When I was in grade school, that little two-room Catholic school, shaming was a big part of student interaction. We weren't shy about naming it. The procedure was this: you (probably a plural "you", since shaming was often a group activity) saw someone transgressing. (And in a Catholic school there were so very many ways to transgress.) You extended the left index finger and stroked it, from the knuckle toward the tip, with the right index finger, over and over. And while you did this you said one of two things (or maybe even both): either "ah-mm, ah-mm" or "shame-y, shame-y." Sometimes this was followed by "I'm gonna tell!" But the hand gesture and the ah-mm, ah-mm were what evoked the shame.
I don't make this a frequent topic of conversation, but I have never met anyone who knows these particular ways to shame a classmate or a sibling. Was it peculiar to Indiana? To Delphi, Indiana? To Catholics, who seem to have a lock on shame and guilt?
So deeply ingrained is this that to this day I find myself doing the thing with the index fingers when, as a pedestrian, I am endangered by a transgressing driver (e.g., one pushing the boundaries of the left-turn signal and impinging on the pedestrian's right to walk). "Shame-y, shame-y" I will mutter as I stroke my left index finger with my right. When I do it I feel a definite connection with tiny Sicilian nonnas who sign to inflict or avoid the evil eye.
Lately I'm finding it hard to answer emails. Factual ones are not a problem ("Want to have lunch?" gets a simple yes or no). But others require a more nuanced answer and I am more and more aware of the importance of Tone in emails, to the extent that I'm often paralyzed in my search for an appropriate answer.
Since my email aim is to answer and file my messages asap, thus leaving my inbox sparkling clean, I'm confused about this reluctance to commit myself—aha! The word "commit" appeared out of the blue, and that may be the root of the problem. Once I write and send an answer, my words are there to be read and, at worst, misinterpreted. (As you might imagine, Twitter offers an even more intense version of this dilemma and a tweet is thus that much harder to write. As we all know, it's a good idea to take care when composing a tweet and not covfefe them off without thinking.)
I do have a solution to the problem. I keep hesitating to answer a particular email and then, after a couple of weeks, I reread it and see that I can safely not answer it at all. So I just file it away, thus removing it from the inbox.
Is commitment the only problem here? I have several friends with whom I regularly exchange newsy and/or thoughtful emails. I sometimes find myself reluctant to answer because the story I would be telling there is something I prefer to save for more public use rather than spontaneously sharing it with my friend. That selfish hoarding must be some kind of sin, probably worthy of shaming: ah-mm, ah-mm, ah-mm!
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