[Paleopsych] CHE: Exploring the Good That Comes From Shame

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Exploring the Good That Comes From Shame
The Chronicle of Higher Education, 5.7.1


    Elspeth Probyn, professor of gender and cultural studies, University
    of Sydney, Australia

    The cultural emphasis on self-esteem and pride veils the benefits of
    shame, Ms. Probyn argues in Blush: Faces of Shame (University of
    Minnesota Press). Shame, a universal feeling, alerts us to examine
    what we are and would like to be, she says. When there is "public
    silence around shame, it doesn't get discussed, it just gets more
    deeply embedded."

    Q. Why the title "Blush"?

    A. All emotions are embodied, but shame feels the most embodied. Of
    course blushes show more clearly on freckled Celts like myself, but we
    all feel that heat on our face. There are some deep similarities that
    humans have, and we have perhaps overly fixated on the differences
    during the last 20 years.

    Q. What good comes from shame?

    A. A kind of painful good. It would be silly to say that shame doesn't
    hurt and isn't sometimes very painful, but it does make you think
    about what you hold dear, whether that be at an individual or
    collective level, or as a nation. It is one of the emotions that most
    clearly throw into relief the values we have.

    Q. Is shame, which may prompt self-improvement, more trustworthy than
    pride, which demands but does not always deserve respect?

    A. Yes. Part of my interest in shame came from thinking about the
    limits of pride, especially when it's used in queer pride, or fat
    pride, or whatever. There is a real limit to those politics. Shame
    could be used to highlight what we ought to be proud of but haven't
    quite achieved.

    Q. If shame is worthwhile, how about shaming?

    A. Shaming is very limited in its value. It requires that someone
    stand on high and point the finger. Some strands of feminism have used
    shaming, but it's the experiencing of shame rather than the wielding
    of shame that can be good.

    Q. How can shame inform ethics and politics?

    A. Well, if, for instance, after Abu Ghraib, we'd all just paused to
    say, "Oh, my God." But you have to have a political culture built up
    that's capable of those moments of pausing and reflecting. The most
    courageous governments would be capable of that -- the ones that are
    most deeply rooted in a democratic sense.

    Q. How do people who have been instilled with a harmful sense of shame
    early in life discern negative shame from positive, elucidating shame?

    A. That might be helped by distinguishing clearly between shame and
    guilt. In the internal, intrapsychic, intrasubjective sense, guilt can
    become just lodged there, whereas shame is more mercurial and doesn't
    seem to lodge anywhere. It returns and forces us to think again about
    our actions.

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