My mistakes – searching for self-forgiveness

As a perfectionist, I am extremely tough on myself for making any kind of mistakes. No matter how big or small, no matter how new or old. Not being able to forgive myself holds me back in a lot of things, but it also stays in the back of my mind as a hopeful deterrent against repeating the same mistake. One thing I hardly ever agreed with was an ‘eye-for-an-eye’ behavior. “He/she started first” doesn’t mean a lot to me, because if we repeat what the first person started then how are we any different from them? Yet, I have left myself do the exact same thing.

I have faced situations over the last 5 (or 10) years that I had no idea how to deal with. I doubt anyone in my situation/age would have. Many decisions I have made are regrettable, out of inexperience. Most of those mistakes were meant to fix things or make things better, but without experience or knowledge there is no way to know if the decision is right or not. Yet with the level of expectations I have of myself, I do expect myself to know how to handle every situation. It is physically impossible, but in hindsight not being able to handle something perfectly eats away at me.

When I hear a problem, my goal is to fix/solve the problem. Complaining about a problem without trying to solve it makes no sense to me. But sometimes one must listen to the complain without offering solutions right away. Sometimes people just want to be heard. I wasn’t (not sure if still am) good at that. But one thing I also learned in counseling – how long do you listen to same complaints where no meaningful action is being taken? At what point do you become an enabler for others who want to feel better by talking it out, without taking the tough choices of changing their situation? I still don’t know the answer to that. Because I still see myself as a problem solver.

If another thing I would change, it would be to learn about mental illnesses at a younger age. I wish for a world where we would all learn about it in college. Because mental illness is too stigmatized, because those suffering from it are blamed for it or judged for it, and too many are criticized for being ‘crazy’ and not being able to get the marbles together. We never make those comments about any other organ. Yet for inexplicable reasons we don’t even remotely give the same respect to the most complicated object in the known universe – the human brain. I have never been prejudiced against anyone with a mental illness, but I certainly wish I knew better to handle it around those who might be suffering from some kind of mental illness. Sometimes good intentions don’t always produce good results, because of our ignorance of the steps that would produce good results. That is definitely one of my biggest regrets, yet I don’t know how I could have ever prevented it. Some situations come out of the blue and there is no way to be prepared for it. And by the time you are, too much damage might be done and there would be nothing left to fix.

And that brings me to the last point. Because of other people’s actions/behavior, we sometimes lose respect for some people. I think respect is earned, and no one is entitled to it. But even if we lose respect for someone, we should be ultra careful that we never even inadvertently disrespect them. First of all, disrespecting someone knowingly is extremely wrong and mean-spirited. When we have respect for someone, it shows in our actions. But when we lose it, we might not know how our actions might not always be respectful. Let’s say we have been mistreated a lot. That doesn’t mean we can do whatever we want and tell ourselves that “it is all going to end the same way, so why should I make any extra effort to be nice.” Maybe the other person who was disrespectful or mean wasn’t doing it on purpose. Maybe they can’t help or control their behavior without professional help. But if we can control our behavior, it is our moral duty to never disrespect anyone knowingly, and do our best not to disrespect them unknowingly. If our actions become a little careless because we aren’t watching our behavior closely, it is better to build a distance so we don’t disrespect or hurt someone, than to stay at the same place and inadvertently disrespect them. As this point, saying “but they have done it a billion times worse” is not an excuse.

These are some of my mistakes I wish I can take back. Sure, we learn from experiences, but sometimes getting that experience might be too late. But we can never learn about every single issue in the planet? So what do we do when we experience something we have never seen before? What do we do that by the time we figure it out, it is already too late? Life doesn’t give easy answers, does it….

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Female Modesty and Good Character

Let’s be honest. When it comes to dressing modestly, the rules are usually applied to women. And dressing ‘modestly’ means covering up as much as possible. But who decided that covering up is modest? What is the logic behind it? We are all born naked. Every other living species on this planet is naked. Different cultures across space and time have different standards of dressing up. A lot of it also depends on the climate where all these respective cultures originate. So why is covering up equated with modesty? And why is it applied to women predominantly? Well the answer is Patriarchy, but ideas are generally hard to break down in a single word.

