GUILT IS A FORM OF SHAME

I previously wrote, decrying the modern tendency for personal development gurus and psychologists to deplore the emotion of shame. Shame stands alone, among all the emotions, as being known as the ‘wrong’ emotion. These same professionals of the emotional state, tend to honor guilt, although they may make a distinction with extreme guilt. I believe the confusion around the vital emotions of shame and guilt lies in a failure to fully appreciate the internal affective state that we experience as shame and guilt.

Unable to appreciate the affective states of guilt and shame has lead to some exerts asking about shame, “What’s it for?” Previously I discussed how shame is a very important human emotion to our ‘fitting in’ to the tribe from the earliest human evolutionary period. This is very important for the survival of everyone in a tribe whose real power and security is found in the collective. The weaker the tribal member, the more necessary they must ‘fit in’ and in fitting in, be submissive to anyone else in the tribe who might ultimately protect them. Submission includes all types of usefulness such as skills and sexual favours, but also the appropriate courtesies toward the tribal leader. It is more than likely that tribal leaders have always been, and still largely are, of a psychopathic nature. A slight against such a leader is very likely to lead to swift justice only too readily enforced by sycophantic seconds whose desire to curry favour has no boundaries. Shame is an emotion of attitudinal checking, shutting down any impetuous behaviour that might attract negative attention from protectors or the leader, least that protection is immediately withdraw or worse.

Shame and guilt are not two distinct emotions. They are founded on the emotion of shame, with guilt having the added emotion of remorse. Shame is an inherent emotion activated by the child’s observance of ‘how things are done’ by their parents and siblings. It is foundational to the child behaving as ‘fitting in’ without any other necessary education although parental and sibling reinforcements through language and demonstration are certain to enhance the shame feature. The shame emotion is setup as a predictive emotion. It has an activation through future thought and imagination. Shame is like a tonus running everyone’s life. Building on early objects of shame, such as nakedness or talking loudly and freely, other complex objects eg sex outside of marriage, doing well academically at school, might be raised in family or social education. Indeed, in our complex society, there appears to be competing shaming among children, youth and adults, in the organisation of economic and social sub-tribes or cultures. Ridicule is the main form of complex shaming designed to elicit a ‘fitting in”. Low level ridicule is a constant and obvious tone from the mainstream of society. For those who don’t ‘fit in’, the shame elicits an avoidance reaction leading to the person finding another ‘tribe’. The ‘right tribe’ is the one that will utilize a ridiculing of characteristics that don’t apply to the person enrolled into that tribe, but may apply to the mainstream social group.

Some objects of shame can apply across all social groups eg not murdering others, not stealing from others. Not all objects of common shame are felt equally. For example, people have greater or lesser shame responses to being naked in public or on stage. At one end of the human shame spectrum are people who are burdened by deep bouts of shame that incapacitates them. At the other end of the spectrum, are people who have little shame around a certain behaviours. Psychopaths are people who are genetically predisposed to a lack of empathy, manipulate others to their personal ends, and exhibit a lack of shame and guilt. Psychopaths have a capacity to act, quite literally, shameless. Intelligent psychopaths are found in control roles in, probably, all public and private sector institutions and businesses, large and small. However it would be inadequate to blame shameless behavior on psychopathy and most acts of: bullying, damaging, over use of reward stimulation, and a falling away of responsibility for the social group, is performed by very ordinary people as part of the natural ridiculing tendencies. Some shameless behavior is quite harmless and may even have a contributive role in society eg in artistic expression as a mechanism for looking at the implications of specific taboos. Social and cultural taboos are noted for their inducement to shame.

Guilt is a subset of shame that occurs on the actual trespassing on the object of shame. Guilt is an emotion that rises from a past event as a combination of shame and remorse. The shame comes from the ‘knowing’ that the trespass has been committed. In a sense, shame is felt by moving the memory of the past event into the present or future. If the shame registers without remorse, then it cannot be said that guilt has been elicited. Sometime remorse is elicited as an internal state, and sometimes only with the disclosure to others of the trespass.

