Last week Rachel Maddow used a line that grabbed me, referring to the “shame-hole of critical self assessment.” She was discoursing about the difficulty that people have in “self” assessing, in employing meta-cognition and becoming “self” aware. This ability to become self aware is the gift of our forebrain, a gift which we all have but one which is often not utilized. I have heard political commentators note in the recent election that most people do not use this forebrain and vote on the basis of reason but on the basis of emotion which means that astute politicians will always appeal first to emotion.
But I want to focus on that “shame-hole.” Wow! What a notion that is. And from my own personal experience it is so powerful to suddenly be made “self” aware, to be confronted with reality, and forced to realize that how one perceived the world was not how the world actually is. In other words, in involves accepting the notion, “I was wrong or in error. I screwed up.” This is the famous Rick Perry “Oops” moment. (And by the way, I admire him for having the temerity to offer that honest assessment, which will inevitably end up on his tombstone!)
Shame is such a powerful experience and our fear of it keeps us from dealing with reality. We prefer to keep our head buried in the sand, to remain in the comfort of those “well-worn words and ready phrases that build comfortable walls against the wilderness.” (Conrad Aiken). As T.S. Eliot noted, “Human kind cannot bear very much reality.”
One other thought, shame “hole” brings to my mind “black hole” and I think the two notions are related. The black hole evokes terror with all of us but no more that raw, unmitigated experience of shame. I think that is what Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” was about.