introspection, courage, and shame

Human Eye

Human Eye (Photo credit: Manav Gupta)

Introspection is a  word meaning “insight” and “looking within” and “self-examination” and “inner perceptiveness” and “wisdom” and “self-awareness.” The Ancient Greek philosophers such as Socrates gave the instruction to “know thyself,” which is a concise reference to introspection

Raphael's "School of Athens"

Raphael’s “School of Athens” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In fact, introspection is the subject matter of the entire realm of psychology as well as so much poetry, spirituality, religion, and philosophy. Jesus Christ provides one of the most famous proverbs relating to introspection:

Luke 6:42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

I also think of the entire realm of mythology to be a set of stories to display human patterns of interaction. For instance, the term narcissism (from psychiatric diagnosis) comes directly from the ancient  myth of Narcissus, which is a story about a common stage in the process of introspection, the stage of a relatively infantile fascination with such things as one’s own physical appearance.  We might not even consider attention to one’s own physical appearance to be “looking within,” but all forms of self-discovery have an element of introspection.


Narcissus (Photo credit: pogobee)

How broad can introspection be? How much can it cover? What about an introspective exploration of our patterns of language and other behavior (since language is fundamentally behavioral, though also neurochemical and anthropological)?

Or, what about experimenting with diet and exploring the principles of developmental physiology and biochemistry? What is the boundary between looking within and any other looking?

When I review my own experiences of external phenomenon, “where” do I label those subjective experiences? Are my personal experiences external or internal? Isn’t experience relational- like a particular way of relating to some thing as either “out there” or “in here?”

If I study anything about humanity, isn’t there an element of introspection inherent in that study? If I study ecology or physics or geology or trees falling in a forest, am I not there as witness, as student, as explorer?

Am I a linguistic being or a physical being or a spiritual being or what? Is there any biochemistry in me? Am I completely unrelated to ecology, or merely a tiny mobile unit branched out from an ancient root of geology and terrestrial evolution?

If there are aspects of myself that I have repressed as unsafe or evil, that could be called shame. Obviously, there must be some value to such repressions or they would not be so common, right?

However, what if introspection can bring courage and appreciation to the exploring of subject matter that might

Narcissus also known as the Mazarin Hermaphrod...

Narcissus also known as the Mazarin Hermaphrodite or the Genius of eternal rest marble 3rd century CE (Photo credit: mharrsch)

even be kept private because of shame or modesty? What if it is functionally unproductive (or even counter-productive) to say certain things in certain ways, at least in certain company? To learn discretion and discernment and discrimination are major stages in personal development, maturity, and emotional intelligence.

Ultimately, everything on this blog has a prominent aspect of introspection to it, from the humor to the investment analysis to the nutrition research and political commentary. As for investments, my experience after 9 years of accurate forecasting has included many experiences of intense criticism and resistance to the primary forecasts (all of which have proven accurate). Many people may be terrified of experiencing clarity about the relative degree of sustainability of a variety of economic and political trends.

Shame may be defined as the repression of the experience of terror- as in the ability to maintain a certain marginal level of functionality even while “in shock.” Courage may be defined as the pattern of taking action even in the midst of fear and recognized ignorance (admitted lack of information which would be relevant, but is not evident).

Courage could be considered a type of blind faith, an uncertain faith that may not be especially graceful. Courage is the first step of introspection and the resulting self-knowledge. Shame is that which propels us toward courage and introspection.


introspection (Photo credit: twenty_questions)

[C17: from Latin intrōspicere  to look within, from intro-  +specere  to look]

Matthew 7:3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank  [obstruction]  in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

New Living Translation (©2007)
How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye?

English Standard Version (©2001)
Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?

New American Standard Bible (©1995)
“Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?

King James Bible (Cambridge Ed.)
Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?

International Standard Version (©2008)
Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when the beam is in your own eye?

Aramaic Bible in Plain English (©2010)
Or how do you say to your brother, ‘Let me cast out the chip from your eye’, and behold, a plank is in your eye?

GOD’S WORD® Translation (©1995)
How can you say to another believer, ‘Let me take the piece of sawdust out of your eye,’ when you have a beam in your own eye?

King James 2000 Bible (©2003)
Or how will you say to your brother, Let me pull the speck out of your eye; and, behold, a beam is in your own eye?

American King James Version
Or how will you say to your brother, Let me pull out the mote out of your eye; and, behold, a beam is in your own eye?

American Standard Version
Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me cast out the mote out of thine eye; and lo, the beam is in thine own eye?

Douay-Rheims Bible
Or how sayest thou to thy brother: Let me cast the mote out of thy eye; and behold a beam is in thy own eye?

Darby Bible Translation
Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Allow me, I will cast out the mote from thine eye; and behold, the beam is in thine eye?

English Revised Version
Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me cast out the mote out of thine eye; and lo, the beam is in thine own eye?

Webster’s Bible Translation
Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thy eye; and behold, a beam is in thy own eye?

