Humility and Shame

How to Deal With Shame

Humility is generally viewed as a good quality. Without it, the most incredible people can become narcissistic and unpleasant to be around. Shame is a bit different. It’s not thought of in a positive light. The mere word brings up feelings of discomfort and maybe even a vague memory of a time when you felt shame in your own life. However, at least in my experience, suddenly encountering a shameful moment is what deflates my ego enough to allow me to find humility again.

Shame is a very interesting emotion. It is definitely one of my least favorite. It cuts deep and leaves lasting scars. But I think that this is because shame may have developed as a means for us to make sure we don’t become separated or exiled from our herd. Shame is generally something that we feel when we are behaving in a way, or doing an act we wouldn’t want others to see or even know about. It’s an important inner valve to help us determine what will cause friction or change the way others in our group view us. Which, in the past, it could have meant a death sentence if we were cast out.

There have been many times in my life where I can recall a jolt of shame immediately redirecting me towards humility and self-reflection when moments before I had been boisterous with an overly-inflated ego. There is nothing wrong with being proud or confident, but sometimes it can get a bit out of hand and start to tip over into conceit. That’s when shame can really come in handy to help us check ourselves before we get out of control.

I had a particularly shame-filled encounter yesterday evening. I won’t go into detail, but I’ve been internally cringing ever since. Part of me still wants to jump out of my skin and pretend it never happened. In the past this would have sent me on a downward spiral of destruction. (Sometimes I go a bit past “humility” and into the realm of self-hatred.) This time, I refused to close my heart to myself and to the world just because I’ve made some big mistakes. Instead of turning away, I’ve been examining what happened more closely. I’ve been asking myself: What has this incident taught me? Is there something to be grateful for in even the most painful, embarrassing moments?

Though it still makes my insides contract whenever my mind glides over the memory, I’m actually glad that it happened the way it did. For one thing, it certainly could have been much worse. Simple embarrassment was a small price to pay considering all the possible alternatives. I’m also glad it happened because it shook me out of my stupor. It quelled my growing rage and judgement of others and deflated my foolish ego. If given the choice I’d pick humility over hubris every time.

Instead of my normal, borderline road rage on my drive home that evening, I drove slowly, mindfully, with grace and compassion for all my fellow humans on the highway. A humble heart is quick to kindness. It’s much easier to hold space for the errors of others when you’ve just been reminded of your own shortcomings in such a direct way. Being embarrassed is a reminder that we all make mistakes. It offers insight into our hopes of how others would respond to those mistakes we make and, in turn, makes us more willing to offer that same understanding to those around us.

Shame is also often the catalyst for a much needed change of direction. There is a small thrill in getting away with a shameful act, and the more often this happens the bolder and more obnoxious we become. Being found out is often necessary before we can really recognize the need for change. And yesterday was definitely a blessing in disguise for me. It was a huge wake up call. It was the kick in the pants I’ve been needing for awhile now. So even though it stung and continues to sting, I’m grateful. In fact I hope that memory brands my soul for years to come as a reminder of who I truly want to be. Shame shows us when we’re not being that version of ourselves.

Now, none of this is to say that shame necessitates some kind of personal change. There are plenty of examples of society teaching us to be ashamed of things that we shouldn’t be ashamed of. For instance, LGBTQ people may feel shame for simply being themselves. Promiscuity in women is often shamed. Victims of violent crimes are even shamed. And there are many more examples of unwarranted shame that is not a call for inner change or redemption. Deep down I believe we are able to decipher the difference. If you’re unsure, as long as you’re not hurting anyone or betraying your own sense or morality, then any shame felt is a challenge to overcome within ourselves, not a call to change.

Humility and shame are a beautiful example of the duality of our experiences in this life. It shows us that even in our darkest moments, there is something to be grateful for. As someone who is a deep lover of learning, I can’t deny that pain is often our greatest teacher. And I’m so thankful that the lesson wasn’t harder. I’m going to make sure that I take it to heart so I don’t have to be taught this lesson a second time. I know that I have been acting against my own interests for many years now. I thank the universe for offering me this opportunity for insight and redirection. I will not waste it.

Benevolent Bullshitting

Not sure if good at bullshitting Or if i actually know what the fuck i'm  talking about - Not sure Fry - quickmeme

I was listening to a podcast the other day that was discussing ways to identify and avoid “bullshitting.” They made a clear distinction between what we refer to as bullshitting and lying. When you are lying, you know for a fact that what you are saying is untrue, but say it anyway for whatever reason. Bullshitting however, while often containing falsehoods, is different from lying in that the bullshitter does not know and/or care if what they are saying is true or not. In addition to that we often look at bullshitting as harmless, while we condemn liars.

The host of this podcast made an interesting point about what I’ve decided to call “benevolent bullshitting.” She brought up times in her life where she has exaggerated or embellished factual information in order to make a point or further an argument about something that she strongly believed in. They were categorizing this under the same umbrella term of bullshitting, but until then I had never really thought of it that way. Unfortunately I have definitely dabbled in this form of bullshitting more often than I’d like to admit.

Now that I’ve recognized this tendency in myself to support my point even when I may not actually have the facts to back it up, I wonder how often others do this as well. In the moment we feel justified in doing this. We are so desperate to change the mind of the person we are talking to. We are so sure that we are right. What is the harm then in exaggerating just a bit in order to get our point across, we ask ourselves. Looking back on the times when I have done this, I definitely think at the very least it has hurt my cause rather than helped it.

