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Why Pride matters

I hesitated as to whether to title this with a capital P Pride or a lower-case P pride; as is usually the case when I write, my entire point involves both and everything they touch. But of course, it is Pride Month in many places including the USA and UK, and as such a well-known celebration it seemed appropriate to use this as a springboard.

Pride decorations including rainbow bunting

My social media feed is full of LGBTQIA+ awareness, but I can't think of a time I wasn't aware of the importance of Pride to this community that is still stigmatised (this is a good time to note that homosexuality is still illegal in many countries, and punishable by death in some of these, and of course transgender and non-binary identities are still very poorly understood probably everywhere). I am not a member of this community and I can't begin to imagine what many if not most or all people who identify as LGBTQIA+ have had to go through, so I am not going to attempt to discuss this exact topic in any depth, but I have been reflecting on the concept of pride with a lower-case P recently and observed that these musings gave capital P Pride a new dimension in my mind, so I thought it was worth sharing in this month.

If you have worked with me in the last year or two or possibly longer, you have most likely heard me express my core belief that shame is the greatest impediment to progress. The sad thing is, so many industries that claim to want to help us rely on perpetuating this shame whilst pretending to be working against it. You know I love to hate the fitness industry, so while it's not the only offender here it's the one I know best, so here's a classic example: even if we set aside the (surely now outdated) ad campaigns involving some variant ripplingly lean and tanned fitness model reminding you that something unpleasant is temporary but that the glory of looking like them is forever (i.e. implying that your laziness or lack of willpower is the thing preventing you from achieving eternal happiness and success), any attempt at selling you something will rely on tapping into your sense of inadequacy and shame at having let yourself get to this point when these experts or their products can help you get to where you wish you were in a heartbeat. "Just a click away", "just a tap away"; "just follow our simple training programme", "simply purchase our 3-step kit", "just start today". "Just do it". It's that simple; you are just too lazy or incompetent.

dimly-lit figure holding hand to head

And so, we don't seek the help. We know how easy it would have been to fix our problems. We just didn't do it. We are to blame, and we can't possibly admit it. So we'll buy the next kit or programme or subscription, because it's made for people like us. And we don't use it, for one reason or another (possibly because we are unique humans with complex needs including a need to be seen, but that's maybe another topic for another day). But it was so simple - if we messed up, it's because we really are as lazy and incompetent as we thought. So now we definitely can't seek out a qualified and experienced professional to whom we will have to explain all the things we tried and failed at. Etc.

Unfortunately, many of us qualified and experience professionals are also part of the problem. I don't want to throw anyone under the bus so I hope it won't come as any great surprise that the majority of people who give out homework of any nature, including rehabilitation exercise, will openly joke - to not use a more negatively-connotated word - about how their students/clients/patients will never do their exercises. At this point, it's essentially a bonding ritual to roll our eyes at how frustrating it is that we give out advice that isn't followed.

drop hitting water reflecting rainbow flag

So, OK, we live in a world deeply entangled in shame as a way to create short-term behavioural change. It is worth me adding here, after my assertion that nothing positive ever comes out of shame, that it is (or can be) a powerful catalyst for short-term change - of course it is, or it wouldn't still exist. Tell a small child that picking their nose is disgusting, and they'll stop pretty quickly... only to do it in private, next time. And of course what happens in private never needs to stop, and can't be controlled; not that anyone is attempting to control nose-picking, but you can extrapolate to other behaviours that people are commonly shamed for, that may benefit from being measured and controlled rather than pushed into secrecy.

Anyway, what do we do about it. Well, there are two answers here. The clear and obvious answer is - what is the opposite of shame? Pride, of course! So we beat shame with pride. We push back at a strong emotion or attitude with an equally strong emotion or attitude. Unfortunately, this only works if both sides are evenly balanced, like a tug-of-war, which is why capital P Pride works; it is a show of community and strength in numbers (it is also why allyship matters, because fewer people will identify as LGBTQIA+ than straight, so we need a few more people on that side of the tug-of-war rope).

crowd holding giant rainbow flag at parade

In my world, where I work with unique individuals to help them reduce or manage chronic pain or to improve their athletic performance, it's not as simple as taking the things people feel ashamed about and telling them to be proud of them. It might work for some, especially if one can integrate a community upholding this pride and affirmation (here I am thinking mostly of the body positivity movement), but ultimately it is one person's pride against a deluge of shame which, as we have already noted, is inextricably woven into our society and its languages and systems.

So my job, as I see it, is to meet the person wherever they are, showing them that wherever that is is completely acceptable. They don't need to be dragged away from it kicking and screaming, even if it's to a place they want to go to. Bodies and nervous systems do not like big or sudden changes, and they will pull back in one way or another, so to leap to lofty heights in the interest of saving time is ultimately short-sighted. So I meet a person where they are and together, we identify where they want to go, and we take a little step in that direction. So we're not running away from where that person was, but we're also not telling them to be happy staying there forever if that's not fulfilling them. Of course here the comparison between my world with its lower-case P pride and capital P Pride is no longer; I am not suggesting anyone who identifies as LGBTQIA+ should be taking any steps away from what they identify as. Although, I suppose in some case many of these individuals also need to be met where they are and given space to be just as they are in that moment, and/or to explore and experiment, rather than having to present themselves as entirely one loud and proud identity. In any case, expecting anyone to suddenly be something different or change a set of behaviours is unrealistic and counter-productive.

rainbow flag with text "I love you this much" hanging from building

So why does capital P Pride matter to this massage therapist and movement coach and her clients? Because it paves the way for all of us. It shows us how powerful refusing shame can be. Shaking off shame allows us to find our community, and finding our community allows us to shake off shame. Of course, it's not as wholesale as that; we can feel less ashamed about some aspects of ourselves or our behaviours whilst still harbouring shame over others. But once we face and overcome one thing we are ashamed of we realise how much that shame was holding us back, and how it was cast on us by others against our will and knowledge.

So however you identify, celebrate Pride. Be proud of who you are, and be proud of others for who they are. Pride means community, community means safety, and safety means peace. And who doesn't benefit from all of that?

wall painted with rainbow flag and dove with olive branch

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