Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Shame Game

Weakness, misery, does not always elicit sympathy. Perhaps that is because the weakness reminds of what we we fear for ourselves. Or perhaps it reminds us of our own complicity in some broad crime, and more, our presumed helplessness for it to be any other way.
Ta-Nehisi Coates "Notes From the Blue Period"
This is one of the wages, perhaps the most obvious and persistent one, of a culture of scarcity. When there isn't enough. the first thing that many do is go searching for someone weaker than themselves to take from. And then they blame the person from whom they have stolen, as if, had they been roundly beaten in their attempt to victimize another, they would have regarded such an outcome as just and proper.

We are taught to despise this in ourselves. But rather than becoming an incentive to rise above the habit of seeing the vulnerable as legitimate targets, that self-loathing simply inspires us to cloak it in something more to our liking, just as Mr. Coates admits to having done in his youth, and as I did in mine. Whether it's the taunts of children towards those that stir uncomfortable feelings by being different or the mockery that corporate confidence men direct towards their targets, we have learned to hide from shame by visiting it upon others.

In the comments section, Mr. Coates relates:
I spent some weeks in the North Lawndale section of Chicago talking to homeowners who'd been totally ripped off as a result of the redlining and FHA guidelines during the early 60s.

They said the hardest thing to do was to get all the black folks in the neighborhood talking about it. They knew every single one of them had been ripped off. But they were ashamed to speak for fear of appearing stupid and weak.
We are not all the same. Some are weaker than others and some are less intelligent. Shame over the appearance of being stupid and weak is the result of predicating our own-self acceptance on circumstances outside of our control. Give me anyone you care to name, and I will find someone, perhaps even they themselves, who sincerely regards them as somehow stupid and weak. Universal competence is impossible. No matter how strong and bright the person, there is always a bridge too far for them reach on their own, yet one that seems deceptively close.

In the end, romanticism and duty notwithstanding, unconditional love comes only from one place: a mirror. And that requires being able to look into it, and understand that, regardless of what anyone else says, the person who stands there is worthy of the complete and total affirmation and acceptance of the person looking back at them. Stupidity, weakness, warts and all. The alternative is to make ourselves into frauds, people who present ourselves as we believe the world is entitled to see us in return for outward acceptance. And inner shame. A shame that manifests itself as a predatory instinct. Perhaps directed inwardly, perhaps outwardly, or perhaps completely undirected. The voices of the Inner Critic are both loud and persistent.

Self-affirmation, self-acceptance, serenity. Whatever it is called, it lies in changing what can be changed, and accepting the rest. The past cannot be changed. The events that prompted us to understand that we are weaker and stupider than we feel we ought to be are fixed. Just as important as accepting ourselves as we are is to accept ourselves as we were. And in doing so, be unashamed.

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