Reverse Engineering Humiliation.
In a rather bitty dialogue on an anthroposophical blog, a gentleman spoke of my style of conversation:
“Your style of conversation is to throw the words of the conversant right back in their face, and try to humiliate them. Why do that when conversation is so important between equals?”
What I want to look at in this rather abstract post – as several of mine have been in the last weeks – is the nature of humiliation. What it is, and what it signifies. Because if there is one thing that humiliation does not signify, it is self-assurance.
In my post “When My Heart Sings” (1) I spoke of a young man who had the self-assurance to say, “I don’t necessarily agree with that.” Fair enough. We’re not here on earth to agree or disagree with anything: we’re here to determine our own path in life, and part of that is to discern one’s own, personal opinion. In fact, what the young man was saying was “I’ll see if reality itself brings me the same answers.”
My problem here is that it’s going to take him twenty years to do so. Well, it would be a problem if I wanted him to follow the path that I have trodden myself. Which would be reassuring – only, well, I don’t need people who hang on the hems of my skirts. I prefer those who walk side by side. With this attitude, I can accept that he’s going to spend twenty years of his life determining what I have learned…
… in the last five.
Well, if he’s achieved that by his mid forties, I will be more than pleased. Because he’ll be a good few years ahead of me. But this isn’t a race: it only means that I have done my job in sharing some important and essential concepts with a person who, like me, has the abilities to work them out for himself. It’s just a little quicker when someone gives a quick nudge.
This young man could have spoken in quite a different way, though. He could have said that I was trying to impose my will over him and thereby humiliate him. Had he done so, I would have returned to my Thomas Hardy and said no more. There’d be no point in saying any more.
The question is why.
What Is Humiliation?
Humiliation is when you are bettered by another, and haven’t the response – or cannot think of one. This happened to me the other day when a young lady, this time, spoke of her experiences in a post linked to a few days ago (2). She spoke in a way that used my concept of the ‘comfort zone’ but did so in a manner so completely different to my own experiences. Her argument was so simple, so elegant and so delicately phrased that it hit me between the eyes. I was totally floored. Totally humiliated.
That is to say, I had no response to make to the concept she had thrown squarely in my face.
My brain was in turmoil because the things she said were so different from my own concepts that I hadn’t a leg to stand on. Yet, in referencing them to my own concept of the comfort zone, she made a direct link that I couldn’t imagine. The only thing I could do was to spend the next two hours on my allotment garden trying to accept the things she had said to me. I will add that having calmed my poor brain, I am still largely baffled by the things she’s said in that post. Well, we’re still friends and there’s time for me to really get my head around the sheer simplicity of her thought. Elegance by any other name; and it was an elegant thought, it was phrased in words so elegantly put together that the effect on me was the more profound still.
So that was my humiliation. She was so clearly beyond my reach, conceptually, that I was most certainly her junior. But I cannot accept this: humans are equal, and she has shown me time and time again in the short period of time we’ve spoken, that she regards me as an equal. I’ll put it the other way around: she trusts me enough to speak her mind.
Irrespective of the results.
Like me being humiliated.
She took that risk, and took it because she knew that at some point I would come to understand her. In a world where so few understand her point of view, is it not worthwhile to find someone who you can talk with frankly and openly? About things that offend others? And without worrying about yet another door being slammed in her face? I’ll bet it’s happened enough that she, like me, just brushes it off and thinks no more of it.
You see, my humiliation was personal: I didn’t blame her for humiliating me. That’s not the point: the feelings of inadequacy were most certainly all mine at that instant. The reason she took a risk with our relationship was to test me. Okay, so she found me wanting on this occasion, what I will say is this: it is her challenge to me to try and get my head around the things she said to me. Furthermore, there is only one person who can help me in this: her. It is now her job to coax my mind through the bramble patch that she has spent so many years picking her way through, so that I, like that young man I spoke with, can arrive at something far more quickly than were I to do it for myself.
If that ever came about – her suggestion was so outlandish, so outside my own experiences that it would have taken an equally consistent and equally personal shock to bring it to my attention.
