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 emotional state, tend to honor guilt, although 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, and also for survival within the tribe that is mostly to have a psychopathic leader with sycophantic seconds who had a tendency toward swift justice towards slights against them.

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 early 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 enhancing of 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, for example 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 utilizes 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, manipulation of others to their personal ends, 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 insitutions 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 induction of shame upon trespasses.

Guilt is a subset of shame that occurs on the 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 in our complex society in a workable manner. Like all emotions, shame works best a low to medium level, 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. So we might be persuaded to enter activities that conflict with more important values or just be shown to be unworkable.

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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.

Talking Dictionaries

You will want to check out the offerings on the talking dictionaries site. National Geographics’ Enduring Voices team has helped communities around the world to preserve their culture by preserving their language. A key element to that has been recording individual speakers and cataloguing translations of their various words and phrases. Many of those collections have then been made accessible to the community online, to serve as a resource to help them teach their native language to the new generation, who all too often would otherwise grow up learning only the regionally dominant language.

Several of these communities are now offering the online record of their language to be shared by any interested person around the world. While you probably won’t walk away from these Talking Dictionaries knowing how to speak a new language, you will encounter fascinating and beautiful sounds–forms of human speech you’ve never heard before, and through them, get a further glimpse into the rich diversity of culture and experience that humans have created in every part of the globe.

Deaf Boy’s Signing Name Forbidden at School

Following this report, the Grand island Public Schools have allowed ‘Hunter’ to keep his name. As if they had authority otherwise. Nonetheless the issue exemplifies the invasiveness of burgeoning protection legalities on all people. The extraordinary constraints that we democratic nations are tying around our every action is a constraint around the development of society. Might not is be a more sensible

Reported in 1011Now.com. Hunter Spanjer says his name with a certain special hand gesture, but at just three and a half years old, he may have to change it. “He’s deaf, and his name sign, they say, is a violation of their weapons policy,” explained Hunter’s father, Brian Spanjer. Grand Island’s “Weapons in Schools” Board Policy 8470 forbids “any instrument…that looks like a weapon,” But a three year-old’s hands?

“Anybody that I have talked to thinks this is absolutely ridiculous. This is not threatening in any way,” said Hunter’s grandmother Janet Logue. “It’s a symbol. It’s an actual sign, a registered sign, through S.E.E.,” Brian Spanjer said.

S.E.E. stands for Signing Exact English, Hunter’s sign language. Hunter’s name gesture is modified with crossed-fingers to show it is uniquely his own. “We are working with the parents to come to the best solution we can for the child,” said Jack Sheard, Grand Island Public Schools spokesperson. That’s just about all GIPS officials will say for now.

Meantime, Hunter’s parents say that by Monday, lawyers from the National Association of the Deaf are likely to weigh in for Hunter’s right to sign his own name.

Despite whatever rules and regulations may exist, some Grand Islanders we spoke with said they don’t think it’s right to make a three year-old change the way he says his name.

“It’s his name. It’s not like he’s going to bring a gun to school when he’s three years old,” commented Dana Schwieger.

“I find it very difficult to believe that the sign language that shows his name resembles a gun in any way would even enter a child’s mind,” Grand Island resident Fredda Bartenbach reflected.

But for now, that’s a discussion between the Spanjers and Grand Island Public Schools officials.

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.