I wrestle with guilt and shame. They are very similar, but yet very different as well.  Guilt is about an action or behavior. You did something you should admit to and/or apologize for and you can put it behind you. Shame is more about yourself; you’re sorry that you are …yourself? It’s the difference between you did a bad thing vs. you are a bad thing.

I personally wrestle with this because of many factors. I do have learning disabilities. I have dysnomia, a marginal short term (working) memory, and AD(H)D. When I am disorganized and forget appointments it’s easy to get down on myself. When I can’t recall a persons name, it’s easy to get down on myself. When I can’t recall what somebody just told me, it’s easy to get down on myself. It’s hard for me to always remember that what I can do is amazing. I have to push back the shame with positive inner dialogue, saying, “I forgot my appointment, but wow did I get a ton done today.”  I have to tell myself that despite the fact I forgot my neighbor’s name, I still know them and help shovel/snow-blow their drive because their snow-blower has been flaking out on them recently. Besides, I’ll recall her name in a minute or two …or tomorrow.

This problem is magnified because I am hyper critical of myself and hypersensitive in many ways. I am also gifted and it comes with all the burdens as well as the benefits. Pearl S. Buck wrote:

The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanely sensitive. To them… a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death.
Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create — so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, their very breath is cut off…
They must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency they are not really alive unless they are creating.

I’ve had this lingering caveat associated with my giftedness.  I’m gifted, but I’m learning disabled. As if it makes me less gifted and more “normal” since I balance out by having a disability. As if this should hold the critiques at bay.  It shouldn’t matter though. I should be thrilled that I have the unique insight of being extreme in many ways. I have creative ways of solving problems. I not only think “outside the box,” I have no idea where the box is (maybe I was told, but forgot).

My brother recently sent me his old CD collection. I had forgotten so much of the old music I used to listen to. I ripped all the CDs onto my computer and began day dreaming of mid 70s and 80s as I listened to Pink Floyd and Rush. One Rush song “The Trees” off Hemispheres, overwhelmed me yet again.

There is unrest in the forest,
There is trouble with the trees,
For the maples want more sunlight
And the oaks ignore their pleas.

The music had hit a place within me that had not been hit in a while. The condition of unequality in the forest resonating in society often times seeing gifted as “lofty” and LD as needing help.

So the maples formed a union
And demanded equal rights.
“The oaks are just too greedy;
We will make them give us light.”

I changed how I thought about LD a while ago because I hated the idea of a “victim” mentality, but the lyrics were still impactful.

Now there’s no more oak oppression,
For they passed a noble law,
And the trees are all kept equal
By hatchet, axe, and saw.

The song wrapping up with the vision of either everything being trimmed to the same height or just chopped down completely I don’t know, but it pushed my thoughts on to a short story by Kurt Vonnegut, Harrison Bergeron.  It made me think more about fair vs. equal and how we often feel it’s not fair when it’s really just not equal or that we think it’s fair because it is equal. I have considered this a lot more as my children grow. I do not treat them the same way because they are not the same. To an extreme example I can say that I send the older one up to get dressed herself, but often help the youngest get dressed. The older is 8 and very responsible.

I often hear parents complain about schools saying that if they did something for their child, they would have to do it for all the kids. I’ve hated that reply due to the fair vs. equal argument, but for me it goes further into what I believe in. Instead of feeling as if education is a competition, give every child as much education/knowledge as possible. Why not give all kids the audio of lectures, the notes ahead of time, the extended time on tests if they want it?  It’s been shown that giving most kids extended time on an exam does nothing to improve their score, but to some kids with certain learning disabilities, it does wonders. We need to give people the opportunity to excel and grow to their potential. There is no limited resource of education that should be doled out in equal amounts. I understand economics and the allocation of scarce resources, but school and education is different. There’s no sunlight to fight over, nor any reason to feel we need a Handicapper General to equalize.  We are all different, and I guess that’s why I think we are all so important. I don’t think Oak Syrup would taste so good on my pancakes.

So I wrestle with guilt and shame. Am I oppressive because I have gifts and can think differently? Am I in need of supplemental aid because I have disabilities? I am who I am and provide my own unique services. I empathize with people who have gifts, people have learning disabilities, and people who have both. I can see creative solutions when negotiating FAPE, 504s and IEPs. As a business consultant I grasp vast amounts of information and find solutions to problems plaguing entrepreneurs. …but I do not taste good on pancakes.

7 thoughts on “Fair vs. Equal and Guilt vs. Shame

  1. Uniqueness, talents, needs, YES, give people the opportunity to excel and grow to their potential AND support, encourage, allow, expect individuals to excel and grow to their potential. The question is no whether you can or can’t but how to. Thanks for sharing and being!

  2. This is really inspiring to me. I love the idea of how difference leads to creativity and just needs proper nurturing.
    I am poet who had a speech articulation delay when young. I read this made me “more sensitive to the sounds of language.”
    I’m wondering if I have dysnomia some too since I have trouble with names and titles of things in speech (such as, the other day, the name of my current favorite author!), though not in writing. I used to have to rederive calculus formulas. That sort of thing. Does that sound like dysnomia, or just a concept-oriented brain?

  3. Hi Robin, I have to re-derive math formulas all of the time. Dysnomia is tricky, but like you, I find in writing it is less of an issue. In marketing I had to be creative, so finding 5 synonyms for the word I couldn’t retrieve worked well. The big “ah ha” moment came when I tested moderately on one vocabulary test and then exceptionally well on another. I can’t recall the first (fill-in-the-blank style), but the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (multiple choice) was the one I did well on. I think having those 2 side by side made it pretty obvious.
    The “concept-oriented brain” term I’ve not heard before, but I have said that because of the way I think, I have to understand the whole process (I am poor at memorizing). I’ve not looked at dysnomia in that light before, but it could be connected possibly.

    1. As in, on the myers-briggs, I was wayyyyy over N, intuitive, as opposed to S, sensing. You too, probably.

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