Guilt is the appropriate blush response that says I did something wrong, I should make it right. Shame is a deeper blush that says I am something wrong and I can never be made right. I was well into my 30’s before I started to recognize shaming for what it is. Shaming is a lie. It’s a damned lie.
It turns out that, as satisfying as shaming can be, it’s not nearly as satisfying as mutual respect. My uncle Bryant Kendall…my coach Verlyn Giles…a youth worker named Shuford Davis…a campus worker named Bob Norwood…more school teachers than I can name… All these folks treated me with extraordinary respect. They listened to me and took my ideas seriously. They asked good questions. They talked straight. They gave me training and responsibility. My uncle helped me learn to mow lawns well before I was allowed to touch anything with a motor at home. Teachers encouraged me to think outside the box and helped me learn to sort my thoughts and express them directly and economically. Verlyn Giles helped me learn to think and communicate under pressure. Bob Norwood asked questions that encouraged me choose between good and better. Shuford Davis asked questions that caused me to address spirituality with my mind as well as my heart.
Respect for kids isn’t a free pass on anything and everything; in fact, it can be very challenging in the best, most realistic sense. Respect springs from the knowledge that all of us are works in progress. None of us knows anything we didn’t learn and every one of us has a lot more ground to cover before we’re done for the day. Unless, of course, we decide to call it quits and live off what we learned in the past—unless we choose to embrace irrelevance.
Shaming is a monologue. Respect is a dialogue. The surest way for me to show respect is to ask honest questions and listen carefully until the other person is pretty sure I’ve done my best to understand.
Respect is a learning posture that grants the possibility that what’s obvious to one person may not be a bit obvious to someone else. And that’s a pretty good place to begin any conversation.
And isn’t that what life is all about, the ability to go around back and come up inside other people’s heads to look out at the damned fool miracle and say: oh so that’s how you see it!? Well, now, I must remember that.
—Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine, William Morrow, 2001, page xiii
— from Raising Adults