After Daring Greatly, I would read any of Brené Brown’s books. I was excited to see the appearance of Rising Strong, and it definitely met my expectations. I knew it would be inspirational, moving, and emotionally challenging. I did not know just how much it would get under my skin.
The part that got to me was the chapter on whether we are all doing our best. I have had this exact conversation with several people over the years. I have always been firmly in the camp that OF COURSE we are not all doing our best! I know I very rarely do my best. My particular fixation in other people is when they do what I see as selfish, careless things, like texting and driving, littering, or sticking gum under public chairs and tables. Brown’s exploration of her personal work on this issue stopped me in my tracks, though. She said that the most compassionate and strong people she knows tend to agree that people ARE always doing their best. Then she shared an anecdote in which a friend of hers judged people for something at which she herself “failed,” knowing she had tried every possible recourse, although her friend didn’t know she was judging the person sitting right in front of her.
I want to share a bit about my work. My clients struggle with hoarding, squalor, and chronic disorganization. I know them as unusually sensitive, smart people. I find them incredibly endearing. I know how difficult they find most things that “normal” people find easy. I also know that this particular type of “failure” is judged very harshly by society in general. Disgust is stronger when we think about squalor and hoarding than it is over other contested issues like marital infidelity or addiction. There are multiple TV shows that address it in the most, um, vivid ways. It’s like a train wreck that we can’t stop watching. I get it – I have a strong sense of smell, although fortunately I also have a cast-iron stomach.
Some of why I do what I do is because I’m good at it. It’s my calling. Why this, I’m sure I’ll never know. I work with my people because it’s clear to me what needs to be done. I feel like I also have a real sense of how they think and what emotions are swirling around the room. Chronic disorganization, in particular, is an issue I’ve fought for most of my own life. Things that make sense to other people, things that seem simple and obvious, are not obvious to us. We have to learn what comes naturally to others, in the same way that some people struggle with dyslexia or math skills. How could anyone not have compassion for this? Homemaking isn’t taught in school, and the vast majority of people are not given formal training. Yet we are quick to pile shame on people who are fighting a hard battle.
It’s the shame that pulls us down. Shame spirals are behind squalor and hoarding in the same way that they are behind chronic homelessness. As though the friends and family members of these poor souls haven’t already spent years heaping shame on them, casual bystanders feel the need to join in. I’ve come to believe that it’s one of the favorite activities of all humans: mocking, ridiculing, and humiliating others of whatever group draws our attention. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, People of Walmart, Exhibit A. We love to go off on rants about how people who X are the worst. (Text and drive! *cough*) We love to dish out shame on others, even when we know how much it hurts when others shame us. We don’t see that those who are so critical and contemptuous of us simply see people with our behavior patterns in the same way that we see the people we prefer to shame. It’s a giant daisy chain of people pointing their fingers at each other.
Rising Strong is about a great deal more than shame. What I’ve done has been to discuss the chapter that affected me the most. In sum, it is a powerful book, and one worthy of a close read.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.