[Paleopsych] CHE: Exploring the Good That Comes From Shame
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Fri Jul 1 01:32:18 UTC 2005
Exploring the Good That Comes From Shame
The Chronicle of Higher Education, 5.7.1
By PETER MONAGHAN
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
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
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
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