Saturday, 2 July 2016

No shame

I'm immune to shame. It's something I just don't feel, ever. I can't imagine what it even feels like. People say "I'm ashamed to be British" or "I'm ashamed of my parents" and I really don't understand what they mean.

It seems to me you only feel shame if you're embarrassed by your own thoughts and emotions and actions, and by other people's responses to them. You think there's something wrong with you for being the way you are, so you feel disgraced, disgusted with yourself, "rotten".

I've never seen it like that. I'm not embarrassed by my own behaviour. Why should I be? It's what comes naturally to me, and I can't stop that. If I make mistakes, it can't be helped. I do the best I can in any situation and if it falls short, that's just bad luck. If other people judge me for my mistakes, I don't care. I know they make as many mistakes themselves, so they've no right to be so judgmental.

It's strange that I pay a lot of attention to other people's opinions - as I don't like to offend or upset anyone - yet those opinions never cause me shame. They might cause me to act differently, or choose my words more carefully, but shame seems like a weird over-reaction.

Why should I be ashamed to be British? I'm not responsible for the actions of 65 million other Brits. If a bunch of them create havoc in some foreign city, it's nothing to do with me. I may share their nationality, but I don't share much else.

And why should I be ashamed of my parents? Your parents are what they are, with all their shortcomings and daft beliefs, and it doesn't reflect on me in any way. I'm a totally different person, and my parents' oddities are neither here nor there.

It might be different of course if I'd done something seriously outrageous. If I was a serial killer or an arsonist or a wife-beater. But my misdemeanours aren't in that league.

32 comments:

Ursula said...

You have never felt shame, Nick? You do not know what you are missing.

I don't saddle my horse like you do. Where you and I differ, and please correct me if I misunderstand you, to me feeling ashamed is not about myself. Shame is what you feel when you have done/said something almost unforgiveable to other people. That "please let the Earth swallow me" moment.

Take a ludicrous example, and I may have related this before. My British mother-in-law (newly acquired) died. I learnt the hard way that in England you need to wear a hat at occasions of, say, Henley (Regatta), Ascot (horses) and, naturally, your mother-in-law's funeral.

It was a last minute quest. And it was ridiculous. Not least because hats don't suit me. Apparently any hat will do as long as it's a hat. Twenty minutes before shops closing in York, Yorkshire, still no suitable hat to be had, I hissed at MIL's freshly bereaved son: "I am not going to look hideous just because your mother has died." To this day, Nick, and it's been over thirty years, I die a little death every time I think of what I uttered there, in the heat of the moment. THE SHAME OF IT. Mind you, five minutes before the shops closed I found a fine snazzy number with a little veil to cover my eyes. Thus I was allowed to attend MIL's funeral, and you know what - she'd have been the first to approve of my stance. Wonderful woman. Still ... it wasn't the finest moment of my life, and shall have a special place in my personal hall of shame.

U

Nick said...

Ursula: It seems ridiculous to me that you were expected to wear a hat at a funeral. Even more ridiculous that you were expected to rush around trying desperately to find one. To my mind, all that's required at a funeral is to wear something suitably respectful and not a micro skirt or a "Smash The State" tee shirt.

I'm surprised you still feel shame after thirty years. You just made a rather blunt comment in the heat of the moment. It wasn't as if you were insulting the deceased or making inappropriate jokes. But I guess like most emotions, shame is irrational and grips you whether you like it or not.

kylie said...

Nick,
My general impression of you is of someone who has suffered a lot of shame. Something like the woman who accepts misogyny because she has internalised it so completely that she doesn't even understand it exists.

Shame is an enormous source of behaviour control in this society and nobody is immune to it.

Ursula,
I understand your horror when recalling the hat story, i would be susceptible to all of the same reactions (including not wanting to look bad!)

Wisewebwoman said...

Shame is second nature Nick for those of us culted in the RC church. Sex, being a woman, tempting men even when a child, vanity, pride, disobeying parents or husband. I've talkd to other cult victims. It takes years to break free mentally and emotionally.
For instance shame for my brain (better than my bros) was with me until my fifties until a partner straightened me out.
and shame for my casual cruelties to others as a result of my own shame.
Toxic shame stole much of my life and my relationships.
XO
Www

tammy j said...

well said nick.
well said.
i'm thinking simple forgiveness might be the key.
the ability to forgive ourselves and forgive others and stop the constant
JUDGING.
it seems to me you've reached ...
or maybe you've always had
a sensible approach to it all!

