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The only thing we should judge or condemn in another person is the willful or ignorant injury of others.
Freedom is the freedom to act and think, to move around, to explore, to be what you want to be. In an idealized sense, the only limit is the impediment of another’s opportunity to do the same. This is philosophy and breaks down into its inherent contradictions almost immediately when applied to more than one person in a shared space, but it offers an endpoint or limit, a definition of respect. While I may disagree with everything about how you live your life or express yourself in the world, I respect your freedom and your choices to do so as long it isn’t harmful to others.
The recent article in Paper magazine, Kid Cudi, Kehlani, and the pervasive sexism surrounding mental health, about the glaring sexism in the public’s response to two celebrities publicly acknowledging their need for mental health support did an incredible job in opening up a dialogue about judgment. Public reaction to two suicidal crises, for Kid Cudi and Kehlani, is striking in contrast to each other. Kid Cudi is quite rightly seen as incredibly courageous and helpful to the public need for more positive mental health messages, and it does not detract from him at all to point out the hypocrisy in people’s reactions to Kehlani, who was also quite open about her suicidal thoughts and need for help. Reaction to her focused more on her own agency in ending up suicidal, as if she had caused her mental illness through her own actions. As writer Sandra Song says so clearly, “Why do [Kehlani’s] interpersonal relationships or artistic merits have bearing on the validity of her depression?”
Yeah, seriously. She opened up about needing help and people reacted by calling her a whore, according to the article. This does not move the challenge forward, pushing women back into the closet about their legitimate needs for mental health support.
Am I allowed to be intolerant of people who I see to be intolerant? Of course I am, but I can also see it as a lack of empathy or self-acceptance in the intolerant, and maybe feel some empathy for them myself. Freud and the analysts created their own worldview of the actions of us complicated apes, but a couple of their ideas seem especially pertinent when the world provides such abundance yet breeds such hate. There is enough to go around and we need to learn how to share it, but our all-too human psychology prevents us from moving forward. Denial, projection, and splitting are all useful concepts to employ when discussing issues such as racism, sexism, and homophobia. What we cannot accept in ourselves we often project on others. The sexism expressed in the public’s reactions to Kid Cudi and Kehlani is telling, and too important to ignore. People need to look inside themselves and examine why we react so differently to men and women, it’s an enormous opportunity for growth and introspection.
What I am getting at is a comment on the act of shaming people. I think it is fundamentally wrong to shame anyone for their behavior or thoughts in any context but with the same exception I mentioned above, hurting others. I am not naive enough to assume that there is something innately human in all of us regarding empathy or the ability to take the needs of others seriously. Some might lack the fundamental ability to operate in this arena of interaction. However, I deeply believe that for the vast majority of us humans, our hatred, our need for power, and our dismissal of others who are different from us is fundamentally an expression of unprocessed shame projected outwards. I would strive to create a space at Painted Brain where people do not take out their personal suffering on others, which is entirely different from not expressing it at all.
Dave Leon LCSW is the founder/director of Painted Brain