The Truth about Shame

In ESL class, a new student, formerly a teacher in her home country, sees me writing with my left hand.

“You write with both hands, Teacher?” she asks.

“No. Just this one. I’m left-handed.”

“Oh, I’m very sorry…. You were always like this?” Her concern is serious. I can tell from the furrows on her brow.

“Yes, always like this.”

“In my country, if a child is like that, the mother hits the child on the back of the hand when he uses it so the child learns to use other hand. But for you it is too late.”

I tell her about my father’s attempts to get me to switch to my right hand, not by hitting me, but by giving me small challenges I enjoyed.* He mentioned this to my first teacher. She advised him to stop, explaining it was not good for a child to be changed in this way. He respected her opinion and heeded her advice.

She ponders my story and says, “In my country, a person cannot be school teacher unless he or she uses right hand.”

In other words: In her culture, it is a handicap.**

It was all a useful cultural exchange and good conversation practice for her. But later, driving home, my thoughts mushroomed. I started out amused. Then I began to feel a bit odd about it all. I am not accustomed to being an object of pity.

It’s funny, the power of another person’s words. Never once, in all my years, did it occur to me that I had a handicap. (I mean, if I had to identify a handicap, it would certainly not be this.) Now this brief conversation has me wondering how many other students feel the same.

Are we handicapped just because someone else thinks we are? I guess that’s up to us. Someone once told me:

“Shame is not something that is PUT on us.
Shame is something we TAKE ON.”

It’s been good to think all this through.
It’s good to write it out.
I’m thinking this post isn’t about being left-handed.

A better blogger would’ve waited until she knew exactly what it is about. I’m not her. 🙂

* * *

*He had my best interests in mind. Growing up in an industrialized, mechanized world where machinery was geared to favor righties, he knew that being a leftie could be an obstacle to employment.

**I know that in some cultures there is a bias against left-handers, and for good reason. The left hand is used for cleaning; the right is preserved for more public activities like greeting, eating, writing, etc. And in places where toilet paper is a rare commodity, you can see how this custom makes sense from a health standpoint. But I hadn’t thought about all this in a long time, so I came home and googled the topic. Yes, there’s a long history of bias against lefties. On the other hand, in some cultures, being left-handed is considered a sign of wisdom or some other positive attribute.

About Marilyn

Reading, thinking, listening, writing and talking about faith, creativity, ESL for refugees, grief and finding the story in a story. Student of Spanish. Foe of procrastination. Cheez-it fan. People person with hermit tendencies or vice-versa. Thank you so much for reading.
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7 Responses to The Truth about Shame

  1. This adds meaning to your tweet of Callie’s MYM piece. I wondered.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Juliana says:

    I’ve learned to seek out lefties – I find I like their brains, intelligence, thought process. I like listening to them think. I wish sometimes I could be a leftie with their gifts. I am not at all surprised to learn that you are a leftie too!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Cindy B says:

    I am a lefty (and in my early 60s), my dad was a lefty as was his mother. Two of my four children are lefties! My grandmother insisted that my dad be permitted to write with his left hand because she had had been punished so she didn’t want my dad to suffer the same result. I work in a financial environment and it amazes me how many of my co-workers are lefties. There are times it is a “handicap” such as when trying to find scissors that work but otherwise, I don’t think about it day to day. I often to say to people that only left handed people are in their right mind.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Marilyn,
    It is interesting how culture can create shame or pride about an attribute. Our girl is a left- handed but she does some things right handed and so is my brother, my sister was forced to be a right handed but she is a lot older than my brother so my parents changed tactics…Children don’t know enough not to take on shame…an adult can choose if aware enough to do so but young children take in what an adult in power over them says…in my husband Brian’s family, being left handed is a sign of extra creativity 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. P.S. Thanks, Marilyn, for your reply, which I saw in an email…I did understand your main point about how easy it is for us to absorb shame and I didn’t get the sense that your father shamed you at all…I was talking in generalities and from what I’ve seen and experienced. Appreciate your insights 🙂


    • Marilyn says:

      I could tell from what you wrote that you understood. I loved reading all you wrote and especially about how culture shapes attitude and how children take in what an adult over them says.


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