sorry you feel that way. You don’t like how I spend my time and money, then just be happy it’s not your time or your money.
Don’t get me wrong. Etiquette, decorum, and basic classiness are important elements of our society. You don’t want to be cutting jokes and making a ruckus at a memorial service. And even if you’re the type to 100% not care what other people think, there are definite consequences for employing that philosophy. Still, there is a sense of freedom and personal satisfaction in doing something the way YOU want to do it and not because your mom or your teacher or your significant other wants you to do it that way.
The weight of other people’s perceptions and expectations can be suffocating. So, too, can lack of forgiveness. Something else I’ve discovered on this often random but never purposeless journey we call life is that as important as it is to let go of shame, it’s equally important to let go of hurt. You think the idea of being okay with making a fool of yourself in public is hard, try forgiving someone who’s hurt you? It can sometimes feel downright impossible.
To me, forgiveness is like a bolt cutter. This specific bolt cutter, however, requires two cuts in order to work properly. We use this tool to release ourselves from the wrongs we’ve committed, which are attached to us at the ankle like a dead weight. We use it again to let go of the times we’ve been wronged, which are shackled to us at the other ankle. This weight pulls us under and drowns us. We can’t cut just one and be released from what is dragging us down. Instead, learning to accept the forgiveness of others is the first cut. We learn through example, and we must then take the bolt cutters and forgive those who have hurt us. Only then can we rise to the surface and truly take in a deep breath of fresh air.
I like to think I’ve learned a lot in my lifetime so far, and every day brings a new discovery. Yet, learning to live life according to my own expectations has allowed me to better enjoy life. More importantly, learning to forgive has allowed me to better grow as a person. I think Zac Brown said it best; “You keep your heart above your head and your eyes wide open / So this world can’t find a way to leave you cold / And know you’re not the only ship out on the ocean / Save your strength for things you can change / Forgive the one you can’t / You gotta let ‘em go.”