Friday, March 27, 2009


Socrates described himself as shameless. He argued that any true philosopher is by definition shameless, because the true philosopher loves wisdom/truth above all else, and certainly above any concern for social approval.

If you're going to interrogate social mores to the fullest extent possible, you need to be above them, at least intellectually.

Shame can be seen as what we feel when we cower under some disapproving social gaze. It is not - contrary to what most people tell you it is - what we feel when we *know* that we've done something wrong -- although we may feel shame under those circumstances.

Shame does not necessarily need to be associated with guilt. One can believe whole-heartedly that they are entirely in the right with a given action or behavior, but still feel shamed by the disapproving reaction of their community. We can feel shame for living in poverty, for loving a member of the same sex, for breastfeeding publicly… if any measure of social disapproval is directed at any of those things. It doesn't mean that we feel guilty for those things or that we feel blameworthy.

It means that social approval matters to us, and that social disapproval stings.

I am vulnerable to being hurt by social disapproval. It doesn't matter whether that disapproval comes from one person, or a hundred, or a thousand. I'm vulnerable to it, as are most people – whether they admit it or not.

I was gently humbled and reminded of this last week. I think that is all of the detail I will delve into today. Let us all be aware of how much weight our comments and feedback can carry, especially when we least expect it.


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