Theodore Roethke with his poem, “Dolour” capture so poignantly the prison that shame can create for us. He captures the daily grind of routine, devoid of spontaneity and spirit, which Emerson had reference to when he bemoaned that, “Most men live lives of quiet desperation.” For desperation is what ensues in spiritual deprivation, which always leads to addictions such as drugs, alcohol, ideology, (including religious ideology), and consumerism:
I have known the inexorable sadness of pencils,
Neat in their boxes, dolor of pad and paper weight,
All the misery of manilla folders and mucilage,
Desolation in immaculate public places,
Lonely reception room, lavatory, switchboard,
The unalterable pathos of basin and pitcher,
Ritual of multigraph, paper-clip, comma,
Endless duplication of lives and objects.
And I have seen dust from the walls of institutions,
Finer than flour, alive, more dangerous than silica,
Sift, almost invisible, through long afternoons of tedium,
Dropping a fine film on nails and delicate eyebrows,
Glazing the pale hair, the duplicate grey standard faces.
Healthy shame is necessary as it can nudge us into the tribe we are born into, teaching us to “make nice” in the interest of group coherence. We then respect rules of decorum, civility, respect for each other, and even agreed upon ruses that have an important function in making the tribe cohere. But toxic shame often steps in and these necessary “rules” are forced upon children, sometimes with subtle and often not so subtle brutality so that the whole tribe is force-marched toward some unknown end, driven only by the force of habit etched deeply in the old brain.
Toxic shame breeds a tribe/nation of automatons who are readily manipulated by the power structure which controls the reins of the economy and government. And in the modern world, particularly in present day America, we find ourselves enthralled by a demagogue who in less than two weeks could further squash dissent and allow him to continue his assault on traditional American values, including those that we like to describe as “Judeo-Christian.” People who are shamed into submission lack the capacity for critical thought; critical thinking would evoke in their heart the experience that Rick Perry suffered in 2011 during a debate, an excruciating spasm of self-awareness, when he realized he had made an ass of himself and had to utter the famous word, “Oops.” It is very hard to admit “oops” when you are shame-bound as you just cannot admit having made a mistake. (Now how Rick Perry did it, I don’t have an explanation. But it did speak well of him!) We make asses of ourselves, much more often than we are willing to admit, and when it happens it is redemptive if we can say…perhaps, merely…”oops.” Oh, if Trump could just learn this simple word!
Here is a list of my blogs. I invite you to check out the other two sometime.