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Our Culture of Shame

I hate conflict. I really do. During the election season, I kept my head down and refused to engage in any sort of debate. I even begged out of a bunch of conversations when people would tag me and ask for my opinion. I really, really hate it. (And I’m married to a man who thrives on debate. How did that happen? *smh*)  So it’s not often that I share my opinions on hot topics or potentially controversial subjects. But this morning I woke up to a flurry of messages on Facebook about something I had posted yesterday and I have to admit that I was absolutely stunned by it.  I could not believe that this thing I had posted had caused such an uproar.

So what was my hot, controversial topic? Here’ a screenshot:

I’m still a little shocked by it as I sit here, actually. I am having trouble wrapping my mind around the fact that posting something about registered sex offenders can open such flood gates. But I think it actually opened my eyes to a bigger issues.

The messages I’ve received have hit both ends of a pretty wide spectrum. Some are from people who despise Christians and some are from Christians themselves. But all of the messages I have received have had one common theme: I was being judgmental and that is wrong.

I’m still not quite sure how me posting a blanket statement about offenders in my area is me being judgmental. Even reading through these messages, it’s not quite getting through my brain. It doesn’t make sense to me. I didn’t post names, pictures, information. I didn’t state addresses or talk about people. I still don’t think that my statement was being judgmental. I think it was being a wise parent.

One person on my page posted that there are registered sex offenders out there who were 18 year olds that had sex with 17 year olds. My heart hurts for those cases cause there’s no way all of them were evil or horrible. And I can totally see how that could be manipulated in a really cruddy way.  But that’s not the people I’m talking about. I’m talking about people who are on the registered sex offender list because they had sex with a 3 year old child. Or they forced a 6 year old boy into sex on camera. In the 100 or so people that I scrolled through, there wasn’t a single one of those ‘innocent’ folks on the list.

And again, let me reiterate that nowhere did I shame these individuals or post their images, crimes, addresses…I just made a blanket statement. I was not about judging their crimes or their consequences. Really, my heart was about letting other parents know that they can look up registered sex offenders who might live close to them. As parents, it is our job to protect our children. We can’t do that if we don’t know the dangers.

I’ll be honest. I got a couple of  pretty heated messages from Christians who were very angry at my tone. There was a lot of scripture thrown around but one big one was “those without sin cast the first stone.” A couple of people stood on that one. And several said that I couldn’t love or minister to these people if I was judging them. Let me say this. If my pastor called me to go to a prison or a home and minister to people who had harmed children, I would totally be there. But I wouldn’t take my kids with me. I wouldn’t show those people pictures of my kids. There IS a time and place in this world for judgment. We need to be wise in our choices. Especially as parents. I believe in my heart that those are the instincts God placed in me as a mom. He put these children in my care. It’s my job to protect them. I am not going to back down off of that.

Back to those messages. My mind is still boggled. In fact, I got up and walked away from the computer for a bit. I even took it to my husband. (And keep in mind what I said earlier – he thrives on debate. So I knew when I took this topic to him, it was going to explode. Even now, an hour and a half later as I’m typing this, he and my daughter are still discussing it.) He was concerned that I was feeling convicted. I wasn’t. I don’t see that my post was judgmental. I really don’t. And I’m going to stand by that. I didn’t make some horrible statement about anyone. I didn’t judge them or choose their consequences of the actions they took.  I just made a statement about the number of people in my area who had been convicted of crimes against children.

But when I was talking with my daughter about this, a bigger topic came up; The culture of shame that seems to be developing in the world today.

Let me give you a personal example. About a year ago, my kids and I were in a local Walmart together and a man approached. Now to be fair, he approached my daughters (who were 16 and 14 at the time) and started talking to them. I don’t think he realized that my son and I were right there – just a couple of feet away. The girls had been looking in one of those huge bins in the center of a main aisle while my son (11) and I were looking at the clothes that were right off to the side, so we weren’t far away. When I heard him ask if he could help them find what they were looking for, I was instantly on point. (And all the moms in the house testify…?!)  I will never forget the look both of my girls gave to me from across that bin. It was sheer panic. Immediately, my son and I were there and I was engaging the man in conversation. He talked to me but he was keeping his eyes on my girls. He was dressed in jeans and a long sleeved flannel shirt – buttoned all the way up. No biggie except it was July. In Texas. We see jeans and cowboys down here all the time. But not flannel shirts buttoned all the way up in the heat of the day. At this juncture, he was pretty focused on the kids. All of our red flags were on total alert at this point. Every one of us was feeling that tension. You know the kind. It’s crawling up your spine and tingling at the back of your neck. You KNOW something isn’t right. So I drop everything in my hands and announce that we really need to get going. All the kids line up behind me and we all shoot awkward smiles and nods at the guy and walk away toward the door/checkouts really fast. Except we weren’t done with our shopping. So we went to the front, watched behind and around us – didn’t see the guy. And we went to finish up the rest of our shopping in a completely different place in the store.

We were all sticking close, watching all around us, and we were flying through the rest of that shopping list when suddenly, he appeared again. “Hey! I was looking for you guys. You seemed in a hurry so I thought I could help with the rest of your shopping.”

