April 13, 2007

Gratuitous Domestic Posting (TM)

I believe I've mentioned here before that the nine year old inherited what is known in the family as the "McDill Taint" after a crazed ancestor. It manifests itself in several different forms but in her case, like her grandfather's (of whom she is a frighteningly exact clone), the primary symptoms are an aggressive temperment and a brutal lack of consideration for the feelings of those around her.

If left unchecked, it's a soul-twisting affliction, leaving both the carrier and everyone around them thoroughly miserable. Which is why I swore when I realized that she had it that I was going to do everything in my power to help her defeat it or, at the very least, hold it at bay.

Well, the good news is that the treatment is generally working. Indeed, Mom was so impressed with the way the gel is coming along when she came down for Easter that she is even talking of inviting the child to stay up in Maine with her next summer for a bit. And when you consider that Mom really doesn't like children very much, this is a huge compliment.

Of course, we have our bad days when the demons take over. But even there, we're starting to see some good signs. For instance, yesterday evening before I got home, the gel apparently threw a major tantrum. (What it was about, I don't know.) Nonetheless, by the time I got home, she was all sweetness and light. We chatted as she got ready for bed and then read a chapter of The Silver Chair. (The gel continues to find my rendering of Puddleglum in a Down East accent hi-larious. And she spotted the Green Lady's advice for the children to make for the Giants' city for a trap the moment the words came out.) All in all, a very nice time. I could tell that the gel was really trying to be pleasant and told her as much when I kissed her goodnight.

It wasn't until later, when I was discussing the day with the Missus, that I heard about the earlier fit. I also heard that the one thing the gel asked above all others, once she calmed herself down, was that Mommy not tell Daddy about it.

I take this as the stirring of shame. It wasn't that she thought I was going to do something to her if I found out (we're long past that stage). Instead, she simply didn't want me to know that she had been acting in what she knew to be an awful way. And that pleases me immensely, as shame can be an extremely powerful tool for self-control, prodding us to do the things we ought to do and stopping us from doing the things we ought not to do. At the moment, as is pefectly natural with a child, she is using my opinion of her behavior as her motivation to control it. But I see incidents like this as the first symptoms of her effort to internalize things. In other words, she is starting to grow up.

I didn't mention the incident this morning, as she came downstairs in a sunny and helpful mood. It did not strike me that disturbing the seeds would be a good idea in light of the gel's evident effort to do better.

Of course in this psychotheraputic age, shame has become anathema. It's seen as damaging to self-esteem and a damper on our ability to express ourselves fully, a hateful governor on the gearbox of our egos. Or whatever. As you may sense, I don't think much of this way of thinking at all, at all. You need only look round you at the way people act these days to understand why. (Don Imus is only the most famous example at the moment. The practitioners of more everday self-centered awfulness are Legion.)

Now before you start flooding the Tasty Bits (TM) Mail Sack with outraged messages about the eviiils of excessive or misplaced shame, let me make clear that I am talking about it in a very specific context, namely that of behavior. None of us should be ashamed of things over which we have no control, i.e. the way we look, or the circumstances into which we are born, for instance. However, I posit that it is healthy to feel ashamed of bad behavior: not only does such feeling recognize that the behavior is bad, it is also an admission of responsibility for the behavior. And that's a double dose of moral correction that, IMHO, is just what the doctor ordered.

(Incidentally, I use the word "anathema" in its vernacular sense above, but shame has also become anathema in the original ecclesiastic sense, at least within the Episcopal Church. You need no better proof of this than a comparison of the General Confession (and other parts of the liturgy) in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer with that in earlier editions. There is, of course, a direct connection, but that's a rant for another day.)

Posted by Robert at April 13, 2007 09:00 AM | TrackBack

Well, yeah. Shame is an emotion much out of favor recently.
I once worked for a Jewish guy that told me his whole culture was run on shame...
Must be something to it!

Posted by: Babs at April 13, 2007 09:47 AM

(Robert Mitchum voice): "Shame. It's what's for dinner."

Preaching to the choir, Robbo.

Part of my nightly prayers are what the Liturgy of the Hours calls "an invitation to an examination of conscience." That's a bit new-Agey for me, so naturally, at that point I bring out the Latin text, "Confiteor Deo omnipotenti . . ." and strike the breast the requisite three times when I reach "mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa". There's really no way to improve on the tried and true.

I also think that St. Paul is greatly underappreciated. Today, he's viewed as being a scold or a nag whom we may safely ignore, but nobody does shame like St. Paul. So naturally, in my ongoing revolution against the spirit of the times, I've added the intercessory prayer "O glorious St. Paul" to the lineup:


And in my Enchiridion of Indulgences, that little ditty, recited once a day for a month, is worth 500 days off of time in Purgatory.

(Carl Spackler voice): So I got that going for me.


Posted by: The Colossus at April 13, 2007 10:18 AM

...12 years of parochial schools featuring extra big helpings of Shame's Twin - Guilt....

Posted by: kmr at April 13, 2007 10:35 AM

Ooooo...just wait till she hits the teen years.

Posted by: GroovyVic at April 13, 2007 11:04 AM

Coloss - C'mon, man. Don't you know that Paul had all kinds of internal issues and, ahem, repressions and that his self-conflict imposed on him by his times caused him to overcompensate and lash out wildly in the other direction? We should read his letters not literally, but as coded pleas for help and, wait for it, more inclusiveness!

(This very, very slight lampoon of the Progressive Church's take is brought to you by The Irreverant Cathryn Geofferds-Shawrrie, Rector of St. Loony-Up-The-Cream, Jam and Bun.

Posted by: Robbo the LB at April 13, 2007 11:16 AM

Rightly-appropriated shame does all that you say, as well as remind us that we are part of a larger whole, be it a family, a community, or a country. And that larger community will have to have some sort of basic agreement on civil and moral behavior that is acceptable if we're all to have a good story, a hug, and a loving smile before we nod off to sleep.

Posted by: Joan of Argghh! at April 13, 2007 11:57 AM

If you go over to CDR Salamander's place, he has an educational little clip up showing how the Marine Corps deals with young men with a bit too much self esteem.

Posted by: Mike at April 13, 2007 01:39 PM

Hurrah for you and for the gal and the Missus as well. Shame is indeed a very instructive and beneficial thing when (as with most things) it's in a reasonable and warranted quantity. I certainly think that our culture could get no harm from a healthy dose of shame and a little less tiptoeing around self esteem.

Posted by: beth at April 13, 2007 03:17 PM