Guilt as an emotion should not be confused with legal guilt. Legal guilt defines an objective state of trespass. The ‘guilty’ party may or may not feel guilty or may experience any of the combinations of feel shame or not feel shame, with feel remorse or not feel remorse.

Shame is a valuable social tool for assisting people to fit into our complex society in a workable manner. Like all emotions, shame works best at low to medium levels, and can set up behavioural dysfunctions at medium to high levels. If there is a problem with shame, it is that our complex societies continue to add competing objects of ridicule as a point to that we should be behaving or allowing certain previously taboo behaviours to become mainstream, without that we really can evaluate which of these objects are unworkable or workable. Therefore we might be persuaded to enter activities that conflict with more important values or just be shown to be unworkable. Shame is mediated by have a clear set of socially bonding values that can be applied to all circumstances in social life. For most people, this means being raised by those values so that, not only are the values part of our internal locus of control but that we are privy to a ‘tribe’ of our family and others of like-minded values who can support us against the ridicule of others who hold to other values.

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Mistakes

“Mistakes were made (but not by me)” by Tavris and Aronson is a punchy 240 pages about a fundamental driver of our human identity: cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is the state of discomfort that occurs when we have two opposing ideas operating in our mind. For example, I think I am a good person, good people don’t yell at their neighbours, I yelled at my neighbours: so, either I am not a good person or there must be something about my neighbours that justifies a good person to yell at them. And thus also determines the way to war.

Cognitive dissonance seems to sit at the interface between our higher mind and our baser mind. The higher mind is a great space for virtuous idea and creativity. The base mind is all our instincts for survival. Both of these minds interact through our language centres and therein become our thought and our being. However, our baser mind provides hard wired outputs so that we can survive. Our higher mind requires educational sources, nurturing. So our baser mind can express in action almost quicker than we can think about what we are doing ie putting it into language eg be angry when feeling threatened. When an action from our baser mind expresses itself, we will most likely find ourselves at odds with our own higher mind. We experience a terrible discomfort, perhaps a deep guilt. This is cognitive dissonance. However, because we don’t like the feeling, we get rid of it by justifying our behaviour.

Self justification is behind good people doing even more terrible things. A man embezzles a million dollars from his company to pay his gambling debt. He starts by just a small amount which he pays back. But as he gambles, he takes more, and he can’t pay it back. Yet, he justifies, I will win big and all will be restored and I am a good person and I will give up gambling. But he never wins and eventually he is discovered. The small mistake, when justified, will lead to a greater and greater misdeed. Tavris and Aronson’s straightforward unfolding of the elements of Watergate, provide a strong lesson for all of us.

Tavris and Aronson identify several ways to deal with cognitive dissonance.

  1. Don’t be too ready to resolve it. Have sleepless nights. Turn your discomfort over and over. Where might you be self justifying, being right, making someone wrong. Where might you need to make a hard decision that is ethically the right one.
  2. If you have made a mistake, own up to it as soon as possible. If the mistake made a mess, you have to clean it up. You have to take the consequences. But the early mistake and consequences will be mild compared to an escalation of mistake and consequence through self justifying.
  3. Learn from the mistake. In fact live for the mistakes you make, the people who can alert you to them, and what you can learn. This will ensure that you become a great learner, a successful person, and avoid making very big mistakes with big consequences.
  4. I would add, encourage others for the effort they put into trying things, making mistakes, and particular, learning from them. Help others see mistakes, not to be right, but that they can try again, even if they fail again. This is accountability, this is empowerment. This is the place in which there is no failure, just (paraphrasing Edison) a million discoveries of what didn’t work so well, and, in looking at each one clearly, finding a great opening of possibility.

Remember, says Tavris and Aronson, you are a smart, capable person who made a mistake. You remain a smart, capable person. The mistake remains a mistake.