Seriously? Could there be more alarm bells possibly going off in my head??? I mean I could barely even think around the screeching sirens in my head! The guy was LOOKING for us? At this point, no more messing around. I said, “No thank you.” and we went straight to the police officer at the front door. We gave him the description of the guy and he told us he’d heard similar issues in that store recently. Then he walked us out to the car and waited until we left the parking lot before he went back into the store.  Needless to say, all of us were pretty freaked out.

(Side note:  I sell defense products for women now because I want to keep them safe. If I would have had pepper spray or my stun gun a year ago, I doubt I would have done anything different, but I wouldn’t have been so terrified and trying to figure out what I would need to do if things got worse. I would have been able to formulate a better plan in my head because I would have had more tools at my disposal. I’m not trying to train up the next Chuck-ette Norris. I’m trying to give women tools so they don’t have to be flailing in a panic and wondering if there even IS an officer on duty at the front. )

Like a lot of people do, I went home and talked about it on my personal Facebook. Not to shame a man, but to warn others about what had happened. For the most part the comments were encouraging, supportive. A lot of people thanked us for sharing because they didn’t think about things like that when they were shopping. They would be more aware from now on. (And quite frankly, we’re hearing about this a lot these days. Similar stories are all over Facebook.)

But one thread deviated off of this path. A friend posted that she felt we’d totally overreacted. After all, what if he was really innocent, backwards – just didn’t realize the impression he was giving? We really took off and assigned awful motives to him if he was just being a nice guy. She said she has a son so she has a heart for awkward young men. This comment thread continued and persisted even though I pointed out repeatedly that we were all feeling alarm and we were all noticing things that weren’t right about the situation. This friend kept stepping up to play devil’s advocate for the guy. At some point in the conversation, my daughter jumped in and posted about how thankful she was that her mom had stepped in to help she and her sister out of the situation. She said that there was nothing right about what had happened and she appreciated having a mom who showed her how to respond to this sort of situation.

That friend backed down off of the argument eventually, but she did it grudgingly. She finally agreed that she would have responded differently and she still thinks we were wrong in our overreaction but stated that she respected our decision. That conversation rattled my daughter almost more than the incident at the store had. I assured her that even if the guy was innocent and didn’t have ulterior motives, a decent man would want to know the vibes he’s giving off to young women. A decent guy would not be offended – and would hopefully want to know that he had frightened women – even inadvertently. There was no reason whatsoever for us to be ashamed of the actions we took. That was a hard lesson for me to push home. As parents, we are struggling every day to show our kids what’s right. How many times have you had the stranger danger talk or told your kids what to do if someone approached them? And now I was having to underscore that what I did was the right thing. And those God things came out – is it bad for me to think a person might want to hurt me? Shouldn’t I love him instead? We preach grace – how do we show that when a strange man approaches?  Seriously?? This is exactly what is causing our teenagers to NOT speak out when they KNOW they are in harm’s way. It’s dangerous thinking.

A week or so ago, I read a blog entry from a mom who had been in an encounter at Disney that gave her similar warning sirens. It was a man who walked into the women’s restroom. Not someone transitioning from a man to a woman. It was a man. Dressed as a man. And he wasn’t using the bathroom. He was walking along the doors looking through the gaps.

“I surveyed the room and saw roughly 12 women, children in tow, staring at him with the exact same look on their faces. Everyone was visibly uncomfortable. We were all trading looks and motioning our eyes over to him…like “What is he doing in here?” Yet every single one of us was silent. And this is the reason I wrote this blog. “

It’s not too far off to assume from this statement that nearly every woman in that room had the tingling in their spine. The red flags flashing. The sirens going off. And the women in that room were scared to speak up.
I think what’s so profound for me was how she opened her blog.

“I didn’t know if I was going to write this blog or not. A part of me was scared it’d be shared as some transgender hot piece about yet another homophobic mom lashing out at Disney and then I’d have to deal with the wrath of the internet telling me to kill myself.”

And this is the culture we’re perpetuating with these ideas. Shame. Silence. If you speak up, you might be judged or dragged through the hot, fiery coals of social media. Some people have seen their careers and personal lives utterly destroyed by Social Justice Warriors. (Often referred to as SJW.) It’s possible that just by saying that someone made you feel uncomfortable, YOU could end up on the front lines of horrible comments, emails, and general persecution online. It’s causing women to look the other way when sometimes, they need to act.

Another mom recently had an encounter similar to my own at an IKEA and she posted about it on Facebook. It went viral. Recently, she’s had to add an addendum to the original post.

“**after reading many of the comments I want to add a few things. Some of which I feel like are so unnecessary, and yet many comments are calling into question my parenting and my children’s behavior.

My children were not using the couches as a jungle gym or misbehaving. We were in the market for a couch and therefor sitting on different couches to try them out. When I say climbing, I literally mean they climbed onto the couch to sit down. They’re short. They’re kids.

My children are also well behaved. They listen. They stay with me. I was 100% watching them when all of this happened. They were already close by me. I was not on my cell phone before this happened. I was very aware of my surroundings which is a big part of why I noticed this.”

