Choosing Compassion Over the Shame Game

When I was a college student, The Truman Show, came out in movie theaters. In the movie, Jim Carrey plays Truman Burbank, who unbeknownst to himself has been the central character in a 24 hour a day live television show, since the day he was born. I remember being a little disturbed by the movie because the thought of someone secretly filming me 24 hours a day felt intrusive and scary. As I watched the film I thought about how vulnerable it would feel to have someone see you at your worst and best moments. But then I dismissed the fear of being in a TV show called, The Christy Show, because it wasn’t possible for someone to tape me without my knowledge.

Unfortunately, fast forward twenty years from 1998 to 2018 and this week I saw a video of Anthony Torres, who was captured on film without his consent or knowledge while he was shaving on a New Jersey transit train. This video was released with the purpose of shaming him and unfortunately after millions viewed it the comments on social media and in news stories were pretty ruthless. Anthony was called “a pig,” “a slob,” “disgusting,” “a dumb drunk,” “the rudest commuter in America” and “an animal.”

Since when did shaving on a train become such a transgression? When I am running late, I have put my make-up on in my car more times than I want to admit. Does this make me a disgusting pig? If we are honest many of us have done last minute grooming in our cars, but we just happen to be lucky enough that these moments were not covertly recorded.

When I saw the video of Anthony Torres, it took me back to watching The Truman Show. When I watched this movie in college, the thought of someone taping a video without your knowledge seemed incredibly unethical, which led to my outrage when I saw the The Anthony Show. This was not a Hollywood movie, but Anthony’s life and this man was being filmed unknowingly and shamed by thousands of people across America.

Luckily some journalists decided to dig deeper and find out more about the story of Anthony. What they learned is that he is a 56 year old man who is homeless and has already suffered two strokes. It also turns out the day Anthony was being filmed, he had just left a homeless shelter and was on his way to see his brother and so he wanted to shave in order to look respectable, because he had not seen his sibling in a long time.

Anthony told The Washington Post, “They don’t know the real me. It’s been rough. There were a lot of nights where I laid under the bridge and cried.” I think Anthony’s words, “They don’t know the real me…” are words we should pause to hear. Often we shame other people after witnessing them in one moment of time. But we need to be extremely careful about what we say about others, because we don’t often know who they truly are. Before we speak any words about another fellow traveler on this journey, we must hear their story, their pain, their fears, their hopes, their tears and their dreams. But once we know who they really are, we will likely no longer be able to speak negatively about them. For when we take the time to hear their story, we humanize them and see their scars and wounds and even their beauty and resilience.

Can you recall a time when someone else has used shaming words with the intent to show you that you are not enough? And can you remember times when you’ve done this to others? The truth is we all fall short. I have said things about others I later regret and you probably have too.

As unfortunate as The Anthony Show is, it is a reminder that each one of us have a story and inherent worth. We all are deserving of people looking deeper to see who we truly are. Instead of judging a book by its cover, let’s read and discover the full story of the lives of people we initially judge. Each one of our stories will illuminate the truth, which is that we are all broken and beautiful and that each of us has strengths and growing edges. Rumi said, “The beauty you see in me is a reflection of you.” When we stop shaming one another and start seeing one another, we also will become kinder to ourselves. Having empathy and grace for ourselves and one another is what our nation desperately needs.

I want Anthony to know that we see his beauty and that his story will always remind us to refrain from bullying no matter our age.  But it is also my hope and prayer that we will stop playing the shame game with people in our families, our workplaces, our neighborhoods and even in the political environment who we struggle to see. Let’s create a compassionate world that sees and celebrates one another.

Let’s choose compassion,


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