zondag 31 augustus 2014


In the workshop on thinkshame there will always be a time when a number of participants has had enough. At such a moment they are fed up with the premise that underlies the workshop. Namely that, while you only meant well, someone else may be seriously hurt by something you said; and that you feel perplexed about it.

“Come on, we’re all grown-ups! You just get yourself over it”.

Yet, I insist, in identifying the injury that you inflicted, you can feel a deep shame. That means: thinkshame, because with your thinking (and speaking) you crossed someone else’s border, even if you meant well.

“What nonsense! Shame really is not needed for a mistake, you know”.

Well, I say, injuries cán go deep. And shame, however irrational, for what you inflicted therefore can be very adequate. Apart from that – and this is my actual message – that shame simply appears to occur in such situations. And: we better be happy with that, because this embarrassment can lead to reflection and caution and can help prevent relations get completely stuck.

So, at that point in the workshop my plea is thus: don’t wave feelings of humiliation and injury too quickly away as symptoms of immaturity, because they have a big impact, just as the feelings of shame that you can have about them. Taking them seriously could very well make a lot of misunderstood behavior of people in organizations more understandable.

That argument is not only relevant for organizations. In the newspaper I read the column by Caroline de Gruyter about world politics, and she actually discusses the same mechanism as that of the workshop, but now with respect to the relationship between the West and the rest of the world.

Putin, she says, and Isis and militia leaders from Libya to Nigeria feel deeply humiliated by the Western interventions under ‘humanitarian’ label of the past decade in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Mali.

“So what? The West had modern, rational arguments for those actions indeed, who could nót understand that? And NATO membership for the countries of Eastern Europe was not meant offensive, please let Putin stay a little rational”. 

Watch out, says De Gruyter, by labeling the feelings of humiliation and resentment as immature, perhaps a lot of the present world political dynamics remains misunderstood, and more dangerous than necessary. Take those feelings seriously, however good our Western intentions may be.

Also see Something small