She goes on to state:

“Since posting this, I have been contacted by a LOT of people. More than I can keep up with. Some have been incredibly kind, and some not so much. The truth is, I will never know exactly what was going on that day because thank GOD we got out of there safely. It could have been a number of things. I do not claim to be an expert on human trafficking. I mentioned it because that was my first reaction. Since this post has been so widespread, I wanted to use it to point you to a couple of really good resources if you’re interested in learning more about human trafficking or how you can help. and are two great resources.

One more thing that has less to do with what happened and more to do with this post. I did not intend for this to spread the way it has. I simply posted experience, hoping to remind my mom friends to be aware and diligent. Friends couldn’t share it with whoever they wanted to and the privacy settings wouldn’t allow them to tag. So at the request of friends who wanted to share, I chose to post it again publicly. My kids ages are listed because I had posted it in a baby wearing group I’m part of and that’s where I reposted this from. I did not expect this response, and frankly it makes me a little uncomfortable because of some of the comments. My intention is that someone will read this and remember to pay attention to their children, and help keep kids safe!”

That woman had a horrifying encounter and wanted to share it with her friends so they would be smarter and safer when they are out with their kids. Same thing I did. But she’s run into a horrible amount of judgment for everything from watching her kids to being on her phone to exploiting them. It is insanity. I’m going to say it: That mom’s instincts were on point. BOTH of these women experienced things that WERE NOT RIGHT. And yet both of these women were afraid to speak up for fear of being judged themselves.

 We, as a society, are being encouraged to turn off our instincts. You know that feeling you have in your gut that something isn’t right? That tingle at the back of your neck that makes your hair stand on end? Maybe it’s a whisper in your ear that this isn’t right? Sometimes things aren’t right. I believe God gave us instincts that help us know when something isn’t as it should be. I also believe that instinct God gave us is what makes a mom step up to protect their kids. And when we ignore it, we risk danger. Bad things could happen because we were afraid we might be seen as judgmental. Beyond that, if we don’t step up, we don’t show our kids how to handle themselves in similar situations. A kid who sees mom seek out the police, a manger or someone in authority when they have this sort of issue is not going to be as hesitant to act when their instincts are firing full force.

In the middle of a society that is struggling to not offend or hurt anyone, we’re beginning to shame people into inactivity. I’ve been volunteering, educating and helping in the trafficking world for years now. The stories I have shared (my own and others) are NOT out of the realm of possiblity. I have talked to girls who were rescued out of trafficking and they had been pulled into it through social media. So when someone posts about kids talking to people online, don’t shame the parents. Don’t discount it. Stop telling people it is urban legend. It’s time we start telling moms it’s okay to listen to that inner voice. If a mom is scared for her kid, she needs to take action. The rest of us moms need to stand by that mom. It’s not our job to wonder if that mom was a racist, or homophobe or if they were on their phone when they should have been watching their kids. If that was, in fact, the story – it will come out at some point. Everything does.  THEN you can jump on that bandwagon if you want. Cause not all moms are right. And not all moms have the right motives. But if a kid is in danger and mom is being protective, can’t we give the benefit of the doubt?

I read an article that stated people are judgmental in this manner online because they are trying to justify in their minds why this would never happen to them. If you can, after all, point to the fact that you aren’t on your phone or your kids don’t have Facebook, then it won’t happen to you. I get it. But that doesn’t mean that it’s true. In my mind, that’s self-denial. It can happen to anyone. We all know what it’s like to turn our backs for a second and have our kids be gone when we turn back around. We ALL know that pit of your stomach feeling when you think something horrifying has happened. That mom instinct – the gut feeling – that should be something we share as part of the sisterhood. And we shouldn’t be afraid to speak out when there is a man in the bathroom that doesn’t belong. (This is NOT, by the way, about transgender rights. I have not said one word about who belongs where or in what bathrooms. But a man who is not transitioning and is only looking through the gaps at women as they pull down their pants? He doesn’t belong there and it’s not a bad thing to say it.)

Listen, the world is ugly. I don’t think it’s getting uglier – but I do think we’re seeing it more because of social media. We don’t need to be part of the ugly. If a mom left IKEA or Disney freaked out because of something that happened, take the warning. Listen. Heed it. And honestly -stand by your sister for trying to step up and make sure YOU don’t have to go through it. Sometimes they may be off the mark. I’ll admit that. And I am not talking about giving in to baser instincts and allowing violence to shine through. I’m talking about a mom’s radar going off – and us stuffing it down.  Sometimes, being afraid of being wrong might allow evil to have a foothold somewhere. It might shut off the very warning signs we need to pay attention to. And it is teaching our kids to shut theirs off too.

Okay. My rant is off. I’ve spilled my guts here. If you’ve made it to the end, thank you for giving me some time in your day. This is the part for me that takes the most courage.  Posting it is probably going to incite a lot of discussion or controversy. It would be much easier for me to do my turtle imitation and go right back into my shell. But I also see the irony in that struggle. So I’m pushing the button to post it now. I confess I may hide for a bit and run away – it’s that ‘avoiding conflict’ thing. But I will be back. Because I believe it’s time to step up on this one.