A report on the Shift in Culture
by Helen Goatley B.A. Dip Ed. Dip Theol.
Our culture has shifted. I propose that in the majority of the Western world, we have shifted our cultural base. Our culture is not in process of changing, but has already fully changed.
I believe that the Western world is now a Shame based culture and that this culture is penetrating every mountain of influence thus affecting every aspect of how we do life. I also propose that in this new world, we have a brilliant opportunity to grow in understanding of and anticipating the needs that now are being presented to us.
This shift invites the courageous, the brave in us. It already is demanding dramatic development in how we work with people in all spheres of life. Compassion, empathy, creativity and vulnerability are going to be our guides as we navigate this world in change.
What is a Shame Based Culture and how did that happen?
In her recent research spanning nearly two decades and very turbulent ones in the USA, Dr Brene Brown of Houston University unearthed shame as the emotion of feeling, “I am bad, I am not enough. It is that intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love, connection and belonging.”
Her research also supported medical findings that shame when experienced physiologically especially for children, has the same effect as trauma.
Anthropologist Ruth Benedict popularised a distinction between a guilt based culture and a shame based culture. She asserted that in a guilt base culture, good and bad (morality) is defined by your own personal conscience. It’s emphasis is upon the actions not the identity of an individual.
A shame based culture however, defines morality by what your community says about you by their actions and words of honor or exclusion. Thus in a shame based culture, social exclusion asserts they are bad.
I propose that a shame based culture feeds on the fruit of fear and often negative experiences and choices that impact an entire people group. An example of this is being witnessed in the USA. With the impact of 9/11 followed by an economic crisis unparalleled since the Great Depression, few American families have been left untouched. The result is now a nation rumbling through an identity conversation as it has traversed the passage from a guilt based culture to that of a shame based culture.
As the nation has walked the recent season of electing a new President, the shame culture has shown its hand in blatant, brutal ways. New York Times Columnist, David Brooks recently wrote an enlightening article declaring ‘America the Shame Culture.’ He quotes Andy Crouch, who argued that with the “omnipresence of social media in the form of Facebook and Instagram, a new sort of shame culture is being nurtured. The world is on constant, accessible 24/7 display and observation. Desire to be embraced and praised by the community and not exiled and condemned is intense. Freedom of speech just reached another volume and plane, dragging with it, moral life.”
What’s the impact and implications for us now?
So how does this impact us in the nations and us as Believers in Jesus? What are the implications for us? What are the answers?
The world of shame hits identity and identity is at the heart of our functioning as human beings. It is out of identity that destiny flows. When shame becomes our narrative, then our identity postulates, ‘I am bad, I am not enough’. The fundamental story of who we are has changed.
Medical science has bought us the understanding that our minds are made for narrative, for story. When a event happens, the brain functions to identify what happened (the story) and responds by directing the body’s actions. The amygdala which is located in the brain is responsible for regulating emotions, and when triggered releases energy to the body so it can move the body to a place perceived as safe. This primeval need for protection must be met. The story the brain makes up doesn’t have to be based on truth, it translates whatever pieces of data it has and uses it to meet the need of the opposing threat.
The impact of the ‘shame story’ then becomes manifest by self-righteousness, blame, comparison, performance, judgement, criticism, slander and the greatest of these, the hustle. Our Western culture drives, models and exalts hustle as the definition of self worth. Hustle becomes justified by perfection that rushes to be first in an attempt to head off rejection. “Not enough” eats away at identity and reduces the human being to a human doing, all the while suffocating with pretence our real selves, our real anointing and our real destinies.
The implications of the ‘not good enough’ drum in a culture is the hiding of our real selves, the loss of integrity as a means of presenting the real self or the identity of a group. It brings a loss of boundaries which help define personal integrity and generosity towards others. Tribalism is witnessed as shamed groups shame their shamers and social media becomes the hammer to meter out ‘justice’. Shame never has and never will make big people. Shame is willing to delightfully sacrifice courage and bravery to reduce any one to its ‘not enough’ norm.
On the advent of many prophetic voices speaking of and communities actively preparing for revival, I have to ask, what will be revived by God?
