The Shame Card Won’t Work

I wasn’t surprised by the content of the message I received, but I was surprised by the sender. This ‘friend’ reached out a few days ago, stating that she’d been following my blog and had some questions. I responded to her questions and she wrote back stating, among other things, that I was missing her point. So I offered to continue the conversation via phone, since I always welcome dialogue with those who think differently than I do.

Here was the message I got in response:

”Honestly Shoshana, it doesn’t seem like you’re in a place to debate right now. You have answers for everything. You don’t want to hear other peoples view. Also, if you don’t believe in the Torah and God then we’re not debating the same thing. If you want to rationalize and explain yourself away that’s fine. You are welcome to have your own opinion. But the main reason I reached out was: don’t publicly shame and put down your family. It’s not ok. You know what they believe and why they believe it. It’s disrespectful and extremely offensive. So preach what you want. Live how you want to live. Believe what you want to believe. But leave your poor parents out of it. They don’t deserve it. And you definitely don’t have the right to shame them.”

I was floored. After thinking it over, it became clear to me that she wasn’t really interested in having a conversation with me, so in lieu of responding directly to her, I figured I’d give an open response, in case others share her feelings yet aren’t self-righteous enough to message me directly.

Dear _______,

Honestly, I didn’t think we were having a debate. I thought we were having a conversation. You know, where I share my opinion and you share yours and we respect each other because we’ve been friends for years and just because we have different foundational beliefs doesn’t mean that should change. You say I have “answers for everything” like it’s a bad thing. But why shouldn’t I have answers? I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. I’m very clear on my beliefs. And I believe it is you who doesn’t want to hear another person’s view. I invited you to a conversation and you declined. Are you afraid of my answers?

I don’t believe that people need to share the same belief system to engage in dialogue. When I was still firmly religious, I engaged in rich conversations with my Christian, Muslim, and irreligious friends. I didn’t feel threatened by their views. You wouldn’t hesitate to be mekarev someone who was interested in Orthodoxy even though they don’t currently share the same views as you. Does that mean you’ll only engage with someone if they are considering adopting your own beliefs?

You say the main reason you reached out was to tell me not to shame my family. You have made a horrible mistake in assuming that my blog was ever about them, because it is not. YOU decided it was about them. YOU decided they should feel shame because of it. I believe the shame belongs to YOU.

If I’m being honest, I’d have to admit that I wrestled with this before deciding to start my blog. I knew that people like yourself would find the content of posts discomforting, and potentially judge me and my family. While I was prepared for any judgement that I would personally receive, I didn’t know if it was right to put my family in that position. Ultimately, I decided that the importance of my blog outweighs the potential shame AND that my family is strong enough to withstand any misguided judgment that comes their way.

To you I would ask, why are you trying to silence me? Why are you so reactive to my posts about flaws in the Orthodox Jewish community and the way they handle those trying to leave? Do you not want positive change? And has positive change ever come from ignoring problems instead of talking about them?

Shame is powerful and could be used as a reason to stay quiet about so many issues. Sexual abuse. Domestic violence. Tax fraud. When the truth comes out, someone is bound to feel shame. You want everyone to stay quiet?

I’m speaking on behalf of people that have been told their whole lives to move on and shut up and get over it and don’t embarrass him/her/them. You want to join the chorus of voices oppressing people who have committed the ‘horrific’ sin of having a different belief system than the one into which they were born?

I’m afraid that you are part of the problem. And I’m saddened that you thought your message to me would result in anything positive or productive. The irony is that I understand where you are coming from. I remember a time when I would have shared similar thoughts, although I don’t know if I would have gone so far as to try and silence someone speaking out on something as important.

And despite it all, I’d still have a conversation with you. You know where to find me.

About the Author
Shoshana is an author and social worker living in South Jersey. She works primarily with teenagers and has mostly worked in urban environments. In her spare time, she can be found rock climbing and drinking iced coffee, occasionally at the same time.
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