I was in Germany last week – not that you’d know it – but there was one evening when a group of people decided to have a party. Now given that they only get together once a year, and they are German, this means one thing and one thing only: alcohol. Oh, and sausages too. And a great deal else that is truly scrummy yummy. If you put down a German for eating sausages, you’ve never tried one of theirs – at least their better quality ones. What’s more, they’ve got eight hundred different varieties too. Their beer is incomparable: it is carefully brewed to the Reinheitsgebot, their cleanliness rules that allow only four ingredients: water, yeast, malt and hops. And literally nothing else. The Germans have been brewing their beer like this since 1527 or whenever it was.
But then, the German brewers aren’t stupid. They spray the hops with all the additives and preservatives and whatever other cocktail of chemicals you put into modern beers these days – and so the beer still holds to the letter of the law, if not the spirit. You’ve got to get around these laws somehow, and adulterated hops wasn’t something the legislating fathers considered in the early 1500s.
So back on topic: here is a party of Germans who are enjoying their beer. By about nine they were legless; by ten they were howling the place down – and this continued until well after eleven. It sounded like there was a fire in the chimpanzee enclosure at the local zoo. These guys really were off their heads. Now it must be mentioned here that they were inside a tent. They were shut off from the world, and thus the world couldn’t see them.
They could hear them, but that’s not the same thing. They couldn’t be seen.
Thus they were able to act without the least shame.
It’s a little like the British on holiday in Ibiza. They aren’t at home where anybody they know is going to take any notice, the only people around are your friends. Friends who are as legless and gobby as you are yourself.
Which is the point really: people will act decently when they are on parade, so to speak. When people they regard as their authority are present, they will behave themselves. When they’re out of the way and can’t be seen, there’s nothing to stop them from actually enjoying themselves. Put bluntly, their behaviour – both in public and in private – is immoral. If they only behave in public because they have to, that means they only behave because of some perceived authority in their life and not because there’s any consideration for those who live around them.
Put the other way around, they’d do what they wanted if they got the chance. Hence the wails and howls late into the night, and their not giving a shit about anything or anybody.
What interests me about shame is that it truly hurts. We all have it built in, as it were, because none of us go to the toilet in public – well, not at least when sober. That is to say, fully conscious. We hide when we need to go to the toilet; in many countries, they go to the lengths of keeping the genders separated because their shame is so clearly developed that a man couldn’t ‘perform’ if he even knew that a woman might in the same room. Girls have the excuse of just closing the door.
If anything is shameful, we hide ourselves away if we want to do it. This is a process – something one can witness displayed in a myriad forms, all of which have the same root. Anything that is done by a person to hide something is done out of shame: the cover to the engine of your motorcar to the difficulty of getting through to speak with your bank on the telephone.
It’s all shame.
Looking The Other Way.
If shame is to hide something, what is it that one is actually hiding? My group of Germans felt comfortable enough to behave so horribly because they knew nobody of importance could see them. Why then did they need to ‘let off steam’ in this way in the first place? What is it in the circumstances of their lives that lead them to bottle up all the misery and loneliness – only to lose consciousness on the one occasion when they’ve got company? Alcohol has some very real attributes – but that is for another post that has been in the pipeline for a while.
If I can take the metaphor of hiding as the fulcrum that shame pivots on, what were those Germans hiding from and why? Was it the fact that when they are at home they say nice things to their neighbours, but feel intensely jealous of them because they’re so happy in their life? When that self-same neighbour is jealous of them for seeming so happy with theirs? Why do people hide behind lies – for that is precisely what this kind of behaviour is – the “good morning” is only ‘good’ because it’s easier to use that word than tell the truth about one’s life. If that is, one had the words to describe what one felt, and more importantly, trusted one’s neighbour enough to tell them the truth.
It really is nicer to tell an untruth.
That doesn’t make the truth any less real for the lonely person, it just makes it harder to explain the next time you meet. This activity is to hide the truth about one’s life – and it’s easy enough to do. I don’t know of a society in our modern world that doesn’t excel in telling untruths. Mainly because it’s easier, and because it’s easier it means you don’t have to struggle with the harsh words that describe the beautifully decorated flat you live in that even with its plush furnishings is as lonely as hell when the telly’s not blaring.
And yes, my blogging is one way for me to avoid my own loneliness; but then, I look for people who are honest – and I do find the odd one here or there. But my post isn’t about them, it’s about shame: what drives it and how to spot it.
The Real Problem With Shameful Behaviour
Is that most of us are’nt aware of why we feel ashamed. Which only makes the problem worse – yet, the simple answer to any human problem is to talk with other humans. Hence my looking for those who are honest, because I’ll tell you, they make my week. Those who don’t know (or want) to look for people who disagree with you – which in our modern world is what it boils down to – aren’t going to find much solace in saying “good morning” to their neighbour when the only thing they want to do is to burst into tears.
This kind of distancing – a social aspect to hiding – only becomes worse the longer you let it happen. The ‘good’ becomes more false as the weeks and months pass by. The distance becomes the greater, the loneliness the more intense. The barrier to speaking the truth with someone becomes even higher. Because wherever you see barriers, you’ll see someone hiding behind them in shame.
It is the solution, but if it is to be effective it does need to say what you mean. Scrawling graffiti on an underpass doesn’t make it effective communication just because lots of people get to see it. The point is that they’re not going to sympathize with the plight of the lonely graffiti artist who can only perform when hiding in the dark.
There are too many like the graffiti artists who imagine that this is the solution. But the imagination, if it is to be effective, has to be founded on reality – and in this instance, reality means that people know what your scrawled graffiti means.
It simply isn’t enough for it to be there as a statememt because it’s a distancing of oneself from others if you are saying nothing. It’s the no-risk option, to say nothing to everybody: that way everybody’s your friend. Which only compounds the illusion that others get to hear you. The problem is that they cannot empathize with you because they don’t know what you’re talking about. Which is what communication is all about.
Self expression is the answer, and it is the answer because expressing oneself is to express what one thinks and feels: and it is this kind of activity that really hurts others. It hurts them because they cannot hide their shame any longer, for it is the way a self-expressive person talks that is always intimate and focussed on the people they are talking with. Put the other way around, engaging with someone is like stripping a businessman to his underwear. He would feel extremely uncomfortable without his clothes and his briefcase – not forgetting his expensive bowler hat. Not that this would worry him at the seaside. But of course, that’s what they all say, isn’t it? Everybody strips to their underwear at the seaside, so that’s okay.
The Herd Mentality.
Which is how the herd mentality develops: everybody does it, so you do it too because you lack the imagination – and more importantly, the courage to do anything else. People do what others do because it’s simply easier to tell lies than it is to tell the truth. They’re hidimg behind everybody else!