When I was in high school I went on a field trip to an International High School that was a boarding school near the village where I lived. Students attended the high school from all over the world. As part of the field trip, the students from my school played a game.
We were divided into teams and given different roles to play within the world order. There were country leaders, national advisers, and spies. I was the leader of a first-world nation with the highest GDP. It was obviously meant to represent the U.S. One of my closest friends who I had an academically competitive relationship with ended up being the leader of a country that represented the USSR. The game was a social experiment to see how we high schoolers would run the world.
The facilitator gave us the go-ahead to begin.
There were eight of us playing the game. Each wearing the standard high school uniform of blue jeans, sneakers, and a t-shirt. I had on my Pink Floyd t-shirt and feather earrings. It was a gray overcast day outside. The room was lit mostly by the pale natural light coming through the large windows that overlooked the bay. The room was like a really large living room rather than an institutional schoolroom. There was a green comfy sofa and coffee table. Lots of bookcases filled with books and the large table that we were standing around with the facilitator, our social studies teacher, and some resident students who were observing. We were a bit of a motley crew compared to this sophisticated and cultured group. We were the Sooke Shrubs. The term has a similar connotation to hillbillies. I don’t know where it originated.
We started the game.
I was incredibly hopeful. My country had tons of resources, and I convinced all of my advisors to put almost all of our resources into healthcare, education, and other human services with very little going into our defense budget. No one knew what the other countries were doing with their resources. This was hidden from the players, but there were spy players who covertly shared information. I was too busy focusing on my utopian society to pay attention to their role. Much to our country’s peril.
I believed that taking care of the people in my country was the point of the game. My friend believed world domination was the point of the game. She gave her financial backing to a third world country in the Middle East who launched a military attack on my country and destroyed us because I hadn’t allocated enough resources to national defense. My friend was delighted with her victory. She gloated over her superiority in game strategy and mocked my naïveté. I felt suitably humiliated.
I remember the facilitator seemed somewhat flustered and perhaps even appalled at the brutal way my country was taken down, but she did her job and followed through with the debriefing. The point she made was if there had been transparency in the game with each of us knowing what the other countries were doing with their resources that would have created a better outcome for the world.
This didn’t make sense to me because if everything was out in the open, I would have been forced to put more money into the defense budget and given less funding to the people and that didn’t feel right. The issue as I saw it was the individualistic desire to win the game rather than a cooperative approach to working together. Why couldn’t we be one world rather than individual countries vying for resources? This must have been too much of a socialist agenda to be endorsed. But it just looked like common sense to me.
What lurked deeper within me, however, was the feeling shame I felt because I thought I got it wrong. Losing the game in such a catastrophic and definitive way reinforced my belief that I didn’t measure up and was proof in my mind that I was bad and shameful. I don’t know where this belief originated but it still grabs me by the gut at times.
This feeling came up recently when someone told me I had been criticized by someone I had spoken with a couple of times who didn’t mention anything to me about their disapproval. I felt the roiling shame in my stomach. It felt unfair because my intention was to do good and I found myself being judged. I was revisited by the sinking feeling of badness and shame.
And within the shame was a glimmer of anger. “F*#$ you!” I wanted to say, but I didn’t. And it wasn’t really them I needed to say f*#$ you too. It was my own self-judgments that I needed to get rid of. My own self-censorship. My own holding myself back. My own fear of getting it wrong. All to try and avoid the experience of humiliation. And here I was — feeling humiliated. A disgrace once again.
This situation, however, was so absurd that it helped me to see that it is completely out of my control whether or not I offend people and am judged. I got a deeper glimpse of seeing that people’s judgments are a reflection of their state of mind.
I’m not saying I don’t ever make mistakes or behave badly, but this was not one of those situations. So it helped me to see more clearly how no one’s judgments of me make me feel bad. It is only ever me identifying with my own self-judgments that creates my pain. I am not bad. I just judge myself as bad. I am not shameful. I just judge myself as shameful. I met the pain of those judgments head-on. I felt the depth of shame, self-loathing, and humiliation, completely out of proportion to the situation. But no matter how real and strong the feelings felt. I recognized they were not based in truth.
I am sure I have not completely removed the misunderstandings that cause me to feel shame and not good enough from my consciousness, but I can live with myself more peacefully. I don’t have to play the game of trying to avoid upsetting others for fear of humiliation. Instead, I can play the game of life and enjoy a deeper feeling of love and compassion within myself that has more room for the full range of human experience. That freedom is worth it!
Rohini Ross is co-founder of “The Rewilders.” Listen to her podcast, with her partner Angus Ross, Rewilding Love. They believe too many good relationships fall apart because couples give up thinking their relationship problems can’t be solved. Many couples don’t know how to navigate low moods, conflict, and emotional reactivity. In this season of the Rewilding Love Podcast, Rohini and Angus help a couple on the brink of divorce due to conflict. Rohini and Angus co-facilitate private couples’ intensives that rewild relationships back to their natural state of love. Rohini is also the author of the ebook Marriage, and she and Angus are co-founders of The 29-Day Rewilding Experience and The Rewilding Community. You can follow Rohini on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. To learn more about her work and subscribe to her blog visit: TheRewilders.org.