Not only are we being dishonest when we partake in benevolent bullshitting, we are doing a disservice to those we are talking to as well as to the issue we are attempting to bolster. If later it is found out that our assertions were unfounded, it could cause the other person to completely disregard all the other things we have said or will say in the future. They may become angry and write the issue off all together.

I am also a strong believer in being an example of what you’d like to see in the world. I certainly wouldn’t want the people I talk to to mislead me during our discussions. Therefore, why would I justify me doing the same to them? If I find myself in a situation where I cannot support my side of an issue honestly, then that’s a sign I need to do more research, not dig my heels in and continue trying to steamroll the other person into having the same opinion.

Knowing that I, myself, am a peddler of benevolent bullshit has helped me to be more cautious in conversation. I am more careful about what I say, but I am also more hesitant to take what the other person says at face value. I’m quite gullible and generally don’t consider that what someone says to me could very well be untrue, whether they realize it or not.

The phenomenon of benevolent bullshitting also highlights the discomfort we all seem to have about uncertainty or not knowing. Rather than being honest and admitting that we don’t know or have not heard the point the other side has just offered seems intolerable to us a lot of the time. Deep down it feels like we’ve lost the argument if we can’t rebut every comment immediately. However, when I am debating a topic with someone, I don’t ever feel as though I’ve “won” if they tell me they aren’t aware of the information I’m providing. To the contrary, I gain a lot of respect for someone that is able to do this.

The next time you are sharing your opinion or having a discussion with someone, try to be mindful of the temptation to partake in benevolent bullshitting. What might you decide to say instead? Can you get comfortable with admitting a certain degree of ignorance, even about an issue you’re passionate and knowledgeable about? Practice being humble enough to accept that you can’t be right all of the time. You can’t know everything. And that’s okay. Try to get curious when someone says something new or unexpected during a disagreement. Ask questions. Maybe you’ll learn something new! Which is always it’s own victory in my book. Perhaps you’ll even catch a bit of benevolent bullshitting from the other party, and get better at recognizing it.

Humbling Human Kindness

I’m not very good with people. I wouldn’t consider myself to have a very high level of emotional intelligence or interpersonal communication skills. One of the reasons I love writing so much is because I feel like it gives me the ability to express myself in ways I am unable to verbally. I think I come off completely different on paper than I do in person.

I write about the importance of compassion, kindness, and connection. Yet in my personal life, I am far from living out those ideals. I think a lot of people view me as cold and uncaring. I suppose no one has ever told me this, so I could be wrong. But I would certainly get that impression if I was on the outside looking at myself. I am always so distant. I say I care, but never seem to show it. I have a very hard time showing it.

The twenty-first century phenomenon of ghosting seems like it was made for people like me. Knowing it has a name makes it feel more acceptable somehow, even though I know it’s not. It is so much easier to simply disappear for days, months, years, or even forever instead of having those hard conversations. Sometimes it isn’t even that. I just feel weighed down by the imaginary obligation to be in constant contact with those I consider friends. It is a strange new form of anxiety that I don’t even really understand myself.

Well, that being said, at the beginning of this pandemic, I woke up from a care-free night of drinking with a close male friend. We had been hanging out regularly for over a year and we had become very important people in one another’s lives. For some reason, something just clicked inside of me that hung-over morning, and I proceeded to not talk to him for nearly six months. No explanation besides “needing space”. He tried to check in on me multiple times throughout the beginning of this period, which caused me so much guilt and anxiety that I finally asked him to stop.

I basically knew this friend was in love with me even though I didn’t feel the same, which was one reason I felt the need to vanish. However, I know what it feels like to be ghosted by someone you deeply care about. It sucks. It makes you feel desperate for answers. Desperate to at least be afforded the dignity of an explanation. It makes you feel worthless. And it killed me inside to think I had made anyone, let alone a close friend, feel this way.

A few weeks ago, I finally managed to muster up the courage to at least send him a text apologizing and letting him know that he had done nothing wrong. He said it was okay. I left it at that. I didn’t dare say anything else. I couldn’t image he would want anything to do with me anymore. I just needed him to know he shouldn’t blame himself for what had happened.

Yesterday he sent me another message, asking if we could go back to talking and being friends again now. I was shocked. But so happy. I had been thinking of him so much recently, missing our friendship. I just felt so sure that I didn’t deserve that friendship anymore, nor did I have the right to ask for it after how I had acted. Yet he was still there. Willing to forgive me and accept me with open arms.

Thinking about this earlier nearly brought me to tears. I generally have a pretty bleak view of humanity, but there are times when I am completely humbled by the human ability to forgive and to touch the lives of others. To know that he could find it in his heart to forgive me when I wasn’t even able to forgive myself. What could be more beautiful? Maybe I am not as irredeemable as I thought. Maybe I am worthy of forgiveness, of love, of kindness, despite all of my faults and all of my mistakes.

I don’t have very many close friends in my life. From now on I am going to work harder to be the friend that they deserve and show them how grateful I am for everything that they have given and continue to give to me. I won’t forget this lesson, this feeling, of a deeply humbling moment of undeserved forgiveness.