I woke this morning to read about a 27 year old Sudanese woman, Meriam Ibrahim, who gave birth this week whilst shackled in jail. She has been granted a two year suspended sentence to nurse her newborn, after which time she will face 100 lashes with a whip and then death by hanging. As Sudanese expert, Eric Reeves states, the lashings in themselves can be a fatal punishment, ‘the very idea of lashing someone,’ he said in an interview with Sky News, ‘and then hanging them is beyond grotesque. There is no possible justification, other than the most extreme ideological fervour.’ Despite the fact that she was raised as a Christian, by a Christian mother and a Muslim father, she is being punished for marrying a Christian man. According to the Islamic regime, she is regarded as a Muslim and therefore marrying a Christian is considered to be an act of apostasy and adultery.
How is it that these archaic practices are still going on? And other than the blatantly abhorrent human rights issue – which deserves all the attention it is getting and more – why did I get so riled up about this case, today, here and now?
I understand that this is a very complicated and sensitive topic, and certainly one that I am graciously removed from, however, it brings to the fore this notion of judgement that seems to keep bubbling up in front of me lately. Unfortunately it often takes an extreme event, such as in Meriam’s case, for these wafting ideas to form a more malleable shape.
In my cushy, centrally-heated, coffee-cultured, iWorld, who am I to open my mouth about women’s issues in Sudan? Who the hell do I think I am, making comments about religious and cultural practices that surely I know very little about?
But I can’t help thinking, who are they to say that what she is doing is wrong? Who are they to make the rules? To deem that her actions are in line with a certain level of punishment? How do you scale actions against consequences? And who says who gets to create that scale – and why them? Why do the rest of us listen? On a base level, aren’t we all just humans – all made of the same stuff? Why do we place so much importance on power and hierarchy when it so often leads to misery?
Perhaps the more important question is: why do we feel so powerless?
E.E Cummings wrote, ‘To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody but yourself – means to fight the hardest battle which any human can fight – and never stop fighting.’
Being authentic, staying real, even in the face of judgement, is one of the most courageous battles we will ever fight.
While judgement seems to occupy a vast majority of our time, I would argue that when it comes to being judged by others, people aren’t necessarily as concerned about your actions as you might think. Rather, our stories about ourselves are really what we are seeing as reflected by their behaviours and decisions – we really are inherently that self-absorbed. I love when my girlfriends tell me they had a second helping of cake, for example. I feel stronger when I hear a story about social awkwardness. I’m completely ok when someone cancels on me because ‘something came up’ as being alone is often so much easier than putting myself out there.
So when we feel judged – who’s actually judging who? Does the judgement start or end with them or you? And is your reaction to the judgement a story you’ve created about yourself or about them?
Brene Brown talks about ‘numbing down’ as something we all do in reaction to feeling powerless. But the difference in how this manifests in each of us changes with our awareness of the when and why it occurs. We can learn to understand this by asking ourselves:
Does our (insert behaviour here: eg sex, eating, drinking, working) get in the way of our authenticity? Does it stop us from being emotionally honest and setting boundaries and feeling like we’re enough? Does it keep us from staying out of judgment and from feeling connected? Are we using it to hide or escape from the reality of our lives?
Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let ourselves be seen.
Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.
Authenticity demands Wholehearted living and loving – even when it’s hard, even when we’re wrestling with the shame and fear of not being good enough, and especially when the joy is so intense that we’re afraid to let ourselves feel it.
– Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
I don’t want to be afraid of love, I want to fall into that intense joy. And yet I am. And I don’t.
I don’t want to live my life backwards – trying to have more things, more money, to do more in order to feel happier. And yet I do.
I want to be myself first, to do what I need to do in order to have what I want. And yet the fear of rejection paralyses me.
Judgement – whether it starts or ends with you – is killing us all. We need to let it go. I need to let go…
She could never go back and make some of the details pretty. All she could do was move forward and make the whole beautiful.
So it’s time for me to dig deep. To get deliberate – to stand on my own sacred ground. To get inspired – to be brave so that others around me can be brave also. And to get going – if the goal is authenticity and they don’t like me, that’s ok, but if the goal is being liked and they don’t like me, then I’m in trouble.
And trouble only creates more trouble.