The following is a collection of thoughts that are in response to an email sent out by Mark Silver, the founder of the Heart of Business, and one of my teachers. The headline was, “The Healthy Role of Shame in Business (and in Life).” If you go to the Heart of Business website, you can probably read the full post there.
Mark links shame to remorse and remorse to meaningful change, and he links all of that to recent racist events in the United States. My response below has to do with what I think of shame. I’m also wondering what you think!
CW: Potty mouth; discussion of racist violence; long-ass post
The headline of the email made me think, What the FUCK?! But I was willing to read it because I trust Mark. I trust himand I have built up many relationships here that allowed me to believe that there could be something in there for me, and that there was love, no matter what. So I was really grateful for that.
I must say, I don’t think shame is helpful or moves us forward. That said, when Mark started talking about *remorse*, I got something really different. Remorse, penitence, turning back toward Love, repentance, metanoia (Greek New Testament language), or, now I think about it, perhaps….qualities of al-Tawab? (Correct me if I’m barking up the wrong Divine Name here.)
The opportunity to repent, to change, to grow, comes from places other than shame. Shame is about one’s worth as a human being and one’s RIGHT to exist, at least in my experience of it. Shame about bodies, lives, experiences…being shamed or humiliated by others…none of that leads to change. In fact, it stymies change, leaving us (in my experience) in a La Brea Tar Pit of paralysis.
What can move shame toward remorse?
Turning away from shame. Negating shame. Making choices that engage our energy and agency, not anxiety or shame, but **because the choices are consistent with love**. We must take the opportunity, over and over again, limitless opportunities as offered to us by the Divine, NOT because we are ashamed, but as a way, paradoxically to turn away from shame.
Remorse? Yes. Understanding? Yes. I think that understanding is key here. Understanding can lead to horror….as a white woman, the first time I saw photographs of lynched black men with white crowds around them, the first time I ever saw a black man in a photograph looking like he was starving, chained and bleeding from having been beaten….I felt horror. I felt separate. I felt distant. *I* didn’t have anything to do with those images.
And then, over time, I realized that I have *EVERYTHING* to do with the realities of chattel slavery and racism in this country. I benefit from them every day. I am not separate from them. The most hallowed halls of many of our secular sacred (and religious!) buildings in the US were built using slavery of one kind or another. Our system of government, from the Declaration of Independence to now, has ASSUMED that the “white race” is superior to others. (Check out the D of I — I did just the other day, and was not happy about it.)
But that is not mine to be ashamed of. It is not mine to take in, to allow to penetrate my heart *as shame*.It is not even mine to take in as guilt — I did not do these things, though I do benefit from them and I carry white-skinned privilege ever moment of my life.
Rather, I pray to receive the horror, the astonishment, the revulsion with *understanding* that leads to *compassion*, compassion that says NO, that says, STOP, that is fierce and even terrifying. Compassion that can even encompass anger. (Do I think that’s true? I think I do.)
Shame stops me in my tracks. Shame paralyzes. But understanding that leads towards turning to the love that is Oneness, *that* is what I experience as progress.
That said, what if I had been a wealthy white woman in the South before the Civil War. What would I be saying then? There’s no way to know. Because if things were different, things would be different, no? But here I am, in this here, in this now, and this is the place I’m taking.