Ursula said...

Sorry, Tammy, I disagree. Sometimes you just have to stand by, and admit, that you have messed up. That has nothing to do with "judging". Anyway, what's wrong with judging yourself? Harshly, if need be. Wish people would do it more often rather than pointing fingers at others or sobbing at the harsh deal fate dishes out every so often. Not that there is anything wrong with "sobbing" [at the harsh deal fate dishes out ...].

As to forgiveness, and please do forgive my being facetious, Tammy, I thought that's what the Catholic church is for. Sin, repent, seek forgiveness. Repeat. Nah, if only it were that easy.

U

Nick said...

Kylie: That's an interesting comment because I sometimes ask myself, is it possible not to have a certain emotion, or am I just burying it? I've never come to a conclusion.

But why do you think I've suffered a lot of shame? Certainly humiliation when I was bullied at school, and when I was picked on by a particular boss, but that's different - you feel belittled but you don't feel you've done anything wrong.

Rummuser said...

While I agree with you that I don't have to feel ashamed of what some of my countrymen might do, I have been ashamed a few times with myself for my own behaviour which in retrospect could have been different. I am only human.

Nick said...

www: I've heard that so often in connection with religion, especially Catholicism of course. I've never had any religious beliefs so I was spared that particular source of guilt and shame. It does seem that shame seriously contaminates relationships.

Tammy: Forgiveness is a good antidote to shame, but I think those who instill shame often relish the sight and have no wish to spoil it with forgiveness.

Nick said...

Ursula: Fair enough to admit you've messed up over something, but you don't have to feel ashamed about it. But I do agree that people should spend more time judging their own inadequate behaviour instead of rushing to judgment on other people's.

Ramana: As I say, there are always times when we regret our behaviour in retrospect, but there needn't be any shame attached to it. Yes, we're all human and making mistakes is one of the things we do.

John Gray said...

I grew up with shame nick.
Shame of my skyness, shame of my inability to play games, shame of my alcoholic mother
I could write a book about shame

Anonymous said...

I just can't remember if I felt ashamed about something one day and as you say why be ashamed . We can mess up about something and just recognize it honestly.But I must admit that sometimes I can feel embarrassed about someone else behaviour , for example lack of tact or comprehension.
Mia More

Dave Martin said...

You've clearly never done anything you feel you deserve to feel ashamed of Nick, and if that's truly the case then all power to you.
I however hold myself responsible for certain events in my life and feel appropriately ashamed of myself for them and the effect they had on others.

Nick said...

John: I'm sorry to hear that. Your childhood must have been quite an ordeal at times. My parents were pretty eccentric but nothing as serious as alcoholism.

Mia: I often feel embarrassed by other people's behaviour - rudeness, raucousness, self-pity, attention-seeking, you name it. But that doesn't make me feel shame, just amazement that they can be so unrestrained.

Nick said...

Dave: I can't say there's anything in my life that was that damaging to other people, unless you count the way I rather abruptly jilted a girl friend or two! I guess I'm just not that reckless or impulsive.

tammy j said...

I never even gave a thought to the 'shame' instilled by most organized dogmatic religions. which then requires 'forgiveness' to stay 'in the fold' apparently. and be included in 'the greater good!'

I think they have done way too much in instilling the 'pointing finger' type of judgement by the very type of people I was talking about.

some people are so unforgiving of themselves that their personalities become crippled. all for what?

not to say there aren't some actions of any of us that truly might be shameful and have a need for coming round right.
but for instance...

the shame that john grey endured in his early years. sad.
he's a fine man. and was probably a great kid.
so silly and pointless really.
but people can be cruel. and we take on their point of view and it becomes shame.

perhaps I wrongly used the word forgiveness when what I really meant was
kindness.
simple kindness. to oneself and to others.
I think if you have the choice to be judgmental or cruel or kind...
you should always choose kind if you can.
it's a matter of semantics I guess.
I didn't choose my words carefully enough apparently!

Nick said...