Weymouth New Testament
Or how say to your brother, ‘Allow me to take the splinter out of your eye,’ while the beam is in your own eye?

World English Bible
Or how will you tell your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye;’ and behold, the beam is in your own eye?

Young’s Literal Translation
or, how wilt thou say to thy brother, Suffer I may cast out the mote from thine eye, and lo, the beam is in thine own eye?

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

12 Responses to “introspection, courage, and shame”

  1. livvy1234 Says:

    I really enjoy your perspectives. I am pretty much doing the same as you are. Great post

  2. Henry Richards Says:

    I am loving your blog. It is a work of art and mental war. Amazing.

  3. spiritualhypster Says:

    This is great stuff. thanks.

  4. Carol Dorbacopoulos Says:

    Always interesting to read your posts. I am not sure that shame leads to courage. How so? It is my observation that shame, as opposed to guilt, is a socially conditioned emotion. For example, people in different cultures will feel shame about different things. In a traditional Asian culture, a grown child would feel terrible shame at leaving an elderly parent alone, even if that parent were in good health, and moving across the country to take a good job. In American culture that move would be more or less expected even by most parents. Everyone would feel proud that the adult child was experiencing success. I think a lot of problems arise when we confuse shame with appropriate guilt. Guilt should arise when we have violated a fundamental principle of our relatedness to another or to a group in such a way that real harm comes to that other or to the group or to both. People can feel shame in a social setting because they don’t live up to rules. Those rules may or may not be based on fundamental principles. Those rules may in fact be quite arbitrary and even nonsensical. But one of the signs of sociopathy is that a person is not able to feel guilt for harming others. On the other hand, people who are ashamed of something feel that keenly and tend to hide that from themselves and others. That’s one reason psychologists point out that shaming a child for behavior rather than guiding him to better behavior can be disastrous for that child’s development. Shame lingers. Guilt can be redeemed.

  5. jrfibonacci Says:

    Hi Carol, thank you for your thoughtful reply. First, I officially reserve the right to adopt any position that you communicate if I find yours to be more coherent or concise or elegant or accurate or fun than however I may have said whatever I said, or anything I ever quote of someone else, etc. I also reserve the right to misquote you in a way that is more coherent, elegant, or fun than whatever you actually said.

    Now, on to the subject of appropriate guilt and so on. Who says what is appropriate? What is socially proper is still contextual. Further, I can adopt the position that all the variations of ideas about what are proper or shameful are all exactly perfect and orderly and “the Will of God” and so on.

    Guilt is subjective. Shame is subjective. In other words, they are ways of relating to something. They both involve fear of being recognized, like a tendency to hide, distract, or lie goes with both guilt and shame.

    These are quite distinct from mere sorrow. I could accidentally damage something or injure someone and feel tremendous sorrow and concern, but guilt and shame are what I would call “sin” while sorrow is not.

    Of course, sin is a natural thing- as in guilt and shame. Those words exist for a reason, right? Anthropologists, spiritual leaders, and neuro-psychiatrists may have varying models for “how it all fits together.” Every model has a degree of accuracy plus a degree of oversimplification as in generalization. That is what models are for.

    A map is a model of terrain. A map is not the actual terrain. That is why the map is useful.

    Your reference to a “fundamental principle” of social morality may be presumptive. Outside of a particular society or socialization pattern, there are no fundamental principles of morality. For instance, it is universally immoral to kill your child’s favorite pet rabbit, at least according to your child. Just because you may have raised it for the specific purpose of making soup is no cushion for the trauma that the child can experience- but other children may hunt and kill rabbits with glee and enthusiasm and competition.

    There is no universal morality. There is no universal society. Even the “universals” of human genetics are subject to change.

    Language is a social adaption. Everything is a social adaption- though not just within a human society. So, I could say that everything is a relational adaption, as we associate with other species and in fact one of the huge advances of higher animals is that within every cell is an organism of bacteria called a mitochondria.

    Be careful of labels. They always generalize. They are just models. Reality includes models, but it is not a model.

    As for guilt from harming others, think of soldiers. A soldier may justify killing thousands of civilians with a bomb by rationalizing the action. Rationalizing implies guilt. However, there may be soldiers who assert no sense of guilt. They may bomb civilians with the same experience as driving down a highway and killing lots of butterflies on the windshield of their car- slightly annoyed at getting guts on the windshield.

    When an executioner for the government kills a convict, that may be the same for them as when a government assassin kills a political leader of a rival organization (gang, country, party, etc). Guilt is an entirely social process.

    Sociopathy is a label. There is no universal parameter for what is sociopathological. Consider the varying definitions used in different cultures and different times.

    I could list a long series of government-funded programs in the US that would upset a lot of folks (especially folks within the US, who tend to have enormous pride and idealism about their own government). That is why all governments tend to keep certain operations “top secret.” They do not want attention and criticism and rebellion. So, they favor discretion, modesty, secrecy, security of intelligence data, or whatever else you might call it.