I believe a person has the right to dress as they please. Of course there are exceptions, which depends on workplace rules and/or safety issues. A business might have rule about a certain dress code for employees, or a lab might have one about fully covered legs and no open-toed shoes. As long as these rules are applied uniformly, there is no discrimination. But what happens when society and/or state expects or requires certain standards. And what if those standards are invariably applied to women. I think it is a woman’s right to choose what she wants to wear and how to express her individuality through her attire. But what annoys me is the idea that women covering up = modest = good/pious/virtuous women.

Why does a woman’s character depend on her attire? Why is covering up seen as representative of a ‘good woman’? When someone argues “XYZ is worn as a symbol of modesty”, then doesn’t it mean that someone not wearing it is seen as immodest? If covering up is good, what makes a woman who wants to wear a summer dress, evening gown, a two-piece, or nothing at all? How many individuals and societies in the world see it as a sign of decadence and immorality? Isn’t that where the attitude ‘she was asking for it by her dressing’ originates from?

When I criticize one side, I don’t mean to say that only that side is bad and other sides aren’t. It only means I am talking about a particular side because I might be more familiar with it, or I want to talk about that side right now. Big chunks of South Asian society (and elsewhere) is highly misogynistic. There is a lot of cat-calling, harassment, and many other forms of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse of women. Showing of skin is seen as a sign of ‘loose morals’.  And doesn’t this thinking originate from the original idea that ‘covering up’ = good? As an immigrant living in the United States, one of the most disgusting ideas I have experienced since childhood is that white women are ‘easy’ because they don’t cover up or have loose morals compared to brown women. They are seen as highly sexualized objects. And it is not just an attitude among young men. Even too many old women are against having Caucasian daughter-in-laws because they are seen as having loose morals, bad characters, or not good family values. So whenever I see immigrants sexually harassing or abusing white women, for me it doesn’t just fall under any sexual harassment. I have seen it and experienced it again and again how white women are seen in sexually repressive cultures. For men who think like that, white women are easy while brown women are properties that they own. Husbands, fathers, brothers have veto power over the lives and decisions of women. Any disobedience = woman is of bad character/morals. And sexual harassment is extremely prevalent, if hidden under the carpet. The worst part is how many women publicly proclaim there is nothing wrong, and privately bemoan the harassment and abuse they themselves or women they know have faced. Shoving this under the carpet drives me crazy.

Yes, our planet is patriarchal. Abuse and harassment happens everywhere. But not every place is the same. Some places are worse than others. And it has nothing to do with genetics. It is just an attitude that is taking longer to modernize in some places compared to others. Criticizing one place more than another place isn’t racism, it is just about facing reality. It is about trying to improve our species everywhere. And we can’t move forward in fighting sexual harassment if we keep equating ‘covering up’ = modest/good etc. And if we don’t speak out against these medieval attitudes, we are not helping the women living in those societies! We cannot support individuals and still challenge collective attitudes. If we become so scared of being called racists for questioning ideas, not individuals, we are failing the women who are fighting battles in their own cultures regarding their status. We are failing the women who are fighting to break free, if we keep saying criticizing ideas and attitudes itself is racist. Sure, fight for a woman’s right to cover her head. But don’t let someone get away with saying “this is a sign of modesty”. A woman’s character depends on the same traits as a man’s character – actions, behavior, thinking.

A woman’s character is not dependent on whether she wears a sexy summer dress or is covered head to toe in summer’s heat. Because this attitude continues the subjugation of women in a man’s world. This attitude prevents women from expressing themselves fully in many cultures and countries. This attitude supports laws passed in many nations jailing women for not covering up. This attitude continues attacks on women because ‘she was asking for it’. This attitude continues to see women as objects. Making a woman cover up so she doesn’t distract men is also sexual objectification of women. A woman is not a distraction. Men must be taught to see women as their peers and as people, not sexual objects or something they have power or control over. We have to let go of the anachronistic ideas of modesty, something so disproportionately applied to women. Modesty varies by culture. Modesty is subjective. And modesty or good/virtuous character does not depend on what a woman wears or doesn’t wear. So anytime I hear someone say ‘women covering up is a sign of modesty’, I am going to speak out. Because that single attitude sees too many women negatively. That attitude has caused too many problems for women for far too long. Skin is not a reflection of ‘loose morals’ or  ‘bad character’. Skin is what we are born in. Let us celebrate our natural ‘clothing’…our skin, our individuality. Let us speak out against rules/expectations/attitudes that literally wants to hide women in clothes/curtains/four walls and sees it as good thing.