No to Shame, Free To Be Me


noshame_blog2Shame, though only just 5 little letters all pushed together, is a powerful word. Its existence in society packs a huge negative punch, where shame still shapes and defines the immediate lives of many individuals and haunts many communities. Regrettably It travels across all demographics, race, age, gender, sexual persuasion, religious beliefs, localities and environments, levels of education and employment. Shame can be debilitating, all consuming and a means of poisoning one’s existence, negating the possibility of achieving one’s full potential.

Shame is internalised and ingrained into the sea of society, bubbling and boiling just below the surface. It declares and defines that you are not normal, you are different, you do not fit in, you are not good enough, you are not one of us.

My old and tattered dictionary defines Shame as a ‘feeling of humiliation excited by consciousness of guilt or shortcoming, of having made oneself or been made ridiculous, or of offending against propriety, modesty or decency.’ Mate that’s me, my history, my experience, I understand it all too well.

In my own life I have personally and first hand, twice lived with the crippling stigma of shame. I have been its captive, its prisoner, hiding within its shadows, camouflaged behind silly and stupid lies, unable to be free and be true to myself. Both times, the bad bells rang clear, with the negative philosophy of you do ‘Dare Not Speak its Name.’ The first was as a gay boy growing up in country NSW. The issue of being gay was never talked about, except in derogatory and inflammatory terms .i was a boy alone. For me there were no public declarations of love, just stolen kisses and disguised acts of affection. The second was much later in life when I first suffered with mental illness. Shame completely enveloped me, that I was not strong but weak, not good enough, unable to deal with it by myself, to just get over it, to pull myself together and get on with life.
In both occasions my sense of shame was cast aside by being brave and coming out in public. It was about not hiding anymore, that I was not alone, that many others had travelled this road, confidently declaring the truth about myself, courageous enough to tell my own story.

Beyond Empathy since its inception has been creating and conducting campaigns and programs focusing on ‘No Shame – Free to be Me’ throughout regional NSW. This is what BE does so well, with its ethos that art can influence change. BE believes that the practice of art is an enabler, a perfect vehicle and platform to highlight the prevalence of shame in society and to seek to reduce its effect and harm for both individuals and their communities. BE strives to replace a sense of shame with the ability to be brave. This is delivered through art based classes, tutorials, rehearsals, and most importantly exhibitions and public performances. Art and its practice, both privately and publicly, can discover and instil real self-worth, true self- belief and the empowering of self-confidence. Art teaches us to rejoice in our differences, to celebrate our uniqueness, identify what is best in us, exalt in our own abilities. The practice of art is about being inspired, that yes I can do this, I can sing, I can dance, I can paint, I can write a story, I can apply for that job, I can study that course, I can love who I want to, I am good enough, I am the equal of others, I can make a difference, I can have a better life.

Say no to shame. This is what brave means and this is where freedom begins.

Ned McDowell