Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Playing with the semantics of shame, pt. 2

Continuing the discussion started earlier, in reference to the Safe from Shame project.

Having played with 'shame' and 'shameless', let's go ahead and play with 'acceptance'.

But first, there's an unspoken question looming: “What if a society attempots to make an individual feel shame, not for something the individual has done, but for who the individual is?” Is there perhaps a distinction between shame-for-doing vs. shame-for-being?

Perhaps, there's a deeper, unifying connection. Perhaps some societies assume that everything an individual is is a result of something that the individual has done (or has not done, as not engaging in a behavior is engaging in behavior). For example, the underlying assumption of some members of a society might be that an individual who is overweight (by the society's standards) is so because that individual has failed to do what was or is necessary to avoid such a state; in this, we make no assumption that societies or individuals are rational or reasonable in their assumptions. So a person may be doing or have done everything they know in order to attempt to reach some standard, but the society judges that they have failed by not doing the right things, and so attempts to impose shame for that failure. So, in this sense, shame-for-being is an aspect for shame-for-(not)-doing. The fact that to do otherwise is not considered.

So, acceptance might come in several forms:

  1. The individual might accept that they have or are doing everything they know to do to meet the social standards.
  2. The individual may believe that the correct behavior is possible, but that they are unable to engage in such behavior for whatever reason.
  3. The individual may accept that the social standards being imposed are not reasonable or impossible (either for them, or as a whole) and so choose to defy or ignore them.

Each of these forms of acceptance may include

a) defiance of social norms and resultant repression or suppression of shame,

b) willing acceptance of the resultant shame due to the disjunct between expected and actual behaviors

c) or the integration of the difference between personal and social norms and the resultant rejection of any shame.

So, to answer the question, “Is it possible to accept what is while working to change it?” the answer might be “yes, provided that we accept 'acceptance1a', 'acceptance1b' or 'acceptance1c' as meaningful.”

Food for thought: One might seek to change aspects of oneself despite there not being an outside impetus to do so, merely out of an individual desire to improve oneself. But why does the individual think he or she is lacking and needs improvement? Where does that impetus originate?

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