Tammy: That's one thing I never do - take on other people's points of view about me. I listen to them and they may even change my mind, but at the end of the day I judge my own behaviour. As long as I think I acted correctly, that's good enough for me.

A bit more kindness in the way people treat each other would be an excellent thing. There seems to be an increasing harshness and cruelty in the air, as shown by the huge surge in racist and xenophobic attacks since the referendum.

Bijoux said...

I don't think feeling ashamed or embarrassed is something one can control.

helen devries said...

Some of my sins of omission can still make me wake up at night...but I don't give two penn'orth of cold gin for what someone else thinks of me.

Nick said...

Bijoux: I agree. I may be immune to shame, but I get embarrassed by any number of things!

Helen: I can't think of any sin of omission that I've ever fretted about. And I don't believe in sin either!

Ms Scarlet said...

I do usually shrug or laugh off the stupid things I have done.... and I have done some stupid things. On your previous post I wrote that I was ashamed to be British.... what I probably meant was that I'd like to distance myself from the whole sorry affair - imagine me side-stepping away, hoping that nobody notices that I'm a Brit, and slipping out of the back door to have a quiet fag.
I hope this clarifies my previous comment.
Sx

Ms Scarlet said...

P.S i.e.... what I mean is that I don't want to be thought of as guilty by association....
I think I have clarified enough now :-)
Sx

Maria said...

I do my best not to embarrass myself or others, but I can make gaffes sometimes and feel uncomfortable afterwards, but never ashamed.
Greetings Maria x

Nick said...

Scarlet: I understand exactly what you mean. My reaction is very similar (well, except for the fag). Especially here in Northern Ireland, where the Brits don't have a very good reputation to begin with!

Maria: Exactly what I was saying! Often uncomfortable but never ashamed.

Jenny Woolf said...

I have shame on my mind quite a lot now - not mine but sheer incredulity that the politicians who have got us into what looks like an increasingly desperate mess just don't seem to have any. I feel another kind of shame that I did not realise how neglected and overlooked and helpless so many of those Brexit voting areas are although I've lived in similar areas and should have guessed. But shame and anger are sometimes very close relations.

Nick said...

Jenny: An absence of shame seems to be an essential qualification for today's politicians. They do the most appalling and damaging things without having any sense they are doing something horribly wrong. In fact it's worse than that, a lot of them are simply playing games with other people's lives.

Many many people are struggling against the odds to make a halfway decent life for themselves, while the politicians feather their own nests. Average wages have barely moved for at least a decade, while living costs have soared.

Keith Smith said...

You must understand that racism cuts both ways. I live on the outskirts of Leicester, which has the highest concentration of Muslims in the country (according to Google) most of whom seem to be young men. I used to shop every Saturday in Leicester, I say used to because now I feel like a foreigner myself and now shop in Hinckley.

I'm old, and now handicapped, and can only walk slowly so consequently people get annoyed that I might be in the way at times and verbally abuse me. It always seems to be the Asians that make nasty comments ie: "Get out my way, you piece of white sh**e" and "Get out of Leicester, it belongs to us now!" and so on. Sometimes it was so bad that I feared the abuse might turn physical.

I used to meet up with two Muslim friends the about same age as myself (79) and we would go to the Halal Restaurant for lunch and a chat, but that had to stop because of comments being continually passed to my friends.

Keith Smith said...

Sorry Nick, my comment was intended for the "No longer welcome" post, but I clicked on the wrong post. Getting old, you see.

Nick said...

Keith: That sounds dreadful. That sort of reverse racism doesn't get much media coverage. It's especially sad that you can't even go for a meal with Muslim friends without their being criticised. I really worry about the future of the UK if that sort of vicious, divisive hatred becomes more and more widespread.

Nick said...

Keith: If you want to re-post it on the later post, please do.

Keith Smith said...

I'll leave the comment here. I did report a verbal racist incident once to the police, but nothing came of it. In fact the person that passed as a "Desk Sergeant" just said "Well, that's life. Nothing we can do about it". I just don't go into the Leicester City centre any more.

Nick said...

Keith: That sort of indifferent attitude from the police seems to be a bit too common these days. The NI police are constantly criticised for not doing enough about paramilitary activity, street protests etc. They even say these things should be sorted out by "the local community" and it's not their job!