Reframe stigmatizing situations to generate grace

by Jane Mahoney, PhD, RN, PMHCNS-BC on September 30, 2010 · 2 comments

in stigma

I was having a conversation with some colleagues the other day when someone asked a very intriguing question:

If we considered ourselves as protagonists in a book – our own life story – what would be the title?

This got me to thinking … at first I thought I would title the book “Trying to Make Lemonade.” Then I decided on “Loving Lemonade.” I think it’s a catchy title. I have to admit, I may have been inspired by the nearly 100 degree daily temperatures we have had in Houston this summer. What is better than a tall, very cold glass of lemonade on a blistering hot summer day?!

Simply perfect

I found the recipe for perfect lemonade online at Simply Recipes. Sure enough, it’s real simple – just lemons, sugar and water. Of course the trick is to get the ratios of the ingredients just right. But isn’t that always the case? Nothing is really that simple.

Lemons ~ sugar

Over at The Squiggle Sense, Scott Kelso and David Engstrom use the squiggle (~) to indicate complementary pairs, opposites that occur naturally and are connected intrinsically. Sweet (sugar) and sour (lemons) are complementary pairs. In the case of lemonade, you need the complementary pairs, sweet (sugar) and sour (lemons), plus water to blend the two.

I think “lemonade makers” are possibility thinkers – “what if” kind of folks. I like to think I am “making lemonade” when I try to change something negative into something positive. For example, what would happen if I give that grumpy guy a bright smile? Would his mirror neurons kick in and cause him to send a smile back my way? I certainly would rather that happen than find myself sending back a frown.

Now, I don’t want to sound Pollyanna-ish about this because I have really grumpy days, too. It’s just that there are so many possibilities for things to be better. I became curious about the opposite of stigma. I confess I had to look up the antonyms. I found several, but the two I like the best are honor and grace. Why these? Because, in addition to other definitions, to stigmatize is to dishonor or to disgrace. So the question is this: How do we “reframe” a situation in which a person is disgraced and turn it into a situation of grace?

Something to contemplate over a cold glass of lemonade!

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Donna Barton October 1, 2010 at 8:48 am

Great food (drink) for thought! Love it, Jane!

Roger Verdon October 1, 2010 at 8:48 am

Yes, more grace would be wonderful. I keep hearing that grace and honor are declining concepts, rolled over and crushed by the steady pounding of swiftly moving social media as the more popular public soap box. We have adopted a style of communication akin to what happened at the OK Corral. Why pause to practice grace when it’s more fun to fire off challenges and criticisms? And, thanks to electronic communication, you never have to confront your victims. It’s no wonder that stigma arrives unbidden and uninvited like poisonous toadstools that suddenly pop up on the lawn.

The decline of civility began in political circles via TV, but has spread and is now so rampant it’s a wonder we leave our homes anymore for the vile downpour of venom that seems to flood our lives and our public interactions. Students videotaping and webcasting a classmate’s private life, which ends in suicide, a gubernatorial candidate threatening to kill a reporter, a constant televised and twitterized barrage of petty accusations over irrelevant public misbehavior, while excluding public debate on issues that truly matter. All this defeats the nature of grace, honor, civility. All this sets the stage and creates a welcome environment for finding comfort in stigmatizing others for their nationality, their gender, their politics or the state of their mental health. Surely, if we don’t flinch at calling one another names in public, why would we pause when someone dumps on mental illness?

I believe pounding back is the only answer and the way to make lemonade. Confront the lack of grace with grace, defeat dishonor with honor and be civil in the face of incivility. Live the model. When stigma shows up, confront it intelligently, but confront it. Building a class action email onslaught against public figures who misspeak and say crazy or nuts when they meant to say something else only demeans the organizers. Individuals merely hunker down and wait out such attacks until a new headline surfaces and covers their last bad quote. Instead, write a private letter to offenders that is calmly and clearly constructed. Reprimands don’t require screaming.

I’d like to compliment you on delivering up a nice, quenching splash of fresh thinking on a mighty important subject. Lemonade matters.

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