What I have seen globally because of my Anthropological and Sociological training is now being seen in the results of other fields of scientific research. Answers lay in educating and nurturing the qualities and values of honor, empathy, compassion, forgiveness and wholeheartedness. None of which can be entered into unless there is a willingness to look eye to eye at our stories, ways in which we ‘do’ life and rumble honestly with emotion to encounter the radical but offensive kindness of God. The end result I propose will produce a new level of maturity in our humanity and His Divinity. It is the becoming of being human.
There has been for sometime a real push in acknowledging the whole being, body, soul, mind and spirit. Buzz words like spiritual and emotional intelligence are frequently used. I suggest that in the Christian world there is a HUGE need to upgrade and develop more understanding in these realms if we are to survive in what is now the reality of a shame culture running rampant.
What we don’t understand we naturally reject. That rejection will continue to be costly and fatal to our hearts, our messages, our relationships and our organisations. We have the greatest message of honor, hope, joy and freedom. God’s message says, “You are enough for the King of the Universe to come and seek out connection. You have value not because of what you have done but because you are simply worthy. You are enough. You are a son/daughter of the Most High God.”
Self righteousness doesn’t loan us value. It simply is a tentacle of self loathing (shame), puffing itself up beginning with the belief that I am better than others and leaves us thinking the worst of ourselves confirming that we are not enough. Self-righteousness died because of Jesus’s righteousness that screamed, “IT is FINISHED.” (John 19:30) What was finished? Our not enoughness!!
To recognise shame, we must embrace our story. True honor confronts our story with vulnerability, empathy and compassion, this is the power of the cross! Honor speaks to what is lost in the onslaught of shame. It reminds us again that we are honorable. Journeying through our difficult stories to lay aside blame, comparison, performance and arrive to the embrace of vulnerability, forgiveness and the truth of a Father whose love and view of us never changes. It is compassionate light and not comparison light that will shift culture and shift the shame narrative.
The leading field of research in Psychology now is Heart Math. At the core of Heart Math is understanding of emotion and belief systems which produce energy, energy to change and create synergy. The outcomes of this research are having significant impact in how and who is employed in the work place. Heart Math has always been the central focus of our God. Jesus message always invited the learner to consider that what the heart meditated upon was the director for actions pursued. To God, the issue was heart and who moved the heart, and so it is for current Psychology! Shame is a heart issue. It is a trauma to believe anything else other than when God made us, His first words were, “It is good” and so He blessed us (Genesis 1 & 2). There is no blessing or affirmation that you are good in a shame culture.
What will we embrace?
So as we venture further into a new century and a new culture, we embrace a new journey into spiritual, emotional and cultural intelligence. Vulnerability, empathy, compassion, honor can light our way. Can we and do we have the skills to handle, nurture and embrace them? The “Passion of Christ” is a template for these. Jesus has and Jesus will always be our central connecting point. Connection came for us when He was lifted up in total vulnerability, empathy and compassion.
We are going to have to have confrontations around our ideas on vulnerability. The myth that is so commonly believed is that vulnerability is weakness. Yet sociological research shows it is the most accurate measure of courage. Vulnerability is a skill to practice and receive, but it is how we can move through the shame culture.
When we teach our kids and ourselves as adults to communicate that they feel scared rather than do the actions of scared like bullying and violence, we can begin to shift culture. We must change the current status quo where we are more comfortable causing pain than feeling the pain. This happens when we embrace the power of vulnerability.
Will we put our brave on as Jesus did? It will invite a revival of honor, empathy and generosity which is as Dr Brene Brown’s research discovered is bringing the most generous interpretation of someone else actions, intentions and words. This is encountered in another culture, the culture of His Presence.
The Presence of God is a culture shifter and transcends all communities, all generations, all languages, all experiences. It is in His Presence we encounter and are undone by His compassion, His unconditional love, His honor, His empathy, and above all HIS vulnerability. He shows up and show us Him. Presence centred Communities, Business’, Schools, families & individuals will shift a culture that has shifted. Which will we choose?
*This text may only be used with full acknowledgement & permission of the Author, Helen Goatley.
Brown PHD, Brene – I thought it was just Me (But it isn’t)
Brooks, David – The Shame Culture (New York Times, March 15, 2016)
Vanier, Jean – Becoming Human
Thompson MD, Curt – The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe About Ourselves