A Working Title
(until I think of something better)
UCC Saint Liam Hall, Notre Dame
I once implied that BRIDGE didn’t seem to provide enough depth for the implied promise of its title.
I expected too much and doubted the alignment to my needs with the program’s promise.
Today, Thursday, May 13th, I withdraw my concern. It was as if the subject of today’s presentation was designed with me in mind. It resonated. It stirred something. Perhaps it was simple coincidence, or my egocentricity putting words and ideas into the subject that I then took as my own. We were warned not to take comments, criticism or the negativity directed at us from others personally, but I fell into the trap. I felt the target on my back. But not in a bad way. I saw validation and resonance. I saw an almost perfect alignment with the path of my own journey. I saw my faults and my qualities in sharper focus. It seemed as if both the advice and the warnings were meant for me. Chalk one up for BRIDGE.
The story of Weiyang Xie struck a resonant chord. Her credentials are impressive; U of MIN grad, Notre Dame staff, a contributing writer and editor for the UND University Counselling Centre, a featured TED-X speaker. When she speaks, she commands attention.
So I listened
Her topic centred on shame, the shame we feel and the shame we are made to feel and, subsequently, the shame we pass on to others. She explained the role of shame in the complex machinery of depression, the struggle she felt as a newcomer and outsider and the means by which she overcame those handicaps.
The wheels began to mesh and turn.
We can shame ourselves. We can shame others. And we can be shamed by others. Shame is an equal opportunity employer. All are acts of degradation that diminish the self-worth of the object. That is the purpose of shame. It’s the thumb on the scale, the scarlet letter, the outstretched leg to trip you up.
They all share one common element: cruelty. Shame is meant to hurt, its purpose is to bring pain, an emotional punch to the gut. I’m better than you. You’re uglier than me. I have a bigger house, bigger car, a bigger whatever. If we can just disconnect that need to compare Me with You, then we’re making progress.
If we can develop the habit (here’s another BRIDGE nugget) of cognitive behaviour and realize the potential harm that shame can produce, then we’ve taken the first step to emotional, psychological and physical well-being. If we can train our cognitive pathways to be aware of the Golden Rule at all times, then shame dissolves. It becomes the seed cast upon infertile soil.
A lot of powerful “Ifs”.
Another key element of her presentation, although she didn’t come right out and say it, was the basis of shame in tribalism. Shame is what we are made to feel when we fail in our duty to the tribe. It ensures the continuation of the tribe. Tribalism has become a bad word in today’s society and rightly so. It fosters an Us against Them mentality where MY tribe is bigger, better, stronger, more righteous than yours. Just look across our undefended border for glaring examples. ( But there again – we’re superior to you. I fell for it. ). Then comes the inevitable challenge to that assumption and the need to defend, ie: war, conflict, much unhappiness and depression. Remember, nobody wins a war.
But a degree of tribalism is unavoidable. We are social animals. Necessity packed us together long ago for our mutual protection. Genetic evolution and social norms re-enforce it. Our need to belong to a tribe was dictated by the sabre-toothed cat at the cave door, or the impossibility of bringing down a mammoth by ourselves, or protection from the tribe over the mountains.
It served us well for several millennia.
But we have grown. Years ago Marshall McLuhan declared that we are now a Global Village. Technology has freed us from our limited tribal circle (although as testimony to his vision, the reality was only hinted at when he made that pronouncement), but we haven’t outgrown our genetic heritage, haven’t fully absorbed the lesson. The task before us is to first reduce our tribe from many to one. Learn to be self-compassionate, then, with the tools now at hand and much practice, expand our tribe to global status as McLuhan predicted. He was a little premature at the time, but he knew where we were headed.
In the 12 years that Xie has been in the US working on her degree & post-doc and practicing her profession, without presuming to speak for her personally, I think she has come to some profound conclusions about shame and its eroding effect on our well-being. How to overcome shame. Charity may begin at home, but it achieves its fullest expression when it radiates outwardly without end.