By Jo Mooy
Recently I was with several women out to dinner and, after the waiter took our orders, there was a brief lull in the conversation. Then one woman, new to the group, asked if we’d seen any of the Academy Award movies. “Only Three Billboards,” I replied. “There’s one you should see,” she said in a delightful French accent. She filled in some blanks about it, including the fact that Allison Janney from West Wing was nominated and won for Best Supporting Actress in the film.
“What’s the name of the movie?” I asked.
“I, Tonya.” she replied.
“The ice skater who hit Nancy Kerrigan on the knee with a pipe at the Olympics? That Tonya?” I asked. Confirming it was Tonya Harding, the conversation erupted into long-held beliefs about Tonya Harding. There were many derogatory comments about Tonya’s shortcomings: her sordid heritage; her lack of class; and her limited education. There was visible pain reflected on the face of the French woman when the comments degraded to calling Tonya, “white trash.”
One of the women, noticing the French woman’s expression and wondering if the use of the word had escaped translation, asked, “Do you know what ‘white trash’ means?” The French woman said she had never heard the saying until she came to America, and it upset her greatly. She said she could never understand how Americans use the term so freely without any regard for another person. “There’s such hate and a lack of compassion when they say the words,” she said.
Sometimes, a seemingly casual conversation can turn into a powerful reveal. The conversation stopped. Staring at each one of us, she asked if we knew any of the hardships Tonya had gone through to achieve skating success. A few sheepishly said the only thing they knew about Tonya was what they had seen on the news. “You really should see the film, it may change your mind,” she told us. Her words, filled with sadness, had a significant impact on all of us. We vowed to see the film, not knowing how greatly it would change the conversation.
From the age of three, Tonya was the victim of her mother’s verbal and physical abuse. She was psychologically beaten down and told she was worthless. The only thing she could do well was ice skate. But her uniforms, hand-sewn and drab because the family had no money, brought her additional shame. When she married, her husband continued the physical beatings. She eventually dropped out of school to skate professionally, but because of her gritty background she never measured up to the more elegant and glamorous skaters. Her technical abilities, landing a perfect 6 in a triple axel at the U.S. Championships, were blemished by the Nancy Kerrigan incident. Though her husband was the mastermind, she was blamed and banned from the sport she loved.
A French woman, visiting the United States, had called us on the carpet for judging another person without understanding her background. While we all had strong opinions of Tonya, none of us had walked in her shoes. The film forced us to do that. We saw what transpired in this woman’s life to make her behave the way she did. How would we have taken the abuse? Would we have fought back to become a great skater like her? It was a major wake-up call.
In this stridently polarized country we live in, judging others is a national pastime. We’re all guilty of it. We do it easily and with great fanfare. We allow the news or social media to supply the opinions that we readily adopt as our own. And, we never seem to be concerned about how the judgments we own are levied on someone else. Why not? Perhaps it’s because we’ve all failed in the basic caution: Do not judge another until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. We left the film with a better understanding of Tonya. We rose to her defense. We vowed to be mindful of judging others. That’s what happens when you Walk in My Shoes.
Jo Mooy has studied with many spiritual traditions over the past 40 years. The wide diversity of this training allows her to develop spiritual seminars and retreats that explore inspirational concepts, give purpose and guidance to students, and present esoteric teachings in an understandable manner. Along with Patricia Cockerill, she has guided the Women’s Meditation Circle since January 2006 where it has been honored for five years in a row as the “Favorite Meditation” group in Sarasota, FL, by Natural Awakenings Magazine. Teaching and using Sound as a retreat healing practice, Jo was certified as a Sound Healer through Jonathan Goldman’s Sound Healing Association. She writes and publishes a monthly internationally distributed e-newsletter called Spiritual Connections and is a staff writer for Spirit of Maat magazine in Sedona. For more information go to www.starsoundings.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.