Shame and Guilt
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Shame and Guilt • Posted: Dec 29, 2009 15:30:49Comments WelcomeVote CoolPhotoblogsPurchase a PrintShare

It's hard to imagine why in the days before Christmas someone would put a sign in their window accusing passersby of being or potentially being a "Loser". But, there you have it.

Within the American vernacular "loser" means "a person who fails frequently or is generally unsuccessful in life". It's an insult, intended to publicly shame and elicit private feelings of guilt. But why? Why, especially, just before a holiday intended to celebrate profound hope for forgiveness, grace, charity, and good will?

If you have a pet, try something. Say to your pet they've been bad, e.g. "Bad dog!" Now, if your pet happens to be a dog, very likely you'll get a response of drooping ears, sad eyes, and drooping tail. The dog will feel guilty and display shame and supplication, not unlike a great many humans. But do that with a cat, and you'll likely get indifference. The same with a horse, pig, cow, goat, hamster, snake, chicken, or pet cockatiel. That's not to say those other animals are incapable of self-examination and feelings of responsibility, but they certainly don't seem to talk the same language as we and dogs do regarding such things.

Humans and dogs are highly social creatures. They've evolved to function best in groups, particularly in cooperative hunting. It isn't surprising that both species would evolve a mechanism for repairing social trust and willingness to include should a particular individual screw up and disrupt the productive flow. Individuals are prone to screw ups. If the group didn't have a mechanism for repair, the group wouldn't last and the species as a whole would be less viable.

Now consider: what happens to the group when certain individuals don't learn to not screw up as often? The group falters and tempers flare. Those certain screwups are physically attacked and driven from the group. The mantra "No one is irreplaceable" is born.

Within the world's news these days are sickeningly innumerable stories of rape, amputation, disfigurement, and execution as punishment for social screw ups. Has the inability to learn from past mistakes grown to epidemic proportions within our species? Or have individuals evolved to something beyond the aspirations of many of our groups? In other words, have traditional groups lost relevance simply because they've failed to learn and evolve from their own past mistakes? Clearly, both possibilities are likely. Serious disfunction occurs when individuals incapable of learning rise to roles of leadership within groups that fail to learn. Artificially described immutable ideals are proclaimed righteous and nature's message of flexible adaptation is lost and forgotten unto oblivion.

It's interesting to note that just today the Associated Press reports recent Web postings by the would be terrorist who days ago attempted to bring down a U.S. Airliner, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, display extreme feelings of guilt at not being able to reconcile a normal youthful sexual appetite with notions of religious purity. His solution? Strike out at both himself and what he came to believe is a corrupt society.

Very sad. Be thoughtful and judicious in your use of shame and guilt. Lessons from nature tell us the objective is for our species as a whole to adapt, survive, and prosper in peace and harmony, not destroy itself in maladaptive flames of guilt and hatred.

Sunday, December 20th, 2009
Van Horn