Punishment Doesn’t Work

On 8th March 2018, the Australian national broadcaster (ABC) ran this story of a father punishing his son for bullying by making him run to school. I am actually appreciative that this dad took a video of him driving behind the child and posting it, so that we can learn from it.
It and the supportive responses for it, does show the failure of most of society to understand the idea of consequence. This failure is not only why our child raising has created bullies and addicts but why prisons are overflowing with recidivists. Below is my take on it.

In the ABC article, bully experts like Dr Hannah Thomas, a postdoctoral researcher at The University of Queensland, said “punitive strategies like making the boy run were an attempt to teach the child to be accountable for their actions, but they didn’t always work.”They use shame, humiliation and guilt to try to motivate change in future behaviour,” she said.”This generally never changes behaviour in the long-term. It gives the child very limited opportunity to learn and acquire new skills — i.e. ways to interact in more positive and social ways with their peers.”Dr Thomas said these kinds of strategies can also have flow-on effects.”Children who are humiliated or shamed can internalise negative feelings about themselves that hinder their healthy development,” she said.”Children misbehave as they learn and develop. They need parents to be supportive when they make mistakes and to take a practical role in teaching their children how to behave more respectfully.”
What I see is that it gets down to consequences. There are two things to know about consequences: Punishment is not a consequence of someone’s action; and all actions come with unintended consequences.
Punishment is an indirect consequence of an action, and in many cases, that ‘indirectness’ is confounded by a complexity of agendas and motivations, often to the extent that it is of no consequence at all. If anything, punishment is often a pathway to a whole complexity of unintended consequences, the least of which is that the punished get that they are responsible for other’s distress and that they can be a different type of person in the world.
In this case there was a direct consequence to the boy’s bullying, he was put off the bus. The boy would have understood the relationship.
A consequence of the complaint to the parent was that the parent went into bullying mode. It seems Dad doesn’t have a conversational relationship with his son, probably an authoritarian one. His son is learning that authoritarian method, the being a three year old for the whole of your life, that is, of course, it is signified by bullying anyone as a control mechanism, a fabulous way to teach the next generation how to be a bully.
The consequence of the bullying mode by this parent is the boy being forced to run to school.
I have no problem the boy running to school. Great thing!
However, attached to that running to school is a punishment, is a bad idea!
This is where we have to get better at thinking through about unintended consequences. If we have learnt anything by listening to each other about why we find ourselves poorly motivated around some things as adults, it gets back to the unintended consequences of, sometimes, the most trivial thing a parent has done that has been completely misunderstood by the child. The consequence of establishing for your 10 year old son that running is what you do for punishment, when you do something wrong, can be that, later on in life, you run a lot and you do nothing wrong (even though you are really an A-1 tyrant), OR you do nothing wrong (you’re a nice guy) and you don’t run (you are fat, have a chronic disease by your 40s). Ultimately this boy is on a path to being either a bully for life or a failure to take-off.

The real issue though is of parenting. Parents who are in conversation with children from the time they are in the womb, parents who are self reflective in that conversation and can acknowledge with children where they messed up as well as taking a firm and clear stand with their children, parents who are up to something bigger than themselves and their family, in life, have children who aren’t bullies and grow up to be contributors to society.

CHARACTER AND MARRIAGE

Sapiens_neanderthal_comparison_en_blackbackgroundI recently read an essay on character listing the wonderful characteristics that a person should look for in a life partner. It made me think of that fictitious place, Lake Woebegone, in which all the children are above average. It seems to me that Having an ideal view creates useful distinctions as aspiration. However, looking for ideals in a marriage / life partner, apart from as their aspirational view, is entirely the wrong way to go about it.

