You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
Inigo Montoya – The Princess Bride
There are some words people seem to use interchangeably – and they shouldn’t. It bugs me. Words have meanings. I say that a lot. I think about the words I use. I choose them carefully. It’s why I am fond of making up my own words. Sometimes the correct word doesn’t exist, and I would rather make autocorrect’s head explode than misuse one. (Sidenote, I rather like making autocorrect’s head explode. It’s learning, though. When I went to text the word NERVOUS last week, it suggested NERVCITED. So. Proud.)
Anyway, here goes.
Things that are not the same things:
SHAME and GUILT
Guilt is your conscience tapping you on the shoulder. “Hey there, buddy. You did something you know to be wrong. Fix it.” Shame is, “I am something wrong. There’s no fixing it.” You can feel shame AND guilt, but guilt is not a necessary component of shame. You don’t have to have done a thing wrong to be drenched in shame. Guilt is always home grown, shame can be planted by others. Sometimes guilt is an appropriate emotion- it can even be healthy. It shows remorse. It can lead you to make amends when necessary. Shame is universally toxic and malignant. No good comes of shame. Ever.
SURRENDER and DEFEAT
We’ve been taught to equate surrender with losing. You know the first part of the serenity prayer? God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change… That is all surrender is- the acknowledgement that something is beyond your control. You can stop fighting the un-winnable battle. Victorious surrender. It’s a thing.
PITY and COMPASSION
Pity is nothing more than sympathy with judgment attached. Pity is, “what is the least uncomfortable thing I can I do or say to assuage the guilt I feel over not caring enough to do more.” Compassion is looking- really seeing. And then acting. Compassion is frequently uncomfortable. Pity looks for ways to find differences between us, compassion looks for ways we are the same. Pity is about otherness, compassion is about connection.
DEPRESSION and SADNESS
Sadness is an emotion- usually situational, always temporary. Depression is a serious, chronic disease that left untreated can be fatal. It’s the difference between a sugar rush and Type 1 diabetes. You can’t “happy talk” your way out of being depressed any more than you can will your body to create more insulin- and to suggest otherwise is insulting to those fighting for their lives. The opposite of depression isn’t happiness. The opposite of depression is not having depression.
LOVE (v) and LOVE (n)
Love the noun is a feeling. A state of being. It is ephemeral and can be fleeting. Love the VERB is a decision. You are in charge of love the verb. It’s muscular. Love the verb is deciding, every day. Choosing, every day. Protecting, every day. Romantic and sentimental love come and go. Real love stays. Real love, the verb, makes the hard decisions, and takes your side. Every time. All the time. No matter what.
NICE and KIND
Nice is paper thin. Nice is manners- and manners are fine. Nice is all surface, though. It’s paper thin. I have known countless people who were nice and not remotely kind. I’ve known people who were deeply kind, but not particularly nice. I will always, always pick kind.
FAITH and BELIEF
I’ve been pondering this a lot, of late. For a very long time I believed the FACT of God, I just had no faith in Him. I believed He existed, but that He’d forsaken me. I’d prayed for help and I truly believed my prayers had fallen on deaf ears. During those years I’d have probably said I had faith in God, but faith implies trust. I did not trust God. I believed in a God of indifference at best, and judgment and wrath at worst. I think people who are so concerned with making sure everyone else is living their lives the right way, people who ‘defend’ God by denying other people their civil liberties and human rights, are not giving God enough credit. They are relying on what they know or believe about God, rather than having faith in Him. They’re gripping their belief with white knuckles, rather than relaxing into the faith that God’s got this.
FORGIVENESS and ABSOLUTION
I think lots of us get hung up on the idea of forgiveness. We think that by forgiving someone we give them a get out of jail free card. Not so. WE are the ones who are freed by forgiveness. Anger and judgment are a prison- believe it. We confuse forgiveness with telling someone that what they did was no big deal, or that we’re fine. That we can, or even should, be in relationship with them again. That everything is A-OKAY. That is soooo not what forgiveness is. Forgiveness is- having moved through the disappoinment that things happened in a way you wish they hadn’t, having mourned the loss of your idea of things, having grieved the betrayal- letting go. Forgiveness is the unclenching. Absolution is the act of releasing someone from guilt or punishment. Not your job, and way the hell above your pay grade.
Listen, lots of words get misused a lot of the time. It happens. Poor Alanis will be listening to “ironic” jokes for the rest of her natural life. These words, though, can be harmful, even deadly, when mistaken for one another. Words are powerful. Let’s use them responsibly.