Junot Diaz,the author, spoke at Drue Heinz lectures tonight and it was very rewarding. He talked about his immigrant experience at the age of six from the Dominican Republic to New Jersey. A member of the audience asked him if he had advice for her as a teacher of ESL (English as a Second Language). He shared how important it is for her students to be completely shameless, so that they practice and risk mispronunciation and not be afraid of being picked on. He went on to say if you are sensitive and easily embarrassed it is so much harder to learn a new language. The same can be said for growth of any kind. Shame is a huge obstacle to progress.

Shame is one of the largest deterrents to change of all kinds. The opposite of shame is to risk uncertainty and be willing to not know. When someone asked Junot Diaz what defined him as a person he chose uncertainty. There was something so genuine about his value of uncertainty, that I imagine it comes from his life experience. ¬†Shame is about hiding and staying in what’s familiar even if its very bad because you feel so bad inside and want no one to know. People hide their illiteracy, their mistakes, their vulnerability and regrets, because they fear anyone else rejecting them. When the simple truth is they are the ones rejecting their own humanity.

This is why it is so important that parents or teachers not use shame to push kids into “better” behaviors. Young adults will tell me of experiences when they were young, that were the very beginning of their willingness to give up on themselves. Shame is far more powerful than people realize, it’s impact can last for decades.

I don’t think we talk often enough about being shameless. I’ve been joking with people for months that “I shamelessly flog my blog.” I’m taking risks because having people read it is important. Dictionary.com defines shameless as audacious, and insensible to disgrace. It’s often a good thing to be more impervious to the judgements of others. I can easily imagine someone criticizing Van Gogh for putting his paint on the canvas too thickly. If you want to be good at english and it’s a new language, or an author who writes then you have to care less about what others say and practice, practice, practice shamelessly.


About the Rhoda Mills Sommer

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