My Autumn Journey, Part One

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Feeling the Love in Montreal!

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Where’s the Kitty? Oh, there he is!

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Kitty likes to remind me that he’s here.

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In case you missed it in an earlier posting, I was cat-sitting for two weeks in Montreal during month two.

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“Oh Good, you’re awake. I’ve been waiting for you. On your chest.”

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“I brought some of my food into your bed to share. You’re welcome.”

Is part of why we love our pets so much because we feel their love and acceptance no matter what? We don’t feel judged by our pets. We don’t feel shame with our pets. They love us as we are and we love them. All we have to do is share a bit of affection and all is perfect. Our pets don’t care about what flaws we have. If we feed them and love them that’s all they need. Our shortcomings don’t matter to them.

Why can’t we do this with other humans? I think we can. I don’t care how much money you make or what you have achieved, I only care about how you interact with me. I don’t judge you if you suffer depression or anxiety, I’ve had those human experiences myself. I hope you won’t judge me for having more than you or less than you, but I can’t worry about that if you do.

Most of us carry shame that is not serving us. We let it needlessly separate us from others. Sometimes we may be too proud to reveal a weakness. Or we fear judgement if we are too open.

Montreal became a place where I have practiced being more open. I have often over-shared. Sometimes it has been a bit messy. But in the end, it has felt good.

My Autumn Journey, Part One

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I’m healing my life one building-block at a time. Thank you for joining my journey.

I came to Montreal for four weeks on August 13 and I eventually pulled away on October 8th, making a total of eight weeks to the day. I didn’t want to leave, but it’s not where I live and it’s not where I want to live. Maybe someday, after studying French somewhere else, but not now. I developed some really great friendships and was having meaningful experiences so I just didn’t want to drive away. Home is where the heart is and I am leaving a lot of my heart in Montreal.

I always knew that I suffered a lot of shame growing-up and carrying into adulthood, but in Montreal I really looked at that and faced it head-on. I have carried a lot of shame for a lot of things, none of which was deserved or warranted or served much purpose.

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I was very fortunate that these issues surfaced for me while visiting new friends in Outremont and that I was able to dedicate as much time as I wanted reading and researching about it. I had heard shame researcher Brene Brown through a Ted Talk and I knew that her work was where I needed to go. “The Gifts of Imperfection – Your Guide to a Wholehearted Life” would be my guide for this segment of my life journey.

The following ideas are not my own, but are things that I gleaned through presentations of Brown. I highly recommend this Ted Talk and I will recommend another later. Click on this link to open in your browser: http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_listening_to_shame#t-1313554

To be happy, Brown concludes, people need to LOVE and BELONG.

She also discovered that the greatest single predictor of whether one feels they are loved and belong is whether or not THEY FEEL WORTHY OF BEING LOVED AND BELONGING.

That is the magic trick! To find love, feel worthy of love! To belong, feel worthy of belonging. Simple! Now we should all be happy! Yay!

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This raised a major question for Brown. If people need to feel worthy of love and belonging to achieve love and belonging, what are the blocks causing so many of us to feel unworthy? She found the main answer and ended-up dedicating the next eight years of her research, with thousands of case studies and interviews, to SHAME.

SHAME is basically the FEAR OF BEING UNLOVABLE. The fear that others will reject us. The fear of not being good enough as we are. It’s cousin is perfectionism- attaching being good enough with our actions being good enough and taking it to the extreme that only perfect is good enough. We can be ashamed of being fat, of not accomplishing expectations, of not being perfect, of not having a nice enough or clean enough house, ashamed of where we come from. We can even be ashamed of how successful we have become, of having more than others, and we can even feel shame of our greatest talent. It knows no bounds.

Shame is a nearly universal emotion, the only people who don’t experience shame are our sociopaths and psychopaths – those who also do not have the ability to experience empathy. Imagine Dexter except in his case he was taught to focus on “those who deserve it”, his own code of right-and-wrong. For most people, the shame of having killed someone (by their own volition, I’m not talking about war) would be pretty strong.

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Shame differs from guilt. Guilt is the feeling that I DID SOMETHING BAD. Shame is the feeling that I AM BAD. So guilt is about our behaviour, and it serves us well to not repeat poor behaviour, not to repeat a mistake, not to intentionally cause harm. Shame is about who we are and it does not serves us well. I AM A BAD PERSON BECAUSE I CHEATED ON MY TEST, is not a healthy response to cheating. IT WAS BAD THAT I CHEATED ON MY TEST, I SHOULD NOT DO THAT AGAIN, is much more appropriate.

When parents use shame to teach children what’s right and wrong they are teaching their children that they are inherently not good enough and not worthy to be loved. This was more common in the past than it is today, many parents today are much more aware that they should address specific behaviours in isolation. “I am very disappointed that you hit your sister,” is not a great way to teach but is much better than the crippling, “I am very disappointed in you,” said in a very stern and serious tone. Or, “You should be ashamed of yourself!” (WRONG – you should be ashamed of something you did, not of who you are, of yourself.) Add to that, “now go to your room and think about that all evening, I don’t want to see you again today,” and you have a kid focusing on the fact that they are a disappointment to their greatest source of love. Nurturing the fear of being unlovable. Shame.

(Side note to parents, when correcting behaviour it is often a great opportunity to teach empathy or consequence, “Think of how your sister must feel”, or “What would it look like if everyone made a mess and didn’t clean-up?” and actually have them describe the mess. Guilt has a role but don’t teach the child they should feel shame. Separate the behaviour from the person. Because when a person identifies as being a bad person, guess what happens on top of being set on a miserable path of low self-esteem – behaviour does not improve.)

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Some sights around Montreal. I cycled past this old warehouse often.

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“If we paint cute things on the bridges, maybe no one will notice when they collapse!” Good idea! Spend your money there!

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I thought it was cute, a pig encouraging you to buy more pork at the butcher. It would be like McDonalds having a cute animated cow character as their mascot. Hmm.

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“I found you!”

I hope you’ll stay tuned for Part Two of my Autumn Journey. This will be a four to six part topic I feel is important for everyone to think about and talk about.

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The Shame of not speaking French in Montreal

Hi readers! Thanks for visiting my blog as I continue to enjoy the rich and vibrant city of Montreal.

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Oops, I got my arms backwards! Nice pic taken by friend Naomi.
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I wrote two blog postings last week, but decided not to publish either one. They were both about language tensions I’ve experienced in Montreal and how different neighbourhoods seem to differ greatly regarding that. The thing is, I don’t want to focus on that, nor to I want to pull anyone else’s focus to it by describing the situations at length.

What I will mention relates to my main topic of inquiry the past couple of weeks.

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One of the varieties of Montreal row houses.

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Another variety of Montreal row houses.

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It would seem that in the recent past many French speakers were shamed by English speakers. The English tended to hold the top jobs, afforded the most expensive homes, and it was felt or experienced that many of them looked down on the French. Even though French is firmly in place as the first language of Montreal today, there is some hangover from that previous era. That is to say, an English Canadian who speaks French very poorly is not always embraced with enthusiasm.

I know there are many Canadians who feel that Canadians should speak both official languages, whether they need both or not. Feel free to write that on your blog. Here, I’m sharing my perspective. In my life, I have not experienced enough necessity to learn French as to dedicate much resources to it. That is just true. It’s not a personal thing, it’s just not something on which I have chosen to dedicate my focus.

For me, language is a means to communicate. It’s not a status symbol, it’s not a means to judge one person better than another, it’s not a measure of someone’s place in society, it’s neither good nor bad. That fact that learning French has not been a priority in my life doesn’t mean I dislike French, or have any ill-will towards French. I don’t think English is better than French. But, for an international traveller I think it it has to be agreed, English is a very handy bridge-language. In Korea I heard Japanese people speaking to Koreans in English (rather than in Japanese or in Korean); in Thailand I heard Germans speaking to Thais in English (rather than in Thai or in German); in India Indians conversing with other Indians in English rather than learning the over 200 languages in their country alone. (Twenty two of them have more than a million native speakers each.) This happens in many countries and across many cultures around the world. English is a very convenient language to know. So much so, that studying other languages can become less of a priority when one’s interests are multifold. I do not have a fixation with one particular country.

I spent some time in Montreal with a new friend who is a polyglot. It was fun wandering around Chinatown watching people’s reactions to her being a Quebecois who is fluent in Cantonese and Mandarin, among other languages. She is gifted linguistically, and has a strong interest in learning languages. Like most people, we tend to enjoy the things that we are good at (such as one’s interest in music, sports, math. . . ) I put a good effort into learning Japanese when I lived there, but someone with a natural talent may have learned three times what I was able to with the same effort. Music makes natural sense to me, so I pick-up musical things more easily than does someone for whom it is a challenge. We’re simply all different with our strengths and weaknesses. These are not moral issues, there should be no shame involved.

I will make an effort to learn polite greetings as I travel the world, but if I were to focus on learning one language well, it would probably be Spanish, due to it’s usefulness in quite a few countries. Worldwide, there are only about 200 million speakers of French. If I decided to live in Montreal, I would certainly make a push to learn French. But I wouldn’t do it here, I would need to come to Montreal with an intermediate ability to be able to practice it without people immediately replying in English or with rapid-fire French responses I can’t comprehend. Bringing me back to my topic.

I have sometimes experienced shame in Montreal for not being able to speak French. When someone asserts, “You should be able to do this”, that can inspire feelings of, “I’m not good enough.” Especially if that feeling is already lurking just below the surface. This mostly happens when I’m trying to speak French here. What does that do? It makes me stop trying, as to avoid the shame. Instead, it is easier to play the role of ignorant tourist who doesn’t care. That makes it easier not to care. Easier to shrug-off a negative reaction to someone not being fluent.

According to shame researcher Brene Brown, shame is basically the fear of being unlovable. It is more global than guilt. Guilt is about our behaviour – I did something bad. Shame is about who we are – I am bad. And according to Brown, the problem with forcing ourselves to “not care”, is that when we are doing that, we ALSO do not have the ability to fully connect with others. That is what happened to me in Le Village. In the past 7 weeks I’ve made a number of authentic friends who I am grateful to know here in Montreal. Both Francophone and Anglophone. During my four weeks trying to do so daily when staying in the village (which is East), I connected meaningfully with only one Montrealer. I’m very thankful I was able to extend my stay and continue building friendships here from my new location with friends in Outremont.

Shame is a universal emotion experienced by all humans with the exception of sociopaths/psychopaths – those to also do not have the ability to experience empathy. Guilt can serve us purpose – to do better in the future, to make a better choice next time, to not repeat a poor behaviour. Shame does not serve us well so we need to learn the tools of shame resilience.

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Wandering around Old Montreal.
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Join me next time when I will continue talking about shame resilience and finally deal with the question posed in my last blog post too – what can we do to feel loved and accepted?

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