Wee problems need not be big ones in life's long journey

Rhodes>Perspective>2013 Archive

I'VE tackled this head-on before, but a recent debate on "whiteness" has reminded me again that of all the emotions people are forced to deal with on a daily basis, the most pointless and useless is shame.

Much as I'd like to go deep and create a pithy socio-political theory based on my thoughts, I'd rather throw colourful examples at you in the hopes that, by the end of it, you'll agree with me. And perhaps, you'll stop blushing about the boo-boos you, or your family, or your country, or your ancestors have made. Because that's what shame does. It paralyses you into non-action and makes everybody else look bigger and better than you.

When I was five years old, I wet my pants at nursery school. I'd been on the planet for a mere 60 months, and yet still knew this was a bad state of affairs. It took me 20 minutes to drum up the courage to approach Miss Nelson about it.

Or maybe I wasn't brave at all — probably, my wee had cooled down and was blooming rashes all over my legs and nether regions. Either way, I slunk to the bathroom, cringed being cleaned and cowered in the cubicle while one of the classroom assistants washed my little panties. I also was convinced that everybody knew — and that I was a naughty, naughty little girl.

For a few days, I was dumbed into silence and wouldn't play with anyone. Didn't even want to go to school, not even with the promise of a doughnut after (in the 1970s, moms happily bribed their kids and blow the consequences). It's only now, looking back, that I can label my feeling. Shame was a mighty big emotion for such a tiny tot to bear. And yet, she bore it nonetheless — as did every peer in her class, at some point or another, then or later.

In the Rhodes University debate on "whiteness", an academic opined that white South Africans embraced their shame and maintained a humble silence about current affairs, given that they really didn't have much right to comment. That's what prompted my bristling dig into the past — to find where my hatred of shame began and if I had a leg to stand on. Which, I believe, I do.

Women are particularly vulnerable in the shame arena — we balk at going public with unshaven legs, we're branded harlots if we like fast guys, for too long we suffered in silence because somehow, insanely, we felt criminally ashamed for being raped or abused. Too often, the shame spotlight is female-focused.

We "asked for it", or we're frozen out of a friendship circle and instead of being angry, feel ashamed. We make everything our fault. That's not to say that there's no such thing as a shameful action. But is there really any point in dragging around such an inane emotion, when it can't possibly undo the wrong and just makes you a miserable bore?

Feel the feeling and move on. If you shouted at them, hug your kids and say sorry. If you benefited from your skin colour, take half of whatever you have and make a difference to someone else's life. If you nailed a friend and shouldn't have, buy her flowers for a year and never, ever do it again. Life's too short to worry about peeing in your pants.

By: Beth Cooper Howell

Source: HERALD, La Femme