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From Shame to Self-Awareness
There's another way of looking at shame
“The greatest gift you ever give is your honest self.” — Fred Rogers
Self-awareness is a remarkable leadership skill.
Practiced in real-time, or at least daily, it has the power to help you be more sensitive and thoughtful in your approach and it opens your eyes to how others see you.
Situational self-awareness allows you to course-correct and change your behavior or approach in the moment, without reproach or reprimand.
When you’re self-aware and can show empathy simultaneously, people will fall over each other to follow you.
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Late-blooming self-awareness—that is, self-awareness obtained through reflection weeks, months, or even years after the fact—can be a crippling process.
We’ve all had the experience in which we were dumbstruck in a conversation, unable to reply to someone who took us completely off guard. They make a remark and we find ourselves devoid of a witty rejoinder or a defensive retort.
What do we do?
It’s only later, when basking in the coolness of reflection, do we discover the perfect turn of phrase that was concealing itself from us when we most needed it.
But consider the alternative—and this is one I’ve experienced more times than I care to remember—when we do say something or behave in a certain way. When we are able to show others the stuff we’re made of.
Most of the time, these are inconsequential chats or incidents. But occasionally, there are embarrassing moments that we later regret. Belated waves of shame pass over us, causing us to cringe retroactively.
I think back now to some of the things I said or the ways I treated people at certain points in my career, and I want to crawl into a hole. I’m remorseful over the way I made people feel and I regret how inconsiderate I was.
If self-awareness were a prescription drug, it would come with a listing of adverse effects:
WARNING: May cause fits of discomfort, up to and including dealing with reality, guilt, remorse, shame, regret, anxiety, over-thinking, and self-consciousness.
Speaking of self-consciousness, in his autobiographical novel Boyhood, Leo Tolstoy described his youthful joy of philosophy:
“I frequently imagined myself a great man, who was discovering new truths for the good of mankind, and I looked on all other mortals with a proud consciousness of my dignity.”
However, as he gained more self-awareness, his outlook changed:
“Strange to say, whenever I came in contact with these mortals, I grew timid…ashamed of every simplest word and motion.”
Consider also the story of Adam and Eve, who “were both without clothes and were not ashamed” when they began life in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:25). After eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, they gained both self-awareness and shame:
“Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” (3:7)
Take heart that the benefits of self-awareness outweigh the risks. You’ll feel more connected not only with yourself, but with the people around you. That will help you lead and manage others and make working together much easier.
Not to mention you’ll be grounded in reality and more likely to exhibit empathy.
There’s no shame in that.
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“Shame on the soul, to falter on the road of life while the body still perseveres.” —Marcus Aurelius, c. 170
We like to think our pets are extensions of ourselves. So it stands to reason that you might ask, “Does my dog really feel shame?” (JSTOR Daily)
Rules of Engagement: as we reflect on the origins of and holdings within museum collections, we can consider the value of shame in objects. (Lapham’s Quarterly)
The ethical life means being good to ourselves, to others, and to the world. But how do you choose if these demands compete? How should you choose the right thing to do? (Aeon)
“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” — Edward Abbey, 1989
Communication, influence, ability to lean quickly, and self-awareness are key leadership traits. Here are four ways to increase your self-awareness. (Center for Creative Leadership)
Leaders love to win. But in reality, there are times when you wont win. While losing may feel terrible, you need to be able to lose with grace. (HBR)
Women who write about their pain suffer a double shaming: once for getting injured, twice for their act of self-exposure. (Aeon)
Recommended Listening / Reading
“Not for any profit, but for the honor of honesty itself.” — Cicero, 45 BC
I’ll freely admit (without shame) that it was easier to find two books rather than a podcast on shame. So this week, you get two book recommendations.
Is Shame Necessary? New Uses for an Old Tool explores how one of society’s oldest tools can be used to promote large-scale political change and social reform. Urgent and illuminating, Jennifer Jacquet’s book offers an entirely new understanding of how shame, when applied in the right way and at the right time, has the capacity to keep us from failing our planet and, ultimately, from failing ourselves.
As a Gentleman Would Say focuses on those moments when knowing exactly what to say is an absolutely necessary challenge. From the light-hearted “how to react when someone turns you down for a date” or “what to say when you notice someone's fly is open” to the more serious “what to say to a co-worker who has had a miscarriage or to a friend who has suffered the sudden death of a parent,” this differs from other etiquette books in that it not only offers suggestions for the correct thing to say in more than 100 social situations-it also gives examples of what not to say.
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.