So this is a public and very thorough thank-you to that young lady for having challenged me in the way she did. For her having humiliated me. Having done so, and found me ready and willing to meet her challenge, we will form a bridge far stronger than any that is formed by mere words. We will eventually find mutual understanding in the things she has spoken of. In that, I am truly grateful that she did humiliate me in that way. But then, I am the kind of person who accepts humiliation from those who to outward appearances are my junior.
The world of thought and of emotion are dislocated from earthly, material reality in a way that is utterly incomprehensible to most. I called it ‘the disconnect’ because I hadn’t any other term for it. Given that it meets with the reality of the situation, it stands the test of verity. It means we must expect the reality: we cannot expect the things we say to others to be accepted just because we want them to.
This story is a case in point!
I doubt for one moment that the young lady intended to floor me. But she did. An otherwise gentle and clearly expressed post about Schizophrenia knocked me to the floor. But that bull’s eye wasn’t her intention. In my own researches, I had opened a hole in my own argument – and holes beg to be filled. Well, emotional ones at least. I needn’t have read that post, I could have remained ignorant of the truth – in the way so many people prefer in our modern day and age. It was having read other posts of hers that told me that this particular post would be interesting, the result being that I was hoist with my own petard. I was gagging for the knowledge, I wasn’t expecting the emotional upset that followed.
Which is why people go on about humiliation. They don’t want this kind of thing; they know enough and are happy with that. In saying that I humiliate others, they are only saying that they resent my attempting to broaden their horizon. That is to say, challenge their comfort zone. Well, that’s what comfort zones are there for, isn’t it? Protecting. It’s yours, not mine. Don’t interfere! Well, that’s ‘Purchase Money’ thinking for you. Selfishness by any other name. Egoism by another. Because defensiveness is always a matter of saving oneself the humiliation of having to say “I was wrong”.
Because believe me, that post I linked to about Schizophrenia told me that I had gotten it seriously wrong.
But then, I this is to say to her: “I’m not accepting what you say; I really have to work this out in my own self.”
But then, I’d rather be told I was wrong by someone who can write in as elegant manner as the lady in question. Because if she can write so elegantly, she has the capacity to engage with me – these things all work hand in hand, don’t they? – it means that she will take risks on my account. Not to floor me this time, but to determine how best to help me.
What more can I ask of a friend?
Because reality is reality. Kick a stone with your bare feet and you will hurt your toes. For people with a more tenuous hold on reality might say something like, “that’s a nice analogy.” This was said to me on Linkedin’s Emotional Intelligence group. So much for intelligence about emotions. Can any of you who are reading this tell me if it hurts to kick a stone with your bare foot? It’s bad enough to stub your toe on the table leg when you’re wearing slippers. It doesn’t take much imagination to extend something that has happened to us all and imagine the result of kicking a stone.
Reality is reality. For the less careful, there are stones that lie in their path – and the inevitable result is a stubbed toe, even when wearing sensible shoes.
Reality has a way of intruding on emotional holes – the problem is that if the emotional holes are left to grow, as will be the case if they are unconscious – the possibility of stubbing one’s toe becomes the larger. Well, that’s one reason why people don’t take risks with each other. Where coffee mornings have become the friendly equivalent of the empty phrases of management speak. They dare not allude to anything that might even hint at reality… in case it shout intrude on their comfort zone.
Which doesn’t help, does it? It’s not going to help avert the inevitable nervous breakdown where the large holes are all filled at the same time and the flood is truly overwhelming. People have gone mad as a result – and now I know why. All I have to do is to work out the process within myself, and do so by examining my own conceptual shortcomings.
But it won’t help those who claim I’m trying to humiliate them. They’ll have to come to terms with their shortcomings when reality hits them instead. I will add that it won’t be as pleasant as a caring person trying to coax them out of their shell. It’ll feel as if they’ve been stripped to their undergarments – when standing on the high street.
All I am asking them to do is to undress on the beach, where everybody else is wearing a swimsuit on a lovely warm day. And this is what they call humiliation.
It all depends on your perspective, doesn’t it?
(1) When My Heart Sings.
(2) The post was about schizophrenia. You can find it by clicking here.