In the first instance, it would be a miracle if you found someone who fitted those ideals, and especially our individual interpretation of those ideals.
In the second instance, unless you are also perfect in your potential partner’s eyes, there’s already a significant mismatch in expectations.
In the third instance, given that you may have found that perfect person (probably through your rose coloured glasses), and they through theirs, there is little doubt that both of you will change your relationship with the ideal within the first year of being together.
There definitely can be a great benefit to the longevity of companionship, of getting to know each other’s character in a rigorous manner (getting to take off the rose coloured glasses). The first benefit is so that we can get to know ourselves, more clearly, through their eyes. Knowing ourselves, being authentic about who we are for another, is the best way to for them to see your character. Likewise, knowing how we are being as authentic and inauthentic (for the two are constantly in play) gives us access to seeing those areas in which others are authentic or inauthentic. It also subverts our desire to dominate others through judgement because our recognition of how we are when others dominate us, tends to activate an empathetic response, in itself a desirable trait in most people’s eyes. Recognition of the authentic way of being, allows us a certain conversation in inquiry of the other. Without any expectation we can explore the attitudes, commitments, and actions of the other.
The conversation around reality becomes crucial to any empowering conversation. Reality just means how it is in actual living structure, form and action. So, conversations and inquiry around what we are in action about, becomes crucial to an understanding of authenticity and integrity.
A word on authenticity. Authenticity is just saying how you are being around some circumstance rather than covering up or pretending or repressing or condoning. It is not about being right, just showing who you are, what you need, and want, regardless of what others or society might think. It is a stand in courage, for oneself.
Integrity is a function of honouring our word, either keeping our word to ourself and others, or cleaning up when we haven’t. Integrity is not a set thing that we can achieve, but a dynamic in which we are often out of integrity either because we are playing such a big game for our personal capacity or because we are playing too small a game. Much like walking is constantly falling, standing still on one leg is harder that jogging, although both will lead to falling due to fatigue. One, however, will lead to some progress being achieved, the other, not so much.
So where does that leave understanding another’s character, in terms of life partners? Within the conversation in reality, integrity and authenticity, it becomes apparent to the couple that a relationship could either have workability or not, around that each other are regularly out of integrity and inauthentic, as a way of striving for authenticity and integrity.
Does the ideal matter at all? The aspiration around an ideal can be useful in the conversation between two people. In the first instance to gauge how far apart are the aspirations in viewpoint, current achievement, and capacity. While each persons specific visions and goals will be different even when there is a general match in aspirational viewpoint, empathetic responses are less likely to be strained. Secondly, after an aspirational match, a personality-identity match is important. This match does not mean ‘same’ but more importantly, ‘fitted’. For example, an extremely frugal person and an extremely generous person may be a poor fit, while and generous person and a modestly frugal person may make a good fit, neither having to compromise far from their personal range, while their relationship now has twice or more the range of each individual. Inside of the conversation that makes use of that greater range, is an ‘person’ who is a ‘we’ not a ‘me’. And that ‘we’ models and creates a vaster ‘we’ circle of human relationships, the basis of a whole new society.

Employability now vs the Future

Just finished listening to this talk back with Melbourne restaurateur and youth mentor Peter Coronica. Peter has employed over 1000 young people over the last 25 years.

He says parents play a vital role in preventing youth unemployment by getting kids off the sports ground, out of music class and into paid work as early as possible.

While broadly supporting Peter’s premise and experience, I took some exception to his ‘priorities’, wondering where those choices that he made, came from. Over the years i have read and listened to an array of educational experts and my conclusion is that a learning culture shows up with these characteristics that are applicable from 0 – 99 year:

  1. Mimicry and modelling;
  2. memorization;
  3. physical development;
  4. creative development;
  5. socialization, community engagement, and empowerment;
  6. exposure to the natural environment;
  7. building a knowledge base;
  8. technical skills.

I realise that many of these characteristics come from people who have spent their career on one of these items as has Peter Coronica. And their individual focus tends, i think to skew that characteristic from its appropriate expression as within a wholistic framework constructed from all characteristics.

There is more I can say specifically about this framework for age appropriate development and learning, however the framework implies a great deal of change in the structure of education, learning, culture, productivity and economics. However, i believe it is the surer future for our children and young people: to have it all.