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It’s good to be ashamed

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JUNE 26, 2023

Every kid had a favorite toy when they were growing up. 

Mine was this puppet, toy pig with these bulb-like, beady, black eyes that almost looked like giant marbles. I called this toy Piggy, and I even gave her she/her pronouns. 

Now, I was never a girl who cared much for tons of stuffed animals. In fact, I never had that many. My bed usually consisted of three pillows — two lying by my bed’s headboard and one by the wall my bed was against — and Piggy. 

For the majority of my childhood, I could not sleep without her tucked between my arms. She accompanied me on all of my family’s vacations, seeing the wild creatures of Australia, enduring the heat of Taiwan and feeling the metropolitan, slightly urine-scented air of New York City; she’s seen as much of the world as I have.

I love Piggy. She was there for every midnight cry, for every peaceful nap and for every moment of quiet when I just needed something to hold and touch. 

Unfortunately, she has also been there for my uglier moments. For every argument I have been in with my parents, every bad test score, every awful dance class and every mood swing, Piggy has endured many slams against bedroom walls, several shoves into pillows and an infinite number of tight, furious compressions and squeezes of her body. 

At some point, there had been so many occurrences of Piggy being brutally tossed against floors and walls and car windows that her eyes began to crack. Then, on one awful night, right after my mom got mad at me for leaving toys all over the floor, I chucked Piggy so hard against my bedroom wall that the paint chipped. 

Oh, and her right eye fell off. 

I remember becoming a little scared of Piggy, to the point where I put her on my desk and tried to sleep without her that night. I failed. I didn’t get a wink of sleep, feeling the stare of that single black, beady eye from across my bedroom. 

Eventually, I started sleeping with Piggy again, but then the vicious cycle of rage and fury continued. 

And then, the left eye fell off. 

Now, there remained only two black spots where the beads had been attached to Piggy’s face.

I cried about it. I cried a lot. But it wasn’t over the fact that Piggy looked weird without her big eyes or the fact that her eyes had fallen off in the first place. 

No, I was crying out of pure guilt. I felt miserable knowing I had so recklessly abused my poor, toy pig for so long and had never even stopped to think about how she felt. 

Why hadn’t I taken a moment to care for her more? Why hadn’t I ever cuddled her, reminding her just how great of a toy and even greater of a friend she was to me?

But in that moment when I was sinking in waves of shame, a light shone through the water and danced along the skin of my arms and tickled my face. 

From that day forward, I stopped tossing Piggy against walls, slamming her into pillows and squeezing and compressing her poor body; I couldn’t really find it in myself to. 

I simply sleep with her while gently holding her between my arms, hoping to make up for my prior violent ways. However, the message of this piece extends beyond treating your toys with care; it relates to real people too, revealing that sometimes, the only force powerful enough to end the ongoing cycles of our mistakes is our own sense of shame.

It can be good to be ashamed. 

Because I was so ashamed of how badly I had mistreated Piggy, I felt obligated to put it upon myself to improve and abandon my “abusive” ways. The truth is, we have given shame a very poor name over these last few years, but shame brings on change; it’s the first step toward moving in the right direction. 

Shame exposes us, and it puts us in very vulnerable positions. Oftentimes, it can feel as if one is being thrown into oceans to drown and into fires to burn.

However, in the same way, I believe that shame is the life raft or fire extinguisher that prevents us from suffering from our mistakes. It cannot be denied that as much as it feels like it’s causing harm, there are moments when it’s saving us as well. 

Shame is vital in helping us to meet our own standards and live up to our values. Although shame is perceived as a toxic emotion and widely undervalued, if you take the time to listen to it, the shame that our minds force us to feel as a result of our faults serves as a constructive tool to help us grow and feel better about ourselves. So, don’t be afraid to acknowledge the shame you feel sometimes. Or, as some would say, there’s no shame in the game.

Naomi Hsu writes the Monday column on childhood comforts that have shaped the person she is today. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter.

AUGUST 05, 2023