    I could list a similar series of programs by Soviets or Nazis or Inquisitors of the Holy Roman Catholic Empire. For instance, systems of ritual human sacrifice can be called capital punishment or anything else, but beyond the language and labels are simple patterns of behavior. Further, labeling is itself a pattern of behavior.

    Certain actions are promoted or even rewarded by any particular society (through language). Certain other actions are discouraged or prohibited or punished. Other things are merely warned about, but without any formal social regulation or intervention.

    There are communications or linguistic behaviors that are reinforced positively as well as others in which people will be interrupted. “We do not share that information publicly! That is a trade secret! That is a sacred matter of national security! That line of questioning is dangerous to pursue!”

    So, what is acceptable within a library is not the same as within a park. What is acceptable for the elite military or religious leaders to do and discuss internal to their exclusive group, such as their strategic plans or their private sexual rituals, might be highly controversial at a minimum if disclosed publicly.

    Historically, think of the sexual norms of the aristocrats of Europe- quite distinct from the norms of behavior for the working class: of course! Or, consider the leaders of the ancient Greek and Roman militaries: their homosexual orgies are only shocking for people who are unfamiliar with a broader view of anthropology.

    In other words, all “deviant” behavior is orderly- just outside of the acceptable order. The average person is not encouraged to be too perceptive or smart either. Their “loose-lipped” commentaries on issues of functional secrecy will be punished. That has been my experience.

    It is about propriety. I would not talk about killing rabbits around certain kids. I would not talk about the details of military intelligence on camera with the mainstream media. I would keep confidential any information protected by attorney privilege or medical secrecy.

    In fact, disloyalty to social norms that REQUIRE secrecy is one of the most aggressively punished of all violations. For instance, in jail, being a “snitch” is naturally one of the least popular character traits. Given that the folks in that subculture tend to be very sensitive about keeping certain information private, you can see the similarity to “oaths of secrecy” done by spies and other subcultures.

    Imagine the issues of professional ethics for a criminal lawyer who had a compulsive habit of blurting out the truth and snitching on the defendant. The lawyer would be disbarred very fast. Their job sometimes is to hide criminality and of course immorality- but always in accord with the lawyer’s primary loyalty to the standards of the social order (the orders of the rulers of the military court system of organized coercion and economic redistribution).

    The lawyers do their job or face consequences. Then, even though a defendant like Ollie North may have openly admitted legal guilt, confessed and been convicted and sentenced, then the President has the official authority to pardon a criminal’s violations of any law whatsoever. Why? Because that is how the system is set up. People who violate the law with the approval of rulers (such as the US President) will rarely even face prosecution. They are protected because of their membership within the elite.

    I mention Ollie North only because his pardon was relatively well-publicized, with extensive live TV coverage of both his confessions and his denials (“I do not recall,” “I decline to answer”), plus now his return to some fame with books and TV shows. Never ever disrespect totalitarianism within the halls of totalitarianism.

    The mainstream media RULES public perception. That is not a criticism. That is simply a recognition of the stated purpose of media. Here is what I was taught in college:

    “Our purpose as the media is not to control what people think. That would be impossible. Our purpose is to influence what people think ABOUT.”

    The same could be said of the education system. The same could be said of organized religion.

    Can you give me an example of any communication behavior that is not for the sole purpose of directing the attention of an audience? That is what language and communication are for: social influence, socialization, governing, control.

    Of course, some influence is a nudge and some is a tug and so on. However, all human social interaction is economic. In fact, all action can be interpreted as economic- like how trees spread their roots for the particular purpose of accessing moisture and minerals.

    Name one thing that is not economic. Sleeping? No, that is economic, too. Don’t do it for a few weeks and you will be clear that sleeping is economic.

    • Henry Richards Says:

      “Our purpose as the media is not to control what people think. That would be impossible. Our purpose is to influence what people think ABOUT.” The same could be said of the education system. The same could be said of organized religion. Can you give me an example of any communication behavior that is not for the sole purpose of directing the attention of an audience?”

      This is really profound and also happens to feel true. It does tempt one to add that in directing people to think ABOUT certain things, communications also frame or bracket HOW they are to think about those subjects in terms of broad conceptual categories (usually stereotypes) and emotional tone (threat, opportunity, status-conferring, sexy). This is George Lakoff’s point about the success of the US right wing. They have been relentless and ruthless in taking the high ground of framing things like “Pro Life”, “Right to Work State”–which means you can be fired for any reason at any time. These are heavy-handed examples and draw attention to themselves, but most of the framing is insidious and barely noticeable, to the point that it seems the natural way of thinking about things.

  6. secrecy, shame, guilt, and moral absolutism « JRFibonacci's blog: partnering with reality Says:

    […] a correspondent just wrote this to me: (in reply to ) […]

  7. Bev Beaudion Says:

    Amusing ! correct….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: