The Death of Private Behavior - Kimberly Thompson


During the World Series playoffs this week, the Astros’ Yuli Gurriel made what is being called a racially insensitive gesture against the Dodgers’ Yu Darvish. Gurriel, a native of Cuba, also mouthed the word “chinito” (roughly, “little Chinese boy”) at Darvish. In an earlier era, the incident probably would have passed with very few people ever knowing about it, but the constant presence of the media, providing close-ups even in the dugout, has insured that there is no such thing as a private fault, nor indeed any truly private behavior.

            I have mixed feelings about the collective outrage and forced apologies that almost invariably accompany such lapses in socially acceptable behavior. The death of private behavior has forced us to make a choice: between, on the one hand, tacitly approving of this sort of behavior, and on the other hand, participating in collective outrage that escalates the gravity of these incidents. There doesn’t seem to be any in-between option.

            And therein lies the rub for unfortunate people like me who see multiple sides to all issues.  I want an in-between option. I want an option where people across our society, no matter what group they belong to or identify with, are able to live their lives without maltreatment, harassment, or shaming. I also want an option where people, no matter what group they belong to or identify with, are free to grow and make mistakes without every media outlet in the nation weighing in.


            Cell phones are everywhere, so that our own personal lapses can also be caught on video and posted online any time. Only the most uninteresting, unimportant and nondescript of us can hope to maintain any sort of private behavior. The rest of us could lose our jobs, our reputations, and much more over the publicizing of what we thought was private. There are those that will say that it is only right – bullies and bigots have been getting away with far too much for far too long – and sometimes I would agree with them. When bad behavior has risen to a certain level, it is a relief when a cell phone or security camera captures a sample and the wrongdoer is punished or at least embarrassed. However, the death of private behavior is a double-edged sword. For those of us with a conscience, the very people that society needs to step up and be leaders, it creates a “gotcha” atmosphere that we dread. Do we really want people of conscience to strive to be as uninteresting, unimportant, and nondescript as possible?

            I see myself as a sort of prophet of anti-perfectionism. The most destructive kind of perfectionism is rooted in the belief that important other people expect us to be perfect. After 30+ years of recovering from my own perfectionism, I still feel that dragon stir inside when I see how easy it is for private behavior to go so, so public. I may not make a habit of racial slurs, but I am very aware that I have other faults and failings that have the potential to damage myself and others. When I was younger I was shamed by them, thinking that I was “less than” because I was plagued by shortcomings. Over many years, I have learned to see them as the growing edges of my soul.

            So if the cameras had to capture Gurriel’s offensive gesture and words, escalating a personal fault into a national issue, then I pray we all take a cue from Yu Darvish, who sent out this lovely tweet after the incident was publicized: “No one is perfect. That includes both you and I. What he has done today isn’t right, but I believe we should put our effort into learning rather than to accuse him. If we can take something from this, that is a giant step for mankind. Since we are living in such a wonderful world, let’s stay positive and move forward instead of focusing on anger. I’m counting on everyone’s big love.”


     I am Dr. Kimberly Thompson, a clinical psychologist in private practice in Lubbock, Texas. I work with mothers and their children to help them heal, grow, and live their most vibrant lives. My particular expertise is pregnant and postpartum women, and moms of “littles.” My book, Perfect Mothers Get Depressed, is available on Amazon and from Praeclarus Press. If you live within driving distance of Lubbock, you can work with me face-to-face; if you live anywhere else in the state of Texas, you can work with me via online therapy. Send me a message if you need more information, or call my office at (806) 224-0200 if you’re ready to book an appointment.